Good shot: Work and Pensions secretary Iain ‘Returned to Unit’ Smith takes delivery of the nation’s verdict on his management of the benefits system. No wonder Britain is falling apart, if the entire Coalition government works on similar lines.
The Department for Work and Pensions is now such a shambles it should be a national scandal.
Not only do its ministers try to deceive you about its purposes and successes (12,000 people did NOT sign off benefits because of the cap, for example, and they still won’t tell us how many people died in 2012 while going through the ESA assessment procedure), but ground-level workers are praised if inappropriate action on claims results in a sick or disabled person being refused benefit or their claim being shut down. This incompetence is described as a ‘positive benefit outcome’.
I write from experience – Mrs Mike appears to be one such ‘positive benefit outcome’, despite our best efforts to prevent this.
Let me tell you a tale. I shan’t go into all of Mrs M’s details as they’re not really necessary and some of them are disturbing; suffice it to say that she has multiple long-term conditions.
She was subjected to a Work Capability Assessment for ESA in July last year, and received notification dated July 17 that she had been put into the work-related activity group, commencing August 14. This meant she would have until August 13 this year to recover from conditions which have plagued her for more than a decade; a totally unrealistic target invented by people whose main aim is to sell bogus insurance policies (see previous articles on Unum).
Being in the WRAG means that you have to try to prepare for work, with guidance to help introduce you back into the job market. Mrs M waited very patiently to be contacted about this, and was eventually called in to the local Job Centre Plus in December last year – one-whole-third of the way through her claim period.
Arrangements were made for her to have a telephone interview with a representative from a company that provides help in getting people back to work, but there were more delays. When it finally happened, the lady on the line told me: “I’ve spoken to your partner and from what she tells me, we can’t do anything to help her. She’s not going to get better in the timeframe within which we work. I know people with fibromyalgia and that’s just not going to happen. I recommend that you appeal against the decision to put her in the work-related activity group… Ask for a review of the decision, with a view to going into the support group. Go back to her doctor and request reassessment.”
We sought advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau over the possibility of making an appeal, and it seemed that there were legitimate grounds for doing so – not just the word of the work programme provider (my understanding is that this is the occupation of the lady who phoned us) but also medical evidence that had come to light after the WCA. So, with CAB help, Mrs M put in her appeal in February. She has yet to receive a response from the Department for Work and Pensions.
In May, however, she did receive another claim form. I filled it out for her (writing for prolonged periods increases the pain) and we sent it off on May 17. There has been no acknowledgement of receipt and the DWP has never mentioned it since.
This is unsurprising as we have had no contact at all from the DWP, from the time we received that form until yesterday (August 19), when Mrs M telephoned the Job Centre to find out what’s going on. Inevitably, this led to the phone being handed to me. “Oh yes,” said the man on the end of the line. “This claim terminated on August 13.”
So it seems the DWP is now in the habit of closing claims without informing the claimants. (In fact this is the second time someone I know has experienced this impoliteness; it happened to someone else in March).
We are now unexpectedly having to deal with the loss from our household income of more than £110 per week – that’s nearly £6,000 per year. We had hoped to avoid the possibility of this happening by means of the appeal, but the gentleman at the Job Centre helped us out there as well: “Yes, an appeal has been logged.” I asked what we being done. “It doesn’t say.”
So nothing has been done, then.
This is a serious matter. Firstly, the decision after the WCA was incorrect – Mrs Mike should have been put in the support group but was put in the WRAG instead. This could be because assessors are on orders to put only around 12 or 13 per cent of claimants into the support group, whether their conditions demand it or not, on the orders of ministers at the DWP.
Then there’s the nonexistent handling of the appeal. The DWP seems to be pretending it hasn’t happened.
Then there’s the repeat ESA50 form in May. What happened to that?
And finally there’s the complete – and no doubt intentional – failure to notify Mrs M of the termination of her benefit, a termination that should not have taken place if the DWP had done its job properly.
Is this what happens when the government lays off more than 400,000 public sector workers – the system seizes up because nobody can do the job properly anymore?
Fortunately – and full credit to him for doing this – my Liberal Democrat MP tweeted me yesterday evening and offered to help, so I have provided him with the details and hopefully something will come from that. We have a little cash coming in and a few friends who can help, so we are not in dire financial straits yet.
What if we didn’t have these safety nets, though?
By now, all readers of this blog should be well aware of the widely-reported statistic claiming that, on average, 73 people die every week because of bad decisions by the DWP – they either become depressed and commit suicide or the strain of going through the process worsens their health problem, the problem the DWP considered too inconsequential to merit receipt of benefit, until it kills them.
That statistic comes from a DWP report released more than a year ago and is now out of date. I have been trying to secure the release of up-to-date numbers but ministers have done everything in their power to prevent this and the only reasonable conclusion is that the death toll is now far worse.
A Freedom of Information request earlier this year was refused on the grounds that it was ‘vexatious’ and a demand for an internal review has been met with stony silence for more than a month. Today I emailed ministers to ask when they were going to respond or if I should just proceed to the next stage, which is a complaint to the Information Commissioner.
So you see, the DWP is in a terrible, terrible mess of incompetence rewarded and extravagant claims that amount to poorly-executed attempts at distraction fraud.
What if this is a microcosm for the entire Coalition government? What will be the result?
A weakened Britain, that’s what.
This blog has said it before and will say it again: They would kill us and call it ‘help’.