What can I say about the Unum corporation that I haven’t already mentioned, years ago?
Nothing. Here’s a recap:
“If we know anything at all about the Work Capability Assessment for sickness and disability benefits, we know that it doesn’t work. In fact, it kills. There is a wealth of evidence proving this, and if any readers are in doubt, please take a look at MPs tell their own Atos horror stories.
“The WCA is, at least nominally, based on the biopsychosocial model developed by George Engel. He wanted to broaden the way people think about illness, taking into account not only biological factors but psychological and social influences as well.
“The theory forms the basis of the system of insurance claims management adopted by US giant Unum when its bosses realised that their profits were being threatened by falling interest rates – meaning the company’s investments were losing value – and a rise in claims for “subjective illnesses” which had no clear biological markers – Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), also known as Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme Disease, even Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS).
“The new test aggressively disputed whether the claimant was ill, questioning illnesses that were “self-reported”, labelling some disabling conditions as “psychological”, and playing up the “subjective” nature of “mental” and “nervous” claims. The thinking behind it was: Sickness is temporary. Illness is a behaviour – all the things that people say and do that express and communicate their feelings of being unwell. The degree of this behaviour is dependent on the attitudes and beliefs of the individual, as well as the social context and culture. Illness is a personal choice. In other words: “It’s all in the mind; these people are fit to work.” (as I mentioned in When big business dabbles with welfare; a cautionary tale)
“This is the model that was put forward to the Department of Social Security (later the Department of Work and Pensions) by its then-chief medical officer, Mansel Aylward, in tandem with Unum’s then-second vice president, John LoCascio.
“Together they devised a new ‘All Work Test’ that would not actually focus on whether an individual could do their job; instead it would assess their general capacity to work through a series of ‘descriptors’. Decisions on eligibility for benefit would be made by non-medical adjudication officers within the government department, advised by doctors trained by Mr LoCascio. Claimants’ own doctors would be marginalised.”
That is how matters have remained. A claimant’s doctor hardly gets a look-in on the process nowadays, and mental health problems are not considered to be of any importance in assessing a person’s fitness for work.
I recently attended a friend’s assessment for the Personal Independence Payment. More than half of an interview that lasted longer than an hour was about her mental health – and none of it was referenced in the decision or the notes on the reasons for it.
That is the legacy of the Unum Corporation.
Its record in the UK is of a decades-long campaign to make it almost impossible for anybody to claim sickness and/or disability benefits, in order to push people into claiming its insurance policies.
And these policies are duff, because every effort would be made to prevent anybody taking one out from ever receiving a payout. The company earned itself a criminal record in the USA because of this behaviour.
So why on Earth would United Response, a charity that is supposedly dedicated to ensuring that individuals with learning disabilities, mental health needs and physical disabilities have the opportunity to live their lives to the full, have any truck with such a company and its representatives?
Good question. And one for which I have no answer.
The advantage for Unum is obvious. Chairmanship of such an organisation lends the corporation an authenticity that its own record cannot provide.
I wonder if the charity’s policies and behaviour will evolve in alarming ways during the course of Mr McCaig’s chairmanship?
A disability charity’s decision to choose as its new chair the head of a company closely linked with the government’s hated “fitness for work” test has been branded “a betrayal” of disabled people and “a truly disgraceful appointment”.
United Response, which provides a range of support services to about 3,000 disabled people across England and Wales, this week announced the appointment of management consultant Malcolm McCaig (pictured).
McCaig has been a non-executive director of Unum UK since July 2009 and was appointed to chair the company’s board last year.
But Unum has spent decades attempting to influence UK government policy on welfare reform and is blamed by many disabled researchers and activists for pushing successive governments to make the process of applying for out-of-work disability benefits harsher and more stressful.
ADDITIONAL: I have been asked to publish the following: “A link to this article was published on the United Response intranet message board. This was the reply from Mark Ospedale, Director of People and Communications:
“‘Trustees including Chair’s (sic) are volunteers and they are appointed as they bring extensive skills and experience to govern charitable organisations such as ours. We undertook an extensive recruitment process resulting in an incredibly strong shortlist of candidates, Malcolm’s skill set and demonstrable understanding of the charity as well as his vast experience led to his appointment.'”
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