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Thursday, 24 July 2014
Iain Duncan Smith told to rip up flawed 'fit for work' tests
Iain Duncan Smith's scheme to get the disabled back to work is causing 'considerable distress and anxiety' and should be completely overhauled, say MPs.
The long-term ill and disabled must undergo a Work Capability Assessment to apply for Employment and Support Allowance.
But in a withering report today, MPs say ESA is fundamentally flawed and needs a total 'redesign'.
At the same time a separate report claims the use of benefit sanctions is 'neither fair nor effective'.
Many of those judged fit after undergoing the new WCA had conditions which made the 'prospect of returning to work remote', said the all-party Work and Pensions Committee.
The MPs said the design of the ESA's benefit and assessment process is so problematic that they needed a fundamental redesign.
They said the policy is 'clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety'.
Meanwhile, a study for the Department for Work and Pensions found that thousands of benefit claimants were being docked money because of the increased use of sanctions.
The report by welfare expert Matthew Oakley found that letters telling claimants they were having their benefits cut were 'unclear and confusing'.
Mr Oakley said: 'No matter what system of social security is in place, if it is communicated poorly it will be neither fair nor effective.'
James Bolton, of Mencap, said: 'This sanctions regime is grossly unfair.
'Many individuals didn't know they had been sanctioned.
'Their payments just stopped.
'This caused panic, confusion and financial hardship.'
Employment Minister Esther McVey said: 'We are committed to continuous reform of the sanctions' system to ensure it remains fair to taxpayers and to -claimants.'
Wednesday, 23 July 2014
Disability benefits system has 'grave' flaws, MPs warn
Parts of the UK's disability benefits system require a 'fundamental redesign' because flaws in the process are so 'grave', a report by MPs has said.
A Commons committee said replacing the firm Atos - which until March assessed whether people were fit to work - would not address the problems 'on its own'.
The report said changes to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system needed to be made 'immediately'.
Ministers said a new private provider would reduce waiting times.
It comes after the government had criticised Atos - which had conducted Work Capability Assessments (WCA) of claimants - over 'significant quality failures'.
The contract with Atos had been due to finish in August 2015, but was ended early. The government has said a replacement was expected to be appointed early next year.
However, the report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee said Atos had become a 'lightning rod for all the negativity' around the ESA process.
It said: 'Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the WCA on its own.'
It found the system was 'not achieving its purpose' of helping people move back into employment in the 'short to medium term'.
Committee chairman Dame Anne Begg said the current system needed 'to be improved now'.
She called for the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) to 'rigorously monitor the service standards to ensure they are being met' and for it to impose penalties if standards were not met, adding: 'This has not always happened with the Atos contract.'
Mark Harper, who was appointed as Minister for Disabled People in last week's cabinet reshuffle, said a new provider would deliver 'the best possible service for claimants, increase the number of assessments and reduce waiting times'.
He said more than 700,000 people who had been on incapacity benefit were now 'looking for, or making steps to return to work' following a WCA.
'It is crucial that we continue this important process to ensure that people are not written off and we get a fair deal for the taxpayer,' he said.
Several charities have backed calls for fundamental reforms of the disability benefits system.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said 'reforms must go deeper than simply changing the provider'.
He said the system needed to ensure disabled people would get the 'specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job'.
Steve Ford, chief executive of Parkinson's UK, added: 'This report simply confirms what we have known for years - ESA is a shambolic and hopeless system that cruelly penalises the most vulnerable amongst us.'
Malnutrition soars by more than 70% since Coalition came to power
Malnutrition has soared by more than 70% since the Coalition came to power according to shocking data on hospital admissions.
During the Tory-led Government’s relentless cuts drive doctors in England have seen huge increases in conditions usually associated with the Third World.
People unable to feed themselves saw a staggering 6,686 admissions where malnutrition was the primary or secondary diagnosis during 2013/14.
This is a rise of 71% from 3,899 in the year up to April 2010.
Data from the Health and Social Care Information Centre released today also revealed admissions for scarlet fever were up by 110% and cholera by a staggering 450% since 2010.
Labour has branded the figures a “national scandal”.
Luciana Berger MP, Labour’s Shadow Public Health Minister, said: “This shouldn’t be happening in 21st century Britain and the Government’s response is hopelessly complacent.
“People are living under greater pressure and struggling with the cost of living.
“Hundreds of thousands are forced to turn to food banks and sadly it’s unsurprising people are eating less, and eating less healthily too.
“David Cameron needs to listen to what the experts are saying and tackle the cost of living crisis that is driving people into food poverty.”
Cases of malnutrition have been steadily increasing since the 2010 general election.
In 2009/10 there were 3,899 hospital admissions for this, in 2010/11 there were 4,660, in 2011/12 there were 5,396 then in 2012/13 this had risen again to 5,594.
Greater Manchester had the highest rate of malnutrition diagnosis last year at 2.1 for every 100,000 people - nearly double the national average.
Many of those taken to hospital with malnutrition were also suffering from other conditions.
In most severe cases where malnutrition was the primary reason for admission London came top with 65 cases last year, followed by Greater Manchester with 58 and the Wessex region with 53.
Chris Mould, chief executive of the Trussell Trust which runs a nationwide network of food banks, said: “This shows increases in diseases related to poverty and that’s alarming.
“Our food banks see tens of thousands of people who have been going hungry, missing meals and cutting back on the quality of the food they buy.
“We know quite a large proportion of the population are struggling to get nutritious food on the table. And at the extreme end of that you get people who are malnourished.
“We don’t believe anyone should have to go hungry in the UK.
“The scale of the increases we’re seeing must be further investigated to find out why this is happening.”
Scurvy - a disease associated with pirates stuck at sea for long periods - has increased by 31% in England since 2010.
This is caused by a lack of vitamin C and can be caused by a diet without enough fresh fruit and vegetables.
Victorian diseases such as mumps and measles have fallen but have still not been eradicated.
There were 393 cases of mumps last year which was a rise from 319 the previous year but down from 543 cases in 2010.
Hospital admissions for measles saw a spike in 2012/13 with 692 cases. This fell to 205 admissions last year.
Kingsley Manning, Chair of the HSCIC, said: “It is fascinating to look at current statistics for some of the diseases and conditions that were prevalent in the 1800s and early 1900s.
“We are fortunate that these diseases are not as widespread today, however our figures do show that hospital admissions for gout are increasing.
“Healthcare organisations may be interested in undertaking further study into the trends highlighted in our report.”
The figures also revealed we are more susceptible to allergies with 20,318 admissions due to severe reactions last year. This was up 8% on 2012/13.
The Government claimed the rapid increase in malnutrition cases “could be partly due to better diagnosis”.
Health minister Dr Dan Poulter said: “We want everybody to live a healthy life and a good diet is essential.
“We want to reduce levels of malnutrition, particularly amongst frail and elderly people.
“We are working with Age UK on a half a million pound project, which aims to tackle the issue in a range of health and care settings.
“We’ve also given local authorities a £5.4billion budget over two years to help them manage public health issues including malnutrition.'
Tuesday, 22 July 2014
PIP 20 metre court case fails
The High Court has today rejected the judicial review challenge to the fairness of its consultation process on the introduction of new 20 metre eligibility criteria for the mobility component of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The challenge was brought by Mr. Steven Sumpter who can only walk a few metres with a stick and is otherwise dependent on a wheelchair. He was assessed as eligible for the high rate of the mobility component of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) last year and he has used this to lease a Motability car. He fears that he may lose his benefit and so his Motability car under PIP.
Under the DLA, a disabled person is usually entitled to the higher rate if they cannot walk more than 50 metres. Under the PIP, the relevant distance is reduced to 20 metres.
The Government’s own figures predict that under the new scheme, by May 2018, just over 600,000 will qualify for the new high rate mobility benefit compared to over a million people who would have qualified under the old scheme.
The judicial review proceedings were launched in March 2013 and argued that the 2102 consultation was unfair because the Government had failed to mention the new 20 metre qualifying criterion in its consultation on the new criteria in 2012.
In today’s judgement, the High Court found the eligibility criteria in the 2012 consultation to have been “mind–bogglingly opaque”. The judge commented that:
“ … had it been necessary for me to have determined whether the consultation process would have been fair if it had stopped in December 2012 …, the question would have been difficult and it should not be assumed that I would have found it to have been fair and lawful. Indeed, I have the gravest doubt as to whether I would have found it to be so.”
However, the High Court nevertheless concludes that, overall, taking into account the further consultation in 2013, the process had been lawful.
Liz Sayce, Chief Executive of Disability Rights UK says:
“This judgement is bitterly disappointing. We strongly supported the judicial review action and provided witness statements to the High Court.
Despite receiving over 1,100 responses to the 2013 consultation opposing the new PIP mobility test the Government has pressed ahead regardless.
PIP could see thousands of disabled people become institutionalised in their own homes. The DWP expects that 600,000 disabled people who currently get the higher rate mobility component will lose it altogether or receive the lower amount. This means that many will lose their car under the Motability car scheme so they will no longer be able to get to work or get out and about. We strongly believe the benefits system should support and not constrain disabled people’s independence.”
Mr Sumpter is represented by the Public Law Solicitors who say it is looking carefully at the possibility of an appeal.
Monday, 21 July 2014
We must all fight to keep the Human Rights Act
Carole Ewart, coordinator of Human Rights Consortium Scotland, believes it is our duty to protect UK human rights laws.
Sometimes you only miss something when it goes. Just when you need it, it’s missing.
This could happen to our fundamental rights given the re-emergence of political initiatives to abolish the Human Rights Act of1998. If we are passive and depend on others to act, we are doomed because these others are not a huge group: only 22% of the population actually support human rights with 26% against and 41% conflicted.
How have we arrived at a situation where human rights are the problem rather than the solution to inhumanity, unfairness, illegality and arbitrary decision making?
Human rights are what we each own, equally. They reflect my values of fairness, equality, dignity and respect and I know they offer me security and protection when my government acts badly. Human rights provide a minimum set of standards that unite countries around the world where too many rights continue to be regarded as luxuries or privileges that can be withdrawn when times are tough. So what is there to oppose?
There is a problem because many people cannot relate to human rights domestically: they know what human rights look like in Burma, Syria and Egypt but cannot relate them to everyday situations in Scotland. A media focus on applying human rights to criminal justice cases but not to health, housing and social care stories means coverage is skewed. We need organisations to assert and talk about human rights more to spread the gains across society.
Sloppy journalism is another challenge as propaganda is confused with fact. Prisoner voting rights has become a toxic issue because the judgement is wrongly reported and facts are ignored. For example a Westminster select committee recommended in 2013 the government should introduce legislation to allow all prisoners serving sentences of 12 months or less to vote in all UK parliamentary, local and European elections. Ergo, it’s not just the European Court that says change is needed.
The new UK cabinet is minus key supporters of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). This creates a chain reaction: abolition of the Human Rights Act, which gives ECHR domestic effect, is likely to be a manifesto commitment of the Conservatives going into the 2015 General Election. If elected and implemented, this would create a shift in the balance of power between people and government – we would be weaker without being able to assert our rights domestically. Globally, the UK will give comfort to those regimes that agree human rights are inconvenient and can be compromised.
Evidently we cannot be complacent and we need to be much more active about telling positive stories about how human rights have empowered the weak, protected the vulnerable and changed unfair decisions. Human rights need to be enhanced not diminished. We need to target the 41% in the middle ground by explaining that human rights are our rights – that means persuading your family, friends, neighbours as well as politicians to protect what we cherish.
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