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The DWP's record on disability benefits is a disgrace. We're here to shine a light on it

We have been overwhelmed with the response to our report on the DWP's track record of PIP benefits refusals for disabled people. It's time for a systemic overhaul

A person with a walking stick

Image: charlesdeluvio on Unsplash

This week we detailed the shocking reality many people with disabilities in Britain are facing. We reported that almost 90% of those who appealed after being turned down for essential  personal independence payment (PIP) were refused again on appeal. That is people who can’t work and have no other viable income. The payment is, at most, around £170 per week. Not everybody granted it gets that amount. And even if they were granted the benefit, they need to reapply regularly, just to prove again they’re disabled enough.

We asked readers to share their experiences of going through the application system with the Department for Work and Pensions. We have rarely had such a response. The volume was incredible and the details were shocking. You can read their stories here. I’m glad we’re able to shine a light on this little detailed disgrace. I hope by doing so, and making a fuss on their behalf, we can bring some change. But reality suggests this change will be hard to chisel and not seismic. 

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It all feels a bit austerity Mk2. Back then, remember back then, those days when the government decided the best way to meet the financial difficulties brought by the 2008 crash was to punish the poorest. Part of this was chancellor George Osborne and his strivers vs skivers narrative. It fixed the line firmly. You were either working or were on the make. There was nothing between. GET UP AND WORK, YOU SCROUNGER! THERE IS NO MAGIC MONEY TREE!!  

It allowed an environment to grow where anybody in need of state help was seen as either less, or worse, trying to take what you had paid for. Except pensions. DON’T TOUCH THAT TRIPLE LOCK, YOU CHANCERS! 

And while the narrative has shifted and it is those from overseas we’re encouraged to think of as sucking the marrow from the bone, there is clearly still malignant treatment of people who need help here. It’s just that it was less visible. Perhaps the feeling was that while we were distracted by small boats, or escalating food prices or Phillip Schofield we wouldn’t pay attention to a system designed to block rather than help those who need help most.  

Next week is Carers Week. It is clear there is also a massive problem for people in the UK who have had to become carers, perhaps through the illness of an older relative. They are filling gaps in the care-giving system for very little money and it is changing their lives dramatically. Yet they are frequently unseen and many times need to move from their own careers. Where do they fit in the resurgent strivers/skivers setup? 

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The need for an overhaul in how we look after those who require help to live is at a key moment. We must first rid the public space of the immediate knee-jerk suspicion that people are, to use that great Scottish phrase, at it. Stop pointing the finger and sneering that you see benefits cheats everywhere. Stop making people feel like criminals. We need to see that if help is needed, either for those with disabilities or those caring for people who can’t care for themselves, it should be provided. Treat people with respect, treat them with dignity and get money into hands so that people have personal agency to live their lives.  

The old chestnut about there not being enough money will come into play. Fine. Let’s dive into the allocation of resources, let’s look at money spent outsourcing essential services, let’s properly investigate the rewarding of money-spinning contracts and see who benefits. Because chances are it isn’t those on benefits. 

And keep sending Big Issue your stories and your experiences. We will keep building our community of the willing and the decent to support and make lives better.

Paul McNamee is editor of the Big IssueRead more of his columns here. Follow him on Twitter

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

This article is taken from The Big Issue magazine, which exists to give homeless, long-term unemployed and marginalised people the opportunity to earn an income.

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