Posted by: John Brace | 21st November 2019

Isn’t it about time for a positive media story about the disabled?

Isn’t it about time for a positive media story about the disabled?

HM Court and Tribunal Service letter (PIP Appeal) redacted

HM Court and Tribunal Service letter (PIP Appeal) redacted

I’m writing this piece to address what I perceive as an current imbalance in media coverage on disability issues and so that people hopefully have a better understanding. Indeed it’s something I’m struggling to fully understand myself as I generally report on local government.

Last month I reported on the 3 year+ running saga where the First-tier Tribunal system first declared me “unreasonable”, then the Upper Tribunal overruled as it was based on two errors of law, but then decided the First-tier Tribunal should have a second go at trying in the GRC (General Regulatory Chamber).

Now another Chamber of the First-tier Tribunal (Social Security & Child Support Appeals) is going to answer a similar but somewhat related question, “Am I disabled enough?”.

I have chosen Leonora to represent me.

I will choose my words carefully at this point, in case they are used against me! I am disabled and yes I work (although I created this job two decades ago). Yes disabled people get a fair amount of verbal and other abuse from people growing up and even as adults. No that abuse shouldn’t happen. It is more expensive in this country being disabled than not being – hence why the system is the way it is to address that economic injustice.

Although it is not yet sub judice (a hearing date has not yet been set), I’m not going to go into the ins and outs of the matter here but other than to comment in more general policy terms.

Based on the last published quarter the judiciary changed 75% of decisions that are PIP (Personal Independence Payment) appeals decisions made by the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions). The quarterly statistics for April to June 2019 are published here.

These decisions aren’t published (although onward appeals to the Upper Tribunal are published in an anonymised form).

Despite searching for legal reports by journalists on PIP hearings the media doesn’t (rather surprisingly) report on the hearings (which are by default open to the public unless the judiciary directs otherwise) I could only find personal stories of peoples experience.

I admit I am somewhat unusual in being “openly disabled”.

The disabilities I have are lifelong.

As a journalist I feel I have a duty to hold power to account. There will be people that come after me that I hope can learn from this.

I hope in the future society develops better attitudes.

But from a purely personal perspective I will state this (especially as there is a general election) – somewhere along the way political discourse has become so tied up in Brexit that domestic policy hasn’t received the attention it should have had (not just on this but on many other issues too).

I hope that whatever government comes out of this general election that things get better. On the horizon there are the plans for Universal Credit to be rolled out (which is a story for another day) – which is another issue it is hard not to have strong feelings about.

My personal feeling is that once again I am in the middle of a wider political debate.

Here is what I know so far – there is a direction in which national policy is going at its usual slow pace of implementation.

In essence though on one level its policy aims are to try to persuade the working age population into higher paid work (to increase tax revenue and reduce taxpayer support).

However – because of a botched implementation it is having the opposite effect (making work less attractive financially).

But there indeed is the conundrum that all governments face on welfare and tax reform. If you botch it completely at the next general election you run the risk of losing your majority (although the current government managed to lose its majority even before the general election started).

Returning slightly to the whole issues of Brexit, access to justice and a more equal society. The Supreme Court ruled two years ago that Employment Tribunal fees brought in by the national government were unlawful and also arguments that access to justice can’t be based on ability to pay. The issue was partly decided on employment law at the EU level and tens of millions of fees had to be refunded.

But in finishing I hope it resonates out there that although I am trying as hard as possible to be objective – the outcome of this general election will have consequences.

Political parties also receive funding from the taxpayer based in part on how many votes they receive at general election time.

I realise reading back the above feels like a poor attempt to describe what is happening but it’s my attempt to try and understand something both at the political and individual level – although the machinery of government usually defies any rational explanation.

So be careful who you vote for!

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Responses

  1. How long before you actually get to the court is anyones guess.
    I am representing someone next month from an appeal lodged in April for a claim made in Nov 2018.
    I am confident that the decision will be changed in favour of thr claimant. My disgust is that this person will have spent 12 months plus without the correct benefit. Time they can not get back and a difficult time that “back pay” cannot erase.

    • Thanks for your comment.

      How fast or slow justice moves is unfortunately like asking how fast or slow a river is.

      Justice can move very quickly when it wants to but tends to default to preferring to take its time (on the basis that the issues have to be properly considered whilst balancing that of course against delay) – I’m referring to one of the overriding objective in the rules.

      For cases decided in the last quarter published (April to June 2019) the average time from case start to decision was 30 weeks (an increase of 3 weeks from the previous quarter).

      You are right to point out that before that there are two decision stages – meaning from start to finish it can be a year.

      It unfortunately depends on a myriad of factors such as numbers of cases in that Chamber (for the last quarter about 110,000 outstanding), availability of the judiciary, administrative staff, availability of tribunal rooms, how fast DWP respond etc.

      Yes it puts a strain on people – because of the uncertainty it causes.

      I am lucky enough that I have some understanding of judicial processes and can wait for a decision – I realise others aren’t as fortunate.


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