Saturday, 26 October 2013


decision making farmed out to government spies?

PIP (Personal Independence Payment) is the Coalition government's replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA). Its introduction is accompanied by the usual media assault of lies and half truths:
  • DLA expenditure, nearly £13 billion a year, is out of control they say. Not so: it is increasing mainly because disabled people are living longer;
  • only 6% of claims are decided after a face to face medical assessment, it is claimed. Not so: only 6% of claims are decided on the basis of a medical assessment by a DWP doctor. Most of the rest are decided on the basis of other medical evidence, like GP and consultant reports, all of which involve face to face assessments;
  • DLA awards are not reviewed. Not so yet again: all DLA awards can be reviewed at any time, and many are. They are not all reviewed because most disabling conditions are permanent and not likely to change.
In fact the replacement of DLA was announced in the June 2010 emergency budget with no other aim than to achieve a minimum 20% cut in expenditure, at the expense of working age disabled people - DLA claimants who have passed 65 are not being transferred. The government expects at least 500,000 people to have their DLA awards stopped or reduced on transfer to PIP.

But the introduction of PIP is not going well (like everything else Mr Duncan-Smith has a hand in). A central role in the introduction of the new benefit is given to medical assessments. Every claim must have a medical assessment. The conditions of entitlement for PIP are based on a system of 'descriptors' - brief statements about functional disabilities - which can be applied to any individual on a cursory yes/no basis and which attract points. The number of points awarded gives your PIP entitlement. It is a system designed to allow rapidly produced, standardised medical reports which minimise entitlements. And it is closely based on the computer system used by ATOS to generate reports on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims.

The contracts for PIP assessments - four of them worth over £400 million in total - were divided between ATOS and their rivals in the business of contracting for government services, Capita. ATOS proposed an ambitious programme - which they have not delivered - of setting up examination centres. Capita by contrast proposed to do most assessments by home visits. ATOS have also, for some unfathomable reason, had difficulties in attracting and retaining staff and now face industrial action. That ATOS is in difficulties is confirmed by the latest delays in the introduction of PIP.

PIP was initially only introduced in selected areas from April 2013. Since 10th June 2013 however no new claims for DLA have been accepted - everyone not already claiming DLA has had to claim PIP instead. Four months on and what is most striking is that there have been virtually no decisions made on PIP claims anywhere (apart from special rules claims for terminally ill people).

One reason for delay was the government consultation on the 20/50 metres criterion for the enhanced mobility component of PIP. The long established rule of thumb for DLA was that entitlement to higher rate mobility (which brings with it Motability cars and bus and rail passes) depended on establishing, in most cases,  that you were unable to walk more than 50 metres without severe discomfort. For PIP that test distance is reduced to 20 metres, provided you can walk that distance "safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and within an acceptable time period".

Under threat of judicial review the government agreed to a fake consultation on that provision which, to no-one's surprise, left the PIP rule unchanged, despite its being supported by just five of 1142 responses to the  consultation.

But although the 'consultation' delayed decision making, that only disguised the delays in the PIP assessment process. The scale of these became clear when a revised timetable for the transfer of existing DLA claimants to PIP was announced this week.

There are about 2.5 million people aged 16-64 who currently receive DLA. They all have to be re-assessed and transferred to PIP. This was going to happen from 28th October but will now only happen in selected areas: roughly Wales and the central band of England. These are the areas that went to Capita under under the government's contracts and are now called 'reassessment areas'. 

There is no indication at all as to when the areas covered by ATOS contracts will become reassessment areas. With the start of transfer delayed it is difficult to see how the time table as a whole can be maintained. The mass transfer of people with indefinite DLA awards to PIP was due to start in October 2015, conveniently after the next election, and be completed by 2018. The potential delay is, to be clear, unambiguously good news for disabled people. But ...

Two schemes
The result is that there are now two schemes operating, depending on where you live. Under both schemes it remains the case that you cannot now claim DLA for the first time, only PIP. And PIP decisions may now start to trickle through, which will give us a better idea of how the new benefit is likely to affect people.

But what if you are already claiming DLA? Then the two schemes come into play. In the ATOS areas (Scotland, Northern England, London and the South East and South Western England) although you cannot claim DLA for the first time:

  • you CAN renew your claim for DLA when it expires, and 
  • you CAN claim DLA as a adult from your 16th birthday if you were getting it as a child, and 
  • if your condition worsens (or improves) you CAN ask for your DLA award to be reconsidered, under DLA rules, without being transferred to PIP, but
  • you cannot claim PIP instead of DLA, even if you want to
until further notice.

In the Capita areas however (Wales and Central England), if you already have a DLA award:

  • if your DLA award is for a fixed period and that period expires on or after 17th March 2014 you CANNOT reclaim DLA. You will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead. (If your DLA award expires before 17th March 2014 you can still reclaim DLA)
  • if you received DLA as a child, and your 16th birthday was on or after 7th October 2013, you CANNOT reclaim DLA as an adult. You will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead
  • if you notify the DWP of a change of circumstances, particularly any change in your condition, you will be 'invited' to claim PIP instead - and your DLA award will be stopped after four weeks. Anyone who currently receives DLA, especially on a indefinite award, should get advice and then think long and hard before contacting the DLA office because of this rule;
  • you can claim PIP instead of DLA if you want to (a few people might be better off under PIP rules but it would be better to wait a while and see how actual PIP awards are going before deciding on this).
  • don't be fooled by the phrase 'invited to claim PIP' that the DWP are using. You have no choice because if you don't claim PIP when 'invited' your DLA will stop anyway.
Hope you've got that. Oh, and please note, one of the stated aims of PIP was to make it a simpler, more readily understandable benefit.

One rule among these complex transition rules that always looked particularly dodgy is the one which says that you will move from DLA to PIP if you "notify [the DWP] of a change in your condition". If you write in to them saying 'please supersede my DLA award because  x, y, z' then OK you've asked for it. But most people phone. And on the phone, anything can happen: 
'Can you tell me when my next payment is due because I have to arrange for someone to go to the Post Office with me?'
'It sounds like your condition has got worse' says the helpful lady on the other end
'Oh, yes, well, I suppose it has a bit'
'Then I think we should have another look at your award, in case it needs increasing'
'Oh, alright then'. 

And you're transferred to PIP.

That may not be typical but the point is, there's no way of telling with a rule this vague. Then it gets worse. The actual regulations governing DLA to PIP transitions are clear that this sort of compulsory transition should normally occur when the claimant informs the DWP of a change in their condition. However DWP official guidance, dated 23rd October, says something different:

From 28 October 2013 we will start inviting individuals [to claim PIP] if:
  • we receive information about a change in care or mobility needs on or after 28 October

Now, from whom do the DWP 'receive information' about an apparent 'change in care or mobility needs' other than from the claimant or their family and carers? From informers on their various fraud hotlines. The very language of the guidance suggests they have this in mind. 'We receive information' is suggestive; 'change in care or mobility needs' is even more so because this is the wording they invariably use when alleging DLA fraud. (They have no evidence of fraud from the outset so when someone is filmed rock climbing or whatever it is always attributed to an undeclared 'change in care needs' or 'change in mobility needs'). And at least one DWP official has confirmed this publicly. 

This is probably just about 'legal'. The DWP appear to be given enough discretion in the regulations (Reg. 3(1)) to 'invite' PIP claims on any ground at any time. If they adopt a policy of outsourcing this discretionary power to informers it will be difficult to prove or challenge especially with restrictions on judicial review

So, disabled people from this Monday, will, it seems, be at the mercy of anyone who makes a malicious phone call. Their DLA award will be ended early on receipt of that call and they will be transferred to PIP, with its potentially lower entitlement. It won't assist in the least that, on investigation, the DLA award was found to have been fully justified because the information will still have been received and the transfer to PIP, once started, is irreversible.

In case anyone thinks this is nothing to worry about, I offer my own case as a counter example. I receive DLA higher rate mobility and lowest rate care. Under PIP I expect to retain the higher rate mobility because, although I can walk more than 20 yards, I can do so only very slowly, using a crutch - so I can't walk 20 meters 'to an acceptable standard' and 'within a reasonable time period'. I do not expect to keep the care award however so I anticipate losing about £100 a month on transfer to PIP. The longer this loss is delayed, the happier I will be.

As it happens I escape (by a single postcode digit) being in a Capita contract reassessment area. But it is not clear if that will be any protection in the event of a fraud allegation. I am not unknown locally and it is far from inconceivable that some anonymous citizen might take a dislike to my protests and letters to the paper and decide it is their civic duty to inform on me. If they do so, the DWP may investigate, but they will find nothing at all about my activities which is inconsistent with the statements I made on my DLA claim (because I'm careful like that). But still I could Iose about £100 a month, immediately and without appeal, up to five years before it might otherwise have happened, on the bare word of a malicious sneak. Informers, in short, will be allowed to impose a loss of benefit on disabled people, in a complete perversion of normal legal procedures..

I really don't like this but I can't claim it's particularly unusual. In fact, one of the characteristics of the new 'austerity' is the general disregard and degradation of established rights and procedures. From tricking claimants into benefit sanctions, to ignoring rules then backdating changes to cover up the malfeasance, to the attacks on the Human Rights Act, the whole concept of legal procedures and rights is being pushed aside by executive action, backed by a carefully manufactured public opinion. This is why I am not particularly reassured by claims I have seen that, because the regulations imply that it is only disclosure by the claimant that triggers transfer to PIP, that precludes the DWP from putting into effect a policy to the contrary. They will do what they are told and I strongly suspect that, under this government, the instructions will be to speed up the transfer rate by all means available, if only to save Mr Duncan-Smith's blushes

Thursday, 3 October 2013


Birkenhead Labour MP, and ‘poverty tsar’ to the Coalition government, Frank Field, has written to the Prime Minister with some questions about food banks. Mr Field claims he is ‘gobsmacked’ by the need to ask such questions, and that he, and other MP’s, were ‘taken by surprise’ by the rapid growth in the use of food banks.

I am gobsmacked by Mr Field’s cheek. If any one person can be said to be responsible for shifting the ideological climate in support of the government’s welfare ‘reforms’ it is the former anti-poverty campaigner, Frank Field. And it is those reforms, supported by Mr Field, which are causing the increasingly desperate food bank queues.

So here are some answers to Mr Field’s (pompous and illiterate) questions:


  • benefit sanctions, especially since Mr Cameron’s ‘stricter benefit regime’ (SBR) was introduced on 1.11.12;
  • Social Fund abolition - all emergency help from the DWP was deliberately ended in April, without replacement;
  • endless delays in processing benefit claims, caused by cuts in the DWP and a culture there which priorities sanctions over paying people their legal entitlement;
  • the bedroom tax;
  • abolition of Council Tax Benefit and its replacement by reduced local council tax support - in Birkenhead even the poorest householders are being required to pay at least 22% of their council tax, however low their income;
  • cuts to Working tax Credit and Housing Benefit, coupled with falling real wages, all affecting working families;
  • below inflation uprating of most benefits when inflation for basic items like food and fuel is increasing more than general inflation;
  • ATOS medicals resulting in disabled people losing all their income overnight - losses to be extended with mandatory reconsideration from 28.10.13.

The effect of all these changes was widely and correctly predicted by everyone who, like you Mr Field, knows about the welfare system. Yet NOT ONCE did you raise your voice while these changes were introduced.

Incidentally you should learn to write English properly.


What exists are largely Church run food banks, increasingly overwhelmed. You claim to be a Christian, Mr Field so you should know the injunction in Deuteronomy 15:

7 If there be among you a poor man of one of thy brethren within any of thy gates in thy land which the Lord thy God giveth thee, thou shalt not harden thine heart, nor shut thine hand from thy poor brother:
8 But thou shalt open thine hand wide unto him, and shalt surely lend him sufficient for his need, in that which he wanteth.

Why then did you not object, Mr Field, as a Christian MP, when abolition of the Social Fund was announced in June 2010? You must have known that Crisis Loans from the Social Fund were the only way many of your constituents survived and that food banks were the only replacement on offer.

And food banks try to restrict their supplies to a limited period; unfortunately benefit delays and sanctions are not so limited. People need help with food for as long as they have no money.


The ‘issue of debt’ doesn’t influence food bank demand at all. Debt does. You pay your rent shortfall, thanks to HB cuts, you pay your council tax, thanks to CTB abolition, you pay your inflated fuel bills, you repay your payday lender, you repay your Social Fund loan, you pay your bedroom tax. Then you have no money left for food. Not complicated.


No part, you sanctimonious slimeball. When you benefit is stopped by an ATOS medical, or sanctioned  because you were 10 minutes late to sign on you have no money. What part of ‘no money’ don’t you understand Mr Field? And when you do still have some money it’s precisely your budgeting skills that drive you to the food bank. You pay your bills first. Then you use your household skills to make a four day food bank donation last a week.


Since most means tested benefits can be and are sanctioned, suspended or stopped without notice at any time I think you know the answer to this one. Since every one of these things happens as a matter of deliberate government policy - your government Mr Field since you agreed to provide them political cover in your role as ‘poverty tsar’ - I think you know WHY benefits are not a reliable source of income as well.


It can’t. Are you really so naive, Mr Field? The private companies who run the Work Programme are not in the business of helping poor families or anyone else. They are in the business of milking the government for every drop of money they can. They are an organised, government approved, institution for benefit fraud. They do not remotely help people find work - they rely on people doing that for themselves, as they do; whereupon the Work Programme contractors claim their payments for something not of their doing at all.


Because the government has deliberately caused that hunger, removed all the services that were provided to prevent it, and drowned out the voices of anyone who tried to point this out in a concerted chorus of class hatred and contempt for poor people from their press. Your government, Mr Field.


Frank Field, for anyone who doesn’t know, has been MP for Birkenhead, one of the poorest areas of the country, since 1979. Before that he was Director of both the Child Poverty Action Group and the Low Pay Unit. While MP he set up the Birkenhead Resource Unit, primarily to take up benefit issues for his constituents (the Unit failed after the collapse of Barings Bank since it was funded by the Barings Foundation charity). The BRU employed bright campaigning lawyers like Nick Warren and Phil Shiner to take on cases against the DHSS (as it then was)  and earned Mr Field an undeserved reputation as a good constituency MP. (I took on some of the BRU cases when it closed, to give my credentials here).

Mr Field in short knows full well that benefits have never been generous, that families struggle in low paid work. Unfortunately Mr Field, over the years, alone in his Hamilton Square flat, came to hate and despise the people of Birkenhead, who had elected him as a campaigning MP who was on their side. I have if front of me a book Mr Field wrote in 1989 - “Losing Out - the Emergence of Britain’s Underclass” in which the contempt practically drips of the pages with talk, however qualified, of the ‘pathologies of the underclass’. He was a pioneer in the process of demonising and pathologising people who claim benefits which has risen to new heights under the Coalition government.

More recently Mr Field has been campaigning again. Crusading against the welfare reform that are creating child poverty on a level not seen for generations? Nope. His recent activities include:
  • a report, for the coalition government, blaming poverty on bad parenting, demanding more state control of working class families with young children, and replacing benefit increases for children with more funding for Sure Start and the like. Not one of the proposals have been adopted (except the benefit cuts);
  • claiming that Universal Credit will be a disaster. OK: he got that right. But why: because claiming benefits ‘rots the soul’ according to Mr Field. That’s unfortunate for disabled people and others who have no choice but to claim benefit, like me, like many of his constituents. (Be warned, Mr Field can smell our rotten souls). He’s not entirely wrong of course. Being poor, unemployed, disabled, badly housed does not do anyone any good. But for Mr Field the problem is not the poverty, the unemployment, the disability or the bad housing; the problem is the benefits and ‘benefit dependency’;
  • claiming that too much social housing goes to immigrants. The high minded, austere Mr Field is as capable as the rest of his peers of passing on gobbets from the racist gutter;
  • advocating extensions to the ‘right to buy’. Apparently this will solve the housing shortage; I won’t even try to fathom out why. It’s probably better for people’s souls to be homeowners or something;
  • complaining that the Labour Party is dominated by by Scots. Oh, FFS.

Now, it seems, Mr Field has belatedly realised that much of the genuine campaigning work he did as a young man, and others did for him as an MP, is being systematically undone by the Coalition’s war on welfare. He is trying, ever so cautiously and politely, to distance himself with this letter.

Too late, Mr Field, much too late. You have done your work for the ruling class and had your reward. They don’t need you any more. Nor do the people of Birkenhead. Resign, die, do what you will, but don’t befoul politics any more by turning your self disgust against the people in poverty you once used to work for.