REACH: Is the DWP Failing Disabled People?

February 19, 2019 by Alison Watson-Shields

In 2010, when the Coalition Government came into power, they instituted the most sweeping welfare reforms for a generation; they abolished and replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), while they simultaneously introduced Universal Credit (UC), repealing six benefits and replacing them with one monthly instalment. These extreme changes are causing confusion, distress and panic for many people. However, people with disabilities have been severely and disproportionately effected by these changes.

Many of these changes arose without knowledge or understanding from disabled people. There has been an inadequate amount of training provided for the Job Centre staff. Recently, a REACH client was so distressed by the lack of understanding that during our appointment they broke down in tears. PIP assessments have been indicted by disabled support organisations such as SCOPE for being conducted unfairly and, in some circumstances, incompetently. 

REACH has been working with a client who has been attempting to obtain PIP for more than a year. The initial application was refused and, on the advice of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau (CAB), an appeal was immediately launched. Unfortunately, the only response, to date, from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has been to acknowledge receipt of the appeal. Support was given to contact the Courts and Tribunal Service to determine the status of the appeal, unfortunately, we were informed that due to a considerable backlog, it would be a minimum of 12 weeks before any further progress would be made. However, this is not the end of the issue. The Court Service informed us that, because this was an appeal, the individual concerned would be expected to appear in court to represent themselves at a formal hearing. In addition to this, the DWP would be sending a “bundle” of disclosed material to the person concerned. This has presented extreme difficulties and distress to this client as they struggle to understand the complexities of the process. In fact, the person is likely to be unable to read and understand the documentation which has been sent to them. Our work with this particular client is on going and we are hoping to work alongside him until the issues are resolved.

PIP assessments, while an essential and crucial part of the process for receiving PIP, can be incredibly demeaning, troubling and embarrassing. Some of the questions include bathroom habits, personal care needs and cooking abilities. While these questions may not seem compromising to a person who has no difficulties in these areas, for a person with a disability who struggles with these things on a day to day basis, they may become embarrassed about having to disclose such personal information to a complete stranger.

For instance, in an article featured in the Independent newspaper, a local former member of the Volunteer Army who was on DLA for 25 years, following a back and neck injury that left him unable to walk, was sent a letter stating that he would not be entitled to the mobility component of PIP as he was able to walk 50 metres unaided. In actuality, the only physical assessment undertaken was to ask the gentleman to squeeze the assessors hands.

Unfortunately, there is not an easy fix for this problem. For instance, if you are declined PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), then a disabled person would have no other option then to go onto another form of benefit, namely UC. The issue with UC is that everything is dealt with online. You need to fill in a job search journal online and attend meetings, interviews and assessments to ensure you are looking for work correctly. This will be an issue for some disabled people as they could be computer illiterate and require support. The DWP states that you must show you are ‘actively seeking employment’, however, someone who struggles to use a computer will find it difficult to prove this. The only option is to spend countless hours in the Job Centre every week so that an adviser can help them search for jobs. This is not convenient for both parties and certainly does very little to boost or maintain confidence in the disabled community. Furthermore, there is a distinct lack of employment opportunities and some employers remain reluctant to employ a disabled person.

Don’t get me wrong, I understand that benefit reforms are not always going to benefit everybody, and the system clearly needs this reform. However, if a person is struggling to do the essential everyday tasks, then how is it that they are expected to be able to complete these tasks and work up to 40 hours per week?

Surely our society should be one that protects vulnerable and disabled people and not place undue stress upon them when all they are trying to do is live their life like everybody else. 

It is time to stop talking about being inclusive and actually became inclusive!

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