Letter: Benefit Tribunals, No concern
for needs


In my role as housing and advice representative, I recently accompanied a client to a benefit tribunal in relation to their appeal against a benefit decision made by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). Many readers will not be aware that welfare benefit appeal tribunal hearings have become the norm following the introduction of the Welfare Reform Act in 2013.
I noted from the court listings for that day the majority of cases were for appellants versus the DWP. Looking out of the courtroom window I observed as far as my eyes could see bemused and bewildered and disabled people milling around presumably awaiting their DWP hearing.
In my view, the whole scene was befitting of a Dickens novel minus the apple cart selling rotten fruit and a few mangy dogs.
I asked myself, when did being sick, disabled or poor become a matter of law?
When did sitting in a room in front of a judge deciphering the merits of the law in a case of welfare benefits for a sick client become okay?
I found the whole process objectionable and I asked myself, was I the only one preoccupied with the normalising of food banks, job losses and terrible wars, that I had failed to fully notice HM Courts and Tribunal Service system had slipped quieter than a thief in the night to replace part of the DHSS system? 
HM Courts and Tribunal Service is, in my view, an expensive throwback court system that deals in cold facts with no concern for the social needs of sick and disabled people, and why should it? The court system is there to deal with criminality.
To subject vulnerable people to a humiliating and intimidating processes is barbaric, ill equipped and perverse in my view.
It has been set up by what I believe to be a Draconian out of touch Government that has failed to consider the appellants’ personal difficulties and unintentional dependency on family, friends and neighbours.
Who quite frankly, are physically, mentally and financially worn down by caring for another in the community.
In asking for DWP support many such vulnerable people are at the mercy of a judicial system.
To bear witness to the plight of susceptible people is disturbing to say the least and begs the question why are we accepting of it?
Surely I am not alone in thinking this sort of system has no place in a civilised society and provides compelling evidence of the rich and poor divide.
Anyone of us at anytime could become vulnerable and in need our welfare system and in doing so we too might be forced to deal with court proceedings.
Moreover, we will find ourselves at the mercy of a judicial system that lacks social insight and understanding of our complex needs and circumstances. Indeed in most cases people will turn up without legal representation, as they are not aware they need it. They do! 
Success is rare without it. The whole process should not be tolerated in my view, as it is by no means a fair means of assessing sick and disabled people for their welfare entitlement.

Linda McGraw

Address supplied