The DWP just whitewashed the most damning report in its history

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Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has just whitewashed a damning report from the UN; one that accused it of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. Disabled people have waited a year for a response to the report. But in it, the DWP effectively poured scorn on the UN’s findings.

The DWP: creating a “human catastrophe”

The UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) has been investigating the UK government for several years. This culminated in a 2016 report which accused it and the DWP of “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. Then in August last year the UNCRPD issued a further analysis; this included its chair accusing the government of creating a “human catastrophe” for disabled people. Because the government has signed up to the UNCRPD convention, it has to respond.

After a year, it finally has.

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The DWP was responding to UN criticisms in three areas of the UNCRPD; the rights to:

  • Live independently and be included in the community – Article 19.
  • Work and employment – Article 27.
  • An adequate standard of living and social protection – Article 28.

The UN’s accusations: Article 19; “the right to live independently and be included in the community”

The UN accused the DWP and government of:

  1. Failing to recognise Article 19 in law as a human right, to promote “individual autonomy, control and choice”.
  2. Implementing “policies and measures” that negatively affected disabled people’s right to Article 19.
  3. Absolving itself of its responsibilities under Article 19, giving them to the devolved nations and local councils instead; but without providing “appropriate and earmarked budget allocation”.
  4. Allowing the institutionalisation of disabled people to continue.
  5. Overseeing a “lack of support services and accessible public facilities” for disabled people.

It made five recommendations.

The DWP response to accusations under Article 19

In response to these accusations and recommendations, the DWP said that, among other things (in the order above):

  1. It has recognised Article 19 under the Care Act 2014.
  2. It has prepared a Green Paper on reforming social care; that the Department for Health and Social Care works with disabled people on policy; that after it closed the Independent Living Fund it transferred responsibility to local authorities, and that it monitored their work.
  3. It increased social care funding for local authorities; that it’s looking at how to fund supported housing; that it’s made grants available for disabled people and landlords to adapt homes.
  4. Put measures in place to reduce institutionalisation, including the Transforming Care Programme and the Building the Right Support initiative.
  5. Ensured it considers the needs of disabled people when allocating funding.

The reality for disabled people under Article 19

But the reality for disabled people doesn’t tally with the DWP’s claims.

  1. Campaigners believe councils are not fulfilling their duties under the Care Act, and that it doesn’t fully meet with Article 19.
  2. When the DWP shut the Independent Living Fund, some councils cut disabled people’s support; historically some cut their funding by between 50% and 68%.
  3. On Wednesday 5 September the government again delayed the publication of the Green Paper on reforming social care.
  4. Social care funding fell by £6bn between 2010/11 and 2017/18. The government has only just increased it.
  5. De-institutionalisation measures are failing, with the number of learning disabled people living in hospitals actually rising.

Anecdotally, there are repeated horror stories of people being trapped in their own homes, not getting the support they need and even dying due to care and support failings.

The UN’s accusations: Article 27; the right to “work and employment”

The UN accused the DWP and government of:

  1. Overseeing a “persistent employment… and pay gap” for disabled people.
  2. Taking “insufficient affirmative action” to make sure disabled people have the same chance of work as non-disabled people.
  3. Letting the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) be “a functional evaluation of skills and capabilities”, rather than recognising that it’s society which places barriers on disabled people’s ability to work (the “social model of disability”).

It made five recommendations.

The DWP response to accusations under Article 27

Again, in response, the DWP said:

  1. It has got 600,000 more disabled people into work; that it’s introduced numerous work-related schemes linked to the benefits system; that it has the Disability Confident employer recognition scheme, and is investing millions.
  2. It has ensured that the Equality Act protects disabled people getting into employment, and also in the workplace.
  3. It has modelled the WCA to make sure it “aligns” with the social model of disability; that it is ‘continuing’ to ‘improve’ it; that it doesn’t give sanctions out “lightly” and that it protects “vulnerable” claimants.

The reality for disabled people under Article 27

But once again, the reality does not match the DWP’s claims.

  1. The disability employment gap – the difference in the employment rate for disabled and non-disabled people – has been stuck at around 30% for the past decade. The Disability Confident scheme has been repeatedly shown to be failing.
  2. A House of Lords report said “much more needs to be done” than just the Equality Act.
  3. The WCA is notorious and has faced a barrage of criticism from politicians and disabled people alike. Think tanks and universities have repeatedly criticised the sanctions regime.

It is debatable whether the DWP’s ‘600,000 more disabled people in work’ claim actually holds water; as it may have forced many of these people into work due to stopping their benefits. For example, since April 2013 the DWP has denied around 381,000 people the Personal Independence Payment (PIP); people who used to get its predecessor, Disability Living Allowance. What has happened to these people is unclear. But some of them may have had to take up work to cover the shortfall in money.

What’s more, between December 2011 and February 2014, 2,380 people died after a WCA said they were fit-for-work.

The UN accusations: Article 28; the right to an “adequate standard of living and social protection”

The UN accused the DWP and government of:

  1. Putting in “austerity measures” which have caused “severe economic constraints” for disabled people. These include “increased reliance on food banks”.
  2. The negative impact of DWP benefit cuts on the “standard of living” for disabled people.
  3. Making an effective postcode lottery for social care; the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP); this reduced the number of claimants of disability benefits; negatively impacting on people’s standard of living
  4. Overseeing a “detrimental impact” on disabled people because of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) conditionality and sanctions.

It made five recommendations.

The DWP response to accusations under Article 28

Once more, in response the DWP said it has:

  1. Budgeted the highest ever amount (£54bn) in 2018/19 on “benefits to support those with… disabilities”. It also detailed how ESA, PIP and Universal Credit support and protect disabled people.
  2. Done “cumulative analysis” on how policies affect households. But it admitted it had not done this for welfare reform as it claims it “cannot be reliably modelled”.
  3. Made sure PIP goes to those who need it most; that it helps disabled people “lead full, active and independent lives” and that it was “constantly” improving PIP.
  4. Increased the social care budget.
  5. Made sure sanctions are “clear, fair and effective”; emphasised sanctions only apply to ESA claimants in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG); that it has put financial ‘safeguards’ in place for sanctioned claimants and maintained that the system is “important” and “right”.

The reality for disabled people under Article 28

But yet again, the reality is hugely different from the DWP’s claims.

  1. The £54bn spending claim has been widely debunked as it includes other benefits not specific to disabled people. For example, the true figure for 2017/18 was £39bn; DWP minister Sarah Newton claimed it was over £50bn. Also, a Council of Europe committee said the DWP had breached its rules, noting the levels of benefits like ESA were “manifestly inadequate” and were causing poverty.
  2. A thinktank, Policy in Practice, did a cumulative impact assessment on welfare reform; you can read it here. It found that from a baseline amount in November 2016, by 2020 households hit by welfare reforms would be on average £40.62 a week worse off.
  3. PIP has seen 381,000 people who used to get Disability Living Allowance (DLA) denied this new benefit. Also, claimant’s winning their tribunals against DWP PIP denials hit 71% in the first quarter of 2018.
  4. As previously discussed, the social care budget fell by £6bn between 2010/11 and 2017/18.
  5. Universal Credit claimants whom the DWP sanctions are winning their tribunal appeals in 84% of cases.

The true cost of the DWP

And behind the facts, the reality of life for disabled people in the UK is even starker. For example, the number of disabled people in relative poverty has actually risen since 2010.

Also, a Freedom of Information request (FOI) revealed that, between 2014 and 2017, 100 people a day on ESA had been dying under the watch of the DWP. Moreover, 10 people in the WRAG area of ESA were dying a day – and these are the people the DWP says are ready to move towards work.

But most horrendously, a university study found that an additional 590 cases of people taking their own lives were linked to the WCA.

From the DWP’s response to the UN, you’d think life in the UK for disabled people was tranquil. But the reality for millions is a living nightmare; one at the hands of the very government department that’s supposed to support them.

Read the full UNCRPD report:

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Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia 

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Steve Topple