Benefit assessments now proved to make sick people worse

[Image: David Sillitoe for The Guardian.]

[Image: David Sillitoe for The Guardian.]

We now have a system of benefit assessment that has been independently shown to make the sick and disabled worse – both physically and mentally – while denying them the income they need to survive – and for which they have paid taxes and National Insurance all their working lives.

Only yesterday (March 19) we heard about a man (who did not want to be named) being forced to sell his home after suffering a stroke that left him with memory loss and unable to walk or speak properly.

This man, aged 59, had been working at an engineering firm in Darlington for the previous 16 years, so he certain had enough tax and NI to his name and cannot be described as a “scrounger” by any interpretation of the word.

Originally given Employment and Support Allowance together with Disability Living Allowance, he was reduced to ESA alone when the government decided to assess him for the new Personal Independence Payment and decided that he did not qualify. This is a man who cannot walk or speak properly, remember – let alone the memory lapses.

His income halved, his blue disability badge and mobility scooter removed, this gentleman was unable to keep up payments on his house and was forced to sell it.

Fortunately, he was able to move in with his daughter, who is now his full-time carer. But she pointed out that others, who did not have such a safety net, would be left homeless in the same circumstances.

“It is as if they have picked him out and said, we are going to strip him of everything he has got,” she said. How would that affect such a person mentally? Are we really expected to believe their physical condition would not break down still further, with nobody to help them?

The Guardian says no: “As of last week, there is quantitative evidence that the notorious fit-for-work tests are inflicting damage to disabled people’s bodies (not to mention the impact on their minds). Yes, we have now reached a point where the benefit system is making disabled and chronically ill people sicker. Over 60% of disabled people going through the work capability assessment – designed by the DWP and sold off to private firms – report being in pain afterwards. Others said their condition was made worse or their recovery delayed. One claimant surveyed, who has progressive rheumatoid arthritis, said she left her appointment “feeling absolutely awful and suffered a lot of pain in the following days.” She went on to have a stroke a few weeks later.”

This writer can support this claim, from personal experience. Only this week I told an audience in London that Mrs Mike was left on the sofa for three days, unable to move without extreme pain, after taking part in her own work capability assessment medical in mid-2012. That’s nearly three years ago and the system has become worse, not better.

“It might be worth remembering that this is an assessment that is meant to help people – one million people are due to go through the process this year – if only because those orchestrating it appear to have forgotten. It is the same cavalier attitude to the vulnerable that means claimants have killed themselves after being spat out by the benefit system, as if desperation and distress means nothing,” writes Frances Ryan in The Guardian.

“We are sliding back to the notion that suffering helps the soul, that the underclass – be it the unemployed, the disabled, or chronically ill – need to be trained in order to behave. And, as almost a secondary consequence, their punishment cuts the welfare bill down. A bonus all round.”

That’s the Coalition attitude for you – that of the Conservative Party and the Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately, Labour has also got itself terribly tongue-tied, talking about its own plans for social security – thanks to foot-in-mouth liability Rachel Reeves.

“We don’t want to be seen [as], and we’re not, the party to represent those who are out of work,” she told Amelia Gentleman in a now-infamous Guardian interview. “We are the Labour Party – we are not the party of people on benefits.” She went on to try to moderate this harsh judgement by saying she wanted the welfare state to continue, but the question must be asked – given her attitude: In what form?

She’s constantly talking about bringing the DWP bill down, and people who are sick, disabled or unemployed through no fault of their own have a right to fear that this may involve punitive measures against them, if her plan to get more people working, and get the workforce off in-work benefits, doesn’t – well – work. What’s her ‘Plan B’?

Labour does not intend to scrap the work capability assessment. This blog was led to believe that, last year – but only days after the article appeared, Rachel Reeves lurched into view to tell us all that the WCA would be modified, rather than scrapped. It would be changed to ensure that disabled people were put back to work in a more “effective” way, she said.

People like the gentleman mentioned above, with his mobility and speech problems, and his memory loss? People like Mrs Mike?

Do us all a favour.

Labour’s plan for the work capability assessment won’t do anything to relieve the stress of the process – the lead-up that creates grave concern about whether all the relevant information has been supplied (and whether it will be read, even); the assessment itself that leaves sick and disabled people in extreme pain afterwards; and the waiting afterwards, an indefinite period of uncertainty.

No wonder The Guardian says fit-for-work tests are harmful to health – people die just from the stress of having to go through them at all! Then there’s the huge – and uncounted – number of suicides by people, after they have been denied the benefit for some spurious non-reason. Rachel Reeves has not promised any action to end these phenomena.

That is why this writer sent a letter to her boss, earlier this week, calling for him to reconsider the situation as a matter of urgency. This blog stated before that Rachel Reeves could lose the election for Labour, single-handedly, and that was not a joke.

Dead people can’t vote. Their relatives can, though – and are more likely to do so, if they have a loved one who has passed away because of some government decision. Labour should be picking up those votes with a sympathetic change of policy – not throwing them to the minority parties in their millions.

Somebody on the BBC’s Question Time last night (if I recall correctly) said the first duty of a government is to protect its citizens. The Coalition has been derelict in that duty. Labour must not be allowed to think that is acceptable.

One last point: Labour is still the best possible choice in this election – anywhere. This is a single policy that the party has got badly wrong, but Labour has many more policies that are good – at least for this moment. The Conservatives don’t. The Liberal Democrats don’t. The SNP don’t – and anybody in Scotland who thinks giving that party sway over affairs in Westminster will help anyone but the SNP should think again. UKIP is a joke – in very poor taste.

There’s nothing to stop you from pointing out this mistake. Ed Miliband’s email address is [email protected], or you can write to him at: The Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, House of Commons, London SW1A 0AA.

Labour aims to have conversations with millions of people before the election. No doubt he will be delighted to hear from you.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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13 thoughts on “Benefit assessments now proved to make sick people worse

  1. NMac

    The nasty party steals from the sick and the weak to give to wealthy, selfish and greedy people.

    1. Mrs Karen Bain

      My mental health has got increasing worse thanx to pip assessment just as I think I’m moving forward the extra stress put on me makes me feel much worse and the bad cycle begins also when I had my assessment I wasn’t told that they needed proof example letter from my doctor so now I’m extra stressed as I’m worrying that I can’t be awarded points that I deserve

  2. Annie

    This is the assessors responsibility surely! Unfortunately, because of all the scroungers in this country assessments need to be should be carried out on a regular basis…but PLEASE don’t keep parking this on this party or that, its the assessors who do this and should use their common sense. Someone who cant walk and talk is quite obviously not able to work…someone has said otherwise and it wasn’t David Cameron, or Nick Clegg or any party leader. All benefit recipients should be assessed. Fraudulent claims are costing this country hundreds of millions of pounds a year and it is the right thing to do, no one however, would wish this gentleman or any genuine claim to suffer in this way.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Fraud – and error – consume no more than 0.7 per cent of the total benefit budget. In terms of ESA, DLA and PIP, I seem to recall that the totals are lower even than that.
      Meanwhile, the amount of tax that goes uncollected through evasion or avoidance totals at least £34 billion.
      The assessors base their decisions on directives from the government – Iain Duncan Smith in practice, although the policy does indeed come from David Cameron and Nick Clegg.
      Are you sure you have your priorities right?

      1. Michele Witchy Eve

        Not only is the fraud/error percentage at 0.7 but it has been at that level for about 5 years now. So, with regard to how effective Coalition policies have been in dealing with fraud/error – it doesn’t seem to have made any difference at all. Which suggests that the fraud\error reduction argument is a red herring and you have to ask what the real purpose of the reforms have been.

  3. Penny Mayes

    Those in receipt of benefits have been portrayed as monsters to be vanquished by the government (and much of the media).
    They are not monsters, they are people – parents of small children; the recently bereaved; those working hard but still not earning enough to pay the rent and feed and clothe themselves; those made redundant or otherwise losing their jobs; the chronically sick or otherwise disabled and the family who care for them.
    The real monsters are the politicians who tell people that their neighbour who still has the curtains closed at 8am is a feckless scrounger – my first thought when I heard that was for the shift workers, nurses, policemen, bar staff, cleaners, theatre staff etc.

  4. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    I am very fearful that Mr. Miliband is not hearing the views of the labour electorate; many of whom, like myself, are very unhappy about the attitude and comments being voiced by Rachel Reeves (I mistakenly thought originally that is was Ester McVey who made them) which are not coming over well at all, and I fear is not helping our party to get back into power.

    As a now retired, but ex hard working businessman and employer, I do feel that fit long-term unemployed should be offered a reasonably congenial job and pay or lose their entitlement to benefit; but only if they can be offered a suitable job within their own area. Where I differ very strongly, and I think you must be aware that I am not alone here, are with Rachel Reeves’ comments about the long-term ill people on benefit. People with serious long-term illness should not be cruelly forced to attend regular interviews and beg for a continuance of their allowance, and the DWP should accept the advice of their doctors; not some money making venture which is unqualified so to do.

    I worry that MR. MILIBAND is unaware of the unfortunate views and comments that RACHEL REEVES has expressed and I honestly fear, that if this is not IMMEDIATELY addressed, he will NOT be our next Prime Minister which would be a disaster for decent democracy in this country.

    Dealing with the injustices committed by the DWP management is a serious omission by the Labour Party administration and is likely to lose us our long hoped for true democracy. IMMEDIATE action is required before it is TOO LATE.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      I’d be very interested to see your opinions – as a businessman and employer – on how the economy can be reactivated, and how more people can be employed at a reasonable rate.

  5. amnesiaclinic

    Excellent blog, Mike. Will email Milliband and as usual, my sitting MP (not likely to be unseated!) Also going to write to my local paper.
    As I’ve said before, this is an opportunity to make sure that the Labour party does become much more people-led.
    Making sure they stick to their electoral promises is another hurdle!
    Thanks again.

  6. moondancer

    ‘Labour should be picking up those votes with a sympathetic change of policy – not throwing them to the minority parties in their millions.’
    exactly right, you hit the nail on the head, and why i cannot vote for labour even though in the past my usual political slant would do so. This time in all conscience I cant. and that makes me sad. Ed seems like a nice bloke seems like he could do a good job, but unless he promises to get rid of wca and esa and pip barbaric testing he doesnt have my vote. my prospective labour mp is a good bloke, well known well liked here but he will loose out by this policy. sorry ed, but you aint listening, which makes you as bad, worse even because you know better than the tories. I hate that I think that way. disabledd people have been betrayed and no one gives a… toss.

  7. John McArdle

    Excellent Mike – apart from your swipe at the SNP of which I am a campaigning member LOL 😉

    Apart from that, solidarity and keep up the pressure. Our tactics are different – we’re different chapters but we’re both in the same book.


  8. john keen

    The WCA and PIP assessments are about what a person CAN do and has no interest in what a person CANNOT do.

    They are NOT about the viability of a persons prospects in the job market but about the fact that the person “could” do work of “some sort”,
    It is not even about the availability of “some sort” of work only the “idea” that it is Possible,

    The fact that there is no work of “some sort” available or that only a tiny number of opportunities “may” exist is irrelevant.
    It really is a case of “can the person push a button?” and such a job (in theory) could exist.

    A person confined to a wheel chair and with agoraphobia can work from home via the computer they undoubtedly own and the high speed ISP available to them.

    it is a “well known” fact that EVERYBODY has these things and all are fully conversant with their use.

    That is the problem with the mindset of those setting the rules and reasons for the WCA and PIP assessments and their supporters.

    Stupidity, ignorance, and belligerence toward toward ANY who do not meet the perceived norm.

    To have the populous concentrate on the right or wrong of these things serves to redirect attention from the lack of government INVESTMENT in it’s own country.

    I could go on and want to do so but that would be using your blog for my own ends and that would be rude.. let alone lead into so many other areas where the attitude of the country has been………. nudged?.

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