A legal case against the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been delayed. The court claims it’s due to a shortage of judges. And one of the claimants bringing the legal challenge has taken to Twitter to express their frustration.
The DWP: ignoring legacy benefit claimants
The £20 uplift for Universal Credit is coming to an end. As The Canary has been reporting, the Tories’ cut will plunge countless people into further poverty. And the move by chancellor Rishi Sunak and the DWP has been contentious for other reasons, too. This is because the government hasn’t helped people on things like Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). These are known as legacy benefit claimants.
Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) has been at the forefront protesting about this. As member and disability rights activist Paula Peters previously told The Canary:
the Tories completely overlooked and ignored legacy benefit claimants during the pandemic. Many of these 2.2 million claimants are disabled people. Some were also shielding. Living costs rose and disabled people couldn’t afford the most basic standard of living. When you ask disabled people what £20 uplift would mean to them, you hear the same response: everything; life-changing; affording fresh fruit; buying the extra items you need.
We just want to live with dignity and respect.
The Tories’ neglect of legacy benefit claimants during the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic is facing legal action.
A legal challenge
As The Canary previously reported, two disabled people are using legal aid to mount a judicial review. This is over the DWP’s failure to uplift legacy benefits in line with Universal Credit and Working Tax Credits. Firm Osbornes Law is representing them, and it’s looking at the government’s decision not to give an uplift to ESA. The case will argue that this is discrimination under the European Convention on Human Rights, because the claimants are disabled people.
Philip Wayland is one of the claimants. He told Disability News Service (DNS) that the DWP’s lack of action for ESA claimants was a “blatant discriminatory policy”. Wayland said:
Their claim is ‘we have put our arms around the most vulnerable people’, when they have categorically not done that.
After 10 years of it, that is what pushed me into it, because I have had enough.
It was an accumulation of the last 10 years, feeling as though we were being treated as second-class citizens, of years of feeling ignored and treated badly.
The first stage of the judicial review was supposed to be on 28 and 29 September. But now, the court has delayed the hearing.
A shortage of judges
The High Court has now pushed the date back to November. Osbornes Law told The Canary that the court claimed this was due to “judicial availability” – i.e. a shortage of judges.
My solicitor has confirmed that our new court date will be the 17-18th November. I hope we can end this particular injustice & then focus on all the others we face.
Writing about the problem in 2018, the Guardian reported that:
The effective operation of the courts in England and Wales is under threat due to problems of judicial recruitment, increasingly heavy workloads and deteriorating working conditions, according to the lord chief justice.
At the end of 2019, the Financial Times (FT) reported that the High Court was 10 judges short. There’s also a shortage of district judges. And now, because of the pandemic causing a backlog of court cases, the situation appears to be even worse.
Years in the making
But as Crest Advisory noted, the problems with the judicial system have ultimately been years in the making:
During the ‘austerity’ years, when budgets for policing, the Crown Prosecution Service, probation and prisons contracted sharply, the Ministry of Justice also cut spending on the courts. Between 2010/11 and 2019/20, HMCTS saw its funding fall by 21% in real terms, so the agency had to make savings: it sold off court buildings – half of magistrates’ courts, a-third of county courts and eight Crown Courts were closed – and reduced staff numbers.
In the 12 months before the first lockdown began, there were on average 16,264 staff employed by HMCTS, 22% less than in 2010/11. There were 3,174 judges at all levels of the civil and criminal courts – 13% down. There had been a particularly steep reduction in the number of judges who carry out the bulk of the work in Crown Courts, where the most serious criminal cases are heard, with 11 fewer circuit judges and 359 fewer recorders – a 29% decline. Over the same period, the number of magistrates – who are unpaid volunteers – plunged by 55%.
Throwing millions of people under the bus
As the Mirror wrote, the case affects millions of people. It noted that:
If the court rules in favour of the claimants, one scenario could see the DWP issue back payments to those affected.
This would be worth up to £1,500 if the DWP matched the level of support those on Universal Credit received during the pandemic.
But even if the DWP loses, there is no guarantee of any sort of payout at all – and even if there is, it may not be worth as much as £1,500.
This is because it would be down to the government to decide how it rectifies to situation, if the hearing goes against the DWP.
Now, with the court’s delay, these millions of people will have to wait even longer to find out if they are entitled to equal support to other claimants.
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