Disability minister ignorant on how legal aid cuts affecting disabled people

Alex Hern reveals the extent of disability minister Maria Miller's ignorance over how her own government's policy affects the disabled.

If he has thousands of pounds to pay, he can go to a tribunal! Brilliant!


In an interview yesterday with BBC Radio Five, the disability minister Maria Miller urged campaigner Sue Marsh to use her “extensive right of appeal through tribunals” if she was unhappy about the DWP’s decision to reduce her award for the disability living allowance (DLA).

Miller wasn’t wrong about this: disabled people who believe the decision about their DLA award is inaccurate can and do challenge the DWP at tribunals. And in 38 per cent of appeals relating to the Disability Living Allowance, the tribunals find in favour of the claimant (pdf).

But what Miller doesn’t seem to realise is that Ken Clarke’s proposals in the legal aid, sentencing and punishment of offenders (LASPO) Bill, which is being debated in the Lords today, will severely limit access to justice through tribunals for thousands of DLA recipients, closing this option to them.

This cut – which will save just £25 million from the total legal aid budget of £2 billion (pdf) – will remove legal aid for all welfare benefits cases. It will leave disabled people who’ve fallen foul of administrative error or an inaccurate benefits decision alone in the face of a complex and confusing appeals system that requires nearly 9000 pages of official guidance.

While Miller may not know about it, disability campaigners have for some time, and are vehemently opposed to the proposed cut.  For instance, the charity Scope and campaign group 38 degrees have both been running campaigns to harness public outrage over these proposals, and encourage Peers to support a Lib Dem amendment that would prevent this from happening.

Opponents of the LASPO bill highlight the somewhat suspicious timing of introducing legal aid cuts for welfare cases during a period of massive upheaval in the welfare system. While millions of people are having their benefits reassessed, their ability to challenge an inaccurate outcome through appeal is also being significantly curbed.

New analysis from Sound Off For Justice released yesterday further reinforced these suspicions by highlighting the serious gaps in the government’s argument that the legal aid reforms are intended to save any money to the public purse.

These findings were just the latest confirmation that the reforms will prove to be a false economy, creating greater knock-on costs to the NHS and the public purse further down the line.

The report also undermined a further claim of the government that the costs of legal aid have spiralled out of control. The data reveal that for welfare benefits cases the opposite is true.

Whilst the amount of money spent on legal aid to help challenge incorrect decisions has, roughly, stayed at the same level over the recent years, the volume of cases that receive funding through the legal aid system has risen much more steeply.

This suggests that more people are getting help with the same budget, adding weight to arguments that advice for this type of cases is cost-efficient.

Even Tory grandee Lord Newton has called the cumulative impact of the government’s legal aid and welfare reforms a “pincer movement” on disabled people.

Miller’s comment on Radio Five exposed that the left hand of government doesn’t know what the right is doing. Worse, it highlighted that despite being the minister for disabled people, she is blissfully unaware of the impact of government policy on disabled people.

Today, disabilities campaigners are asking people to call an MP or Peer to raise awareness of the Spartacus report. They’ve also launched a twibbon to show your support. The welfare bill begins its journey through the lords tomorrow, and the next few weeks of the fight will be crucial for tens of thousands of disabled people in Britain. They need your help.

See also:

Time to step forward on the Spartacus reportAlex Hern, January 9th 2012

Boris has slammed Coalition welfare reforms – from the leftDaniel Elton, January 6th 2012

Five reasons to oppose the welfare billDaniel Elton, December 12th 2011

Society and the media are failing the sick and disabledSue Marsh, May 13th 2011

Government plans to cut DLA could cause extreme hardshipSue Marsh, January 24th 2011

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  • http://twitter.com/Mylegalforum Nick

    As a welfare benefit specialist of many years experience I have helped literally thousands of claimants through the intricate complexities of their cases. Much of the volume of our casework is in bringing cases to Tribunals where we receive exceptionally good results; – we consistently highlight the high failure rate of DWP/HMRC/Local Authority decision-making by obtaining a commendable success rate. We overturn an average of 70% of decisions which the state consistently gets wrong.

    Many of the failures in the decision making process can be attributed to the wildly inaccurate medical assessments which private healthcare providers (such as ATOS) so often get wrong. The Employment & Support Allowance is a classic example of a benefit which is not working because the medical assessors and decision-makers misunderstand the whole purpose of the allowance. It is not about finding claimants capable of work, it is about recognising those who need support to transition from welfare to work, the allowance also recognises how some are simply too incapacitated to work. We’ve listened to far too much of the grossly distorted press who seem hell bent on callously demonising the disabled. We have to stop pretending that genuinely disabled or incapacitated people exist; – they do. You cannot miraculously de-badge the disabled as suddenly fit to work to suit government’s cost cutting agenda, it will backfire on government when employers struggle to place people in work, it will become blindingly obvious that simply calling individuals ‘fit for work’ does not make them fit enough to carry the work out.

    I’ve written reams on government’s ridiculously optimistic welfare reforms, what we will see as government presses ahead with its WORK programme, is a spectacular failure; – it won’t work. The cost of these ill-conceived reforms will amount to billions of pounds when you look at how much is being thrown at welfare to work; – we are already seeing an absolute explosion of appeals against unjust decisions coming before Tribunals which now have to sit 6 days a week just to get through the escalating numbers. Welfare reform – in its current form will be a car crash which we will all end up paying for. The cost will far outweigh any savings.

    It’s soul destroying to know that soon, if government gets it ways on legal aid reform, people will be practically disabled from effectively bringing their cases before our Tribunals without proper help. We help the right people, for all the right reasons and obtain the right results. Our fixed fee is a paltry £150 per case regardless of how long it takes to complete. We’re not fat cat lawyers, we are dedicated professionals with a social conscience over the work we do. The cost of people being unassisted will see appeals shoot up to a level which will embarrass government and deeply bite into the savings it purports to make from welfare reform. For every £1 spent on welfare benefit legal aid, £8.80 is saved; – government chooses to ignore the value of the work we do because it suits its agenda, we will see what a huge mistake they make if the perilous legal aid bill becomes legislation. I sincerely hope it does not.

    Rather than make us their foe, government would do better to get sensible and be-friend us, we work on the front line and could constructively work with the authorities on getting welfare reform right; – they completely ignore the value of our contribution, frankly it strikes me as rather foolish and ultimately immensely costly in the long run.


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