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You can also read this newsletter online (open access).

Firstly, if you have a hearing or visual impairment and used our physical employment and support allowance claims guide from January 28th of this year onwards, please see ‘Error in ESA guide’ below.

Moving on to news, in this edition we can reveal the shocking fact that disabled claimants in Wales are getting training on how to raid supermarket skips and bins for discarded food, as benefits cuts begin to bite.  In addition, Oxfam is claiming that over half a million people in the UK are now reliant on food banks to survive.

And just when you think that benefits decisions can’t get any crueller . . .  they do.  We have links to a Mirror story about an ESA claimant who had a double heart and lung transplant but was found fit for work, wrote her letter of appeal crying in a hospital bed and learnt that the DWP would not change its decision just nine days before she died. Also to the story of the 62 year old woman offered a voucher to buy a tent in order to solve her housing crisis.

This week also marks the end of an era.  From next Monday it will no longer be possible for a working age adult to make a fresh claim for disability living allowance (DLA).  Instead, new claims will have to be for personal independence payment. With just two rates of the daily living component instead of three and much harsher criteria for the mobility component, many new claimants will undoubtedly lose out.

There’s still a court case outstanding with regard to the criteria for the PIP mobility component, but there can be no doubt now that PIP is here to stay.

In another ongoing court case, the DWP have been ordered to make the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance fairer for people with mental health conditions – whether they will actually do so, remains to be seen.

Also in this newsletter, councils are getting creative in finding ways to avoid imposing the bedroom tax on their tenants, with alleged bedrooms now being designated as ‘non-specific rooms’ around the country.

Meanwhile Tory ministers are getting even more creative with the truth as they twist or simply falsify statistics in order to heap hatred upon disabled claimants.  The latest whopper comes from Tory party chairman Grant Shapps, as MPs prepare to investigate the DWP’s misuse of official statistics.

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If you have a hearing or visual impairment and used our physical ESA claims guide from January 28th of this year onwards, we need to let you know about an error in relation to the ‘Other people communicating with you’ activity.

The guide wrongly stated that you needed to have problems with both vision and hearing in order to score points – it should have said that if you have problems with either you may score points.

There’s more details on this page.

Many thanks to the member of the Benefits and Work community who alerted us to this error and our sincere apologies for having made it. We’ve now corrected the guide and we’ve also sent an email to the registered address of anyone who subscribed to the site during the last 16 months - so our apologies if you get this information twice.

This week is the last in which fresh DLA claims can be made by people aged 16-64.

From Monday 10th June it will only be possible to make a new claim for PIP rather than DLA, unless you are claiming for a child under 16 years of age.   This is already the case in pilot areas of the north of England.  

It will still be possible to make a renewal claim for DLA however, provided your current fixed term award is due to expire before the end of February 2014.

There’s a detailed PIP timetable here.

Staying with PIP, disabled activists have discovered that, despite the DWP’s ‘digital by default’ strategy, it will not be possible to claim PIP online (members only)   So whilst the DWP is aiming to force 80% of universal credit claimants to claim online, PIP claimants who are unable to use paper forms will be prevented from doing so.

"Very useful and I have learned a lot." Laura Skorupa, British Polio Fellowship.
"Very useful day." Carol Woodman, Assert (Mental Health Advocacy)
"Very helpful and well presented." Karin Gray, Scope.
"Very useful information." Alison Heavey, Huntington's Disease Association.

More about PIP training in London, Leeds and Birmingham and universal credit training in Bristol here.

The DWP has been ordered by a three judge panel of the upper tribunal to make changes to the work capability assessment (WCA) to make it fairer for people with mental health conditions.  

The tribunal found that the current system puts people with a mental health condition at a disadvantage by not seeking medical evidence early in the process.  The tribunal has ordered the DWP to come up with changes to the system and return before the panel to explain what they are going to do differently.  However, the DWP have vowed to fight the decision (members only)

Meanwhile, mental health campaigners are trying to get to the truth about what difference Mental Function Champions (MFCs) have made to people’s experience of the work capability assessment (WCA). MFCs were introduced by Atos following a recommendation by Professor Harrington, the former independent reviewer of the work capability assessment.  However, campaigners are meeting a wall of silence from Atos/DWP (members only), who refuse to reveal the qualifications, training or positive effects of the MFCs.

The Independent reports that Leeds council have reclassified any unoccupied ground floor bedrooms as ‘non-specific rooms’ instead, as well as very small bedrooms or those which acted as a thoroughfare to another room.   In total more than 800 rooms have been reclassified, freeing tenants from being subject to the bedroom tax.  Those who have already lost out will be refunded.

Other councils and at least one major housing association are following suit.

Conservative Party Chairman  Grant Schapps has become the latest leading Tory to mislead the public over benefits statistics, following on from repeated abuses by DWP ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Esther McVey.

Shapps told the Daily Telegraph that nearly a million incapacity benefit claimants abandoned their claim rather than face an employment and support allowance assessment.  In fact, the dropout figure is only 19,700 – all the rest were actually ESA claims that weren’t completed.  DWP research shows that the vast majority of these are people who get better and return to work.
You can read more in the Independent whilst members can read more and comment here.

Shapps’ grossly misleading claims came as MPs announced they are to grill a DWP minister  (members only) over the misuse of statistics.  The Work and Pensions select committee hopes to have Iain Duncan Smith appear before them to explain why his department continually distorts statistics in their propaganda war against sick and  disabled claimants.  However, it will be less than a huge surprise if IDS ducks his responsibility and sends a junior minister along to take the flack instead.

More than half a million people are now dependent on food banks because of changes to the benefits system and delays and errors by Jobcentre Plus staff according to a report by Oxfam

Government minister Ed Davy has denied that there is a link, however, claiming that is “completely wrong to suggest that there is some sort of statistical link between the benefit reforms we're making and the provision of food banks”.

Meanwhile disabled people who don’t want to be reliant on food banks are being taught how to scavenge for free food in supermarket skips and dustbins (members only). The workshops are being run in south Wales by members of the Disabled Activists Network Wales (DAN Cymru).

Finally, those awful decisions.

Last week’s Mirror carried the tragic story of Linda Wooton, who had a double heart and lung transplant but was found fit for work just nine days before she died.  Linda was on 10 prescription drugs a day, suffering high blood pressure, renal failure and regular blackouts.  Nevertheless, after a 20 minute Atos medical, a decision maker found Linda capable of work and stopped her ESA.

Linda, ‘crying her eyes out’ wrote her letter of appeal from her hospital bed, but the DWP upheld their decision.  Her husband remains angry that Linda spent her last months in misery and feeling useless because of the ESA assessment system.  

And, following the abolition of the discretionary social fund, councils have begun giving vouchers to people who find themselves in desperate need.  Which is how a 62 year old woman from the Isle of Wight came to be offered vouchers to buy a tent when she became homeless. Dawn Martin was not considered vulnerable enough to qualify for emergency housing of any kind and so was offered the opportunity to camp instead.

Living in tents, raiding supermarket skips for food and being found fit for work as you lie dying in a hospital bed.  It would obviously be “completely wrong to suggest that there is some sort of statistical link between the benefit reforms” imposed by the coalition and stories like these.  It’s clearly just coincidence.

Phil & Jeanette at A Way of Seeing, want to thank everyone for supporting the Benefits & Work Facebook page at https://facebook.com/benefitsandworkpublishing

"We created the page when the main site was struggling to keep the forums going, as a place where members could share their experiences and support each other we aren't benefits advisors, we just wanted to offer something in return for everything Benefits & Work do. The page has been a great success thanks to all the members who comment. We take photographs when we can and love to share our love of photography, we have posted some free downloads of our latest seascape images for all Benefits & Work members here.

“We Hope you enjoy them keep liking & sharing and above all helping each other out with a comment when you can. Thanks!”

Please keep your good news posts coming, they really cheer our readers up!

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Join the Benefits and Work community now (open access) and discover what a difference we can make.

You can also read this newsletter online (open access).

Good luck,

Steve Donnison

Benefits and Work Publishing Ltd
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