The work and pensions committee has highlighted fundamental problems with how Britain cares for disabled citizensby Frances Ryan / February 15, 2018 / Leave a comment
If you need an insight into the moral fibre of a government, you need look no further than how it treats its disabled citizens.
On Wednesday, the work and pensions select committee released a scathing report into Britain’s disability benefit system, warning “a pervasive lack of trust is undermining its entire operation.” It detailed an assessment process all too familiar to the hundreds of thousands of disabled and chronically ill people pushed through it in recent years—one riddled with fundamental errors, a dire use of medical evidence and incompetent assessors.
This came only a few days after the committee released a preview report detailing the experiences of disabled people themselves (there were so many submissions from individuals—an unprecedented number for a select committee—that MPs chose to release a separate report just to fit them in). A person with Down’s syndrome was asked when they “caught it.” A woman reporting frequent suicidal thoughts was asked why she had not yet killed herself. It’s hard to imagine how any state could run a system such as this—and yet it is happening in Britain in 2018.
This week’s Valentine’s Day campaign by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)—in which the DWP Twitter account threatened couples who hadn’t declared their living arrangements under the tagline “Don’t get separated from your Valentine”—is a particularly crass display of the Conservatives’ disdain for benefit claimants. But as disabled people have long been a key target for austerity measures, this attitude is never more apparent than in reforms to the disability benefit system.
This system is in many ways the worst by-product of the austerity era—a simultaneously wasteful and cruel creation that pulls the safety net from the very people who need it most.
From the roll out under the Coalition of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)—and its infamous “fit for work” test—ministers have orchestrated a relentless testing regime on people battling illness and disability, resulting in scores of disabled people being incorrectly kicked off the benefits they need. For an insight into the scale of this, the MPs’ report shows almost 290,000 people claiming PIP and ESA only received the correct award after challenging the DWP’s initial decision.
In the committee’s words, this is leading to “untenable human costs.” Research by a collection of disability charities last year showed almost 80 per cent…