Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice

Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice

Survival of the fittest? Disability benefits in practice.

Personal Independence Payments were introduced back in April 2013 as a key element of the Welfare Reform Act 2012 alongside other benefit changes including the introduction of the controversial Universal Credit. Also known as ‘PIP’, the benefit replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people aged between 16 and 65 or pensionable age because, according to the Government at the time, ‘there was confusion about the purpose of DLA, it was complex to claim and there was no systematic way of checking that awards remain correct’.

By January 2020 the DWP reported that just over 2.5m people had been awarded PIP, almost 50% of claims made to that point.

Supporting the effect, not the cause

When it was being introduced as an antidote to the prevailing confusion associated with legacy disability benefits, understandably Disability focused charities supported the change. They expressed satisfaction that PIP was being described as “help towards some of the extra costs because of a long-term ill-health condition or disability. It’s based on how a person’s condition affects them, not the condition they have. It’s designed to be a more sustainable benefit and make sure support continues to reach those who face the greatest challenges to taking part in everyday life”. So essentially it would support the effect, not the cause of the disability, which in itself was a positive step forward.

So far so good.

So, one of the founding principles that were set out for the assessment of PIP claims was that claimants wouldn’t need a diagnosis (stands to reason if the benefit was geared to supporting the effect, not the cause). The application process would also be fairer as assessors in the claimant journey would really get to grips with the individual needs of the claimant, looking beyond the disability itself and determining the effect it was having on a person’s life – their daily living needs and mobility needs.

Again, all good. In theory.

Front-line Social Welfare workers were initially positive about the potential for PIP to make a real difference, particularly in their knowledge that often physical and mental health conditions go hand in hand, something that wasn’t embedded in the benefit’s earlier manifestation as DLA. A shift away from listing medications and treatments to a holistic understanding of a person’s current life circumstances would make a huge difference to being able to support people living with a disability in a more effective and person-centred way; the biggest indicator of this being that it wasn’t means tested – whether you worked or not would no longer be relevant to the assessment.

So how does the theory play out in practice?

The PIP claims process is challenging. Here are 5 reasons why we think that’s the case:

1. Handling a PIP claim requires a high level of responsiveness (robust deadlines for making claims, return of form, providing evidence) which doesn’t necessarily come easy to people at the best of times, but if you put yourself in the shoes of someone facing significant life challenges, this can be a step too far.

2. Stage two of the process requires the completion of a 33 page form which is sent to the claimant’s home address. That takes some mettle to tackle. Let’s imagine you have experienced a life changing illness and you are claiming PIP to help you to adjust. 33 pages. Not surprisingly people delay (beyond the deadline) or don’t bother at all.

3. It’s not just the length of the form that’s daunting. It’s also the information claimants need to provide in the form about how their condition affects them. It has to be said that the principle of evaluating the effect not the cause is embedded into the assessment, however if you are living with a disability and have necessarily made adjustments to do so, it’s extremely difficult to be able to articulate – over 33 pages – what that really means in practice. It is not unreasonable to need to assess these factors, but the reality is that to do it properly (in context of the complex PIP descriptors set out as the benchmark for determining the effect of a disability, the claimant really needs to be supported by an experienced third party to have any chance of presenting a true picture.

4. Albeit the principles of effect, not cause, are a central theme, there is no question that this needs to be in the form of medical evidence – the claimant’s own view of the world doesn’t hold much weight when it comes to the impact the disability is having on their life. Getting this evidence (within the deadlines) can be challenging in itself.

5. The final stage of the PIP claims process is an assessment, usually at an assessment centre (although this can be adjusted in advance if this is going to be a trauma for the person involved). The assessor may not specialise in their particular disability, and although the assessments are ‘person-centred’, in that they are about the person, they are also process driven, so attending in isolation is not the best option. Ensuring that the claimant stays calm, thinks through their responses and doesn’t forget essential information doesn’t come easy depending on the disability being faced, so being accompanied really is highly recommended to avoid a legitimate claim being passed over because of their ‘performance on the day’.

The Multiple Sclerosis Society of Great Britain produced a report about its members experiences of the test in September 2015. 1,780 participated. 42% of those who had a face-to-face assessment said the hidden symptoms of the condition had not been taken into account. More than a third said face-to-face assessments had caused their condition to relapse or deteriorate.

Points mean … PIP

So I think we can acknowledge that the PIP assessment process is a long way from a blunt instrument – it’s a multi-faceted assessment that’s then evaluated by a DWP case manager who awards points based on the evidence provided. Points determine whether a claimant receives a benefit, and whether the award is standard or enhanced.

It feels a bit like when you know a PR company has written an application for a company that wins first place in a competition – the rest had no hope because they didn’t have the right person on side articulating why they should win the prize. It’s a shameful reality that this is how PIP assessments work. We would never ever support someone claiming PIP if they didn’t genuinely qualify for the benefit – that’s just plain dishonest. However if the system is geared up to support the survival of the fittest we have to intervene.

Our call to Action

  • People need to be actively, overtly offered support before they even make their first call to DWP;
  • The system needs to be fit to support PIP claimants at every stage, and the people providing the support need to genuinely understand how to empower claimants to convey the information that will support their claim;
  • We need to be ready to support with appeals (over 75% are reported to be successful which tells a tale in itself), and able to do better than taking sometimes more than a year to get what people are rightfully entitled to in a humane social welfare system.

As it stands the PIP claims process does seem to be geared to the survival of the fittest, and the harsh reality is that some claimants simply don’t survive.

Jayne Graham MBE (Director) and Adam Matthews (Social Welfare Instructor)

If you would like to learn more about PIP claims check out our series of short videos here, and if you’d like to learn more about how to help your own clients to improve their chances of a making a successful PIP claim please get in touch today.

Durham business funds community social welfare training

Durham business funds community social welfare training

A family-owned funeral service that has served the local community for almost 50 years throughout East Durham is the latest business to ‘pay it forward’ to sponsor the Durham community sector to access vital social welfare training in partnership with Society Matters.

The East Durham Funeral Service has sponsored a Charity Discount Scheme that makes training more accessible to local charities and volunteers working on the front line in community organisations that could not afford the social welfare training otherwise. Through the scheme up to 100% discount can be offered, with the cost supplemented through the sponsorship which is also matched pound for pound by Society Matters. With their £500 donation this means Society Matters can offer at least 6 people places on Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments (PIP) training courses, so they can have the confidence and knowledge they need to help their clients to navigate the complexities of the welfare benefits system.

Managing Director of East Durham Funeral Service Philip Maddison was keen to find new ways to support local people, and recognised that Paying It Forward with Society Matters was a useful way to contribute:

“When we heard about the Society Matters Charity Discount Fund, and the invaluable support that Society Matters provides to front line services, we were delighted to help. We recognise how important the services are to really improve the quality of people’s lives within our local area at a time where it has never been needed more due to the pandemic.

As a family run funeral service, proudly serving our local communities for almost 50 years, it is our ethos to support and guide families through their darkest hour and beyond. We are extremely proud to be able to share Society Matters vision of ‘Make Your Mark’ and hope to continue to back such invaluable services now and in the future.”

Lee Booth Trading Manager of Society Matters, who launched the fund earlier in the Summer said “We are over the moon with East Durham Funeral Service sponsorship of our social welfare training – this will make a massive difference to local charities and volunteers. As a social enterprise we have a clear social purpose, and the support of local businesses like the East Durham Funeral Service shows that we’re not on our own – by working together we can really make our mark”.

Lee and Society Matters cic Social Welfare Instructor Adam Matthews have received fantastic feedback from hundreds of people who have already received the training, which is now exclusively delivered through in an online classroom environment to ensure it has continued to add value despite the pandemic.

If you are involved in a local charity or community organisation that would benefit from receiving training in Universal Credit or Personal Independence Payments, but you can’t afford it, please get in touch to see if you can access help through the Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund.

Click here to get in touch

We’re now Corporate Affiliate Partners of the Institute of Employability Professionals

We’re now Corporate Affiliate Partners of the Institute of Employability Professionals

Our aim is to make our mark on society by improving the social welfare support system – so the people who need help – and have been brave enough to reach out for it – get the right support first time round.

It’s hard to ask for help

It’s hard to ask for help at the best of times isn’t it – without feeling like a failure – and it can also be hard to know who to ask, so kudos to those who are brave enough to do it, but when they have made that first brave step, imagine if the target of their solace doesn’t have the answer, or suggests they talk to someone else instead (it was hard enough the first time) or, worse still, that they unwittingly give the wrong answer (although from our experience people are more likely to know when they don’t know, so they pass them on – the cycle continues).

The thing is, most social welfare problems can be solved more easily, and with a better, longer term resolution, if they’re resolved early. When the problem has festered it more often that not deepens in its complexity, broadens in its reach, and very quickly transforms into a vicious circle that manifests itself in crisis. Reaching out for help and not getting the right answer first time leads to personal challenges spiralling out of control, at some considerable speed.

Building the virtuous circle through employability support

Reaching out to offer the right support at the right time can serve to avert the risk of a vicious circle, and that can sometimes even start to build into a virtuous circle, enabling people to quickly resolve issues and start to build their lives. But as we stand today the social welfare support system has a long way to go before we can be confident that this will happen consistently – and even in any minor proportion. We can, however, change this. By recognising that we are part of the system – all of us, in one way or another, we can do our bit to make it work better. To encourage people to come forward sooner, and to make sure that their chosen source of help can deliver.

So what has this got to do with employability support?

A lot.

When people are out of work they are vulnerable in innumerable ways. If we can bolster the significant specialist knowledge that already exists in the employability sector with knowledge of social welfare support we can only serve to improve outcomes for the individual, for employability professionals and for the system. In practice this means bringing old knowledge up to date and, in some cases, reversing misinterpretation of the ‘facts’. By doing so we can build the confidence and the capability of the system so people get the right help, sooner, so they can move on to more positive times.

Welfare benefits is both an enabler and a barrier to employment. Many people claim benefits while they are working, and without them they wouldn’t be able to work. Benefits can also cause people to be further away from employment, most markedly because of fear that they will be worse off in work than while they are being supported by the state. By helping employability professionals to really understand welfare benefits – Universal Credit, PIP and legacy benefits – we can ensure that barriers to employment associated with welfare benefits are broken down at an earlier stage; with more welfare benefits knowledge existing ‘in the system’, we can more effectively collectively support vulnerable people to respond to, and avert crisis, and build the life stability they need for themselves and their families through access to employment.

That’s why we’re excited about our new-found affilation with the Institute of Employability Professionals. It just makes sense for us to work arm in arm, to make the system work, to work for everyone, to power the changes we need to be an inclusive and equal society.

Jayne Graham, Executive Director

Your employees need you to Get Business Ready for Universal Credit …

Your employees need you to Get Business Ready for Universal Credit …

The imminent end of furlough for millions of people, and the prospect of reduced work hours meaning many more people will be claiming Universal Credit to top up their earnings means that employers need to Get Business Ready for Universal Credit.

A recent article in The Guardian made us realise that it’s time to launch our Get Business Ready for Universal Credit workshop for employers sooner rather than later. We started developing the short course in response to North East baker Greggs’ experiences earlier this year, when their positive efforts to offer bonuses to staff backfired because the employees who were claiming Universal Credit were impacted negatively, actually losing money rather than gaining from the bonus. Read the article here.

This latest situation reported in The Guardian article explains that a court found that the DWP Universal Credit system unfairly penalised an employee due to the effect of their 4 week payment cycle that didn’t align with the employer’s pay period. As a result of the timing of their pay, a single mother was reported to be losing almost £500 every month from her pay.

This court case is the second in quick succession that has found DWP unlawful in their management of claims, however obviously the time and effort associated with taking a claim to court is way beyond the scope of the majority. That’s not to say we should sit back – there’s constant pressure on the Government to make changes to the way Universal Credit is calculated. However in the meantime we also think to make the system work for employees we also need to ensure that the mist can be cleared for employers, so they really understand the fundamentals of Universal Credit; how it works so they can support their employees with their claims, but as importantly to ensure that their policies and processes (that are within their gift to change) are not inadvertently impacting on staff who need to claim the benefit to top up their earnings.

Free Universal Credit workshop for employers

With literally thousands of employees newly claiming Universal Credit over the past few months, and likely many more to come as businesses make the difficult choice to reduce working hours to keep the business going, this is even more important than ever before. So Society Matters cic is launching its Get Business Ready for Universal Credit workshop with a free course for employers across the North East region to take place on Wednesday 5th August between 4 and 6.30 pm.

We know that money is tight, so we’re offering this first workshop free because we know how important it is for the business community to get this right. Participants will be encouraged to make a donation to our Pay it Forward Charity Discount Fund of whatever they can afford once they have completed the workshop if they think it will make a difference to their business – this donation will enable Society Matters cic to support local community and voluntary sector organisations to access much needed training in Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payments, to improve their own knowledge, and so improve the difference they can make to the people in need that they are supporting every day.

Find out more about the Get Business Ready for Universal Credit workshop here, and click here to get in touch to book your free place* for Wednesday 12th August 4 pm to 6.30 pm.