DWP leaves disabled people living in fear

Georgina Andrews is a member of the YCL’s Merseyside branch

A new legal challenge has revealed how many disabled people have been subjected to months of invasive checks following being tagged as potential benefit fraudsters by an algorithm the government hasn’t shown yet. 

Some of the people affected have expressed that they feel “fear of the brown envelope”, which shows that their case is being looked into, whilst others have received phone calls with no explanation as to why they’ve been flagged. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has previously disclosed that they use “cutting edge artificial intelligence” to track potential fraud but have so far refused to detail how that artificial intelligence works, leaving disabled people facing up to a year of humiliating treatment. 

Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) have sent a legal letter urging the government to reveal details of how the algorithm works as they believe the government has a legal duty to be transparent.

The government has until Friday (26 November 2021) to respond to the letter.

The government’s focus on criminalising benefit fraudsters, who only make up approximately 4% of everyone in the system, means an increased surveillance of disabled people, heightening the anxiety that disabled people have to live with when it comes to finances. The practice suggests that we will all live in a better society by catching benefits fraudsters but really translates to a society that disabled people are scared to simply live in. The most pressing issues for disabled and non-disabled people alike is ending austerity, ensuring everyone has a safety net to fall back on that is stress-free and reliable and that no one has to live in fear of receiving an unwarranted brown envelope. 

Disaabled peoples’ lives are intimately linked to the state due to discrimination when it comes to employment, leaving many in poverty. Often characterised as leeching off the state, many disabled people are forced to work, even in a pandemic, with 13% of people required to shield in the first lockdown having to work due to their financial situation. They are also trapped into low paid, temporary work that keeps the cycle of poverty spinning. Add this algorithm to the mix and it’s no wonder disabled people live in constant fear. 

We know that over 120,000 people have died in the last decade because of cuts to benefits, a large proportion of that number being disabled people, however, it’s unclear yet how many deaths can be tied to this particular tactic. If the government refuses to even tell how the algorithm works, it may take many years to find out the real consequences of targeting disabled people in this way.

Georgina Andrews

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