2019-05-10 Poverty

On Wednesday I asked the Prime Minister what she would do to help people who were waiting for benefit appeals. 

I mentioned Carla Cotton, a brave Ipswich woman who has chosen to go public to draw attention to the impossible position that so many others are also being put into.  Despite her own medical conditions, Carla has been caring for her severely disabled son at home.  The only reason she could do that is because he was getting benefits for his disability, and she was getting support for being his carer.  Since he had his higher rate of Disability Living Allowance taken away last August, Carla has lost other benefits as well, including the carer’s allowance.  She is sure that the decision in August was wrong, and so she appealed against it, but her appeal won’t be heard until the end of this month.  In the meantime she has not had enough money to pay for her family’s needs, has fallen into debt, and risks losing her oven and washing machine.

Carla’s nine-month wait for justice is not at all unusual.  Amongst the many desperate people who have come to me for help, one constituent had her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) reduced last August after a Work Capability Assessment and had to give up her specially-adapted motability car which left her completely housebound for 3 months.  Whatever work she might have been capable of, she certainly wasn’t capable of doing it if she couldn’t even leave the house. At the end of the 3 months the wrong decision from August was overturned at appeal, but by then the damage was done and the expensively-adapted car had already been returned.

Another constituent fell 3 stories and suffered a brain injury, but scored 0 points for PIP at his assessment – he appealed in March of last year but his case has still not been heard – he has built up huge debts since then.  Another who has Bipolar disorder had his benefit stopped in May 2017.  He appealed, but was unable to attend his appeal hearing on 26 April 2018 – nearly a year later – because of an anxiety attack. So it was rescheduled to take place in Luton – except that nobody told him that.  He is finally getting a hearing in Ipswich on May 31st – two years after having his benefit removed.

The Disability Advice Service report that all PIP appeals in Ipswich are now taking at least 6 months to be heard.  In at least 85% of the cases they handle, the decisions to remove benefit are overturned at appeal. The Citizens Advice Bureau and the Disabled Advice Bureau report much the same.  This is not a system with problems, it is a system which is fundamentally broken.

So when the Prime Minister asked me to send her the details of my constituent, I did so, hoping that Carla will soon have her son’s benefits restored, but that doesn’t help all the other people whose lives are being made a misery in the long periods of time waiting for their appeals.

Nobody has much sympathy for those who are perfectly capable of working but choose not to, but those are a small minority.  By far the largest number of people receiving benefits are pensioners, and nobody would begrudge retired people their hard-earned pension.  In the same way, if someone is clearly incapable of paid work, all decent people can accept that they need financial help to survive.  And in many cases, disabled people are only able to work precisely because they receive benefits which enable them to, for instance, afford a motability car.

What happens if benefits are taken away from people who need them?  Some end up homeless.  Many are forced to use foodbanks.  I had the honour of being invited by Maureen Reynel from FIND to the turf-cutting ceremony for their new Foodbank in Gainsborough. A donation towards FIND’s appeal is a great way to help people in desperate need – go to www.findipswich.org.uk .  FIND do a fantastic job and will be needed for years to come, but people shouldn’t need foodbanks.

It’s time to do away with the current Work Capability Assessment which doesn’t work and use proper evidence – such as from people’s doctors – instead.  It’s time to treat all people with dignity whether or not they are ill or disabled.  And it’s time to stop wasting time and effort keeping people in poverty and give them the opportunity to lead decent lives again.