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The DWP Fails People with a Learning Disability

Author: Neil Carpenter

The benefits regime of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) needs wholesale reform. I have worked through benefits applications and appeals with a number of adults who have a learning disability. For them – and I suspect it is the same for other people applying for benefits - a series of hurdles is currently created that appears designed to trip them up rather than meet their needs.

Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is a striking example and the stages for a man called Danny being moved from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP are outlined below. Those of you who have read my book, Austerity’s Victims, will remember him. In case you haven’t read it, Danny suffered a life-changing brain injury in 1980 but was suddenly deemed 36 years later to miraculously have changed and therefore be fit for work without his Employment and Support Allowance. The book describes how that DWP decision was successfully challenged in 2016.

Move on to 2019 and Danny is once more in the sights of the DWP but this time over PIP.

Hurdle 1 - A letter arrives in the post informing him that DLA is ending and that he has to phone the DWP for a form to apply for PIP. Fortunately, Danny’s understanding of the letter’s key points is sufficient for him to contact his advocate. For others without support, the letter may not be understood and could end up in the bin.

Hurdle 2 - A phone call has to be made to request an application form. In Danny’s case, without an advocate the phone call would not have been completed successfully because of a number of options to negotiate, a frequently long wait in a queue and the stress, once finally connected, of handling the questions.

It is hard, anyway, to see why a phone call is needed. Why not eliminate this hurdle and send the form itself as he is already on the DWP’s books?

Hurdle 3 - The completion of the form itself (33 pages long) is an impossibility for someone with a learning disability who is unsupported and, for some, the form might as well be written in a foreign language. For Danny, though, with his advocate the form was completed on time.

Hurdle 4 - Attendance at a PIP Assessment can be intimidating for someone with a learning disability. In Danny’s case, the DWP made it more straightforward by seeing him at home but then demoralised him by giving him no points for either ‘Daily Living’ or ‘Mobility’.

Hurdle 5 - Requesting Mandatory Reconsideration of a decision is another daunting prospect. As a result, Danny’s initial response was not to challenge the decision. He was, however, persuaded to go through the process, principally because of the injustice with which he had been treated but also because ‘accepting’ the decision could be used against him when his ESA once more came up for review.

The result of Mandatory Reconsideration was to give him 0 points for ‘Mobility’ and 6 for ‘Daily Living’, in both areas short of the 8 points needed for an award.

Hurdle 6 - Taking an appeal to a tribunal is an even more intimidating undertaking, especially as in Cornwall (where I work) it is held at a Magistrates’ Court with airport-like security on entry and its connotations of criminality.

Again, Danny’s first reaction was to feel that he couldn’t handle a tribunal which might hang over his head for a year. Nonetheless, with his advocate he sent off the necessary paperwork and began the wait.

The outcome was unexpected. Approximately a month after the request for a tribunal had been submitted, out of the blue Danny and his advocate were contacted by an official at the DWP who told us that the case had been reviewed. It would not go to a tribunal if we were prepared to accept their ‘offer’.

On DLA, Danny had received Lowest Care and Lower Mobility. The PIP offer was Enhanced Daily Living and Standard Mobility, giving him over £60 extra a week. The offer also included no reassessment for 10 years, with only a ‘light touch’ assessment at the end of that period.

As Danny accepted the offer, partly for financial reasons but also to avoid the stress of a tribunal, at first glance this seems a happy ending of sorts.

That glance, however, would miss a number of key points.

  1. Danny had support but many without it would have failed to clear all the hurdles
  2. The stress and financial hardship over a number of months are enormous.
  3. In Danny’s case, an ESA assessment is imminent and the attritional process that is designed to wear him down will resume.
  4. Above all, benefits decisions should not be settled by the DWP’s horse-trading that concluded Danny’s case. They should instead be based on fair assessments of people whose lives are already often painfully difficult.

Austerity's Victims is available to buy here.


The publisher is the Centre for Welfare Reform.

The DWP Fails People with a Learning Disability © Neil Carpenter 2020.

All Rights Reserved. No part of this paper may be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher except for the quotation of brief passages in reviews.