DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

The SNP’s Social Justice spokesperson has condemned the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), after Freedom of Information requests revealed that the department spent almost £40m actively fighting appeals made by sick and disabled people challenging the loss of their benefits – despite the majority of appeals being successful.

Neil Gray MP said that the appeal success rate shows that the current system is failing and needs to be urgently reviewed to prevent people being forced through a stressful time.

He added that the current system saw them lose much needed financial support, and called on the government to spend this money on services not legal battles.

According to The Independent’s FoI findings, the DWP in 2016 spent £22m processing claimants’ initial appeals, and a further £17m taking cases to courts that were not settled during the earlier stages in order to remove benefits crucial to those who are sick and who have disabilities.

Within this period the UK government lost 62% of tribunal cases when challenging those on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – benefits which supports people who are sick or have disabilities that hinders their ability to work.

The figure stands at 65% for tribunal cases against people on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

The findings come a week after the Chair of the influential UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities warned that the Tory government’s welfare cuts have created a “human catastrophe” for disabled people across the UK.

Neil Gray MP, the SNP’s Westminster Social Justice spokesperson, said: “The figures revealed by The Independent are almost too staggering to believe.

“Put simply it shines the light on a callous Tory government that will attempt to stop people from receiving benefits at any cost, but will scrimp and save on providing support to those who need it most. We have seen this in particular with the shameful cut to ESA work-related activity group of £30 a week.

“Rather than supporting those that are sick and disabled, the UK government instead saw it fit to use almost £40m of taxpayers’ money to needlessly bring claimants to courts to strip away financial support that is vital for their day to day needs. This is money that should be spent supporting our ill and disabled people not legal battles.

“The DWP seem to want to put further stress and anxiety on people. They must immediately end its cruel long-standing approach to those that are struggling in our society and instead adopt a policy that seeks to help those in positions of need, rather than pushing them closer to the brink.”

His comments were echoed by Labour MP, Frank Field, who also chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee. “What’s appalling is that the [Government] is prepared to spend £39m of taxpayers’ money against people who are desperately fighting off destitution”, he said.

Mr Field added: “We clearly need a new compact between the [Government] and claimants, otherwise this injustice will continue to act as a recruiting agent for food banks.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive at the MS Society, said: “These exorbitant costs point to a welfare system that clearly doesn’t make sense. We know that many people with MS aren’t getting accurate decisions the first time around.

“Being forced to go through the lengthy and stressful appeals process is a waste of time and money, and also harms people’s health.”

Chief executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “Last year Citizens Advice helped people with almost 400,000 PIP issues, up 37 per cent on the previous 12 months.

“Many come to us concerned that the outcome of their PIP assessment doesn’t accurately reflect the support needs they have because of their health issues.

“The next steps can be time-consuming, distressing and even costly if people have to pay to gather additional evidence.”

This is a modified press release from the Scottish National Party (SNP). Featured Image: DWP headquarters, Caxton House, London. Photo by Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.