Disabled people claiming vital benefits are being treated disgracefully

We hear regular assurances from our political leaders, that priority will be given to meet people’s mental health needs. The opposite is currently the case. Many people with mental health needs receive Disability Living Allowance. DLA is ending and being replaced by Personal Independence Payment (PIP). DLA recipients, and/or their carers, were sent a letter from the Department for Work & Pensions dated 11 December 2016, informing them that DLA is ending, that they will not automatically be transferred to PIP, but must submit a claim by telephone by 8 January 2017. If the DLA recipient makes no contact, then DLA payments will simply end. The letter ends by suggesting that help can be obtained from unnamed organisations whose details can be found ‘online, at your local library, or in the telephone directory’! The letter was repeated in a follow up dated 25 December 2016! Some Christmas present from our renowned DWP.

I have care responsibility for my adult son, Paul, who has support needs resulting from a condition known as Williams Syndrome. Paul receives DLA, and care support from an organisation called ‘Options’ which I fund. I was away from home over Christmas until 30 December and so had to move quickly to telephone the call number to apply for PIP for him by the 8 January deadline. I called on 3 January, waited for 17 minutes, was then told that the system was down and I would receive a call back the next day. No call back came on 4 January, so I called again myself on 5 January. This time I had to wait 30 minutes to be answered. A DWP (although probably contracted out) officer then took me through an application process which required extensive data of Paul’s NI number, GP address and telephone, social worker and care organisation addresses and telephone numbers, nationality or immigration status, details of time spent abroad, and bank account details. There were bizarre questions about EU and Swiss connections which I didn’t even understand. During the process the officer frequently read out to me various warnings and threats of action which DWP would take in the event of false information being submitted, ranging from benefit withdrawal to prosecution.

To anyone on the receiving end of this process, this is an eloquent statement of sanction rather than care for the disabled. At no time was any concern expressed for Paul’s needs, only conditional threats of prosecution, which are an outrageous expression from a state engaging its disabled population. How can DWP justify unilateral automatic withdrawal of disability benefit unless the disabled take proactive action (to apply for PIP), which their disability by definition may well render them less enabled to do? Why was a very time constrained process of less than one month launched over the Christmas and New Year period? Why can applications only be made by telephone rather than online, by e-mail or post? It was inevitable and predictable that PIP applications would accumulate over the holiday period and lead to system crash in the new year. It’s all to do with budget cuts, and not at all an expression of care for disabled people. It’s a disgrace, and shames us all.

There are over 3.2m recipients of DLA in the UK. Mahatma Gandhi famously said that ‘the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated’. It is an even greater disgrace to the UK that its disabled people are treated in this cavalier way. We have a very long way to go before disabled people are properly cared for in the UK, in a way which befits a truly civilised society.

* Geoff Crocker is a professional economist writing on technology at http://www.philosophyoftechnology.com and on basic income at www.ubi.org. His recent book ‘Basic Income and Sovereign Money – the alternative to economic crisis and austerity policy’ was recommended by Martin Wolf in the FT 2020 summer reading list.

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  • Shaun Young 13th Jan '17 - 4:43pm

    The DLA/PIP migration is a nightmare – The form is 42 pages long, there is as you have pointed out no online version, so has to be completed by hand, the questions are not well laid out & baffling! The needs are not fully defined e.g. Toileting needs asks what help you require to use the loo, but states does not assess/consider how you get to the bathroom! For those who don’t have friends/relatives/carers who they can call on for assistance, then will need to call on the ‘over stretched’ services of CAB or if lucky other ‘voluntary’ resources. Then face to face assessment with one of the private companies ATOS who has already been discredited over the handling of the ESA migration, Capita & Maximus who again have had scores of complaints and the DWP only ever say ‘they will investigate’ – £100’s of millions of public money handed over to these private companys – I think I know who is benefiting the most from the shambolic system, & it’s not those who need it! 🙄

  • If there are those still in need of assistance of completing the form then this is helpful: https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/benefits/sick-or-disabled-people-and-carers/pip/help-with-your-pip-claim/fill-in-form/

    There is also further information (though you’ll have to return to the main PIP section) about transferring from DLA to PIP and what it may mean for your motability vehicle, including a link to the Motability website.

    “Why was a very time constrained process of less than one month launched over the Christmas and New Year period?”

    To me this would be a big question to answer. The difference between phonecalls made to the DWP in the week before and the week after the 3rd of January is no doubt extraordinary. To leave people worried over the Christmas break when it could have been delayed to the January period when process is much easier is not right.

  • Eddie Sammon 13th Jan '17 - 6:44pm

    DWP, like the Home Office, has become too tough in some areas recently. I hope this changes.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 13th Jan '17 - 8:14pm


    Reading your superb article and the excellent response by Shaun, is disturbing and empowering . You are to be commended for your open heart felt story being shared.

    Disturbing, in that we are experiencing such policies and that is an indictment of government and their employees. For every minister getting it wrong there is a DWP staff member doing likewise in inhumane inflexibility !

    Empowering, in that we must fight these attitudes at parliamentary and practical levels . We should be more confident to speak against those who are the culprits.

    As someone who has been on both sides, receiver and adviser of such services, disability issues , after a car accident , my wife particularly as a result , then my own work as a seminar leader and consultant to creative industry practitioners struggling with unemployment and other related problems, I know how good and bad the staff can be ! The whole point of the world of work is not slavery and doing the masters bidding. There is and has to be room for individuality , by adviser and client.Anything else is a waste of time and resources, and after freedom of movement and whatever happens on immigration, we should , rather than the present system, consider a basic income. Maybe not viable , but better than what is revealed herein. This must be dealt with . People having well paid or secure jobs bossing people around who have no chance of getting such jobs , and would like to be in such a position to, just shows up, the woeful inadequacy of the one , the terrible vulnerability of the other !

  • I also received my letter today telling me my DLA was coming to an end and I needed to claim PIP.
    I found the whole phone call stressful and intimidating and the call handler was about about as warm as the Snow on my lawn.
    I was asked something along the lines of have I ever been in Hospital due to depression, to which I replied yes several times. I do not know what the purpose of that question was and I was given no explanation.
    I was asked if there was someone at home who could help me with my form.

    And that was that, was told I now have to wait for my Form to turn up and the deadline that I have to complete it by.
    If this first stage interaction with the DWP is anything to go by, I am dreading what the actual assessment is going to be like with the “health care professional”

    Now the months of terror begins, Panicking every morning before the Postman arrives to see if the dreaded brown envelope is going to arrive.
    The stress of trying to explain on a form how my complex mental health effects my day to day living in just 12 questions, over half of which have nothing to do with mental health at all.
    Anxiety levels going through the roof waiting for an appointment date but not wanting it at the same time.
    Months of uncertainty and panic after the “assessment” to find out the results of your benefit claim.

    It is horrendously stressful

  • John Peters 13th Jan '17 - 9:48pm


    Life can be a bitch. I know it is trite but a problem shared and all that. Check out the local charities and reach out.

  • You’re right, Geoff. It is a disgrace.

    What is so very disappointing is that when we were in government, Liberal Democrat MP’s allowed this stuff originating from Duncan Smith to go through.

    It wasn’t just the individual that was hit. In the local authority I served on, we commissioned a report that calculated £ 10 million of spending would be taken out of the local economy by the IDS “reforms”.

  • Lorenzo Cherin 14th Jan '17 - 1:25am


    You know my views on these things , and direct experience , over many years , going now back to the Blair era. You really need to substitute “this stuff ” with “the stuff.”

    IDS was wretched , but the reforms in the direction now being pursued are the slippery slope begun under Blair and especially Brown trying to at the last minute look tough !

    ATOS got the contract in those governments , the egregious Jim Murphy and posing Yvette Cooper , the culprits of a lot of get to grips with it rhetoric and policy that translated into disastrous results. And they were not doing so in the whole of that period contending with a depression or banking crisis.

    Murphy rolling out his bright idea on beat a cheat hotline callers having a cut of money saved by their snooping and ratting on people , often mistakenly , causing a vulgar climate of fear and grubby motives.

    Cooper the defender of ATOS initially a great and keen support then the typical backtrack.

    I was a very strong supporter of New Labour in the early Blair years. I had become a Liberal Democrat after Iraq. By the time of what I describe above , an opponent of that sort of politics .

    In the coalition years much good and bad came of it. But as recently as under the second rate Ed Milliband team, the full on attitude was yet there, Rachael Reeves, when not trying to close down local lap dancing venues , causing unemployment amidst protests from the dancers, was saying she would be more tough than the Tories on the unemployed !

  • Excellent article. I think this was launched over Christmas precisely to make it even more difficult in the hope of cutting benefits. A few years back I had a friend who received letter asking her to attend an assessment on December the 25th which was a bit suspect.

  • This is one policy area as Liberals we should be campaigning on, shouting from the roof tops, and expressing our disgust at the way people with disabilities and illness are being treated. Shamefully this is the first article in 4 years on Disability Living Allowance on Lib Dem Voice, so thank you Geoff Crocker for raising this.

    This is not a new problem , PIP has been with us since June 2013. The transfer of existing DLA claimants to PIP started approximately 12-18 months after that and will continue maybe until end of next year.

    Let us as a party start shouting for those who feel oppressed, undignified, and picked on and say their is a better way, a more humane approach of giving proper training to staff in how to discuss illness, and disabilities with an individual rather than treating them as a financial number.

    Our policy on this should all be linked to what we as Liberals will do with the NHS, Social Care and how the benefits system will link in with these services. The party executives need to join up these policy areas to make people lives better.

  • Sue Sutherland 14th Jan '17 - 2:23pm

    Thank you for this article Geoff. Matt I can understand your panic. I suffer from M.E. and when it first developed 16 years ago it took me months to complete the form even though I had help from a neighbour who worked for Mind and that was back in the relatively good old days. I wonder if your local Mind group would be able to help you? Or a sympathetic friend?
    I have several friends with M.E. and they have been treated badly by this system, not just what Geoff describes but appointments being cancelled without them being informed so they struggle to get there and waste much needed income on taxis, get panic stricken about it all, all for no reason. The attitude they meet also seems to be “guilty until proved innocent”.
    Dean is right. We should be shouting from the rooftops.

  • @John Peters
    @Sue Sutherland

    Thank you for your comments

    I did used to use a charity that provided help with welfare and advocacy services called Disability Rights Norfolk, But they changed to Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, from what I can gather they lost funding and have ceased to exist.
    I think Mind does operate in my area and Citizen Advice, but they are in the City Centre and I am not able to go into the city.
    I am able to fill the forms out, I just do not handle dealing with the DWP verbally very well as I have nearly always found them intimidating, especially over the telephone and as for the assessments, they have always been so cold and devoid of all emotion and ends up making you feel even worse about yourself.

    I would like to take the opportunity in the post to make some people aware who might not be.
    Another thing that is extremely unfair on the claimants is that, the DWP does not always contact your GP and Specialists for a report. They are not obliged to and can make their decision solely on your claim form and interview. It is actually up to the claimant to provide the supporting evidence for their claim. This can prove extremely expensive if consultants and specialists are involved.
    If you want to try and avoid the appeal process and get the right decision the 1st time, it is usually best to make sure that the “health care professional” and the “decision maker” has all the information in front of them at the start. This means going to considerable expense on your own part which is difficult when you are already surviving on a limited income.
    The whole system is inhumane and unfair

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