I would like to thank all of you at FEEL for the invitation to speak to you all tonight. It’s always a pleasure to speak to fellow MH Survivors.
Nat asked me here tonight to speak on current social security benefit changes and about the United Nations Convention of the rights of People with Disabilities. Before I begin, I would like to say and stress, that we at DPAC pass benefit information along, we sign post people to the relevant welfare rights services or groups, and we always recommend that wherever possible you seek independent welfare rights advice, as we are not welfare rights advisors or welfare rights trained.
As am sure many of you may have heard, from 29 th September 2017 when being reassessed for ESA and for a WCA, when having an assessment, the Maximus healthcare professional will consider whether the condition you have or its functional effect will meet the new severe conditions criteria, and where the criteria is met the HCP will advise that no further assessment is made, however this is subject to two things, if you have a change of circumstances, i.e., you have a partner move in with you, or a partner leaves, you are subjected to a new assessment, and as this new guidance is discretionary, there will be no right to appeal.
The Limited Capacity for Work/Limited Capacity for Work Related Activity means now the claimant has to meet one of the descriptors in the ESA 50 questionnaire, for example, personal action, coping with change, engaging socially, behaving appropriately. Then all 4 of the following criteria must also be met, these are: that the condition is lifelong, the level of function will always meet limited capacity for work, no change in the condition and no realistic prospect of recovery.
It is important to highlight here now, as with everything with the DWP, implementation will be key. There have already been questions raised about this, for example, will this new guidance be limited to a number of people found to meet the criteria, ie conditions like dementia, Huntingdon’s disease for example. What if a disability assessor and a claimant GP or consultants disagree about realistic prospect of recovery? Could a disability assessor who is neither GP nor a consultant override a GP or consultant in that regard?
We all know from experience don’t we, that assessors do not taken into account medical evidence from our drs, do not understand fluctuating conditions and the appeal rate for ESA at around 65 per cent successful appeal decisions overturned speak for themselves.
To that end, it is important that everyone here feeds into the DWP Parliamentary Select Committee enquiry appeal for evidence on ESA/PIP of which the deadline to submit evidence is November 10 th 2017, details of who to send written evidence to can be found in the DPAC website link. The enquiry will be looking at: the entire assessment process for ESA/PIP, what works, what does not, the appeals process and its so important to share your personal experience of this, how it affected you from start to finish, the impact it has had, and if it has caused further distress to you.
As many of you would have seen in the news and on social media, the secretary of state, David Gauke is determined to continue with the roll out of universal credit, and it is important to stress, that if you report a change of circumstances to the DWP, i.e., partner moves in, or partner leaves for example, you will be treated as a new claim for Universal Credit, and as a new claim you will not be given transitional protection. However, if you are naturally migrated to UC which the DWP says they hope to begin this in July 2019 (this means what top of award you may get, however this is only
available for some people and not available to all yet) its so ambiguous and complicated. The Daily Mirror newspaper is looking for personal experiences of UC and people to share their stories if you are in receipt of it. Details of which can also be found on the DPAC website.
I now need to say to you here tonight, that under Universal Credit, there will be no severe disability premium, or enhanced disability premium, it simply disappears, and disabled people could stand to lose up to £78.35p a week. We are asking you to contact your MP to tell them what you think of this appalling cut, which will plunge disabled people further into poverty and if you can let DPAC know you have written to them, and any response you get.
It needs to be stressed, that under universal credit to date, evictions have risen by 50 per cent that you can wait upwards of 3 months for a payment. That when you apply for UC your housing benefit automatically stops and you go into arrears. That people with a mental health condition under Universal Credit will be responsible for paying their own rent under UC that it will not be paid directly to your landlord or housing association anymore. When Southwark piloted claimants paying their own rent via UC 90 per cent of claimants went in to arrears when having to pay the rent on their own. With UC, with an online application it is important that Mental Health claimants get an appointee, perhaps two if one is holiday to assist them with the application, deal with any work coach queries as they arise. Support is the key, knowing what your rights are hugely important. Everyone will be subjected to the claimant conditionality, and the ever rising threat of sanctions.
We are also asking people to write to your MP about the appalling UC helpline that the DWP has set up to help with questions. This helpline has a charge of 55p a minute from a landline or mobile, we all know with hanging on the phone listening to four seasons you can wait longer than an hour for someone to answer you. Labour worked out that the total cost of waiting to speak to someone on the UC helpline is £33 per hour. None of us can afford it. We have taken to calling it the Gauke Tax and we ask you to join us in getting the Gauke tax scrapped! No one should be phoning for help and getting charged for it. It’s another way for the DWP to take money from us!
There is a lot of information about Universal Credit, and the implications of it. I am going to give you a couple of dates for training workshops on UC. They are being run by a fellow disability campaigner, Gail Ward, from Black Triangle and DPAC, and they are as follows:
Anarchist BookFair: Saturday 28 th October 2017. 10 am-7pm at Park View School, Park View Road, London, N15 3QR details of which can be found on the anarchist book fair website http://anarchistbookfair.org.uk/
The workshop will be from 1 to 3 pm if you wish to come along, please contact the anarchist book fair to book a place.
The MHRN (mental health resistance network) will also be holding a workshop on Universal Credit training on Monday 30 th October 2017 at the Field Community Centre, 285 Queen’s Road, SE15 5JB from 11am until 4pm with lunch provided, and Please RSVP to MHRN to book your place as spaces will be severely limited due to the small space.
You have all heard about the United Nations Inquiry re the convention of the rights of people with disabilities. The UK is the first party state to be formally investigated of grave (severe) and systematic (continuous and built into the system of welfare reform policies) breaking of rights under the UNCRPD. DPAC instigated the enquiry in 2012, and it needs to be stated that to contact the UN using the UNCRPD you must exhaust all avenues of the countries court legal system first. DPAC instigated the UNCRPD inquiry using optional protocol 6 meaning a formal process was carried out by DPAC to submit complaints and submissions. This process meant documents needed to be written in a particular way with attention to separate articles within the UNCRPD, and strong evidence needed to be framed accordingly. The use of the UNCRPD protocol formal process with the strict guidelines followed was the first of its kind for grave and systematic human rights violations towards disabled people.
Evidence was submitted in 2013, and since then thousands of disabled people, campaign groups, and charities have submitted evidence and given testimony throughout 2014 and 2015. The UNCRPD gave its findings in a report that the government was in breach of the CRPD convention with grave and systematic human rights violations and recommended that the UK government carry out 11 recommendations from the report. The UK government met this request with a shrug and ignored the report. One of the recommendations was that the government carry out a cumulative impact assessment of all the welfare reforms and cuts to services on disabled people.
In August 2017 disabled groups and campaigners met with the CRPD committee in Geneva and submitted further evidence to the committee, the committees judgement was that the cuts are causing a human catastrophe on disabled people’s lives, and its important to never forget the tragic human impact of the cuts on people in mental distress and the deaths of disabled people. That there has been a ramping up of suicides due to the WCA and constant reassessments under PIP and ESA and benefit sanctions. It must be noted that the government has consistently misled the public on the impact of the austerity agenda, refusing to answer questions and mis use statics in their counter arguments around the UNCRPD report allegations.
The question is what can be done to continue the fight for disability rights? There are countless ways to get involved. First, sign up to the dpac website www.dpac.uk.net and sign up to email alerts of campaigns and how to submit evidence to inquiry and select committee hearings. Share your testimony of how the cuts have impacted on you – write to your MP, your local councillor, speak to the media, write, take photos make a video, be creative to express your voices. We need as many people as possible now raising their voices in anger, joining the resistance and supporting one another. It is only by uniting and fighting back together, is how we will win against the most pernicious government the UK has ever had.