No one should live in poverty – take the wealth off the billionaires

By Michael Marron

Northern Ireland has been rife with public scandals over the past number of years, with the latest affecting some of the most vulnerable people in our society. This surrounds the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme, which aims to provide financial assistance to those with long-term health issues or disabilities.

A twenty-month long investigation carried out by the Public Services Ombudsman, Margaret Kelly, found serious failings within the application system for PIP, with applicants being “unfairly rejected” for payments to which they were entitled. The report found that provided evidence was often not considered in the assessments, resulting in many having to go through an arduous appeals process in order to access the payments they needed.

Capita profit while people suffer

The failings of PIP are, in part, reflective of the involvement of private firm Capita, hired by the Department for Communities to carry out the assessments. Bonuses were paid on the basis of number assessments processed and the speed at which they were carried out. This incentivised hasty rejection. Such a system to decide whether or not a vulnerable person is deserving of financial aid is inhumane and unfit for purpose.

Despite Capita’s inability to fairly and adequately assess applicants for PIP, Sinn Féin Minister for Communities Deirdre Hargey has further extended their contract by up to two years. This stands in contradiction to Sinn Féin’s stated opposition to the firm’s involvement. Capita has also been given the contract to oversee the compensation scheme for victims of the Troubles!

We need a benefit system which eliminates poverty

The Socialist Party calls for the removal of Capita from the process of assessing applicants to PIP. Capita, however, should not just be replaced by another private, profit-driven firm. Instead, assessments should be made in-house by medical professionals, on the basis of real engagement with those needing support and their own doctors, rather than the decision being based on the fulfillment of an abstract check-list. 

We need a complete overhaul of the benefits system to ensure that no individual is left in poverty, and that those with health issues and disabilities receive all the help and support that they need to live a dignified and comfortable life. This should be funded through taking the wealth of the billionaires who massively increased their obscene wealth over the course of the pandemic, while working-class people have been suffering.