On Monday 30 October, we took part in the protest outside the DWP building, and then in the road, against tightening the Work Capability Assessment and say: “No More Deaths from Benefit Cuts”. It was called by Disabled People Against Cuts, joined by John from Black Triangle (Scotland), Unite Community claimant groups across London, and many other claimants. Video clips here and here (thanks to Steve Topple at The Canary).
Here is our response to the consultation, from our collective experience:
Work Capability Assessment: Activities and Descriptors Consultation
Response by WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities)
30 October 2023
WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities) is a grassroots multi-racial organisation formed in 1984. We focus on benefit rights and financial independence for all disabled women as central to all our rights. We support the Global Women’s Strike call for a Care Income for all who care for people and planet.
Along with many disability organisations, we condemn the government’s move to tighten the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on the way to abolishing it, cutting off a route to additional benefit to recognise disability needs.
Disability Rights UK say: “The Government’s proposed changes to the WCA in reality are less to do with helping Disabled people into work than a cynical attempt to impose conditionality and to reduce benefit expenditure.”
Together with other grassroots claimants and claimant groups, we say:
– No more deaths from benefit cuts!
– No tightening the WCA to refuse disability benefit.
– Hands off “Substantial risk to health” protection.
– No to abolishing the WCA to stop 1m sick and disabled people getting extra money to survive.
Consultation issues. Organisations also criticise the shortness of the consultation and mode of consultation. Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty: “We discovered that the DWP had managed to gather a total of EIGHT people to its Edinburgh meeting to represent the whole of Scotland!” In any case, most people have no confidence in the consultation, given the government’s hostility to claimants.
The threefold increase in destitution of children up to a million children in 2022, and the increased destitution of adult claimants (Joseph Rowntree Foundation report), is deliberate State cruelty: 72% of destitute people are getting benefits, over half of whom are on Universal Credit (UC). 62% of people in destitution reported being disabled or in chronic ill-health, which is often also a consequence of industrial injury (related to waged work).
We condemn these WCA changes intended to deny vital benefits for the survival of those of us who are sick and disabled, disabled mothers and our children, which would accelerate destitution. If we managed to survive COVID, we are in dire need due to systemic discrimination, delays and deductions in the benefits system, the cost of living crisis, energy bills and other extra costs of disability. We are not expendable, our lives matter, and we reject the underlying dismissal and contempt for people with disabilities.
The WCA itself is entirely discredited as a humane assessment (see current BMA policy no. 1969), but we condemn plans to get rid of it and instead make the disability element in UC/Employment and Support Allowance reliant on getting Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which would impoverish a million disabled people who don’t get PIP (“Reforms to health-related benefits”, IFS). Thus at least a million sick and disabled people would be unprotected from sanctions, when brutal sanctions targeted at “workless households” were announced by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt at Conservative Party conference.
We are already working unwaged. Coping with disability and ill-health in an inaccessible, discriminatory environment is hard work. Those of us demeaned as “economically inactive” or “workless”, especially single mothers and disabled single mothers, who are one third of single mothers, work hard every day to survive. Disabled women are carers too, helping our friends, relatives and other disabled people in the community, to survive.
WinVisible’s self-help information, support and advocacy has enabled many women and girls over 16 to: get the disability element of UC when the DWP had unreasonably delayed; get a paper-based assessment and not have to undergo interview; get maximum benefit for severe disabilities and substantial needs, such as being a dialysis patient; shortcut unjust waits for appeal tribunal, and get the DWP to concede entitlement; overcome discrimination in the assessment; get an assessor who is a psychiatric nurse; secure benefit despite not having medical evidence because of avoiding medical and counselling appointments which are triggering; and win substantial amounts in backdated benefits, which have been unjustly denied.
Consequences for women and mothers
In early August 2023 our member Ellie was on the James O’Brien show on LBC predicting that after asylum seekers, the government would go after disabled people. Her concerns were highlighted by his show which has an audience of 1.3 million: Disabled caller worries disability allowance will be Tories’ next target under guise of tackling ‘economically inactive’.
Since the total benefit cap was introduced (which punishes families with children and private renters with high rents), mothers and other claimants who can take on 16 hours waged work have done so, to escape the benefit cap. Those of us who are unable to take on waged work and who are labelled as “economically inactive” or “workless households” and are hit by the cap are often mothers with disabilities, mothers of children with disabilities, other unwaged family carers; and people living in poor areas in poor health, where there aren’t many jobs; mostly who struggle to be recognised as eligible for disability benefits. If Limited Capacity for Work-Related Activity/Support Group is abolished, many more disabled people, most unable to work 16 hours, would be subjected to the total benefit cap.
Disabled mothers – and any mother – must never be cut off benefit!
We remember disabled mothers who died after being cut off benefit or other support, including Elaine Morrall; asylum seeker Lilian Oluk and baby Lynne Matumba (cut off food vouchers by Medway council after the Home Office refused her asylum claim), and Philippa Day, where Capita had to pay compensation to her young son left without his mother. We are supporting Joy Dove who won a second inquest to investigate the role of the DWP in her daughter Jodey Whiting’s suicide after being cut off. Tightening the WCA makes such tragic avoidable deaths more likely and increases the likelihood of traumatic separation of mothers from children by social services and the family courts, where mothers are labelled as putting children at risk, which already happens to disabled mothers denied Care Act support.
Increase in vulnerability to rape and domestic violence
Benefit cuts and changes (like the introduction of UC) which result in disabled women having less money, create the conditions for our increased financial dependence on partners, leading to relationship pressures and domestic violence; or lacking the money to meet disability costs, leads to reliance on acquaintances who can become exploitative sexually and/or financially. Many women who are refused disability benefits, have to depend financially on men, many of whom become perpetrators. Women feel they have no other choice and can’t report it as they would lose material daily help. Disabled women are three times more likely to report rape than non-disabled women, and twice as likely to suffer domestic violence (these are ONS and government figures).
No time limit on exemption from work conditions after fleeing domestic violence. Many disabled women need to claim disability benefits for the first time after leaving a violent partner or the end of the relationship. It’s hard enough to start again, let alone to know how much time you need to recover and when you might be ready to do some volunteering, you can’t rebuild your life to a regimented timetable or plan. Many single mothers still have to keep safe from violent ex-partners. Our children also need our presence and reassurance.
Abolish No Recourse to Public Funds. The benefits system is even more discriminatory towards those of us whose first language is not English. People with No Recourse to Public Funds, including disabled asylum seekers, are excluded from the mainstream benefits system, and asylum seekers are also denied the right to work. Disabled asylum seekers are suffering appalling conditions in accommodation without care and support, where we get only £9 a week to supplement poor-quality food and for other needs. If refugees are granted the right to stay, we are still discriminated against, for example, have only seven days’ notice to find somewhere to live and claim benefits, before being evicted from accommodation, leading to being street homeless. We are denied basic help with understanding the benefits system and letters, so end up being refused or missing deadlines and being cut off. Racist and sexist assessors have dismissed extreme trauma and language barriers. We will be worse discriminated against if the WCA is tightened.
Lower the retirement age to 60 and provide decent pensions. We helped secure paper-based assessment for disabled women near retirement age still subjected to the WCA. Sick and disabled women in their 60s worn out after a lifetime of work: waged work, caring work and bringing up families, having suffered all the hard knocks of life, are distraught to be found fit for work. Debating the cumulative impact of benefit cuts in 2018, former MP Helen Goodman raised how people in Durham, especially women, needed sickness and disability benefits 10 years earlier than in non-industrial areas.
Waged work. According to the government’s own survey, only 4% of people on incapacity benefits want to take up waged work straight away (IFS). Disabled workers are more likely to be part-time and low-waged, with a 17.2% pay gap, which for disabled women is 35% (TUC). New UC sanctions on claimants in part-time waged work, pressuring them to increase their hours or work full-time, will penalise women and disabled women especially.
Disabled women across the board, of whatever political affiliation or none, all describe disability discrimination by employers whereby we are not even considered for the job once we declare our disability, such as a mental health diagnosis. And few employers have step-free or accessible premises. The kind of jobs working from home which the DWP describes as now possible for anyone to get, are not applicable to most disabled people. Many people have lost out on basic education, training and skills, and many don’t use office programmes. Working from home applies more to professionals with higher qualifications. For many disabled people, even if employed, working from home would be too strenuous.
A woman in our group who tried working from home says:
I set myself up at a table which was essentially the wrong height. Plugging in a laptop and ensuring all the connections were solid was physically hard due to lack of dexterity and grip and then making my way through cables is actually very dangerous. Opening the laptop was impossible as I didn’t have the strength or dexterity to do that. Using a keyboard on a laptop was challenging in that I simply couldn’t type due to the shape of my hands. It would be 1 key pressed at a time with 1 finger that I could use. Overall because of the very slow pace there would be tiredness and then exhaustion of trying to do this work. Very little was achieved. The pain and stiffness I would get in my neck and shoulders from looking at a sheet to then inputting that information. I was unable to touch type. Sitting at a table typing makes me very stiff. I also get neck strain and backache even typing into a mobile phone. After half an hour of this activity I would be in a lot of pain. Getting up for a bathroom break took time. My bathroom is upstairs. I have to use a stairlift.
Adaptations such as dictation programmes are actually quite difficult to use as you have to remember the voice commands and say them correctly, the computer doesn’t have the understanding which a human being has, and it’s tiring to keep correcting the computer for what it gets wrong.
Other women have complained of delays with getting Access to Work equipment and support so that they fell behind in their work during the probationary period, were personally blamed, and faced losing their job.
The Disability Confident scheme cited as providing better job opportunities for disabled people has been discredited.
What are your views on the three Mobilising options?
What are your views on the three Absence or loss of bowel/bladder control (Continence) options?
What are your views on the two Coping with Social Engagement options?
What are your views on the two Getting About options?
We oppose the removal of the Mobilising, Absence or loss of bowel/bladder control (Continence), Coping with Social Engagement, and Getting About descriptors, making them stricter or reducing the points they score.
We oppose the proposal to reduce the Mobilising descriptor to 20 metres, the same as PIP which was strongly opposed.
Continence. The DWP proposes that claimants have to be humiliated even more, describing daily toilet needs in order to qualify, a more stringent test. No one should have to answer degrading questions.
Abolishing or tightening these descriptors will lead to more people being denied the exemption from work conditions or being put in the back to work category which will cause immense hardship to many disabled people. The proposed changes would lead to more worsening health, mental distress and claimant deaths.
In addition to the above options for change, are there any other WCA activities or descriptors that you think we should be considering changes to and why?
Thousands of people have died: from being cut off disability benefits or from being sanctioned while on job search benefits (David Clapson), from being found fit for work when we are not, and from back-to-work activities which are too strenuous, under “limited capability for work” work conditions for benefit.
We condemn any plans to make work conditions for benefit harsher for disabled and other claimants. We are appalled that disabled people are being diverted from disability benefit, not as a choice, and put under back to work, as is already being piloted.
The systemic hostility of the benefits system towards sick and disabled claimants, and others needing financial support to survive, must change.
What are your views on how the LCWRA Substantial Risk regulations could be amended with the emphasis on what work preparation activity an individual is able to safely undertake?
What do you think would be the impact of these changes?
What could constitute tailored or a minimum level of work preparation activity?
Hands off the “Substantial risk to health” regulations. We oppose any change. The proposals would harm sick and disabled people and lead to more deaths.
By definition the regulations apply to very vulnerable people, including those of us who are at risk of self-harming or suicide. The DWP was criticised for issuing guidance in 2015 intended to refuse Substantial Risk to more claimants with mental distress. Women with mental distress say that benefit stress worsens illness and causes psychiatric hospitalisations at a cost to the NHS far higher than benefits. Many sick and disabled people need these regulations, especially people who are survivors of rape, domestic violence and child sexual abuse. As the majority of survivors of these crimes are women, these proposals are also sexist.
Claimants with heart conditions and serious and life-limiting disabilities also need these regulations as we are facing life-limiting conditions and must be spared needless and cruel further stress and financial insecurity.
Abolition of the LCWRA or Support Group means more decisions being made by work coaches who are working to targets, where our welfare is not their first concern. We support proposals for the DWP to have an enforceable duty of care to claimants, as councils and the NHS have.
What are your views on whether we should remove the LCWRA risk group and place the people in this group in LCW risk instead?
How can this group be safely supported within the LCW risk group?
We oppose the abolition of the LCWRA risk group and any tightening of criteria to be placed in it. It would put people in the hands of work coaches who decide what work-related activities people have to do, which can be harmful to many disabled people. The stress of engaging with the work coaches would be too much for many people. No one believes that claimants would only be asked to engage in appropriate work preparation activity (your point 43).
Unless the benefit levels for the LCW group are increased unconditionally, abolishing the LCWRA group would constitute a massive cut for disabled claimants, when benefit levels are already too low for the cost of living and meeting disability-related expenses.