Birmingham Settlement have said that “All advice services will be overwhelmed” by just one of the reforms – the change of Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payments (PIP) as they expect there will be thousands upon thousands of reviews and challenges to decisions. Birmingham Settlement are primarily a debt advice service, but say they have gone from almost exclusively dealing with debt to now spending 23% of their time dealing with Welfare Benefits, Appeals and Tribunals.
Birmingham CAB say the same, having experienced a 141% increase in people seeking advice just for ESA claims between 2009 and 2011. They warn of an increasing case load as other reforms come into effect, but the cuts in their funding and loss of legal aid income mean 3 of their offices in Birmingham are likely to close, leaving just their city centre bureau running.
The Birmingham Tribunal Unit foresee the same problem, saying that
The changes to the benefit system will, in the short term particularly, put pressure on already stretched advice agencies. Coupled with cuts in the legal aid provision, there will be fewer places for people to seek quality advice and help.
Given the large numbers of people appealing ATOS decisions regarding Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and the large number of successful appeals, this is very concerning, as it will mean many people getting kicked off the benefits they should be on, with reduced payments impacting upon their health and standard of living, and those who could be working will not receive the support they need in order to do so.
This change from DLA to PIP has been explicitly linked to reducing the amount paid out on a benefit which is often life changing. The reform to the benefit, which is available for people in employment as well as those out of work, has been criticised by paralympians.
The DWP say they want to see a 20% reduction in overall payments, and 9,000 people in Birmingham are expected to be affected by the cuts, with the lower rate of payments being removed entirely, leaving many disabled people at least £20 a week worse off.
Freshwinds say these cuts will lead to
- Less mobility and higher levels of isolation among physically disabled groups (especially those who are currently in receipt of the Low Rate Care Component of DLA).
- Increase in fuel poverty – particularly among groups whose illness or disability may necessitate a higher fuel consumption
- Decreased ability to pay for care in the home
- Increase in mental health issues including anxiety and depression – overall negative impact on well-being
This reform is only one of a number of changes and cuts to disability benefits, which Birmingham and Solihull Women’s Aid say will affect their clients:
Severe cuts affecting disabled adults and children, with the abolition of DLA for adults and replacement (for some) by Personal Independence Payment (with a 20 per cent budget cut), and the abolition of the Severe Disability Premium, cuts to the disability element of Child Tax Credit and to the disability element of Working Tax Credit. Alongside this will be other cuts in contributory ESA
Age Concern say that although older people are mostly excluded from these welfare reforms, they are still concerned about the effect reforms will have on the wider family unit and especially on those with progressive conditions. They say that
The suspicion has not been allayed that the primary intention of the reform is to make significant budget cuts at the expense of some of the most vulnerable in our community – the sick, the disabled, their carers and their dependents.
One reform that is already happening is the move from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to ESA, and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process run by ATOS, which has been condemned by the British Medical Association as unfit for purpose.
Nearly half of decisions made by ATOS are appealed with a success rate of 40% (a rate that rises to 70% when advocates or solicitors are involved). This means around one fifth of all decisions are overturned – 150,500 people wrongly assessed from 2008-2011 – costing taxpayers £50million each year on top of the £100million a year contract with ATOS. The human cost of these decisions can be seen in the 32 deaths every week of people who have been judged fit for work by ATOS, including a Birmingham man who died from his heart condition just 3 weeks after being told he was fit for work.
Additionally, those kicked off ESA can have problems with housing benefit in the move to JSA, as claims get suspended – a problem that Sifa Fireside say in the report that they are seeing regularly with their clients.
And to come next year is the introduction of Universal Credit, – which combines a range of benefits, and introduces a cap on total payments of £500/week for couples and families and £350/week for single people.
This will affect many disabled people, as Birmingham Voluntary Services Council (BVSC) explain:
Although disabled people receiving DLA will be excluded (a number which will fall through transition to PIP), other disabled people will lose out: 22 per cent of households affected will be in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance. It is estimated that the average affected family will lose £93 a week; 35 per cent will lose more than £100 per week
Universal Credit also cuts the child disability addition by 50% (£26 from £53), unfairly penalising disabled children. BVSC say this makes child poverty targets “unachievable”. Family Aid say some families will lose £1366 per year due to this cut.
One of Family Aid’s clients is Susan, who has a 6 month old son and is suffering from severe depression and delusion disorder.
She lives in a privately rented property and receives ESA, child benefit and child tax credit, local housing allowance and council tax benefit. Susan finds making ends meet difficult due to rising food and fuel prices. Family Aid say
without the Sure Start Maternity Grant she received she would not have been able to buy the things she needed for her new baby. She is concerned about the impact of changes to the amount of housing and council tax benefit support she receives. She says she often goes without to make sure her baby has the things he needs cutting spending on public transport, clothes, fruit and meat to balance her budget. She would like to go back to work when her baby is older and her health improves but barriers such as the reduction in childcare support make this prospect difficult.
Family Aid raise the issue of monthly payments under Universal Credit making it more difficult for people with mental health difficulties to manage their budgets, with similar concerns being raised by Sifa Fireside for those with dependency issues. Midland Heart also say their residents have expressed concern about monthly budgeting, saying they often have trouble budgeting over a fortnight.
All these cuts (and especially those to DLA) are predicated on the notion that the disability benefit system is full of fakers, fraudulently claiming for a condition that doesn’t exist. In fact benefit fraud for DLA is 0.5%, with IB/ESA at just 0.3%. These figures come from DWP and the level of fraud is decided by a process which takes a sample of claims and investigates them thoroughly to see where fraud occurs. This is not the amount of succesfully prosecuted fraud cases, but is a good estimate of total fraud based on a statistically significant sample of claims.
With the coalition floating the idea that benefit payments should be frozen, and the link to raising benefits with inflation broken, now is the time to let them know that we won’t stand by as our welfare system is destroyed. Join us at the Tory Party Conference in Birmingham on Sunday 7th October and the TUC National Demonstration in London on Saturday 20th October.In