Disabled people left in limbo while vital benefit decisions drag on

Of the 229,700 new claims made since the Personal Independence Payment was introduced in April last year, only 43,800 decisions have been made.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has released new statistics on the number of completed applications for Personal Independence Payments (PIP). Out of a total 229,700 new claims made since the benefit was introduced in April last year, only 43,800 decisions have been made. Many disabled people are being left in limbo as they wait to find out whether they will receive this vital benefit.

These statistics reveal a woefully low decision rate and suggest that we will see an even bigger backlog as more claims are added to the mix. Although some of these claims may be recent, a large number are not being decided within a reasonable time frame. Many of these cases will also be new applicants to the system, young people who have just turned 16, waiting to find out if they will get any support or not.

PIP is the benefit that is replacing Disability Living Allowance and affects everyone with a disability of working age, whether they are able to work or not. The purpose of DLA was to contribute to the extra costs faced by disabled people with care, supervision or mobility needs.  This might have been in the form of a communicator guide to allow a deafblind person to go shopping or attend appointments, or for a family to have a specially adapted car to accommodate a wheelchair. PIP will still contribute to these extra costs, but the Government want to focus the benefit on people with the ‘greatest needs’. In our experience, determining this need isn’t always as clear cut as the DWP might hope.

The needs of deafblind people and those with other disabilities are often complex and make it difficult for them to play an active role in society without support. DLA was key in helping many disabled people overcome these barriers and it would be damaging if the changeover to PIP made lives more difficult for deafblind people or left them without support and cut off from their own communities.

This is not the first time that disability charities, including Sense, have expressed concern over PIP and the adequacy of the assessments being carried out by Atos and Capita. During pilot testing there were worrying examples of unacceptable practices and evidence that assessors were making ill informed decisions. For example, one deafblind person could not be provided with an interpreter meaning that they were left unable to answer questions or participate in the assessment. Another was asked to copy what the assessor was doing – despite not being able to see. When your independence is on the line, you can’t afford for mistakes like this to be made.

The fact is that ten months since PIP’s introduction only around 1 in 5 applications for PIP have not yet been completed and it demonstrates that the DWP is not prioritising this as an issue. There seems to be very little emphasis or resources going in to working through these cases.  As these delays pile up we are going to be left with a system in crisis and one that cannot easily be fixed. We need a greater understanding of what the problem is; the assessments are being made, so what is it that is holding up these decisions?

Being assessed for benefits is often extremely stressful for disabled people. I am also concerned about the level of stress placed on disabled people and it now looks like they face an unduly long wait to find out if they are eligible. The DWP and the assessors must do everything they can to provide clear information and ensure they make the right decision initially so that disabled people do not have to appeal and face even further delays to get the benefit they are entitled to.

Over the past year the impact of benefit reform has been far reaching. Many disabled people and their families have suffered financially as a result of the bedroom tax and have been badly impacted by cuts to social care. PIP should not be contributing to this pressure.

In the last few days we have seen Defra and the Environment Agency locked in battle over who is responsible for the floods. This can’t become another battle of who is to blame for the backlog between Atos, Capita and DWP. Instead we are calling on the DWP to deliver on their end of the bargain and intervene to unblock the delays between disabled people applying for and then awaiting decisions regarding PIP, and prevent more disabled people being left without this crucial benefit.

Richard Kramer is Deputy Chief Executive of deafblind charity Sense

Richard Kramer is Deputy Chief Executive of deafblind charity Sense.

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images
Show Hide image

Unlikely sisters in the Gaza Strip

A former Jewish settler in Gaza recalls her childhood friendship with a young Palestinian.

It was well after midnight, one summer night in 1995, when Inbar Rozy, a 13-year-old living in the former Israeli settlement of Alei Sinai in the northern Gaza Strip, heard her parents answer the phone. Sitting up in bed, surrounded by potted plants, candles and fairy dolls lit by shafts of light from a nearby security outpost, Inbar listened closely.

“I could hear everyone talking around me, making calls,” Inbar said when we met recently in Nitzan, southern Israel. When she got up to find out what was happening, her parents told her to make up a second mattress. As dawn broke, they led into the room a young woman carrying a small bag and wearing a black shirt and jeans. “She had shoulder-length dark hair dyed with red henna and beautiful eyes – big, black with thick eyelashes,” Inbar told me, smiling. “[She was] quiet. She looked scared.”

The woman was Rina (her surname cannot be given for security reasons), a talented artist in her early twenties studying at a local art college, where she had fallen in love with a Christian boy. For Rina, coming from a traditional family, marrying a non-Muslim would be strictly forbidden.

When her parents found out, they were furious and forbade her from seeing her boyfriend. But her male cousins felt this wasn’t enough. Earlier on the day the girls first met, Rina’s cousins had attempted to kill her in retribution for her perceived “honour crime”. Seeing that another attempt on her life was likely, Rina’s father called a relative, who in turn called Inbar’s father, Yossef, a friend of many years. There was no doubt she had to leave. Ironically, a Jewish settlement protected by the Israel Defence Forces was the safest place in Gaza for her to be.

In 1967, Israel seized the Gaza Strip from Egypt during the Six Day War. In time, it settled 21 communities on a third of the land, with a population of 8,000 by 2005. Soldiers guarded the settlements from 1.5 million displaced Palestinians, tens of thousands of whom were displaced in 1967 and moved to live in nearby refugee camps. In Gaza, before Israel’s ultimate withdrawal from the Strip in 2005, relationships between Israeli settlers and Palestinians were fraught. True, many Palestinians worked in Israeli settlements, earning wages higher than elsewhere in the Strip, but the two communities lived largely separate lives.

In the mid-1990s, even after the Oslo Accords, violence was simmering. Israeli military incursions increased with the outbreak of the Second Intifada in 2000. Thousands of home-made Qassam rockets were launched by Palestinian militants at settlers and those living in southern Israel. Security measures hardened. The veteran Israeli journalist Amira Hass, who spent several years living in Gaza, describes neighbourhoods that were “turned into jails behind barbed-wire fences, closed gates, IDF surveillance, tanks and entry-permit red tape”.

And yet, in spite of the forced segregation, Inbar’s family enjoyed close links with their Palestinian neighbours. Inbar’s father worked as an ambulance driver, and on several occasions he helped transport those who lived nearby for emergency medical treatment in Israel. “Every Tuesday, my father’s Jewish and Arab friends would come to our house and we’d eat lunch together,” Inbar remembered.

Given the gravity of Rina’s situation, she couldn’t leave the house. Secrecy was paramount. The girls spent weeks together indoors, Inbar said, chatting, watching TV and drawing. “I’m not sure that as a child I actually understood it for real,” she said. “She taught me how to paint and sketch a face from sight.”

Almost as soon as Rina arrived, Inbar’s family began receiving anonymous phone calls asking about her. “My dad told me, ‘Don’t mention anything about Rina. Say you don’t know what they’re talking about – because otherwise they’ll come and kill us,’” Inbar said.

While the girls got to know each other, Inbar’s mother, Brigitte, found a women’s shelter in East Jerusalem for Rina. Whereas today Gaza is closed off by a military border under heavy surveillance, at that time it was porous. Brigitte drove Rina in to the capital, where she was given a new name and identity that would enable her to begin a new life, on condition that she contact no one in Gaza.

Today Inbar, who is 33, works at the Gush Katif centre in Nitzan – a museum dedicated to the memory of the Israeli settlements in Gaza. Despite her parents’ objections, the family was evacuated in 2005. Unlike most settlers in Gaza, some residents of Alei Sinai were determined to stay on, even if that meant forfeiting their Israeli citizenship. “I have no problem with living as a minority in a Palestinian state,” one of Alei Sinai’s inhabitants, Avi Farhan, told the Israeli daily Haaretz at the time.

Inbar now lives in Ashkelon, a city of 140,000 in southern Israel, and finds the big city alienating, especially when she recalls the warm relationships that once existed in Gaza. “I’ve never felt less secure,” she told me.

Years later, she learned that Rina had developed cancer and died. “The day before Rina left . . . she drew a portrait of me,” she said, describing how her friend had outlined, in charcoal strokes, the features of the teenager. Her parents packed the portrait with all their belongings in a shipping container the day they left Gaza. Soon after, the container was destroyed in a fire.

“I think if people had given it a chance . . . they would have had these kinds of friendships,” Inbar said, looking back. “We’d get along fairly well if we didn’t look at others as the monsters over the wall.” 

This article first appeared in the 27 August 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Isis and the new barbarism