Personal independence payments are ‘a punishment of the poor and ill’ | The Guardian | 11 April 2014

April 11, 2014


From The Guardian, Comment section (Words by Polly Toynbee).

PIP should be a national scandal: Iain Duncan Smith's new system already has a huge backlog and people are dying waiting

She calls it: “Heartbreaking, truly astonishing, I've never seen anything like this.” Emma Cross is a senior Macmillan Cancer Support benefits adviser, and she says delays in Iain Duncan Smith's new personal independence payments (PIP) leave the sick utterly destitute. “Does anyone know how many people are struggling?”

Macmillan's mountain of PIP cases includes a mother being treated with chemotherapy for bowel cancer, whose operation left her with a colostomy bag. She gave up work and, with no other family to help, her husband gave up his job to care for her and their two-year-old child, taking her to frequent hospital appointments. They claimed PIP last September – and they have heard nothing since. No-one answers queries, lost in the gigantic backlog.

Until registered for PIP, which pays from £21-£134 a week, they can't claim other crucial benefits: carers allowance, severe disability premium, escape from the bedroom tax, a bus pass, taxi cards to get to hospital, or a heating grant (she feels intensely cold). With credit cards maxed out, they have no idea what they're due as PIP has tougher criteria: if this woman can just about walk more than 20 metres, she may get nothing now for mobility. Macmillan says people in this backlog are missing chemo appointments for lack of a bus fare.

“I wish this couple were an exception,” says Emma Cross. “But this is happening to so many.”

PIP replaces the disability living allowance, which Duncan Smith cut by 20% and abolished for new claimants; old claimants are being moved over. It used to pay out quickly, but PIP is an administrative calamity. The public accounts committee (PAC) queried why Atos won the contract to run it with its record of failure: Sue Marsh's latest Spartacus report says 43% of appeals against DWP decisions based on Atos tests for employment support allowance are upheld. Margaret Hodge, the PAC chair, unearthed Atos's tender for the PIP contract and found it had been “grossly misleading”, pretending to have hundreds of test centres inside hospitals, when in reality it had very few.

The last figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that 220,000 made PIP claims, but less than a fifth were processed. Ask any MP about PIP cases piling up in their surgeries and all parties tell tales of woe.

After he appeared on the Andrew Marr show this week, I challenged Duncan Smith over the PIP backlog. He waved it away airily. Oh, it'll all be sorted by the autumn, he claimed. Nothing to worry about. That's highly unlikely – but if so, why not pay claimants the old DLA until it's fixed? Why should sick people pay the price for his maladministration? He batted away the idea with a shrug.

This is exceptionally monstrous, as Macmillan say people have died waiting. The 5% of cases dealt with as priority under “special rules” are those with a doctor's letter certifying they'll die within six months. Macmillan says it's hard to know when people will die – six months or two years. Doctors rightly can't write such a letter for someone who hasn't asked for a specific death date. People need the money right now, regardless of the ghoulish prognosis demanded by DWP.

Labour's Rachel Reeves and her team have been protesting, but the PIP story hasn't become a national scandal. Why not? They say, glumly, that only the Mirror and the Guardian are interested, the rest turn away. Google PIP and you get myriad stories on breast implants. This reflects how much more tribal the rightwing press has become. The Guardian, as did I, covered Labour's failings in power. The PIP saga is a “good” story. Where – yet again – is BBC news, which should be following the DWP with laser-accurate analysis?

Forget civil service factual information: Duncan Smith has just hired a Murdoch managing editor from the Sun and Sunday Times as DWP communications director. Perhaps he helps hone Duncan Smith's terminological inexactitudes.

On Sunday's programme IDS claimed, again, that his bedroom tax simply followed Labour's rules on restricting the number of bedrooms claimable on housing benefit in the private sector. Not so, says the House of Commons library, it was the Tories in 1989 who cut the number of eligible bedrooms – and only for new rentals, never turfing people out of homes they already occupied.

The PIP catastrophe is just the most extreme of Duncan Smith's disasters. Nothing – not one of his programmes – has worked as planned. It hardly matters that universal credit (UC) is years late, but last month the PAC demonstrated UC will never do what Duncan Smith claims, its work incentives shot to pieces. With council tax, housing benefit cuts and national insurance, many on UC will lose almost all of every extra pound earned, while most lose 65p or more. The very rich down tools over a loss of 50p in the pound. At first, it might have been ignorance, but now IDS knows his claims for UC are untrue.

After IDS's most recent interview on the Today programme with Evan Davis, the Child Poverty Action Group analysed his facts. Will he meet his child poverty targets? “I believe we will”, Duncan Smith replies. “But you're not on target to do that.” “I believe we will.” “So frustrating!” exclaims Davis. Duncan Smith makes this claim: “Since I've been in power we've seen child poverty fall by 300,000.” He knows that's just from the first year when Labour's increase in child tax credits kicked in: since then, it's all downhill.

Duncan Smith likes to mislead on the relative measure of poverty: “Actually upper incomes fell, so the idea of a relative income measure doesn't make any sense.” But relative poverty has nothing to do with what happens to top incomes. It's measured against the median – the middle point, not an average nor the top. Stupidity or duplicity? Take your choice.

“The last Labour government spent £175bn in tax credits chasing a poverty target they failed to meet,” he said. But that was over 11 years and it did hit two-thirds of the target, while IDS plunges ever downwards.

If your eyes glazed over, that's what he counts on. Bamboozling voters who don't have graphs to hand is how he gets away with it. When challenged, he resorts to “I believe I'm right”. But the Institute for Fiscal Studies, Royal Statistical Society and scores of experts stopped him moving his goalposts. The IFS predicts he'll put 300,000 more children into poverty by next year, up nearly a million by 2020. In 2011 IDS claimed his was “the party of the poor” – that's a promise he has kept. Of all his calamities, PIP is probably the worst.

2 thoughts on “Personal independence payments are ‘a punishment of the poor and ill’ | The Guardian | 11 April 2014”

  1. Firstly, I will say that my views are not necessarily the views of the ME association, but I do know that there are many, many people who will completely agree with what I am about to type. I hope that my post will not be removed by the moderator as I believe we should be entitled to free speech and to express our feelings and opinions regarding the news articles posted herein.

    What this Government and the media have done to dgisabled and ill people is sick in the head, disgusting treatment and I’m sure if they thought they could get away with it they would just have us all shot just so they don’t have to pay any benefits or provide welfare of any form.

    David Cameron has now claimed at an Easter speech in front of Christians that his ‘Big Society’ and the tory manifesto is just what Jesus was doing and that he and his Nazi party along with the lying lib dems, is carrying on Jesus’ work. So, Cameron now likes to think of himself as Jesus the second.

    I cannot believe that Christians or the Church would agree with, nor be associated with, what he and his party are doing to people in need of help, including non-disabled benefit claimants. We are all now nothing more than scum, scroungers, thieves and fraudsters leeching off the taxpayers according to most of the media, politicians and a good proportion of the brainwashed public masses. I should state that I am an athiest and so I do not believe in Jesus but I would be more able to believe in Jesus than David Cameron, Iain Duncan Smith, the tory party, lib dems, labour or any of the politicians for that matter. Seems to me that they are the liars, fraudsters and theives that are stealing from taxpayers. The eifference is that they can get away with it by saying “sorry I made a mistake”. At worst they resign, walk away with a massive gold clad pension, a golden goodbye payout, a million pound house or two, paid for by taxpayers, which they can sell at huge profits and then walk straight into some cushy, highly lucative special advisor position or a nice number in the EU.

    It makes me sick to the stomach seeing and experiencing what is going on in this country. It’s high time the truth of this whole scandal was plastered all over newspapers, BBC News etc everyday, along with showing exactly what our political masters are really doing, which is hidden and covered up. People would be appalled and horrified if they really knew and I’m sure there would be riots, arrests of many powerful and wealthy individuals and charges of fraud, theft, deception, embezzling, price fixing, breaches of human rights, war crimes, manslaughter, murder and Treason to be answered.

    The truth about ME and how we have all been treated all these years should also be shown everywhere, as often as possible. The whole debacle, including the collusion of UNUM Provident, ATOS, the psychiatric lobby, the British Governments, NHS and NICE, DWP and their latest lapdog Capita etc and the list is VERY long.

    It’s time the people of this country make a stand against this whole filthy setup!

    I would also like to say that ever since the MEA website was redesigned, barely anyone seems to post on the news comments now, compared to before. I used to enjoy frequenting the site to read the news articles and people comments and opinions even if I wasn’t well enough to post myself. I wonder if this is due to the new design being too difficult for PWME to view or if people are too ill or maybe, everyone has had their benefits removed by this governments welfare removal and (don’t give)ATOS/DWP and can no longer afford to pay for broadband and run a computer?

    I look forward to better times for Britain and it’s people.

  2. I fully agree, I am a Christian, I do believe in Jesus and yes he would be appalled at he way this country and epically this government treat the sick and disabled. What you say M.R.A is spot on! How IDS can stand there and say all is well and what a wonderful job he and his government are doing is beyond me! Dare I say the work houses treated people better!!!!!!

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