The government is under fire over the growing number of sick and disabled people going without benefits due to the backlog created by its tests.
Hundreds of thousands of people face long months of poverty, uncertainty and fear.
Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee slammed the “rushed” attempt to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
The change required putting 1.7 million existing DLA claimants through tests, run by contractors Atos Healthcare and Capita, to see if they qualified for PIP.
But the committee found that “many” people had faced six month delays. Even terminally ill people spent an average of 28 days waiting for their benefits.
It said this had a “shocking” impact on claimants, who desperately need the money to overcome barriers to moving around or caring for themselves.
This crisis comes on top of huge delays in the shift from Incapacity Benefit to Employment Support Allowance (ESA).
Leaked government memos last week revealed that claimants face an average nine month wait after they are assessed.
They also said that the cost would keep rising as ESA “helped” fewer claimants into work than the Incapacity Benefit it replaced.
The move to ESA was started by Labour, with the aim of getting claimants into work.
This meant putting them through Work Capability Assessments (WCA), mainly run by Atos, to see if they are “fit for work”.
These assessments ignore the advice of doctors. They have led to people losing their benefits even with severe visible impairments, such as missing limbs.
And they often fail to recognise invisible, mental and intermittent conditions.
Half a million people have successfully appealed against their judgements, a Freedom of Information request revealed this month.
The government has tightened the rules to make appeals more difficult and time consuming.
While they wait, claimants are only eligible for Jobseekers’ Allowance. This forces them to apply for jobs that may be impossible for them to do.
Falling behind and facing wave after wave of protests, Atos pulled out of the contract—leaving 700,000 people in limbo.
The government has blamed Atos for making unrealistic promises. But the crisis was set in motion when politicians decided that sick and disabled people would have to face constant scrutiny to receive benefits.
It is part of a move backed by all the main parties to destroy universal benefits and make sanctions and means-testing the norm.
Far from saving money, this creates a huge administrative burden that invariably ends up costing more.
Its real aim is to create a sense of shame and fear to undermine the welfare state and divide the working class.
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