DISABLED Irish people are being forced to skip meals to make ends meet as they suffer a ‘nightmare’ wait for Government support, a charity has claimed.
The vulnerable men and women are stranded on low rates of disability benefit for months before being told whether they qualify for the money they need to get by, according to the Luton Irish Forum.
The organisation says the situation has brought ‘distressing’ consequences for its clients, 33 of whom are living on the breadline.
“These people are living on £72.40 a week when many should be getting £108.15,” said Mary Fitzmaurice, a welfare advice officer at LIF.
“You cannot budget on that money long-term if you have extra health needs, yet these people are having to do that for up to a year.”
She added: “They can’t afford to eat properly because even if they go to a food bank, they cannot get fresh vegetables or meat, so that is escalating their health issues.
“And if they have mental health problems they are dealing with extreme anxiety and stress as well, with no end in sight.”
The charity claims some of their clients are going hungry as they try to scrape by on just over £70 a week, while others are skipping hospital appointments because they cannot afford to travel.
The situation has arisen as a result of severe delays in the Government’s system for assessing whether someone qualifies for disability benefits.
Despite official targets of 13 weeks, the LIF has seen cases where people have waited more than 11 months for a medical assessment.
Ms Fitzmaurice’s comments come after a nationwide decline in the number of medicals being carried out was revealed.
Judge Robert Martin, President of the Social Entitlement Chamber, told MPs on the Work and Pensions committee that there was a “dramatic” drop-off in the assessment rate in early 2014.
Meanwhile, official figures show that a third of claims received between April and June last year had not been assessed by the end of that period.
When questioned about the assessment delays, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told The Irish Post: “We are seeking a new provider to replace Atos [the French firm contracted to carry out the DWP’s ‘fit-to-work’ assessments in Britain].
“This will help increase the volume of assessments carried out and improve the claimant experience, in particular looking to reduce waiting times and modernise delivery.”
They added: “The percentage of people entitled to Employment and Support Allowance is now at its highest level with over half of people completing a WCA eligible for the benefit.”