Don’t misuse your disability benefits – the DWP might

Alice Dunn

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The Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith

Oh dear. At a time when the Tory party is desperately trying to shake off its ‘Nasty Party’ image, this turns up on our doormat – literally.

This is a letter from the DWP, the government department responsible for, among other things, benefits. It is a routine letter that was sent to my mother as a claimant of Disability Living Allowance (on behalf of my disabled brother) containing a thinly veiled threat to take my brother into care if she didn’t do as the DWP said.

The opening paragraph states that they, the DWP, “are writing to review your role. We want to ensure the appointeeship is working well and that there are no issues we need to address”. As far as we know, this disgraceful missive was sent out to the parent or guardian of every child in receipt of DLA when renewing their claim. This new letter, the ‘BF57B’, was recently introduced by the DWP and the form has to be signed and returned before the claim can move forward.

It is, in my opinion, a particularly damning indictment of the government’s attempt to demonise those on benefits, and particularly the disabled: to portray them as lazy, feckless scroungers. The letter ordered my mother to “always act in the best interests of the child”, then gave her a bullet point list of what this included, such as “manage and spend any money from Disability Living Allowance in a way that best serves [the child’s] best interests”.

Effectively, the DWP is assuming my mum would, (had she not received the letter), be spending my brother’s money on cigarettes, alcohol, and satellite TV. Is assuming the worst of a parent claiming benefits not rather insulting? It is also worth noting she has never received such a letter telling her how to spend the child tax credits received for her two children without disabilities nor was she sent it with the annual child benefit award notice.

Believe it or not, it gets worse. Underneath this bullet point list, is the sentence “We will review your status as an appointed person if we think that you are not acting in the best interests of the person named above.”My mother has not been ‘appointed’. She claims DLA on behalf of my younger brother because she is his mother – he is only seven so can’t receive the funds directly. In both my mother’s opinion, and my own, what they’re essentially saying is: ‘we will take your child away from you if you don’t spend this money properly’.

It is also worth remembering that the DWP itself cannot enter our house to check if my mum is a fit mother and they certainly cannot remove parental responsibility; only social services in conjunction with the courts can do this. When my mother called to ask what this meant, they replied that a member of staff from the local office may call her to arrange a house visit to check she was, basically, a fit mother to which they added: “you wouldn’t believe the hundreds and thousands who spend the money on themselves.”

The DWP has assumed because my mother is claiming disability benefits on behalf of a disabled child she is going to use the DLA for herself and has been threatened by the DWP accordingly.

Does this not act as direct evidence of – at least some – demonisation toward the disabled? Research for the charity Scope found that 46% of the 500 disabled people, their carers and parents polled, said people’s attitude towards them had worsened in the last year. Nearly two-thirds (64%) said they had experienced aggression, hostility or name calling. When asked what could be contributing towards such hostility, 87% singled out people claiming disability benefits to which they are not entitled.

A spokesman for the DWP told the BBC:  “We are careful about the language we use, as it’s clear that the benefit system itself has trapped many people in a spiral of welfare dependence.”

They added: “And whilst we already have laws in place to ensure equality, we need to work together and do more to change negative attitudes.”

Perhaps the DWP could look a little closer to home whilst they are “working to change negative assumptions” about disabled people and their families and stop sending out letters that assume the parents of disabled children are lazy, feckless scroungers.

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  • GaryGans

    I’m severely disabled. 5 years ago this coming November I was struck down by chronic and neurodegenerative illnesses that have made my quality of life Hell. I take 38 tablets of 6 medications everyday. I have ineffective braces on both legs, am photosensitive, take a long time to type anything because of tremors and use of 2 fingers on my former non-dominant hand, live in a sheltered Accommodation, wear a pendant a clip-on device when I attempt to get around my home in case I fall, have a fit, or worse, experience migraines, see double, can not sit up vertically because of balance issues, battle bouts of narcolepsy and epilepsy, and 2 friends visit me so I can be supervised when taking a shower and dressing me, and these 2 friends are all that remains to contact me via visits. No relationship because my ex could not handle it, but was able to save up for a television and computer. I received a package for tv, computer and phone that permits me communication and some diversion of my eternal pain, and with a price that is far less than others, but I give up many outdoor pursuits. I have been called horrible names, been spit on by a man with his family at his side, and was bashed by my former neighbour that blocks the flow of CSF. I’ve had one stroke. I do not use vices, as I want my health to be as well as it can be. I am not a scrounger. I am trying to beat this incurable disability. Please do not hate me.

    This is not a life of luxury. It is my worst nightmare.

  • Jason Bell

    It’s a nasty threatening letter pure and simple. DLA is non-means tested though and as it stands DWP make no stipulation how you spend the money. When you apply for it there is no mention of how much extra you need to look after your disabled child or yourself. Ergo it is a reparative benefit. If DWP actually investigated how people spent their DLA they’d find that people spend far more than is given, the logical conclusion to which is that DLA doesn’t provide enough in many cases.

    The same argument holds true for disabled people over 16 surely. Are the DWP going to start checking that they are not spending it irresponsibly? Given that when it was awarded they make no mention of how it mist be spent and the records that need to be kept.

    Welcome to ConDem Britain: Please set your watches back 30 years.

  • PontyBoy

    Whilst I am a fan of Tory bashing, we must ensure that it is done based on fact and unfortunately this post is completely baseless in it’s facts and the poster should really do some research.

    was not brought in by the Tories. It has been brought in by article
    12.4 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
    It is legally binding in the UK and was signed by the previous LABOUR
    government (an active socialist should know this even at a young age) so
    it is now a leagl requirement to conduct some sort of review,
    irrespective of age

    2. Your mother has, technically, been
    ‘appointed’ as any adult can be ‘appointed’ to make a claim and manage
    the money. It is usually the parent, but it is still an appointment to
    manage the benefit. It may seem odd to a parent but it is an important difference between parent/legal guardian and Appointeeship.

    3. It is completely incorrect to say the
    letter states parental responsibility would be taken away. It is to do
    with how the money is being managed. Sometimes circumstances in a
    household change and the initial person who was appointed may not now be
    best placed to manage the benefit. I would ask the poster is she knows
    the exact circumstances of every household that claims DLA in the
    country? The answer is no, because no one can and neither can any
    government department, hence the need to review now and then.

    The data from Scope is an appalling indictment of attitudes, but is mis
    represented by this poster as it was used to highlight issues around the
    perception of fraud and was not related to the appointee review.

    As I have said this isn’t any political party’s policy or DWP policy it is a legal requirement from the UN.

    all means Tory bash, but please make sure you check your facts as this
    post just comes across as a lazy rant and a few minutes on the internet
    could have given it a more incisive point of view

  • Peter Cossins

    MPs jumping to conclusions about “abuse of benefits” by the parents and/or carers of disabled persons should not always base such assumptions on the personal behaviour of oh so many of their own colleagues!

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