Chesterfield disability campaigners say they are treated like ‘scrap’ over benefit system

Chesterfield Disability Campaigners group share their experiences of Universal Credit, picture includes Michael Crossley, Darren Sharrod, Adrian Rimington, Dave Widdowson, Maria Britland, Marvin Britland and Cavan Hewitt
Chesterfield Disability Campaigners group share their experiences of Universal Credit, picture includes Michael Crossley, Darren Sharrod, Adrian Rimington, Dave Widdowson, Maria Britland, Marvin Britland and Cavan Hewitt

Disability campaigners in Chesterfield and Derbyshire have shared some of the difficulties they have experienced with the benefit system.

The group claims the Government is ‘waging war’ on disabled people and so it has decided to speak out to raise awareness.

The problems include the volume of paperwork needed to be completed, deadlines and being made to feel undervalued.

One of the campaigners, Adrian Rimington, 62, said: “From the time of the Elizabethan Poor Laws, disabled people have been regarded as the deserving poor. This Tory government wishes to overturn all these years of history and refer to disabled people on benefits as scrap and say that the only way is paid work.”

Issuing an open letter to the Derbyshire Times, the campaigners said: “One of our members related how he had a Personal Independence Payment (PIP) form forwarded to him a year in advance so that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could have time to get the paperwork done.

“This is not a jest, one whole year required to process the paperwork.

“Two other members told us how they were sent Employment Support Allowance (ESA) forms, which are 28 pages of A4, a very daunting and worrying prospect.

“One had a face-to-face interview lasting two hours, which had been delayed for 20 minutes as the interrogator had to read the notes. The member telephoned the DWP for a verdict soon after his interview as he was worried about his money. He was told he would receive the same amount of money but would be subject to a review in one year’s time, meaning being harassed and worried again, someone whose condition will not change.

“One member has completed a 48-page form asking him to disclose all his financial arrangements, under the suggestion that he could possibly be paid an increase in benefit. This is a means test by any other name, and if any extra payment is forthcoming, it will have been earnt by the time and effort needed and anxiety produced in completing the form.

“A member completed the ESA forms for her partner, to be returned by December 26, 2018. When she telephoned them on December 27, no one was there. Clearly the DWP ensured they had a week off at Christmas with scant regard for to the rest of us, particularly those having to complete forms over Christmas.”

Chesterfield MP Toby Perkins recently met with the group and said he understands why it feels this way.

Mr Perkins said: “The disastrous roll-out of universal credit has been the focus of many of the horrific stories we hear about vulnerable people being left without money for weeks on end, but we must not forget the thousands of disabled and chronically ill people who are still claiming Employment and Support Allowance and Personal Independence Payments who are being forced through needless assessments every year.

“Many of these claimants are wrongly being declared fit for work, or seeing their PIP money reduced, before having to go through a long, stressful appeals process. I have secured information from the Tribunals Service which states the average waiting time for an appeal to be heard in Chesterfield is 48 weeks. The vast majority of these appeals see the decision overturned and money backdated, but is leaving vulnerable people without the income they need to lead independent lives. Often, by the time they have won the appeal, these claimants are receiving new letters to say they have to be assessed again, leaving people feeling like they are being constantly hounded by the Department for Work & Pensions and in fear of losing their benefits.

“I recently met with the disability campaigners group and I understand why they feel that this Government has declared war on disabled people. I have written to the Government to demand urgent changes to the assessment process for disability benefits and to make them aware of the terrible effect their policies are having on disabled people in Chesterfield.”

In response, A DWP spokesman said: “We want disabled people to get the support they’re entitled to and that’s why we require as much detailed information as possible about their condition.

“The form covers a wide range of different conditions and only the parts, which are relevant to them need to be completed.

“People can receive help to fill out their form if they need it and if someone disagrees with a decision they can appeal to an independent tribunal.”

n The disability campaigners added that anyone who would like to make a donation to keep their campaign running can send it to: 112 Old Hall Road, Chesterfield, S40, 1HF.