SNP MP brands UK Government ‘reckless and heartless’ as figures reveal nearly £200m spent fighting disability benefit appeals

SNP MP joins disability and poverty campaigners in denouncing the Tories’ approach to welfare amid newly uncovered figures  

ALISON THEWLISS, SNP MP for Glasgow Central, has accused the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) of being “intent on refusing people at every turn”, after it emerged nearly £200m in five years was spent fighting appeals by rejected disability benefit claimants.

Figures revealed by Freedom of Information requests submitted by The Mirror newspaper show that the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) spent an estimated £199m over the period on the “direct operating costs” of dealing with appeals to Personal Independence Payment and Employment and Support Allowance decisions.

Added to the fact that more than two-thirds of appeal tribunals are successful, with over 400,000 people winning their PIP and ESA appeals since 2013, the new figures have led to outcry from opposition parties and from disability and poverty organisations.

Speaking to CommonSpace, Alison Thewliss said: “These figures are hugely concerning, and will strike many – myself included – as a reckless and heartless way to use public funds.

“It’s bad enough that the government want to expend time and effort denying people support, but to use taxpayers’ money in the process is completely unconscionable.

READ MORE: UK Government breaching international law over poor welfare system

“The scale of cases overturned at tribunal for ESA and PIP is staggering, and yet the DWP seem intent on refusing people at every turn – presumably in the hope that claimants will fail to muster a challenge, or not realise that they have recourse to do so at all.”

The figures uncovered show that the government has been increasing its spending dealing with such appeals each year, with £32m spent in 2015/16, compared with £45m in 2016/17, and £62m in 2017/18.

Thewliss said the problem could be “particularly concerning” for her constituents, in light of the DWP’s plans to roll out Universal Credit in Glasgow later this year.

“It’s bad enough that the government want to expend time and effort denying people support, but to use taxpayers’ money in the process is completely unconscionable.” SNP MP Alison Thewliss

She added: “I, and many others, have spoken at length about the significant deficiencies of Universal Credit, and most of it has fallen on deaf ears.

“The government should take note, and stop spending public money to deny people access to benefits that they are entitled to”.

In addition to the cost to the DWP of the appeals, the running of the tribunals is funded by the Ministry of Justice, which spent £103.1m on social security and child support tribunals in 2016/17 alone, 80 per cent of which related to PIP or ESA.

READ MORE: Neil McLeod: Universal Credit - The 'benefit' that will bring you homelessness and depression quicker than it will get paid

Commenting in Third Force News, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland Bill Scott said the disability charity “deplore and condemn the DWP’s misuse and waste of public money” in fighting the appeals.

He went on: “The £200m spent by the DWP, and the £100m plus spent by the tribunal service, would have been much better spent on providing disabled people with the support they desperately need to lift them out of poverty and lead independent lives.”

Scott shared Thewliss’ view that the success rate of the appeals demonstrate a flaw in the assessment process itself, which he said is “broken beyond repair”.

Peter Kelly, director of The Poverty Alliance agreed that a major shift in approach was needed by the Tory government. Kelly said: “In our society we believe in compassion. Yet the decision to spend these sums of money to prevent people from accessing the support they need is not the action of a compassionate system.

"Rather than investing money in actions that lock people into poverty, the UK Government should reflect on how its resources can best be used to ensure that everyone can access the standard of living that we should all have.”

READ MORE: UK Government has caused a 'human catastrophe', says UN committee on disabled rights

Labour MP Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee, also criticised the spending, while suggesting that some improvements were underway.

He said: "The Department is spending mega sums of money defending its own poor decision making, and putting claimants through the wringer in the process.

"DWP is already planning substantial improvements to the assessment processes, including recording assessments. But it must push harder and demand better from its assessors. It simply cannot afford not to."

“The £200m spent by the DWP, and the £100m plus spent by the tribunal service, would have been much better spent on providing disabled people with the support they desperately need to lift them out of poverty and lead independent lives.” Inclusion Scotland director of policy Bill Scott

The DWP advised the figures were not official statistics, and "should be treated with caution".

A spokesperson said: “We’re committed to ensuring that disabled people get the support that they need, spending £50 bn a year supporting them and those with health conditions. A relatively small proportion of all decisions are overturned at appeal – four per cent for both PIP and ESA.”

An FoI revealed last year that the DWP had a Key Performance Indicator target in place to refuse 80 per cent of requests for decisions to be reconsidered. 

Picture courtesy of Raul Mee (EU2017EE) 

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