Tag Archives: social security

It’s time for us to prove our progressive credentials

We want to hang on to the Remain voters who flocked to us in the Euro elections. We believe that our party could radically change our conflicted country for the better, while we see that the two main parties at present are, in the expressive vernacular, of as much use as a fart in a bottle.

This husk of a government continues to do harm. As if it were not enough that Chancellor Philip Hammond ignored the poorest in his March Spring Statement despite bumper tax receipts, the continuing impact of the roll-out of Universal Credit, the two-child limit on some welfare payments and the continuing benefits freeze will, according to research by experts, cause a big increase in families unable to make ends meet this year. Cover-up attempts by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd to alleviate the effects have done little. For example, repaying the advance payments for UC will plunge one in ten low-pay households into deficit. Although UC has made 56% of households better-off by £172 a month, 40% are worse off and will lose an average of £181.

Amber Rudd’s latest wheeze to stem the flow of criticism is denial. She is to complain to the UN about the final UK report of its Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, Philip Alston, which was published last month, apparently on the grounds that his personal fact-finding tour was only eleven days long and his conclusions on the Government’s approach to tackling poverty are ‘completely inaccurate’. The 20-page report, which upholds the statement made in November discussed here in LDV is in fact extensively referenced by many authoritative public bodies. 

The report’s summary points out that one-fifth of Britain’s population, 14m.people, live in poverty, and that the policies of austerity introduced since 2010 continue largely unabated. Its final conclusion is that Brexit presents an opportunity to reimagine what the UK stands for, and that recognition of social rights and social inclusion rather than marginalization of the working poor and the unemployed should be the guiding principle of social policy. The report combines recommendations of practical steps to tackle poverty with humane proposals for restoring our social contract.

So, its fourth recommendation demands reversal of the “regressive measures” pointed out by experts and ignored by the Government  (see above) –  continuation of the benefits freeze, the two-child limit, the benefit cap, and the reduction of housing benefit including for under-occupied rental housing. This is already Liberal Democrat policy, and we would also support the recommendation to eliminate the five-week delay in receiving UC benefits.

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Time to scrap disability assessments and bring them in house

With each month passing there is more and more evidence that now is the time to bring an end to the failed DWP disability assessments and private outsourcing by companies such as Maximus and Capita and bring all assessments in house.

Appeal success rates for those that go to tribunal  for both Personal Independence Payment and Employment and support allowance are at their highest rates ever, with success rates of 73% for Pip and 74% for ESA. This is an increase of 4% and 5 % respectively.

At the same time, waiting times for mandatory reconsiderations, which a claimant has to go through before appealing to a tribunal has increased by 86%. Average waiting times for a reconsideration have increased from 32 days to 54 days. This leaves many sick and disabled people in a severe financial hardship. This is totally unacceptable and is it any wonder that the use of food banks is at an all time high. The success rate of PIP Mandatory reconsiderations stands at a measly 19%. That is 2 opportunities that the DWP has had to get an assessment correct and fail and nearly three quarters of those people who go on to appeal are successful at tribunal. This is simply unsustainable, on top of the human suffering that this costs, there is the financial costs to the DWP and the justice department all because the private healthcare assessment providers and the DWP are failing to do their jobs. The system is broken.

There is also evidence of a canteen culture of contempt  at the DWP. In official tribunal papers for a woman’s appeal to Personal Independance Payments by a welfare official for the department of work and pensions, they wrote

In this lying bitches case she is receiving the mid-rate carers allowance component for providing day time supervision to another disabled person. The tribunal may wish to explore this further.

 

The mother of small children has a degenerative condition affecting her heart and lungs that leaves her prone to infection and in constant pain. 

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LibLink: Christine Jardine: All consuming Brexit is making this country a less caring place

Sarah Newton resigned as Disabilities Minister 3 weeks ago but she still hasn’t been replaced.

In her Scotsman column this week, Christine Jardine outlined why a new minister was needed and soon.

The Personal Independence Payments system is broken, she said, highlighting a local example:

Alexandra Mitchell from Cramond, has already highlighted the shortcomings. Born with a disability and entitled to a Motability car for years, she was mysteriously told she no longer qualified for the support, with no adequate reasoning behind the decision. Although we managed to have the decision overturned on appeal that, in itself, is not good enough. Nor is it an isolated, or even unusual, incident.

That wasn’t the end of the story, though, for Alexandra:

I again raised the case of Alexandra Mitchell who has now been told that there is an ‘end date’ of her lifelong disability. Wow, who knew the department had such powers? That they could end disability at the stroke of a pen. They can’t. And to get to the bottom of why the department thought it could, I was due to have a meeting with the Minister for Disabilities in the very week she decided that she could no longer stomach her own Government’s approach to Brexit. Since then, there has been nobody in Government tasked with addressing those issues, of which there are so many, that myself and other MPs have been keen to raise. Fortunately I had also arranged a meeting with Amber Rudd, the current Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, to ask if she would consider changes to a Universal Credit system that has proven not fit for purpose. Again Brexit, as ever, intervened and foreshortened our meeting, but not before I had grasped the opportunity to confront the Secretary of State with the problem. To be fair, she asked me to send details of Alexandra’s case directly to her and I have.

Christine highlighted the ridiculous amount of money that the Government spends on holding appeals, most of which are upheld:

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15 March 2019 – yesterday’s press releases

Lib Dems call on retailers to scrap the gender price gap

To mark World Consumers Rights Day, Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine has written to major cosmetic manufacturers and retailers across the UK as part of her campaign to scrap the gender price gap.

Commenting on her campaign, Ms Jardine said:

We are a quarter of the way through 2019 and still men and women pay different prices for the same basic products. This is entirely unacceptable.

For World Consumer Rights Day I am writing to the most prominent cosmetic manufacturers and retailers across the UK to ask them to change their outdated

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Alleviating poverty in our country. How should Liberal Democrats aim to help?

Should Universal Credit simply be abolished? That’s not our policy. .Perhaps we should replace it with a new benefit, National Credit, as suggested here recently by Michael BG. But how about abolishing the Department for Work and Pensions?

That is the radical idea just advanced by a man who worked in national mental health policy for more than ten years, and who latterly was seconded to the DWP for 18 months to advise on mental health across a range of policy issues. 

Tom Pollard of the think-tank Demos has written a short paper, Pathways from Poverty: A case for institutional reform, published by Demos this month. He writes that the Government should consider abolishing the department after its failure to help ill and disabled people out of poverty. He maintains that the DWP is “institutionally and culturally incapable of making the reforms needed to deliver better outcomes for society’s most vulnerable.” 

Referencing the post-war Beveridge social contract, he declares that modern governments have failed to deliver a parallel radical agenda. Specifically, he complains that the DWP has a ‘benefit lens’ where case-handlers perceive employment as a condition for receiving benefits, rather than as a means for enabling claimants to pursue fulfilling work. Speaking at a recent Demos discussion with industry experts and senior parliamentarians, he maintained that for many claimants the problems were not a question of their motivation, but of their disability or illness that impeded their securing work.

His conclusions recall points made by the UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, whose hard-hitting report  was discussed in LDV articles on November19 and 28 and December 2. 

Philip Alston observed a ‘command and control’ approach to Universal Credit which imposed harsh sanctions which the evidence tended to show were counter-productive. He too referred to elements of the Beveridge contract having been overturned, inflicting misery on the poor and the disabled. While discussing practical needs such as the restoration of local authority services, with the viewpoint of a compassionate outsider he also deplored what he saw as a decline in British traditional values of compassion and concern for everyone.

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Heartbreaking: Homelessness among children in Scotland rises 22% over 3 years

Homelessness can happen so easily. All it takes is for a landlord to decide to sell the home you have always lived in and you have nowhere to go.

If you are a child in temporary accommodation, your toys and all of your family’s furniture will be in storage. There will be no tree to put presents under.  

You could be in a bed and breakfast with all your family in one room with nothing to cook on. You could be in a cold, damp flat somewhere you don’t know.

You could be moved somewhere else at a moment’s notice.

You’ll be away from your friends.

Imagine what that does to your sense of security and wellbeing. It’s going to damage your health, both physical and mental and harm your development.

That’s hard enough at any time of year but at Christmas it’s devastating.

I’m furious that every year the number of children going through this goes up. We cannot stand for this. Both Scotland’s Governments should be ashamed of themselves

Every Christmas, the Scottish Lib Dems ask Scottish Ministers how many children are included in live homelessness applications. This year’s see yet another rise. 12,858 children are in some sort of temporary accommodation at this time. That’s about a fifth of the size of the town where I live and it’s a 22% rise on 2015’s figures.

Both Scotland’s governments really need to get on with ending this misery. The SNP has to stop making excuses and build more social housing and ensure councils have resources to fix poor housing. There are thousands of neglected and vacant properties across the country which, with the right incentives, could be renovated to boost the housing stock.

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LibLink: Stephen Lloyd: Universal Credit was meant to make work pay – it’s causing nothing but grief, pain and anger

Our social security spokesperson Stephen Lloyd has been talking about how badly the Government has cocked up the implementation of Universal Credit for a while. We supported it in coalition but as soon as we were consigned to the back benches, depleted, the Tories ripped loads of money out of it.

He’s now written for the Huffington Post about what a nightmare this new system is.

And a crucial part of this incentive was the Work Allowance. This is the maximum amount a UC claimant can earn through employment, before their benefit payments are reduced. However in the Summer 2015 budget, with the

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How do benefit sanctions affect mental health?

There are few things more obvious than if you are deprived of the means to feed yourself, it’s going to be stressful and more than likely affect your mental health and not in a good way. This Mental Health Awareness Week, the excellent Scottish Association for Mental Health is collecting evidence to present to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee inquiry into benefit sanctions. 

People on benefits can lose up to all of their personal allowances if they are deemed to have not done enough to find work or have missed an appointment or have been sacked for …

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Stephen Lloyd calls for action to help victims of domestic violence through Universal Credit

I’m really glad to see that Stephen Lloyd has written to Esther McVey to ask for action to reform Universal Credit to ensure that victims of domestic violence have access to their own money.

The Scottish Party’s landmark Social Security Bill allows for the default splitting of payments between members in a household, but ideally we need to find a solution for the whole UK.

At the moment, the benefit is paid to one person, usually the man.

If domestic abuse is going on in a relationship, there is likely to be financial abuse too so it’s important to ensure that each …

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Lloyd: Government must delay “horror” changes to mortgage support

Support for Mortgage Interest is a benefit given to people claiming Universal Credit or certain other income-related benefits who have a mortgage or who have taken out loans to make repairs to their home. It pays for the cost of interest on up to £200,000 of a person’s mortgage in order to prevent claimants from defaulting on their mortgage.

From next month, SMI will be replaced by a loan of the same value, which is repaid (with interest) when the property is sold.

It’s pretty cheap, as benefits go, costing the Government around £300 million a year. It is certainly about 3.5 times cheaper than letting someone’s home be repossessed and then having to pay housing benefit to put that household in the rented sector.

Apart from the whole principle being flawed, the implementation seems to have been botched as only around 10,000 of the eligible families have taken up the loan. Some people haven’t even been sent the information about it so that they can make an informed choice about whether to take the loan.

Our Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd said the whole thing was a horror and called for implementation to be delayed.

Every month we seem to be hearing yet more examples of this Conservative government being both mean-spirited and unintelligent; this mortgage interest benefit change is a classic example. It will force some homeowners into even more debt, and will force others to sell their homes putting themselves at the mercy (and cost) of their local council’s housing department. Which, naturally, will cost the taxpayer more in housing benefit than keeping them in their own house by paying mortgage interest payments. An absolutely ridiculous decision.

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Vince calls on Government to delay changes to mortgage interest payment for people on benefits

In less than 3 weeks’ time, the Government stops paying mortgage interest to for those on certain benefits.

Some bright spark at the Department of Work and Pensions came up with a way to save the Government money – by getting a private company, Serco, to operate a loan scheme. Instead of having payments covered by the state, they will be covered by the homeowner taking out a private loan with Serco in return for a charge on the property. That means that they will have to pay back an unspecified sum of money if they eventually sell their house.

The Government …

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ESA appeals figures “absolutely appalling” – Stephen Lloyd

New stats from the Department for Work and Pensions show that not far off two thirds of decisions that people are fit for work are overturned on appeal.  Now, think about it. You have to go through a stressful assessment process. You get your decision. You then have to ask for a mandatory reconsideration which will almost always have the same outcome. You then have the stress of waiting for months for an appeal. Then you have the stress of actually going to the Tribunal and facing questions from a panel. By this time a year or more could have gone by.

In any other organisation, such figures would lead to sackings and questions and enquiries  and sorting stuff out. Not in the Department of Work and Pensions under Tory misrule.

Our Work and Pensions spokesperson Stephen Lloyd called the figures “absolutely appalling.”

These figures are absolutely appalling, but of little surprise to me. With the many constituents who come through my office and those of other MPs’ across the country, we see with our own eyes some shocking decisions by Work Capability tribunals.

It is time that we stop faceless corporations making money off the backs of disabled people, while providing poor quality service.

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It’s not just the ridiculous and ignorant mistakes made in PIP and ESA assessments that should worry us

You judge whether a society is civilised or not by how it treats its most vulnerable people.  The Work and Pensions Select Committee will publish a report this week which has recommendations for the reform of social security for sick and disabled people.

If one of your relatives suffered from a debilitating, life limiting physical or mental health condition, you would want them to have the best support possible. You wouldn’t want them to have to endure a social security system that is complex, demeaning and stressful.

As a prelude to their full report, the Work and Pensions Committee published a taster of the evidence they have received which outlines the awful things that people go through.

For me, it wasn’t the absurd and ridiculous incidents that caught the headlines (people being asked why they hadn’t killed themselves yet, or how they caught Down’s Syndrome) that upset me the most. It was the clear evidence that the way the system operates is harmful to people that made me angriest.

To be fair, none of this was news to me. I’ve been aware for some time that the system is broken. It particularly fails those with fluctuating conditions, Autism and poor mental health, but it’s stressful for everybody.

Filling in the massive form is particularly difficult. For some, it is even more so. I spoke at an RNIB Scotland fringe meeting at Scottish Conference about a year ago, The RNIB Scotland Chair, Sandra Wilson, talked about her experience of the dreaded form. She has no sight. They sent her a paper copy and expected her to fill it in. They knew she had no sight when they sent her the form.

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Does it matter what colour your passport is?

My reaction to the news the other day that blue passports were going to be coming back after Brexit was one of frustration and annoyance.

I am not young by any stretch of the imagination, but I’ve never had an old style passport. My first one, issued in 1993, was the burgundy European Union one.

It’s not the colour change that upsets me so much but what it symbolises. Those words European Union signify openness and co-operation. That translates into meaningful rights for me as a citizen. It means that I can travel freely across the EU. It means that I am part of something that protects my rights – even when my own Governments, Scottish and UK, seek to undermine them.

I absolutely cherish those words. The change in passport colour symbolises a retreat from those values.

Tom Brake made the point the other day that there is a huge financial cost to each of us that he put at £721 per passport. That’s based on a £35 billion settlement to the EU divided by 48.5 million passport holders. He said:

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High Court rules that 2017 changes to PIP regulations are discriminatory

The High Court has found that part of the rules governing Personal Independence Payments are unlawfully discriminatory against people with mental health impairments.

The Public Law Project’s client, RF, won on all three grounds of her challenge (RF v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions). 

The judge quashed the 2017 Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Regulations because they discriminate against those with disabilities in breach of Human Rights Act 1998 obligations. Because they were discriminatory, the judge also found that the Secretary of State did not have lawful power to make the Regulations (i.e. they were “ultra vires”), and that he should have consulted before making them, because they went against the very purpose of what PIP regime sought to achieve.

The judge heard that the Regulations were laid by negative resolution in February 2017, received relatively little parliamentary attention, and were rushed through the parliamentary process by the Secretary of State without prior reference to checks by relevant committees.  Contrary to the Secretary of State’s defence, the judge found that the decision to introduce the Regulations was ‘manifestly without reasonable foundation’ and commented that the wish to save money could not justify such an unreasonable measure.

During the course of the trial, the Secretary of State accepted that the testing carried out for PIP had not looked at whether the basis for treating those with psychological distress differently was sound or not, and the testing actually done was limited. 

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Scottish Parliament calls for rollout of Universal Credit to be halted

Alex Cole-Hamilton was one of the MSPs calling for the rollout of Universal Credit to be halted during a debate in the Scottish Parliament today. Only the Conservatives defended the continued rollout.

We know that people are having to wait up to 6 weeks for any money at all. MSPs had some real horror stories to report which you can see in the full record of the debate here.

Alex’s speech was very well crafted – and it was candid, too. He both acknowledged and distanced himself from the Liberal Democrat role in the coalition government’s welfare reform. However, he was able to show that without us there, the Tories have done a great deal worse. Here’s his speech in full.

I often speak with hyperbole in this place about the various responsibilities that we as decision makers discharge both in this Parliament and at Westminster, but the safety net that we provide for those who, for whatever reason, cannot provide for themselves should be the measure of any civilised society. My party has a proud history in the genesis and introduction of the welfare state in the early days of the 20th century, with the first state pension introduced under Lloyd George. In the 1940s, that great Liberal William Beveridge was the catalyst for the advent of social security when he identified the original “giant evils”, as he described them, of ignorance, idleness, squalor, want and disease. It is a failure of progress that, if we strip out the antiquated language, many of those evils still hold sway in our society today.

We should remember that, until this decade, the systems of welfare in this country had not undergone significant reform since their introduction, despite generations of incremental modification. For decades, welfare reform was sought by poverty campaigners, third sector organisations and academics so that we could dispense with unneeded red tape and inject much-needed social mobility into the system.

It fell to my party, in its period of coalition government, to co-preside over that much-needed redesign. I would, however, that we had had different bedfellows in that task. There are elements of the system that underpins the process that I take no pride in at all, and there are aspects of the new system that I still find shameful. Nevertheless, I am glad that we were there, for I dread to think of the welfare system that our Conservative partners would have designed unencumbered. We all saw the measure of the ideological compass behind Conservative social policy in the ill-fated manifesto that Theresa May published in the spring.

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Liberal Democrats would end the benefits freeze – but Labour aren’t sure

As prices go up in a Brexit-induced inflationary spiral, spare a thought for the poorest in our society. People who are having to rely on state benefits don’t get any cushioning thanks to George Osborne’s benefit freeze. As prices go up, benefits, already at a meagre level, stay the same making it even harder for people to survive.

So, you’d think that Jeremy Corbyn’s lefty Labour Party would be all about ending the freeze. Well, that’s what they briefed reporters on Friday morning ahead of a Corbyn visit to Cambridge. Remember that until 2015, Cambridge was represented by a Liberal Democrat who voted against many of the most contentious elements of the Coalitions social security reforms.

Anyway, Jezza rolls up and, weirdly, gives a much more timid message than his advisers had briefed. From Politics Home:

Party officials briefed journalists that Mr Corbyn would make the promise during a visit to Coatbridge in Lanarkshire yesterday.

A trail of his speech quoted the Labour leader saying: “We will lift the freeze on social security, using part of the billions we set aside for reform in our costed manifesto, by recycling social security savings made by introducing a real Living Wage of £10 an hour, and by building the affordable homes we need.”

But when he came to make the address, Mr Corbyn only said: “We are confident that we will be able to end the benefits freeze.”

A Labour source told The Times: “In his campaign speeches… not everything is said, but the intention was to say that. It’s in line with our policy.”

A party spokesman said: “We are confident that we will be able to end the benefits freeze.”

It’s the sort of caution that strikes resignation and frustration into the heart of anyone that actually wants to sort stuff out.

Just as a matter of interest, what is the Liberal Democrats’ policy on this? Pretty unequivocal, from the 2017 manifesto

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If they say you’re a Red Tory or a Yellow Tory, ask about Corbyn’s welfare cuts

Jeremy Corbyn’s team had promised to reverse child tax credit cuts, but in their 2017 manifesto, they did nothing of the sort as the Institute for Fiscal Studies shows:

Corbyn’s manifesto planned to increase taxes by £46bn per year and to borrow an extra £350bn. With so much extra funding, there was enough to honour their promises on welfare, so voters could be forgiven for assuming that they would.
In his first leadership election, Corbyn said: “Families are suffering enough. We shouldn’t play the government’s political games when the welfare of children is at stake”.  This issue of welfare cuts is why he defeated his Labour rivals for the leadership, because they had previously abstained on a number of votes.
In autumn 2015, John McDonnell, his Shadow Chancellor, didn’t just commit not to implement these cuts, he promised to reverse those that had already happened: “We are calling on Osborne to reverse his decision to cut tax credits. If he doesn’t reverse these cuts, we’re making it clear that we will”.
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May doesn’t care about disabled people losing their benefits – Farron

Theresa May was confronted over disability benefit cuts yesterday, during a rare encounter with ordinary people.  Cathy Mohan, who lives in Abingdon, Oxfordshire, berated the Prime Minister over cuts to service and social security for people with learning disabilities.

Watch the encounter here.

Tim Farron said:

Theresa May has shown she just doesn’t care about people like Cathy who are seeing their benefits slashed and prices rise.

Instead of addressing concerns over learning disabilities – she tried to change the subject to mental health.

Theresa May isn’t listening and is taking people for granted.

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The most disgraceful Government form ever #rapeclause

There are many occasions at the moment when the UK Government makes me ashamed to be British. Two examples this week show what Tim Farron described on Question Time the other night as “Cruel Britannia.”

The first is the removal of Personal Independence Payments from people suffering serious psychological distress. Matt described powerfully here what that would mean for him.

When outdoors I can become so distressed by events and this can trigger an episode of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Symptoms. Symptoms include flash backs to an event that has caused much psychological harm and distress, visual hallucinations of the event that makes me feel that I am in another time and place, reliving the event as though it is really happening at that moment, becoming completely unaware of immediate surroundings. Coming out of one of these episodes is extremely distressing, confusing and disorientating and leaves me full of fear. My entire thought process is filled only with getting home and getting safe. I am no longer capable of following the route because my brain and thought process will not quieten down enough to think. I can only liken it to a petrified dog that will run off at full speed ahead, unaware of dangers / hazards / roads, petrified of people. All you can think of is getting home to the safety of your bed and cowering. The situation has caused me to put myself and others in danger whilst in this panicked state of mind. There are many things that can act as a trigger for me, It might be the way someone looks reminds me of person from my past, It can be a certain smell that acts as a trigger, it might be something I hear. I spend most of my life avoiding triggers. These are obviously easier to control within the safety of my own home, but impossible when I am outdoors.

The second example is the removal of benefits to cover third or subsequent children. In itself this is utterly wrong in principle. Benefit should be payable according to need. Children are suffering now because their families are now significantly worse off. The idea that large families should be penalised is so wrong. Are we really saying that if someone finds themselves as a single parent and they have four children, that the state should only provide help with two of them? What are the others supposed to do? It brings back the sort of attitude from Victorian times when the state would provide a parent with help with child support for a couple of weeks before taking the children off the parent and putting them in the workhouse. The idea that the poor are in some way culpable and should be punished is not something any liberal should accept. 

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Scottish Liberal Democrats demand answers from Ruth Davidson over mental health cuts to PIP

The Conservatives have not covered themselves in glory on social security issues recently. The removal of Housing Benefit from young people, the totally immoral restriction of benefits to two children and the deeply objectionable 8 page form that women have to complete if they want to claim for a third child conceived by rape, the cuts to disability benefits and cutting back eligibility to Personal Independence Payments for those suffering psychological distress have all shown a cruel lack of understanding of real life.

Let’s not forget the five year benefit freeze imposed by George Osborne in 2015. With Brexit bound to increase prices, that is simply unsustainable.

The cuts are significant, but even more reprehensible is the inhumane stripping of dignity from those who need our help. A civilised society supports those in need. If that makes me a bleeding heart Liberal, as Tim Farron declared he was on Question Time the other night, then I’m proud to be so.

Ruth Davidson’s Scottish Conservatives may pretend that they are nicer than their Westminster counterparts, making the right noises on mental health recently, but we can’t forget that they are the same party. Every awful thing that Theresa May’s Brexit government does reflects on them.

As health and social security spokespeople for the Scottish Liberal Democrats, Alex Cole-Hamilton and I have written to Ruth Davidson asking her to state her position on the cuts to PIP. Our letter says:

Dear Ruth,

We were pleased to see your party last week join the Liberal Democrats and campaigners in declaring that the SNP Government’s new mental health strategy lacked ambition. It was the right thing to do because the new strategy will not deliver the transformation we desperately need to see.

However, we were deeply concerned to see that, in the very same week, your colleagues at Westminster were voting to restrict personal independence payments to people with mental health and anxiety conditions, affecting tens of thousands of people both in and out of work.

This shows little understanding of the complex needs of some of the most vulnerable people in our society, for example those trapped in their homes because they are too anxious to leave without someone. These people can need help to leave their home every bit as much as someone suffering from a physical condition.

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Damning PIP report shows culture of fear and mistrust – Olney

The virtual ink was barely dry on Geoff Crocker’s harrowing piece about his son’s PIP interview when a comment from Sarah Olney on the damning report by the Independent Reviewer of the PIP implementation, Paul Gary, popped into my inbox.

The report is highly critical and outlines that the fundamentals are just not working.

A key conclusion of the Review is that public trust in the fairness and consistency of PIP decisions is not currently being achieved, with high levels of disputed award decisions, many of them overturned at appeal

My findings point to the need to build very considerably on current action to improve the way PIP is administered, continuing the direction of travel proposed in the first Review. They include recommendations to improve the way the right type of evidence is obtained, used and tested in assessments; to strengthen transparency; and to broaden audit and quality assurance in assessment and decision-making.

In other words, there’s not a lot that’s going right.

Imagine, for a moment, that you’ve gone through the stress that Geoff describes just going for the interview. Then you find that you have been denied PIP. Then you have to endure the further stress of an appeal just to get the help that you desperately need to get on with your life, to work. PIP is not a luxury. It’s there to help people with long term conditions with the extra costs that these pile on.

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The UK’s ritual humiliation of disabled people – Part 2 The PIP interview

In an earlier post, I wrote about the process of withdrawal of Disability Living Allowance and the requirement for disabled people to apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), as I experienced it in caring for my adult son Paul who has a condition known as Williams Syndrome. Several respondents shared similar stories, and urged our party to adopt a much stronger care policy for disabled people, so far to no avail. (I was by the way mistaken in my claim that all PIP application notices had been sent out over Christmas and New Year – it appears that a rolling programme is in place and this was just when Paul happened to receive his notice).

As other respondents also warned, the PIP application form and subsequent interview deepen the hostile challenging nature of the process. The application form is indeed 40 pages long. Brutally, DWP specifically refuses to allow a PIP applicant to state a well-known, well-documented medical condition with known symptoms as a statement of need. So for example you’re not allowed to state conditions such as Downs Syndrome or in Paul’s case Williams Syndrome and then allow this to refer to all its known symptoms and detailed conditions. Instead DWP insists that the applicant sets out in detail all the distressing elements of that condition, from intellectual lack of capacity, physical impairment, to hygiene and continence issues. I completed the form, ending up choked with distress at having to specify this detail. 

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Liberal Democrats are the only party standing up against PIP cuts

If you haven’t read Matt’s article about how the changes to Personal Independence Payments will affect him, then please do so.

Last night, the amazing Liberal Democrat peers did their best to try and stop the Government’s plans in their tracks. They filed a fatal motion which, like the one that saw off the fatal changes to tax credits, would have forced the Government to think again.

What they needed was the support of the Labour Party. However, as we know from Brexit, Labour don’t seem to be up for providing any opposition that actually means anything. Did they vote for our motion? No. They did, however, put down their own motion which amounted to little more than “We don’t like this very much but we aren’t going to do anything about it.”

Be in no doubt that if Labour had supported our motion, these PIP cuts would not be happening.

Following the votes,  Baroness Celia Thomas, Lords Spokesperson for Disability, said:

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Changes to Disability Benefits and the Government’s blasé attitude to psychological distress.

Last month the Government announced that it was going to be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which would see those people with mental illnesses stuck without the vital support that they need. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.

The Tribunal ruled that someone who is unable to undertake a journey without assistance from another person due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulty navigating. Rather than accepting the ruling of the courts, the Government decided to change the legislation and the descriptors to exclude people suffering from some mental health disabilities by inserting the following into the legislation and the descriptors, “for reasons other than psychological distress”.

The Government produced its own analysis of which claimants and conditions are likely to be affected by these changes, 

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Lib Dem Lords aim to kill new Tory restrictions on disability benefits

The Liberal Democrats have tabled a motion to kill Government attempts to severely restrict disability benefits.

The move follows an announcement by the Government that they will be tightening the criteria for claimants of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) which could see diabetics and those with mental illnesses stuck without support. The Government has introduced these restrictions after losing two cases at tribunals.  From the Minister’s statement:

The first judgement held that needing support to take medication and monitor a health condition should be scored in the same way as needing support to manage therapy, like dialysis, undertaken at home. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who need support to manage therapy of this kind are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

The second held that someone who cannot make a journey without assistance due to psychological distress should be scored in the same way as a person who needs assistance because they have difficulties navigating. By way of example, the first group might include some people with isolated social phobia or anxiety, whereas the second group might include some people who are blind. Until this ruling, the assessment made a distinction between these two groups, on the basis that people who cannot navigate, due to a visual or cognitive impairment, are likely to have a higher level of need, and therefore face higher costs.

Responding to the announcement Baroness Cathy Bakewell, Liberal Democrat Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, said:

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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.

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Susan Kramer says that Government must unfreeze benefits

Back in July, I told a panel on social security at the Social Liberal Forum conference that in the wake of Brexit, a benefits freeze for four years, which was never a good idea, was entirely inappropriate and we should be opposing it loudly.

Analysis from the Institute of Fiscal Studies confirms that Brexit is going to hit those on benefits and low incomes particularly hard:

Normally many of those on the lowest incomes would be at least partially protected from the impact of higher prices by the rules that govern the annual uprating of benefits and tax credits. By default, benefit and tax credit rates are (with some exceptions, most notably the state pension) increased each April in line with the annual CPI inflation rate of the previous September – higher prices lead to higher benefit rates (albeit with a lag). However, in the July 2015 Budget the Government announced that, as part of its attempt to cut annual social security spending by £12 billion, most working-age benefit and tax credit rates would be frozen in cash terms until March 2020. This policy represented a significant takeaway from a large number of working age households. But it also represented a shifting of risk from the Government to benefit recipients. Previously, higher inflation was a risk to the public finances, increasing cash spending on benefits. Now the risk is borne by low-income households: unless policy changes higher inflation will reduce their real incomes.

I am glad to see that our shadow Chancellor, Susan Kramer, has now said that the Government must reverse its unfair benefits freeze plans:

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A Liberal idea to empower claimants

 

At Conference we agreed a policy motion, “Mending the safety net”, on ways of stopping people from falling into poverty caused by problems with social security nets. Leaving aside the heated arguments for how this would best work, how about involving those we are talking about in having a needle and thread too ?

Whatever the ways we have of mending the safety net, those who need it must be able to understand the letters that they are sent from the officials concerned.

I am not blaming the officials, they don’t necessarily know how what is written is perceived, but what can be done is listen to the recipients.  I was a volunteer advisor with CAB for 40 years, and know how many people just do not understand what they are being told.

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What party members think about a universal basic income and benefits sanctions

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum  to discover what Lib Dem members think of various political issues, the Coalition, and the performance of key party figures. 741 party members responded – thank you – and we’re publishing the full results.

The social security debate at Conference this afternoon will be dominated by two major arguments. George Potter recommended rejection of the motion as a whole because it chose not to endorse a universal basic income and because it supports the use, albeit much restricted, of sanctions. Supporters of the UBI may well support an amendment calling for a negative income tax from Calderdale while an amendment signed by members opposes the use of benefits sanctions in any circumstances. We asked our members what they thought of the idea of UBI and sanctions.

Are you in favour of a universal basic income?

Yes 60.32%

No  39.68%

Here are some of the comments made:

It would be a clear, distinct policy and place the Party firmly on the “Left” (which, as Charles Kennedy and Paddy Ashdown proved) is the only place it can survive.

The nature of work is changing and society needs to catch up. The markets can no longer be a funnel for the rich to build up their wealth. Redistribution needs to be far more aggressive.

No. It is fundementally wrong as it discriminates against the most vulnerable in society. Common denominators always end up being the lowest.

Posted in Conference and LDV Members poll | Also tagged and | 30 Comments
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Recent Comments

  • User AvatarPeter Martin 22nd Jul - 5:15pm
    @ Joe B, Anyone saving their money will end up saving it with Govt in one way or another. I could buy some shares but...
  • User Avatarfrankie 22nd Jul - 4:58pm
    The major policy that will help poverty is building affordable social housing. It would drive down rents and housing costs. The problem is it faces...
  • User AvatarRussell L Simpson 22nd Jul - 4:58pm
    Brilliant speech. Congrats Jo. And thanks Ed
  • User Avatartheakes 22nd Jul - 4:55pm
    Brilliant, what a speech. Who wrote it , credit where credit is due. Now for Gloucester on Thursday & Brecon next week. I noticed last...
  • User Avatarfrankie 22nd Jul - 4:48pm
    Enjoy the day, the hard work starts tomorrow. O remember nice seldom wins and it won't win against this set of delusionists.
  • User AvatarBill le Breton 22nd Jul - 4:48pm
    Stunning acceptance speech - simply stunning. Listen in full if you haven't had the chance to hear it live.
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