Human rights group Equal Lives fears further budget cuts next week as pressures on PIP claimants continue

Julie Kemmy and Michael Shanks of Equal Lives. Picture: Archant

Julie Kemmy and Michael Shanks of Equal Lives. Picture: Archant - Credit: Archant

Up to 2,000 people a month are seeking help from human rights group Equal Lives after having disability or employment benefits cut – just as the advice service's funding is set for more debate.

Protest outside the PIP Consultation Centre on Prince of Wales Road against cuts to disability benef

Protest outside the PIP Consultation Centre on Prince of Wales Road against cuts to disability benefits. Mark Harrison, CEO for Equal Lives leading the protest. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The advocacy service has helped 38 people appeal their Personal Independence Payments (PIP) this year, and expects almost three-quarters of claimants to win. Flaws in the assessment system conducted by Atos and Capita on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions have caused the UN to find evidence of 'grave or systematic' violations of disabled people's human rights.

On February 20, the full Norfolk County Council will discuss funding to information and advice services - including Equal Lives - for 2018/19. The initial recommendation was to cut it by £63,000, but Policy and Resources Committee is now asking the council to 'agree to delay the saving of £63,000 until 2018/19 to give an opportunity to further understand the impact'.

'We are funded by Norfolk County Council to support people to get what they are actually entitled to,' said Julie Kemmy, development manager at Equal Lives. 'At the same time Norfolk are cutting our budgets so we are not going to be able to support as many people.

'A lot of the problems inherent in [the assessment process] are because of the way they are told to run the contracts. It is an adversarial system. There is an expectation people are trying to lie about it or fiddle the system. That has fed into people's fears they won't be believed.

Jade Garwood who spent 19 months appealing her PIP assessment.
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Jade Garwood who spent 19 months appealing her PIP assessment. Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant


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'I used to be on Disability Living Allowance and I am so glad I do not have those needs any more, because this process is torture. There are so many hurdles for them and because they have to prove how bad they are they become deeply distressed.'

Advisor advocate Michael Shanks said: 'They are not really being listened to when they try to explain a problem. Their health condition has not changed, so why suddenly are they receiving less care?'

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Norfolk People's Assembly, NHS Norfolk Action Group, Unison, Disabled People Against the Cuts, Equal Lives and others will be protesting outside County Hall from 8am and in the council chamber when the council meets.

19 month battle with DWP#

Jade Garwood spent 19 months battling the DWP for the PIP claim she deserved and only won on appeal to a tribunal with the help of Equal Lives.

The 31-year-old from Cringleford had to leave her job as a midwife after being diagnosed with M.E. in 2013. She was unable to work more than three hours and was constantly fatigued.

'I was relying on everybody else to get me through, first my friends, then my family,' she said. 'I had help washing, dressing and preparing my food.

'At that time I was on £70 a week. It was awful and mentally quite hard.

'It wears you down and it is humiliating to constantly have to prove you are not well and need help. They do not seem to believe you at all - it is almost like you are making it up.

'People would not put themselves through this unless they really had a problem.'

Norfolk County Council response:

A Norfolk County Council spokesperson said: 'We currently spend around £1m each day on services for vulnerable adults in Norfolk and in the budget which County Councillors discuss next Monday they will discuss an increase the overall amount spent on this area in 2017/18.

'However, as demand for services to vulnerable adults continues to rise we need to make savings so we can continue to meet the growing need for care and support for in Norfolk. We also want to strike the right balance between spending money on people's existing care needs and on services which help people to live well and independently for as long as possible.

'Currently we spend £1.7m each year on providing information, advice and advocacy services which support people to maintain their independence – and we do this by contracting with a wide range of specialist voluntary agencies who provide these services from a wide range of access points.

'We believe we can actually help people more by streamlining the outlets where this information is provided, targeting it better in areas of most need.'

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