The Tories’ welfare ‘reforms’ have intentionally robbed thousands with disabilities and long-term illnesses of crucial support. We need a system that treats the most vulnerable in society with compassion, not contempt.

The Tories’ welfare ‘reforms’ have intentionally robbed thousands with disabilities and long-term illnesses of crucial support. We need a system that treats the most vulnerable in society with compassion, not contempt.

A damning report has uncovered that people in the North of Ireland with disabilities and long-term illnesses who underwent assessment for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were unfairly rejected. 

PIP, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2016, was introduced by the Tory Westminster government in 2016 as part of its callous programme of welfare ‘reform’. Their intention was to pass the bill for the 2008 crisis of capitalism onto the shoulders of the working class and most vulnerable, leaving the bosses’ profits intact.

The effects of these ‘reforms’ were felt nowhere more deeply than in the North of Ireland. Alongside endemic unemployment and poverty, one-fifth (21.7%) of people aged 16-64 reported having a long-term illness and disability, compared with an overall UK figure of 17.4%.

Obstructed

capita pipFollowing the introduction of PIP, one in five of those on the DLA in the North were not carried over to the new PIP benefit. This explains the much of the anger that accompanied the introduction of welfare reform over the last decade.

Anyone who has gone for an assessment for PIP, or who knows someone among their friends or family who has, will not be surprised at the news that there have been unfair rejections. This report confirms the experiences of numerous people. 

The entire system is designed to obstruct people from receiving benefits. Assessments were outsourced to a private company, Capita, who grant bonuses to its assessors who reject applications, and who do so within a certain time frame. 

The report found that Capita did not look at further evidence (including evidence from medical professionals) when assessing cases. Despite this, Capita claimed in correspondence with claimants that all medical professionals had been contacted about their case. 

In reality, of the 96 cases investigated in the report, in only one did Capita look at further evidence in the initial review. It was only after an appeal by a claimant to a tribunal that further evidence would generally be considered.

Stress

Assessments are a huge source of stress for people with disabilities. This is only exacerbated by appeals and re-assessments. 

One woman, Sinead Quinn from Derry, who suffers from mental and physical health conditions, recounted to the BBC how “intrusive, cold and calculated” the assessment was, and that the system was “set up to put people off”. 

During a one-hour phone call in which Quinn was re-assessed, she was asked very personal questions about how her illness affected her. She found this process so distressing and terrifying that she broke down three times during the assessment. Despite this, the assessor claimed her mental health was fine and her benefit was slashed.

As Ms Quinn correctly pointed out, “They didn't even ask for any medical history from my GP. I have no idea how a one-hour conversation can give you a window into someone's health for the last three years, or into the next three years.”

Dickensian

NoMoreAusterityOver 100,000 people have been assessed under PIP in the North since it replaced the DLA. How many of these people were wrongly rejected for PIP, or had to suffer a similar, intrusive humiliation? 

The wait for an appeal leaves many without options and can only exacerbate the pain felt. 4,104 people in the North are currently waiting on appeals due to the backlog caused by the coronavirus. That is 4,104 people failed by Dickensian-style welfare ‘reforms’.

The lid has only been slightly lifted on PIP. No doubt the situation is similar in assessment centres in England, Wales, and Scotland. While millions of people endure these assessments, made to feel guilty for their disabilities amidst a media fury about welfare cheats, the real cheats bask in the sun on their yachts. 

Under a socialist planned economy, unemployment could be rapidly ended by reducing the working week, with no loss of pay. Combined with this, the wealth exists in society to provide a real living wage to all those who are sick, disabled, and unable to work.

The Tories’ humiliating assessment system is designed to deny support to those who need it - in the interests of the bosses’ profits. We need a system under democratic workers’ control, that treats the most vulnerable in society with compassion, not contempt.