Justin Tomlinson is now the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) minister of state for disabled people, health and work. It took Theresa May three weeks to appoint anyone to this position after Sarah Newton resigned. But his appointment spells disaster for millions of disabled people in the UK.
Not fit for purpose
Tomlinson was the parliamentary undersecretary of state for disabled people from May 2015 to July 2016. He replaces Newton who resigned on 13 March after voting against the government over a no-deal Brexit vote. On 3 April, Labour’s Marsha de Cordova said it was “shameful” May left this position vacant for three weeks amid the ongoing Brexit chaos.
But appointing Tomlinson offers little hope for the disabled people in the UK. For a start, he doesn’t appear to know what he’s talking about.
On 2 April, Tomlinson apologised for making four “factual blunders” during a Commons debate about the freeze on benefits for working people. He said these errors were “inadvertent”.
From 8 April, the government will freeze benefits for working-age people for the fourth year running. It’s a freeze that’s estimated to cost some families £1,800 a year. During the debate, Labour warned that the freeze is “pushing families and children into poverty”. Yet Tomlinson showed ignorance about the facts surrounding this crisis.
According to the Mirror, he claimed that the “severe disability premium would increase from £77.65 to £79.50”. But the severe disability premium is £64.30, set to rise to £65.85. For millions of disabled people struggling to survive on benefits, this is a vast difference.
As the Mirror reported, Tomlinson also made further errors about increases in the state pension. In a written statement he said:
I would like to clarify the points… and apologise to the House for these inadvertent errors.
But in the same week, Tomlinson also showed little compassion for the consequences of the Conservative’s ‘welfare’ policies.
how many claimants who applied for (a) attendance allowance, (b) employment support allowance and (c) universal credit have died within six months of having those applications rejected.
Tomlinson didn’t give an answer, stating:
The Department holds data across a number of data sets which would require analysis and quality assurance and would be a substantial piece of work to bring together to answer these questions; therefore the information requested could only be provided at disproportionate cost.
Moon also sought clarity about people who reapplied for benefits under “special rules for terminal illness” following rejection. These “special rules” mean that for people diagnosed with terminal illness, “certain benefits might be fast-tracked and paid at the highest rate”. Again, Tomlinson claimed that there was a “disproportionate cost” to provide answers.
Saying it ‘costs too much’ to provide answers shows no compassion or understanding. These aren’t ‘just’ statistics, they relate to real people and actual deaths.
More than just a number
But the DWP and Tomlinson’s ineptitude doesn’t end there. As disability activist Alex Tiffin explained, in the three weeks there was no one in role as disabilities minister, he answered another of Moon’s questions.
According to Tomlinson, an additional 2,390 people died after their having Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claims rejected. Because Newton gave one answer to a question about the issue in February, Tomlinson a different one in March.
As Tiffin said it’s “staggering that they can get such important figures so wrong”. This highlights the ongoing failures of PIP assessments.
Arguably, there’s no one fit for purpose to enforce the DWP’s cruel policies. But disabled people certainly deserve better than Tomlinson.
Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia
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