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The News Line: Feature 17,070 DISABLED PEOPLE HAVE DIED BEFORE RECEIVING ONE PENNY IN BENEFITS! IT NOW takes so long for claims to be processed that 17,070 disabled people have died before receiving a penny because they were still waiting to hear whether their claim for disability benefit had been successful.

And one-in-four (4,330) of those 17,070 were suffering from some form of cancer, while 270 had anxiety or depressive disorders. This works out to an average of nine disability claimants dying every day while waiting for their benefits.

In fact waiting times for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) claims have risen over the last year, with the latest figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) showing that the average waiting time for new claims is 14 weeks – a rise of a month since March 2018.

Shadow disabilities spokesperson Marsha de Cordova has accused the government of allowing a ‘cruel and callous’ PIP assessment process to create a ‘hostile environment for disabled people’.   She added: ‘Disabled people are being forced to wait months for vital social security and all too often face a lengthy and traumatic appeals process, resulting in a system in which thousands of people die before their PIP decision is reached.’

Philip Connolly, policy and development manager at Disability Rights UK, said the figures are further evidence that the government cannot deliver a benefits system which is fit for purpose. ‘Disabled people shouldn’t have to wait for so long for assessments for PIP,’ he said. ‘How vulnerable do you have to be before the government will change how things are done and ensure people get their assessments in a timely manner?

He insisted: ‘Tax payers have a right to expect a decent service funded by their money. And disabled people have a right to an accurate and timely assessment so they get the benefits they qualify for promptly.’

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: ‘It is shocking that so many disabled people have died waiting for their social security claims to be processed at a time when they need and should be able to get support.  She also warned: ‘Sadly this appalling situation is set to get even worse with the waiting times for first payments of Universal Credit.’

It comes as the DWP faces mounting pressure to enable terminally ill people to access disability benefits more rapidly and without going through the ‘burdensome and time-consuming’ standard application process. Currently, a claimant must have a ‘reasonable expectation’ of death within six months to be eligible for the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) – which charities argue can exclude many people living with terminal and highly disabling conditions.

The Scottish Parliament passed an amendment earlier last year which changes the definition of terminal illness to one based on clinical judgement, therefore removing the six-months restriction, and the UK government is being urged to do the same. Madeleine Moon, Labour MP for Bridgend, is currently pushing a private members bill through parliament which proposes to replace the arbitrary six-month requirement with a clinical judgement made by a health professional.

Moon said: ‘The current definition of terminal illness fails people at the most vulnerable moment in their life. Those diagnosed with a terminal condition should not have to worry about going through the arduous standard application process for benefits like PIP or Universal Credit (UC).

‘We must adopt the changes developed in Scotland to allow registered healthcare professionals to make a clinical judgement about whether someone is terminally ill, and remove the arbitrary six months’ time limit.’

Simon Jones, director of policy at terminal illness charity Marie Curie said: ‘These people are dying but will regularly miss out on timely support if they are expected to live longer than six months. ‘The fact that many of these people will then die before they are assessed by the DWP is shameful.

‘The government must change the law and ensure that all terminally ill patients are fast-tracked based on their doctor’s clinical judgement and not the arbitrary six months rule that, in practice, results in dying people having to fight a cruel system when they should be making the most of the time they have left with their loved ones.’

• The introduction of Universal Credit (UC) is ‘prompting a dramatic drop in school funding’ the DWP was told. Questions about the impact of UC on school funding are to be raised with the DWP by the chair of an influential Parliamentary committee. Tania Beard, head of St Martin’s CE primary and nursery in Cranbrook, Devon, told MPs that she expects funding to ‘drop dramatically’ due to the benefits change – which feeds into how many children the school gets pupil premium funding for.

And Robert Halfon, chair of the Commons Education Committee, said he would be very pleased if Beard could provide him with further information saying ‘I would like to raise that with the DWP secretary’.

Beard had explained earlier in the hearing that she used to have a difference of about ten children between the number of children who were on free school meals (who attract pupil premium)  and the overall number classified as disadvantaged. Now the difference is about four times larger.

‘There are a lot of families who are not getting free school meals and that’s going to have an enormous impact in six years’ time when those current children lose their ‘Ever 6’ (pupil premium) funding,’ she said. Asked for more details Beard said that following a pilot roll-out of Universal Credit in Devon, she had 93 children who were classified as disadvantaged but just 49 eligible for free school meals.

‘In six years’ time our funding is going to drop dramatically and we use that funding to support our youngest children, so that they don’t then become children who have special needs as they go through. So they have additional nurture, have movement support, if that money goes this SEN crisis is going to get worse,’ Beard said.

Pupil premium, currently worth £1,320 for children in Reception to Year 6 and £935 for pupils in Year 7 to Year 11, is paid to schools for each pupil registered as eligible for free school meals in the last six years. The government has said that under UC every child who receives a free school meal will continue to do so and by 2022, around 50,000 more children will benefit from free school meals.

But Labour has said that up to 2.6 million children whose parents are on benefits could miss out on free school meals by 2022 after the earnings threshold for claiming free school meals was set at £7,400 in April 2018. Pupil premium is only paid for those children who register to claim free school meals, not for those who are eligible but do not register. Although, if registered, pupils do not have to take free school meals in order for the school to get pupil premium money.

The Universal Credit programme, rolls six forms of state welfare including unemployment and housing benefits into one. It was launched in 2010 with the aim of ‘supporting people to work’.

So far, it has resulted in real hardship for claimants as it represents a real cut in the amount of benefit people receive. Claimants have to wait six weeks before receiving a penny and as all benefits are paid monthly, it is up to families to choose between heating, eating or paying rent, because there is not enough money to do all three.

The overall UC policy echoes amendments to the Poor Law in 1834, which kickstarted a large programme to build workhouses. The two policies, nearly 200 years apart, are driven by the same Victorian ethos.

At the time the 1834 law was passed, the high cost of the parish poor relief had been the driving force for the introduction of the workhouse. The ethos was that the poor needed to be driven into work and that work would set them free.

Those who were evicted, drowning in debt, and unemployed were forced into the workhouses where they suffered slave labour conditions. Despite campaigns to abolish workhouses, the suffering of inmates, and potential applicants, continued well beyond the Victorian period. From 1930, workhouses became ‘public assistance institutions’ – workhouses in all but name – and most surviving buildings entered ownership of the NHS in 1948 to be used as hospitals for the chronically ill.

In many ways, the desire to pull all of those in poverty under one roof, literally or figuratively in the case of UC, stems from the same outlook today as it did in 1834 – to drive down spending and force the poor into low-paid work. The trade unions must take action to ensure Universal Credit is abolished.
 
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