Universal credit’s hidden cut pushes disabled people into poverty

Severely disabled people, like Philip, are losing their lifeline as disability benefits disappear in the rollout of universal credit.

Universal credit is in full-blown crisis, from cross-party criticism of its inbuilt six-week delayto a symbolic government defeat in the Commons over pausing its rollout. But one of the policy’s most shameful parts is barely being noticed: the hidden cut being forced on some of Britain’s most severely disabled people.

Philip, 41, who has multiple mental and physical health problems – including severe anxiety and depression – knows it all too well. An injury in his 30s severely damaged his left foot and he can only move on crutches.

He medically retired as a roadsweeper in 2011 and before universal credit came in he was getting by on a patchwork of disability benefits. The titles – employment and support allowance (ESA), enhanced disability premium (EDP), and severe disability premium (SDP) – sound like government jargon, but to Philip they were his lifelines.

Under “welfare reform”, lifelines can be torn away fast: this summer, Philip moved flats across south London and found himself cross into universal credit territory. Although it will not be rolled out to ESA claimants until 2019, Philip’s change in circumstance by moving house meant he was transferred onto universal credit early. What he discovered was a reality that scores of disabled people across the UK will soon be facing: neither EDP nor SDP exist under universal credit.

Do the sums and changing to universal credit means Philip is losing £40 a week. That’s a cut of more than £2,000 a year. The result is brutal. Philip can no longer afford to eat properly. Instead, he’s skipping meals. “I’m feeling physically weaker now,” he says.

Philip no longer has enough money to pay for the taxis he needs to get to his hospital appointments. “I get very anxious on public transport and don’t feel very safe,” he explains.

The financial strain doesn’t stop there. When he moved his rent was not fully paid for three weeks. He is appealing, but is now in rent arrears of over £450.

read more here: https://www.theguardian.com/society/2017/oct/31/universal-credit-pushing-disabled-people-into-poverty

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Total of 40 minutes and more on hold to the DWP’s Universal Credit Debt Management line

From Kate Belgrave’s blog:

Keeping a record of these things:

Yesterday morning, I made two calls to the DWP’s Debt Management “helpline” – the 0345 850 0293 number that people who receive benefits, including Universal Credit, must use to sort out problems with debt money that the DWP deducts from people’s Universal Credit payments.

I had to call twice yesterday (I didn’t have all the information that DWP Debt Management required the first time around. Unfortunately, I had to make the first call to find that out). I was on hold for more than 20 minutes both times to that 0345 850 0293 DWP Debt Management helpline, as you can see in the image below. I also called the line on Friday and was on hold for more than ten minutes, before I had to hang up to deal with something else.

As far as I can tell, this number has a charge. (I have a phone contract which covers those charges – that’s why I make calls for people who don’t). I hope this is one of the numbers that David Gauke has decided will be free soon. All helplines lines should have been free in the first place (I’d ask the DWP’s press office where things are at on all of these lines, but their answer to all my questions these days is to submit an FOI. So I have).

People who ring the DWP Debt Management helpline only ring that number because they have a debt problem and are in serious financial hardship. They can least afford extra charges for phone calls:

read more here: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2017/10/total-of-40-minutes-and-more-on-hold-to-the-dwps-universal-credit-debt-management-line/

The staggering rise in PIP complaints shows there’s rot in the system

It’s not just the scale of the complaints, it’s the increasing evidence that disability benefits are being removed on fabricated grounds

What happens when the system designed to help you is actually hurting you? This is the question I keep coming back to as I look at the newly released evidence of widespread failings in the disability benefit system. Complaints about the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process rose by nearly 880% last year, according to the Department for Work and Pensions.

That translates to almost 1,400 people, who might have Parkinson’s or severe depression, put through the government’s flagship disability benefit who – after months of gruelling paperwork, assessments, and perhaps even tribunals – are so desperate that they then find more energy to put in a formal complaint. These can’t be dismissed as being unjustified either: DWP statistics also show that the number of complaints that were upheld rose by 713% in the same year (from 67 in 2015-16 to 545 in 2016-17).

For the past four years, I’ve been reporting on the radical changes to disability benefits orchestrated by Conservative governments. The lack of humanity is glaring: there’s the Open University student with agoraphobia, Asperger’s and complex mental health problems living without a washing machine, oven or television after benefit cuts left her destitute; the 14-year-old child carer listening to her disabled dad crying because he doesn’t know how he’s going to pay the bills after having his disability benefits taken. But as the DWP’s complaints show, the scandal of this goes even further: there’s increasing evidence that benefits have been removed from disabled people based on entirely fabricated grounds.

The picture that’s emerging should disturb anyone who cares about the welfare state, poverty, or basic government transparency.

The specialist disabled news site Disability News Service (DNS) has been carrying out an investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty in the disability benefit system, with more than 250 PIP claimants alleging assessors repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations. It’s a regular occurrence for disabled readers to show me the reports of their benefit assessment, point to a statement, and tell me that it never in fact happened.

Even the latest official independent review of PIPs this March found there was “inherent distrust” of the system, due to the “lack of transparency in the assessment process” and the scale of faulty decisions (four out of five cases where a disabled person is denied disability benefits are now overturned on appeal).

Almost 80% of disabled people put through the PIP test have seen their health deteriorate due to stress or anxiety, a major survey found last month. More than a third of those who have had their benefit cut said they were struggling to pay for food, rent and bills. Forty per cent had become more isolated, and more than 50,000 disabled people have had their Motability cars removed after undergoing the PIP test.

read more here: http://www.computerweekly.com/news/4500248772/Universal-Credit-costs-leap-by-more-than-20-to-158bn

Tales from the Universal Credit frontline

It’s more than the 6 week wait that makes Universal Credit a disaster. Here’s a few tales picked up from my Facebook feed.

…….

“My experience claiming UC can only be described as absolutely disastrous. Every month having to query delayed/late payments via their shambolic telephone system. Umpteen letters informing me my claim’s been suspended that were sent in error and tomorrow I’ll be contacting them again in regards to an overpayment. The issues never seem to subside . . . Teething problems??! No, the system’s unfit for purpose!”

“I am utterly distraught and have never been so poor in my life. I work ..for the NHS, hilariously!!! on minimum wage. Will run out of gas and electric tomorrow and I don’t know where to turn. Am soooo worried and stressed. Working on UC sucks”

“I work full time and am paid 4 weekly, so this month I have no UC, due to being paid twice in 1 assessment period, and my wage isn’t even enough to cover the rent and bills. Any journalists about?”

“When speaking to the council last week the guy said to me that the council tax system had changed. For those who get housing benefit automatically get council tax support, but with universal credits they take your housing element as a form of income, and calculate your income based on everything u get! This morning we received our council tax bill from now as just moved until April! 668! Wtf!!! So because I get more as I’m disabled and husband is my carer, we have to pay the full council tax amount!!! How can we even afford this?!?!”

“So iv just received my universal credit payment today of 5.77 as opposed to 250. It turns out I was sanctioned from 8/09/2017 But they thought it wasn’t at all necessary to notify me of this sanction. I phoned on the 15th to explain why i wasn’t there on the 8th and rescheduled another appointment for the 20th where i would present my evidence for the reason for not attending. However when i arrived on the 20th i was left waiting over 30mins and had other things to do that day. It was then rescheduled again to today which they canceled and then rescheduled to the 18th 
They are responsible for me not getting to work today.
A job I have ONLY just started. How I’m supposed to live on
5.77 for a whole month is simply beyond me.”

“Last year, two days before Xmas my benefits got frozen! I was gutted, what a time to skint a mother out with her child tax that was to cover me and my son through the week holiday! I remember feeling so upset, had to borrow money from people. No warning, nothing! Didn’t know what was going on or why my money was frozen two days before Xmas, universal fucking credit! And then got nothing till March!”

“Was homeless in a hostel but got kicked out as my universal credit not enough to cover it; what we supposed to do??? Government should re-think it as it’s causing so much grief that people can do without! !”

“I’m newly self employed. 
I have a year to get my income up to my minimum income floor which is 25 x £7.50 (minimum wage). This is because I have a child under 13. 
So after a year my earnings will be considered to be £750 per month whether they are or not!! I’ll loose council tax benefit and some housing. Plus free prescriptions and dentist!
This means I have to earn double that amount to be able to maintain my overheads.
This is really hitting us self employed people hard.”

Well once again I have been sanctioned!!! Fucking had enough of this! 2 months for not doing enough work search! I wrote it all down and she took it at the job centre I’ve applied for job after job. Going to every appointment and even going to work programme! I seriously can’t handle this anymore universal credit can have the money!!”

 

People on Universal Credit are being refused prescriptions and dental care

GPs and dental practices can’t tell who is eligible for free treatment under Universal Credit – meaning some claimants are going without, Left Foot Forward can reveal.

People are being denied prescriptions and dental care because practices do not know whether Universal Credit claimants are eligible for free treatment, according to evidence seen by Left Foot Forward.  

Under the current welfare regime, those on certain benefits – such as Jobseekers’ Allowance – receive free NHS prescriptions and dental treatment, Healthy Start vouchers and other government-funded support.

But the Conservatives’ Universal Credit scheme wraps several benefits into one. While the principle has broad cross-party support, dental practices and GPs are now unsure who is eligible to receive free treatment.

Those on working tax credits, for example, are not eligible for free treatment – but practices have no information on whether UC claimants are receiving the tax credits element of UC, in which case they’re ineligible, or the JSA element.

The confusion is leaving people already on the margins either having to fork out for dental care and prescriptions themselves – leaving them out of pocket – or going without treatment altogether, according to reports from the single parents charity Gingerbread and seen by Left Foot Forward.

The problem stems from the fact that the administration system hasn’t caught up. There is no way on NHS forms to make it clear how to declare that individuals are on UC – whereas for existing benefits, such as income support or JSA, there are specific boxes to confirm eligibility.

One single mum in touch with Gingerbread has incurred fines because of the changes in health assistance under UC. She has received a letter from the NHS informing her that she owes money for dental treatment and a prescription, explaining that they have fined her as a result. She says she was never fully informed how UC would affect her NHS support – and is currently unable to pick up a prescription given to her GP because she can’t afford to pay. She says she will only be able to get this essential prescription when she receives her next payment.

Daisy Srblin, Policy Officer at Gingerbread, told Left Foot Forward:

“The arbitrary waits built into the system clearly cause significant problems when a parent transitions onto UC. But the challenges people face don’t end there – day-to-day financial difficulties are made worse by unexpected costs such as dental fees and prescriptions.

“The official advice is pay first and claim later – but for many this is a cost they simply can’t afford. The aim has been a simplified benefits system; the reality is that the NHS and DWP systems (like so many other government departments) don’t work together, creating confusion, complexity and often additional costs for single parents.

“We want to see the administrative challenges resolved, and for Universal Credit claimants to be supported as they are entitled to be so that they are not pushed further into debt.”

Another single mum Gingerbread has spoken to has received a letter notifying her of prescription charges. The NHS informed her that she needs to provide them with a full breakdown of her UC award so they can assess her eligibility for support.

However, her Job Centre are telling her that the information they have provided her to date is enough – despite it being different to the documents requested by the NHS. With no consistent guidance and no money to pay the charges herself, she doesn’t know how to resolve the issue.

read more here: https://leftfootforward.org/2017/10/exclusive-people-on-universal-credit-are-being-refused-prescriptions-and-dental-care

IF IT WASN’T FOR YOUR HELP TODAY I WAS CONSIDERING COMMITTING SUICIDE. I CAN’T TAKE ANYMORE. TODAY’S DEMO.

“Here is an awful case that shows that combined with bad advice, a lack of compassion and Universal Credit can and does ruin a persons life.”

Today was extremely busy, mainly because we now have a new influx of people needing help that had previously been signing on at Stalybridge Jobcentre which has recently been shut down. The impact of a Jobcentre shutting down is massive and it can’t be underestimated, especially in rural areas. How on earth can they expect claimants to walk miles to their nearest Jobcentre is beyond me. But i do know that this is a calculated and cruel move by the government to make it extremely hard for a claimant to fulfil their Jobseekers Agreement, therefore resulting on more sanctions etc.

Here is an awful case that shows that combined with bad advice, a lack of compassion and Universal Credit can and does ruin a persons life.

Please note that this is a true, honest account, and nor am I passing on any personal details as requested.

As soon as I arrived I saw a man shuffling out of the Jobcentre, I could see that he was unhappy and needed help. After four years I’ve learnt to recognise the signs.

As soon as I said hello to him, he started to tell me about his problems. He will remain nameless for respect for him and also so that he doesn’t get any repercussions from the DWP.

He told me that he had been sanctioned again, he didn’t know why and his advisor wouldn’t tell him either. He was told to phone up the 0345 number which at the moment costs a person up to 55p a min to phone. He waited for ages to speak to someone and then he ran out of credit, so now he can’t use his phone.

He had always worked since the age of 15, until he had a heart attack five years ago. this left him unable to work so upon advice given he then claimed ESA. This was going ok for a while until he attended an ATOS medical, when they declared him fit for work. He clearly wasn’t. So he appealed this decision, won his appeal and reclaimed his ESA.

The stress of this didn’t do him any good so he became ill and had to be admitted to hospital for a heart related illness. The consultant advised him to stay away from stressful situations. Easier to say than do though, especially when he was called up for another ESA medical.

They declared him fit for work so he then went to the Jobcentre to try and claim Jobseekers Allowance until his appeal was accepted. However his advisor told him that he had to claim Universal Credit. He had no choice and nor could he appeal the ESA decision. We know that this is wrong, but this is what they are doing to people folks.

He then went ahead made his claim and was told that he had to work, he had no choice. So against his consultants decision he found a 16 hour a week job, which was supposedly topped up by Universal Credit.

He ended up far worse off financially because the way that universal credit is worked out it actually makes a person worse off in work and he was effectively working for 33p a hour.

Then his hours were reduced to 10 a week. He knew that he couldn’t survive on this, and he also knew that he would be punished by the Universal Credit system for the decision that was made by his employer. He was told to find more hours to work or there was a possibility that he would be sanctioned.

As a result he became ill because of the stress and couldn’t cope. He has subsequently been sanctioned and has had no money for a few weeks.

Straight away I reassured him that we are here for him, that we can help him. He told me that he was close to committing suicide, and was serious about it, but our kindness has made him rethink this. He didn’t think that anyone would help, because no one cared. I told him that we do care and that we would help him to sort this out.

I gave him a food parcel which he was overjoyed at recieving, I don’t think that he has eaten anything decent for a while. I then telephoned his local MPS office and asked his team if they could see him asap. Because his case is complicated, and there is more to it than I have explained above, seeing his MP is essential. There’s nothing like a letter from an MP to get things moving, because if there is one thing that the DWP hate is an MP becoming involved in a case. I did also inform him of other local organisations, but he said that he wasn’t ready for them yet but maybe he will be after he has spoken to his MPs office.

I know that he will be treated with the upmost respect when he meets them, and they are a great team. Remember folks, go and see your MP if you can. Even if they are Conservative, because they need to hear your problems, even if some won’t deal with it then need to hear them. I’m now confident that his life will improve.

Read more here: https://thepoorsideoflife.wordpress.com/2017/10/19/if-it-wasnt-for-your-help-today-i-was-considering-committing-suicide-i-cant-take-anymore-todays-demo/

My local Accident & Emergency department is rammed with suicidal residents going to A and E as they have no where else to go

This was posted today on Facebook by Paula Peters.

“I want to share a couple of experiences of the mental health services cuts with you today.

I have a local CMHT ( community mental health team) in south London, we had three CMHTs it went down to two, and the discharge rate in the last four years is massive. You will only stay under a CMHT if you are on Clozapine medication, other than that you are back to primary care and GP. You can imagine for clients, as the team calls them, what that does for them with no treatment, no support and no supporting medical evidence needed for (disability benefits) ESA and PIP and support for UC (universal Credit) Claims. My local A and E is rammed with suicidal residents going to A and E as they have no where to go, and local counseling services have an 18 month and longer wait for therapy. The average wait to see a GP in some practices in Bromley is now 8 weeks and climbing. as not only is there a shortage of consultant psychiatrists, but, there is a shortage of GPs.

Just recently, i saw my local consultant psychiatrist who I have not seen since October 2016. I have not been able to see them because they have been on sick leave and there was no one else to help out. I found out when I saw them, what happened.

They now manage two teams within the CMHT, psychosis and adapt. They have 5,000 clients to deal with, appointments and paperwork. That does not include dr training, management of staff, in patient work on the local unit and any other work required of them.

At Christmas they were so tired and wrung out that they caught their bag in a slam door in the office that severely broke their wrist. They did not know the wrist was broken at the time and they went back to the desk they share with 6 other members of staff and wrote up 7 people’s medical notes as they were behind on doing so.
They ended up in A and E for 9 hours and a plaster cast on and off for the next 8 months after a series of operations. They were so stressed when I saw them they were at breaking point.

All they talked about was targets targets targets. Many of them unachieveable and they pointed out the three people going around with clipboards harassing staff. Apparently the next round of redundancies were due. They said they are not sleeping, scared and worried about their jobs and worried about clients who are not getting the support they need.

They cant send anyone for treatment at the local inpatient unit because well there are no beds for 300 miles there are nursing shortages and dr shortages.

When I saw my consultant they said the suicide rate and self harm rate is rocketing due to lack of support. They are angry at the government for the lack of service support and further cuts to come.

As for me, well i am on my third support worker in 9 months. They keep leaving. They are so stressed and depressed am surprised they don’t label the place the titanic!

The support worker who i will only see for six sessions is not sure when she will see me next as she has 1200 clients to see. She is not sure if she is sticking around either. As i need continuity of care with GP i cant get a GP appointment right now she is off sick and they are not sure when she is coming back and the other GP has no openings on the appointment book until December, they can’t get a locum as there is a shortage of those and many of them are engaged elsewhere in the coming weeks.

The cuts to mental health services are claiming lives, putting lives at risk, not just the patients, but the staff too. Patients are being denied the support they so need to get through each day. There is no support available and no good going to local MINDs as it is all work is a health outcome and jog your way through depression which is not helpful to anyone with a severe mental health condition and in serious mental distress.
The person needs support and compassion not to be told they are a burden, told its all their fault and get back to work as soon as possible.

Before you donate to a local mental health charity check first they are not involved in the health and work programme, they do not employ staff and zero hours contracts and they are not bidding for local council and DWP contracts. If they are avoid them, because they are not working for claimants in mental distress but against them. National Mind being paramount to working and colluding with national government and DWP on health and work programme contracts who think if we go out jogging we can jog our way through depression and anxiety and if we think ourselves better, we will be better.

Here is my response to MIND – jog on what utter bollox! If i could jog my way out of depression, and having RA and fibro and HMS its out of the question I would have done it by now and think better and everything will be well?

No, with a tory government and national charities working with them and they persecuting people in mental distress as well as disabled people everything is not well. Its a bloody mess and people are taking their own lives.

We need to talk about this every day, not one day a year because the cuts are going to get worse and with the UC roll out accelerating the deaths and poverty will go through the roof too.

……………………………………………………………

this was posted in the comments:

“I know 3 people who rang crisis team for help as they felt suicidal, one was recently an inpatient after an attempt 2 had both made attempts in the past year, they were all told they would only get help if they attempted suicide. Very sadly, one did and is no longer with us 😦 Those of us who are working in mental health are doing so with not enough resources and far too little time and many of us are becoming unwell too”

If you are having dark thoughts yourself please contact the Samaritans on their free number (free for mobiles, too) 116 123.