UK government’s contempt for disabled revealed

UK government’s contempt for disabled revealed

Mon Jun 23, 2014 11:2PM GMT

Last year, when I was waiting for a double lung transplant, my life felt terrifyingly unpredictable. My lungs were failing, and it was tough to cope emotionally, but one factor that made things slightly easier was the quick process to secure disability living allowance (DLA).

This allowed me to make immediate decisions about getting carers to help at home, having the heating on more, and taking taxis to appointments. It made a very difficult time that little bit more bearable.

Compare my experience to that of Malcolm Graham, a 56-year-old from Romford. He was diagnosed with esophageal cancer in September 2013 and applied for personal independence payments (PIPs) on advice from Macmillan Cancer support and his local Citizens Advice. Pips are replacing DLA and are supposed to help people, whether in or out of work, to meet the extra costs their disability causes.

Graham says he has called the appropriate department almost every day in the eight months since he applied, and is still awaiting a final decision. During that period he has endured 10 weeks of chemotherapy and a 10-hour operation in which large portions of his stomach and esophagus were removed.

He has had to rely on family and friends for financial help, but is now in arrears on his electricity bills and has recently been visited by a debt recovery firm. Without the PIP mobility support he has applied for, he is struggling to get out and about and says the wait has made him feel useless and worthless. After working for more than 40 years, he can’t understand why the support he needs has been so far unattainable.

Graham isn’t alone in his wait for a decision. Last week, the public accounts committee report on the disastrous implementation of PIP yet again showed the cold-hearted contempt of the Department for Work and Pensions towards disabled people. This has allowed us to be treated like guinea pigs, with an ill-considered and poorly trialed policy unleashed with little concern for the consequences.

PIPs were initially trialed in the north of England in April 2013 before being rolled out nationally just two months later. In a highly critical report on PIPs, published in February 2014, the National Audit Office said this rush to implementation meant the DWP “did not allow enough time to test whether the assessment process could handle large numbers of claims. As a result of this poor early operational performance, claimants face long and uncertain delays.”

By October 2013 only 16% of expected PIP decisions had been made, partly because assessments by Atos and Capita, the private companies contracted by the government to process these claims, were only able to meet the expected 30 working-day turnaround of applications in 55% and 67% of cases respectively. The DWP had projected that 25% of assessments would avoid face-to-face consultations and be conducted solely on paper; in reality this figure is 3%.

What is the result of this departmental failure? Terminally ill people, defined as those with less than six months to live, have waited for up to a month – 180% longer than expected – for a response as to whether they are entitled to government help in the last months of their lives. Under DLA the wait was seven days. Ministers disingenuously protest that PIPs are a different benefit to DLA, when in fact the principles for offering support to the terminally ill are the same. What kind of government would make benefit changes that make terminally ill people’s lives that bit harder anyway?

Mike Penning, minister for disabled people, protests that these delays have now been reduced to 10 days, but there is no answer for those who are entitled to support but aren’t terminally ill. Last week’s report states that as a result of delays of up to six months (although charities have found that many applicants wait far longer), “some claimants have been forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations” while they wait for the benefits they are entitled to.

The DWP is lurching from one crisis to another, with real people suffering real pain as a result. David Cameron needs to urgently get to grips with what is happening within that department. That process should start today, with a demand to Iain Duncan Smith that he publicly accepts responsibility for the suffering that Graham, and the thousands of others like him, have gone through due to his department’s incompetence. Graham says he gets choked up just thinking about his situation. He needs a decision – and an apology.

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