The performance of one of the government’s disability benefit assessment contractors has worsened over the last year and has remained well outside a government target it has never met, new figures have revealed.
They show that the proportion of personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports written by Capita healthcare professionals and found to be of an “unacceptable” standard – following an audit – increased from 3.6 per cent in 2018 to 4.3 per cent in 2019, compared to a target of less than three per cent.
Capita refused to explain why its performance had worsened in 2019 but claimed it was “continuously working to improve our service to claimants”.
Despite Capita never having achieved the three per cent target over more than six years, a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson said: “We set the highest possible standards for assessment providers and small fluctuations in performance are normal as we uphold this.
“We have robust quality assurance measures in place, which continue to deliver improvement in assessment quality performance.”
Disability News Service (DNS) spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty by PIP assessors in late 2016 and throughout 2017, hearing eventually from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year about how they had been unfairly deprived of their benefits, with such cases still continuing to come in more than three years after that investigation began.
Last September, DNS revealed that PIP claimants were now almost twice as likely to win their tribunal appeal than disability living allowance claimants were almost a decade earlier.
The new figures on Capita’s performance were secured by the SNP’s Marion Fellows, following earlier figures which revealed that the other PIP contractor, Atos, was also still failing to meet the DWP quality target, with 3.9 per cent of its assessment reports “unacceptable” in 2019.
The disabled people’s organisation Inclusion Scotland has raised concerns at growing calls for the introduction of a basic income social security scheme in Scotland.
It warned that disabled people were not being adequately considered in the debate, and “may be actively disadvantaged” by proposed schemes.
Basic income is a regular cash payment made to every citizen regardless of their income, paid without any requirement to be in a paid job or looking for work.
But in a new discussion paper, Inclusion Scotland raised concerns that a basic income scheme could make some disabled people in Scotland poorer by diverting funds from those most in need of support.
A disabled people’s organisation says that government plans to tighten the immigration system are “deeply concerning”, because of the impact on disabled people who need access to personal assistants and care workers.
The new Australian-style points system will take effect next January, and unskilled or low-skilled workers and those who can’t speak English to a certain level will no longer qualify to work in the UK, while applicants will need a job offer with a salary of at least £25,600.
Kamran Mallick, chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “We are urging the government to think twice about the impacts of this move on those within British society who have the least income and need the care sector to work effectively, and to put in place robust measures to mitigate the impacts of these policies on the most vulnerable.
“These changes are not just about economics, they are about people’s lives.”
Arts Council England’s fifth annual diversity report – for 2018-19 – has shown that arts and cultural organisations have made little or no progress in increasing the proportion of disabled people working for and running their organisations.
Only six per cent of staff working for organisations funded by Arts Council England (ACE) were disabled people (a slight increase from five per cent in 2017-18), including six per cent of managers, while only five per cent of chairs and seven per cent of board members were disabled.
ACE’s own performance was generally even worse, despite the organisation having achieved “Disability Confident Employer” status under the government’s discredited disability employment scheme.
Among ACE’s staff, seven per cent identified as disabled people, compared with six per cent the previous year, but just two per cent of its directors and three per cent of its managers said they were disabled, the same as in 2017-18.
DWP has been urged to admit defeat over a long-running legal case taken by two disabled men who have been fighting for justice after their benefits were cut when they were forced onto universal credit (UC).
The two men, known as TP and AR for legal reasons, have been fighting for two years against policies that left them substantially worse off when they were forced onto UC after moving local authority area.
Because of the move, they lost the severe disability premium (SDP) and enhanced disability premium (EDP) they were previously entitled to as part of their benefits.
DWP has already been defeated twice in the court of appeal on connected cases taken by the duo, but a third case is still outstanding over the failure to compensate them for the full amount they lost out on.
They are now calling for DWP finally to admit defeat.
Tessa Gregory, from Leigh Day, the solicitor for TP and AR, said: “Our clients believe that now is the time for government to stop wasting money on legal fees, admit defeat, concede this outstanding claim and ensure that all those who have been short-changed are provided with their previous level of benefits.”
Leigh Day is continuing to bring a separate group claim, on behalf of those who previously received SDP and/or EDP and moved to UC before 16 January 2019, for the full amount they lost and compensation for the pain and distress caused by their move to UC.
The Scottish government has chosen the Motability charity to run a new programme that will allow disabled people in Scotland to use their mobility benefits to lease cars, scooters, powered wheelchairs and wheelchair-accessible vehicles.
The Scottish government is gradually taking over control of some benefits – including personal independence payment, disability living allowance and attendance allowance – from the UK government and will replace them with its own versions.
It will introduce its child disability benefit this summer and the disability assistance for working age people early next year.
Both benefits have a mobility element that can be used for the new Accessible Vehicles and Equipment Scheme.
Etienne d’Aboville, chief executive of Glasgow Centre for Inclusive Living, welcomed the launch of Scotland’s own version of the Motability scheme, which is overseen by the Motability charity and has been operating in the UK since 1977.
He said: “This is a golden opportunity for Scotland to take the best of the broadly successful Motability scheme and improve it further still.”
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