ESA claimants are to be forced to have regular appointments with DWP doctors or other health professionals, possibly employed by Atos or Capita, not to assess them for benefits but to get advice on how to improve their health. The appointments will be mandatory and can be as long and as frequent as is considered necessary in order to get claimants back into work. Pilots of this and two other schemes will begin in November. More details in ESA news below.
Elsewhere, Iain Duncan Smith is growing ever more desperate in his attempts to find something positive to say about the bedroom tax. Even as a way of heaping further hate on claimants it is beginning to look like it may backfire, as more stories of debt and empty properties emerge.
Meanwhile IDS’ partner in squalid misinformation, Lord Freud, is desperately trying to imply, without actually saying it, that many of the people using food banks are thick-skinned, scroungers rather than people in genuine need.
The DWP is also brazenly ignoring its duty to claimants and taxpayers as it tries to pretend that the fact that Atos has only a pathetic 15% of the PIP assessment centres it claimed it would have is a non-issue.
Meanwhile, claimant bashing continues as it emerges that future income-related ESA claimant will have to wait 7 days before making a claim and that the DWP is using its legal department to fight against making any improvements to the work capability assessment.
Looking on the bright side, Pat’s Petition have secured a debate (open access) on forcing the government to carry out a proper assessment of how this blizzard of cuts is affecting disabled claimants – there may still just be time to contact your MP before the debate on Wednesday.
From November ESA claimants are to be forced to have regular meetings with DWP doctors, occupational health nurses or therapists to discuss how they can make themselves well enough to work. Failure to comply will lead to having their benefit stopped. The rules will apply to claimants who are in the work-related activity group and who are expected to be able to return to work in 18 months or more.
Initially the new rules will apply to 3,000 ESA claimants in a pilot scheme running from November 2013 to August 2016.
It will run alongside two other pilot schemes in which claimants will receive additional support from Jobcentre Plus or from work programme providers to see which scheme gets the most claimants off benefits.
More details here (open access).
The DWP has confirmed that the proposed increase in waiting time from three to seven days (members only) will apply not just to people claiming JSA but also to sick and disabled claimants making a claim for income-related ESA. The move is likely to push even more claimants into debt – and possibly into the clutches of payday loan sharks.
Meanwhile, disabled campaigners have suffered a setback after the government won the right to appeal against a ruling that it must take steps to improve the work capability assesment for people with mental health conditions (members only)
More information is emerging about the extraordinary failure of Atos to provide anywhere near the number of PIP assessment centres set out in its successful bid for the contract in London and the south east.
Instead of the 740 centres it claimed in its bid, the reality is that it has only “up to” 108 centres. This massive reduction has huge implications for the distances sick and disabled claimants will have to travel for their assessments.
The DWP, however, continues to behave like a PR spokesperson for Atos. Instead of remaining impartial – or even being quite cross about the enormous shortfall in examination centres – the DWP has once again leapt to Atos’ defence.
BEDROOM TAX NEWS
The evidence that the bedroom tax is a disaster, especially for disabled claimants, is now overwhelming and undeniable unless you happen to be a government minister. A short BBC video reveals that housing association three bedroom properties are now lying empty at a time of desperate housing need, because claimants cannot afford to move into them.
Meanwhile, tenants – especially disabled tenants – trapped in properties too large for them are falling behind with their rent in unprecedented numbers, according to the National Housing Federation.
All of which leads Iain Duncan Smith to the inescapable conclusion that the bedroom tax ‘is proving a success’.
Apparently this is because it is “shining a light on the previous government’s failure” in relation to housing policy. The fact that thousands of disabled claimants are suffering debt, fear and forced relocation as a result is so small a price to pay for this illumination that it isn’t even worth considering, apparently.
OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
Possibly the only minister who takes blindness to the truth to a higher level than IDS is the nation’s favourite ex-banker, Lord Freud. Freud is claiming that there is no evidence of a link between a massive increase in food bank use and the coalition’s benefits cuts (external link). Instead, Freud sneakily implies that the increase is due to freeeloaders, explaining that:
“It is difficult to know which came first – supply or demand.” and adding “Food banks are absolutely not part of the welfare system that we run. We have other systems to support people. . . .If you put more food banks in, that is the supply. Clearly food from a food bank is by definition a free good and there’s almost infinite demand.”
Clearly, the fact that Jobcentres now routinely refer claimants to food banks doesn’t make them ‘part of the welfare system’.