My Granny Speech

January 19, 2012 8:25 am Published by Leave your thoughts

The granny speech is yet to be unleashed onto a tribunal. I have considered it but I thought my client still had a small chance of winning his appeal so I let the opportunity pass. More fool I. Sometime within the next few weeks though the speech will get an airing. It goes like this:

When my mum was 6-years-old her dad, my grandfather, was killed in a motorbike accident. He couldn’t see traffic coming from the left because he had lost his eye at the Battle of the Somme, for which he received a war disability pension of £1 per week. When he died the pension ceased. My granny was, at the time, pregnant with her third child, and so she was left, without the help of that £1 a week, to bring up three children on her own.

One day the family learned that they were to receive a visit from the Means Test Lady and Gentleman. Because my granny was unused to receiving visitors from a higher social stratum she told my mum to put on her dress (her only dress) instead of the hand-me-down clothes from her elder brother which she normally wore. You can probably guess what happened as a consequence: when the Means Test Lady and Gentleman saw that she owned a dress they decided that the family did not need any assistance to buy clothes after all.

This is an example of what happened when middle class people went into the homes of working class folk to dispense welfare; after patronising their poorer fellow citizens they then discovered spurious reasons for not allowing them any assistance. Thank goodness we have come so far since the 1930s!

If only that were true. Attending social security and disability appeal tribunals in 2012 is like watching a Dickens adaptation on the television. Claimants turn up, often early at the behest of tribunals who like to knock off for their tea early if possible, and are likely to be treated with arrogance and contempt, their evidence dismissed and the decision of the DWP, no matter how irrational, confirmed. The Department rarely uses a Presenting Officer these days because there is no need for one when the nominally independent tribunal is so happy to do their job for them. In fact, in some cases a claimant has a better chance if the DWP is represented because the PO might inject a modicum of commonsense and humanity to the proceedings.

There are honourable exceptions for whom I retain some respect but all too often tribunal members see their (well-recompensed) appearance at a hearing as an academic exercise or, worse than that, a middle-class tea party, when for the clients the outcome is a matter of very grave seriousness indeed.

The Tribunal Service comes under threat from time to time as Government spokespeople suggest doing away with the entire system of appeals. I have always given my name to campaigns to keep the system going but I am beginning to wonder whether there is any point in maintaining a service which, to use that nauseating cliche so beloved of pompous windbags everywhere, is no longer fit for purpose. I have been representing claimants now for nearly 25-years and I have never known claimants to receive such high-handed treatment as now. The standard of tribunal members is, in my opinion, lower than at any time in that 25 years, and this in spite of the astonishingly high opinion some of these Mr and Mrs Bumbles hold of their own qualities.

For representatives, and more importantly for claimants, these are depressing times indeed.


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This post was written by Felix McHugh

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