Benefits shake up slammed

Kathleen Bradley
Kathleen Bradley

A local advice centre has hit out at the shake up of the social welfare payments to the sick, describing it as a “false economy” and “a “tick box service which is a waste of public money.”

Community Assist Worker, Dove House, Kathleen Bradley was speaking out after Minister for Social Development, Nelson McCausland, described the reassessment process as shifting the focus to: “What people can do rather than what they can’t.”. He said it would ensures that we do not “allow people to languish on a life of benefits, with no opportunity or support to move back into employment”..

Following their reassessment, anyone found capable of employment will no longer receive Incapacity Benefit. Instead, they will receive Jobseeker’s Allowance or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) while they search for work. According to the Department Northern Ireland has twice the rate of people claiming disibility benefits than England does.

As details emerged of the shake up here, the appeals process was criticised heavily by those working at the coal face locally. Particularly the statistic that around 40% of appeals are ruled in favour of the claimant.

However, Kathleen Bradley said: “The majority of those who are declined the benefit after their board do not appeal as they do not have access to representation but the fact that nearly one in two of those who appeal are proved right shows that something is really wrong. It is a waste of public money.”

But more frustrating, argued Ms. Bradley than the rate of those who are having the benefit withrawn is the “number of hoops they must first jump through in order to prove they are entitled to sick pay.

“I’m disappointed that in 2012 we do not have a system of automatic entitlement at least for certain kind of illnesses and diseases. There is no reason why someone waiting on, for example a heart transplant, should have to sit though a board or be told they are fit for work. The same can be said of cancer patients, certain stages of certain cancers are incompatible with a 9-5, as are the effects of some medications.

“The whole system is built on a false economy. I know one family who had to appeal for their entitlement to £38 per week for a year. Their appeal, with doctor and solicitor fees will have cost more than the total benefits they were claiming. The appeal process as it stands is a waste of public money. In this day and age we should be able to have a letter from our doctors and take it to the Social Security office. People should come first, this is not a person centred system.

Peter Anderson, Appeal Officer Neighbourhood Assist, Dove House, said: “The whole thing has angered and annoyed me. these boards are being conducted by a private firm who must be on commission. The question that needs answered is ‘What is the percentage of those failed by this new ‘tick box’ system compared to that of the old one?”

“This is absolutley an exercise by the government to claw back money from the social services. How can you have 7,000 people boarded and 2,000 of them wiped, that’s more than one in four? Those are appalling, shocking figures and the department are using a sledge hammer to crack a nut and unfortunately it is only going to get worse.”