Tories must listen to disabled people over their sanctions regime reforms, say campaigners


UK work and pensions secretary announces revamp of welfare assessments system

CAMPAIGNERS have urged a more fundamental rethink of the DWP’s punitive assessments regime after it announced an overhaul of its practices.

The overhaul comes after years of protests against assessments by private companies of disability claimants, carried out on behalf of the DWP.

Campaigners and critics of the system of sanctions and disqualifications against benefit claimants – brought in by the coalition government in 2010 to make state savings after the bailout of the banking system – is estimated to have cost thousands of lives.

Brian Scott, Development Manager at the Glasgow Disability Alliance (GDA), Scotland’s largest disabled people’s organisation, told CommonSpace that while the review was welcome, the premise of the system had to be questioned.

“The minister talks about getting people into work and individualised support but this doesn’t take into account that there are few work opportunities out there for disabled people.” Brian Scott, GDA

He said: “It is welcomed that there is a recognition that there are real problems. This awareness of problems has come from campaigning groups like GDA.

“One thing have to emphasise is that the UK Government’s premise is false – that there are an abundance of jobs out there for disabled people.

“If the DWP were offering disabled people appropriate employment you might understand a programme to get people off benefits.

“But the reality is that disabled people face huge barriers in the job market.

“The [DWP] minister [Damian Green] talks about getting people into work and individualised support but this doesn’t take into account that there are few work opportunities out there for disabled people.”

The work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, who followed the tenure of the DWP chief Iain Duncan Smith, a hate figure for many disability rights and anti-austerity protestors, launched his consultation yesterday [Monday 31 October]. He said reforms would avoid “a system where people are written off”.

A report by the New Policy Institute (NPI) found that one in four working age disabled people in the UK live in ‘deep poverty’. Disabled people are the group hardest hit by benefit reforms, with thousands found fit for work by the DWP following assessment by French firm Atos, only to go on to suffer profound medical complications, poverty, mental ill health and even death following the decision.

1 in 4 working age disabled people live in 'deep poverty', report finds

To tackle workplace barriers, Scott suggested measures including employer awareness campaigns and “tighter consequences” against employers who discriminate against disabled workers.

Scott also called for “transparency” in the new changes to the welfare system, so that it could serve disabled people with “dignity and respect”.

“It’s need to be reformed is blindingly obvious,” he said.

“One thing our members tell us of again and again is the apparent randomness of the assessment process, the uncertainty it creates and the negative impact it can have on health.

“This is about dignity and respect; the system is very process driven, with no understanding that the individual applicant may have mental health issues. There is no concession made to the anxiety people feel.

“Assessment itself is very limited. People don’t get a chance to discuss how disability or long term conditions affect them on a daily basis.

“We want to see the system reformed and geared towards the needs of disabled people and people with long term conditions, who are not a homogenous group by any means, in terms of how their conditions affect them.”

Read: Common Weal submission to Social Security Consultation

The debate over the future direction of the UK welfare system comes as the Scottish Government continues its consultation into the creation of its own social security programme, which comes of the back of newly devolved powers covering approximately 18 per cent of welfare spending.

Scottish Government ministers have pledged to act to undercut the sanctions and assessments regime.

Last week the Common Weal think tank launched its own contribution to the social security consultation, urging the Scottish Government to end the DWP sanctions regime completely and focus the new system on tackling child and pensioner poverty.

Picture courtesy of Ron F.

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