Benefits assessments left sexual abuse survivors ‘curled up on the floor crying’

Sexual abuse survivors have been “curled up on the floor crying” during their benefits assessment, MPs have heard.

Labour’s Ruth George highlighted the wider impact of the benefits system on disabled people, parents and pensioners, adding they feel they are being “punished” for being poor or unable to work.

The High Peak MP went on to raise concerns over the application process for personal independence payment, particularly for women being “assessed on how that abuse continued to affect them years later”.

Ms George (pictured) told the Commons: “They found the whole process absolutely terrifying, having to attend a cold, informal assessment centre – often a tower block in the middle of a city but away from where public transport goes.”

She later criticised the “cold, terrifying and impersonal assessments” where people are concerned they are being “marked down”.

After Ms George believed a Government frontbencher was shaking their head at her remark, Ms George said: “The minister appears to disagree.

“I’ve heard from women who say they have been curled up on the floor crying at having to remember their sexual abuse and the assessor not even looking at them but simply repeating the question to them.

“So I’m sorry, I don’t accept that those assessments are personal and they take people’s circumstances into account.”

Earlier, MPs highlighted the Women Against State Pension Inequality (Waspi) group during the debate on Department for Work and Pensions spending.

Campaigners have raised concerns over the treatment and financial hardship suffered by women affected by the decision to speed up the process of increasing the pension age.

Opening the debate, Labour MP Alison McGovern (Wirral South) said: “They dealt with challenges in the labour market that I have never faced.

“They fought for the changes that my generation benefited from and at their point of retirement the Government undermined them and I will say why I think that is contrary to the principles on which we operate the welfare state.

“They have had that principle – that they have paid in and therefore they should be able to take out in an equitable way – undermined.”

She added: “That is shameful and I think it must be changed.”

Labour MP Justin Madders (Ellesmere port and Neston) said the number of Waspi women is growing, and that the Government is showing no appetite for tackling the problem.

Mr Madders said: “Whilst Tory leadership candidates continue to spaff cash up the wall with spending promises on tax cuts for the most well off in society, for the big corporations and whatever else they decide when they wake up in the morning, it is absolutely damning that not one penny has been committed to the Waspi women during these leadership hustings.

“And it does, at the end of the day, come down to an issue of priorities, and it is clear Waspi women are not a priority for this Government, and are not going to be a priority for the new prime minister either.”

Replying for the Government, Work and Pensions minister Will Quince confirmed there are “no plans to extend or maintain the benefit freeze after March 2020”.

He went on: “DWP ministers always listen and act on feedback, this is why we have recently announced ending three-year sanctions, programmes to investigate how we can help those in work to progress.”

Mr Quince said: “We have worked with the real experts, the stakeholders, including Refuge and Women’s Aid who’ve supported training for our work coaches to support victims of domestic abuse so they can better identify, refer and support those in need.”

He added: “We are creating a welfare system in which it pays to work, with Universal Credit simplifying the complex legacy benefit system that thwarted opportunities to work through punitive tax rates, a cliff edge for those wanting to do more work and mired people in debt.”

Consider people’s mental health over tax changes, former cabinet minister urges

A former cabinet minister has called on the Treasury to reveal what assessment it believes its handling of clawing back unpaid taxes has had on people’s mental health.

Former Brexit secretary David Davis said four suicides had been linked to the way HMRC has dealt with chasing unpaid taxes relating to the loan charge.

During Treasury questions, Mr Davis said: “When I asked a parliamentary written question on the approach and the assessment the Treasury has made of the impact of this loan charge on the mental health of the people subject to pursuit now the answer – to put it mildly – was less than satisfactory.

“So could the minister now tell us what effect the Treasury believes their policy has had on the mental health of all the people subject to pursuit now, in both public and private sector?”

Responding for the Government, Financial Secretary to the Treasury Jesse Norman replied: “May I put on record my surprise that a former chairman of the Public Account Committee with its concern for the public finances should be taking this view.

“There are some people who may have been very adversely affected in mental health terms and we must protect them at all times and with all the measures that we properly can. HMRC is attempting to do that.”

He said “there is a much wider and larger” number of people who are simply avoiding tax due.

The loan charge is a measure to claw back unpaid taxes by people who used complex “disguised remuneration schemes” to avoid paying income tax or national insurance on payments.

They worked by setting up an “employee benefit trust” where a worker’s income would be paid, with the money then funnelled abroad and then paid back to the worker in the form of a loan that was never designed to be paid off, thereby getting around the usual forms of income taxation.

Many of those who were part of the schemes had them suggested to them by their employers, only to find out years later it was not legal.

Copyright (c) PA Media Ltd. 2019, All Rights Reserved. Picture (c) UK Parliament.

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