The report on unmet needs of disabled claimants that the DWP has been trying so hard to keep secret has finally been published after the commons work and pensions committee obtained a copy from the authors and placed it on its own website.
Even though this copy of the report ‘The uses of health and disability benefits’ has been watered down compared to the original work provided to the DWP, it still makes several things very clear.
Firstly that many people are using disability benefits such as PIP, which should be used to meet the additional costs of disability, for very basic needs such as food and rent and paying debts.
“The participant had kidney failure, arthritis in his back, legs and arms, depression and bulimia which caused chronic stomach pains. He lived alone in a flat rented from a Housing Association, using Housing Benefit. He was in the ESA Support Group and received PIP. He made monthly repayments for utility bill arrears and had a £5,000 bank loan which he could not afford to repay. His debt repayments meant he could not afford essential day-to-day living needs and used a foodbank. He found it difficult to wash independently due to his arthritis and needed a walk-in shower but could not afford one and seemed unaware that he may be eligible for support through the local authority. He also needed support with cooking and cleaning and received help from a cousin. His cousin would like to claim Carer’s Allowance but neither of them knew how to make an application. He had no other support networks close by.”
Secondly, that claimants with invisible disabilities such as mental health conditions often struggle even more than those with physical conditions to get their basic needs met.
“A pattern also emerged in terms of the nature of health conditions and the way participants used their income and the extent to which needs were met. Participants with mental health conditions tended to report a wide variety of basic needs, health and care needs and social needs that were unmet. In comparison, those with profound learning disabilities and severe physical disabilities were typically in the group that identified having fewer unmet needs. While the latter group experienced a high level of need across a range of areas, these were usually being met through a combination of local authority support and informal support networks, usually parents who provided a high level of care.”
Thirdly, that the wellbeing of disabled claimants often depends primarily on being in a household in which another member has a well-paid job.
“The participant has recently moved in with her mother and sister, she had previously lived alone in a council-rented flat but had begun to feel isolated and found paying the rent and bills difficult so decided to move in with her mother. She has a range of health conditions and disabilities including Asperger syndrome, anxiety, ADHD, joint stiffness and IBS. She works 28 hours a week and receives PIP. Before moving to live with her mother she was concerned about how her income would cover essential day-to-day living costs. She also struggled with maintaining her personal hygiene and found it difficult to leave the house as she did not like going out alone. Moving in with her mother has helped her to meet all of her health-related needs.”
Even in this watered down report, there is a good deal of evidence that the benefits system is failing to meet even the most basic needs of many claimants. This will come as no surprise to most claimants. But the fact that evidence is in a report compiled for the DWP using methodolgy that the department cannot dismiss as biased or inaccurate is new. And, as the chair of the work and pensions committee says, trying to hide away this report has only further damaged the DWP’s reputation with disabled claimants:
“The report gives a valuable insight into the experiences of people claiming health and disability benefits. While the system is working for some, we now know that others reported that they are still unable to meet essential living costs such as food and utility bills.
By persisting in its decision to hide away evidence of the struggles people are facing, the DWP will only have further harmed its reputation with disabled people at a time when - as its own officials have acknowledged - lack of trust is a major issue. In order to rebuild its relationship with disabled people, the DWP must stop trying to bury uncomfortable truths.”
Why keep it secret?
Why have the DWP gone to such lengths to keep this document secret? The revelation in the report that some disabled claimants are "often unable to meet essential day-to-day living needs, such as heating their house and buying food" will come as no surprise whatsoever to Benefits and Work readers.
Nor will the fact that claimants with mental health conditions "tended to report a wide variety of basic needs, health and care needs and social needs that were unmet."
But just last October, long after she had read this report,Therese Coffey was telling the Conservative party conference that:
“PIP has certainly grown in a way that was not anticipated when it was introduced.
“To give you an example, three out of four young people who claim PIP have their primary reason being mental ill health.
“That in itself is 189,000 young people who currently receive benefit focused on that. There may be other benefits they receive as well.
". . . how is it that people can think the benefit system is fair.
“And I think by being able to target that even more so to people who really need that support, may improve that prospect of public perception.”
What this report does is demonstrate that the benefit system isn't fair, but for exactly the opposite reasons to the ones Coffey would have us believe.
It isn't fair because claimants are left hungry and cold and without attention to their basic health and social care needs. If Coffey is planning changes to the PIP criteria to make it harder to claim, this report is the last thing she ever wanted to see the light of day.
And, rest assured, we will carry on trying to obtain a copy of the original, unaltered report.