Saturday, 28 May 2011

Case #1: Why Welfare Reform Will Be A Disaster (..for the Coalition)

Sometimes things blow up in your face, take an unexpected turn, like when you use your online pseudonym for some serious undercover investigative work but someone you know recognises you and calls your actual name very loudly across the room. Sometimes they go smoothly, random events line up wonderfully in your favour as if someone is playing Tetris with your hygiene on the day, that girl you like and the last strawberry she is eyeing up, which you get because you were closest. Sometimes both of these things happen together(that girl you like may sometimes yell your name followed by 'greedy bastard') and if you're the irritable sort, it's worse than if things just simply went wrong altogether.

That is what happens when I spend days hunting for legal cases concerning DLA and trying to write a summary of the effects that rulings have had in shaping it over 18 years, only to then discover halfway through a certain link which reveals Disability Alliance have already done it. I am reminded while using it of something that has gnawed at me for a while and that is what happens to these rulings when DLA is replaced by PIP? I asked one of the experts at Citizens Advice and she agreed it was very likely they would not be carried over to PIP. I mentioned this to my MP and he at least grasped the problem quickly: these decisions were often based on the Disability Discrimination Act, so if they are reversed due to DLA reform, they're simply going to happen again. These rulings against the DWP will be repeated and because of the precedents set down by the rulings last time, the claimants will almost certainly win. The DWP will then have to back-date all the withdrawn payments and will have incurred massive costs whilst saving absolutely 'zero bloody money'.

One particular aspect of DLA reform keeps coming up; DLA Mobility being taken from care home residents and Amelia Gentleman over at the Guardian has tried to shake down Maria Miller to get some answers and naturally there are no real answers to be had from Miller. That isn't to say that no useful information comes out of her; one thing the interview reveals is that the Minister for Disabled People is hiding something and the Social Security Advisory Committee was right to question the motives behind the plans for DLA.

What is Miller hiding? The replacement of DLA with PIP  will reverse the ruling that care home residents can not unilaterally be considered to be 'hospitalised' in regards to their eligibility for DLA. Being admitted to hospital is one of those circumstance changes which a claimant is expected to inform the DWP about because it affects eligibility and you can't claim certain benefits while in hospital as your care and mobility needs are taken care of (excluding food). As in this case a claimant living in a care home is considered 'hospitalised' when it it their home and that means the rule is discriminatory. It was ruled as such and a non-discriminatory version of the rule had to be made: self-funded care home residents are eligible for DLA and that's why their Mobility DLA is used to pay for their mobility needs being met by the care home. From the start, Miller has presented this as being a 'funding overlap' but her comments in the interview reveal she is fully aware of the case law on this going by the transcript Amelia Gentleman sent me:
"Residents in care homes get their funding through a variety of forms. One is through social care packages. Within the package of support they receive for care homes, there is very clearly an accrual for mobility. Just in the same way some people receive DLA mobility, some people may not receive social services mobility. They may not need it. But there should be an accrual in there if they do need it. What we have been looking at is how this has been working in each individual area in the country. Sorry this is too much detail... There is a great deal of inconsistency. Primarily, this came out in the Law Commission. Is it the Law Commission? The recent thing that looked at the very complex matrix of law, relating to adult social care. And what they found out is exactly what we found out that the way law has changed over time, it has been an iterative process, it has been layer, upon layer, of different requirements on local authorities for what they provide for people who are in receipt of social care, and this is again what we found with mobility. It's unclear, it's complex and it's inconsistent in the way that it is dealt with on the ground."
The government is realising they never needed that explicit provision barring care home residents from claiming Mobility DLA because by replacing DLA with an entirely new benefit, they turn the clock back to when they weren't eligible anyway. This is what Maria Miller means when she says:
"Well we are going to look at care home residents in exactly the same way as we look at everybody else in terms of what their mobility needs are and then we will take a view from there. What we only ever intended to do with this policy was to do remove the overlap."
This is a statement the Minister makes often about this matter and it's simply a way of not saying specifically what the plan is, but when it explodes into a big issue she can point back and claim that this generalist statement amounted to her telling everyone what the plan was and no one raised any objection to it. The disaster will strike as eligible claimants are refused PIP, with the legal slate wiped clean but the discrimination laws still in place: whilst people will be denied benefits they need, PIP will be challenged legally just as DLA was and the fight that has gone on for nearly two decades will just begin again from the start. It is important to say this now because Miller is banking on the excuses working when she claims to have been honest and open; by predicting the trajectory she has set in advance, her double-speak is exposed. The Coalition is hoping that many claimants will simply give up the fight and they do so on an ideological gamble that they are confident at least 20% of the DLA caseload do not really need it.

This investigation has found no evidence that a substantial number of DLA claimants do not need it. Almost all of them need it and their lives and welfare depend on it and the blowback from this will be long-remembered.

This addition to Case File #1 is a lead that I've been looking at for some time and had to look at a lot of evidence and case law in DLA to be sure of the facts. These are still unclear and I worry if this post is a little premature but given the proximity of the third reading of the Welfare Reform Bill and Miller's continued evasion of accountability I felt I had no choice. I had to deal with what I had right now to put this into the information eco-system and I'm desperate to return to this subject in the future. 


The investigation damn well is ongoing.

2 comments:

  1. Mason, you are a genius! Keep it up!

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  2. There is also a move (evident in the media and Council literature) to redefine DLA (Care) component as a payment for the recipient to "pay for their care">Thus if a DLA recipient receives support via Social Services that is what the money is for and/or it is an overlap.I have a four page explanation (previous Government) of why winter fuel payments was based on age rather than disability/illness. "DLA recipients are paid this as a recognition of the extra costs of having a disability such as heating etc-THAT IS WHAT IT IS FOR".My wife and I are having a "table-tennis" match over the fact that she receives DLA and monies to employ a PA-they are attempting to relieve her of a substantial part of her Care component as "It is to pay for Care"-it is not.

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