Long-term disability campaigner Samuel Miller sent me the article quoted below, with the following words:
“The news story that I just brought to your attention is solid evidence that seriously ill and disabled people in the ESA WRAG are suffering immense hardship—and validates my tireless campaigning against these life-threatening cuts.”
“Nor are we dealing here with people with minor illness. Charities report that 45 per cent of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
“Around 700,000 apply each year for ESA, of which number around 60 per cent proceed to full assessment (the others generally return to work before the process is complete). Currently around 14 per cent of these go into the WRAG. That’s around 60,000 people affected every year.”
A survey of people claiming ESA shows 60 per cent of 1,755 respondents say the amount they receive is not enough to live on.
When asked about the consequences of this, 62 per cent said they struggled to stay healthy, while 49 per cent said they could no longer pay their bills.
For most people, the news that you have Parkinson’s Disease is earth-shattering enough.
But for sufferer Kevin Stannard, 62, the worst was yet to come.
In 2010, he was made redundant from the blind-fitting firm [where] he had worked for … 40 years due to his worsening symptoms.
He was forced to begin claiming disability benefits or Employment and Support Allowance.
For the next few years, he and his wife, Amanda, struggled financially as part of the ESA Wrag group – which was set up especially for people who may be fit for work in the future.
Unfortunately for Kevin and Amanda, 60, from Colchester, the allowance was not enough to cover the cost of living.
The stress of working while dealing with the “confusing” process of claiming ESA for her husband led to Amanda suffering a minor stroke, which meant she also had to give up her part-time work as a director with a housing association.
The struggle experienced by Kevin and Amanda is not uncommon, according to the latest findings of the Disability Benefits Consortium, a national coalition of more than 80 different charities and organisations.
Sarah Newton: The Conservative government’s new Liar of State for Disability-based Genocide.
Sarah Newton must have a very short memory – or perhaps she lacks intelligence.
The new minister of state for disabled people, who was installed on November 9, had the following exchange with SNP fair work and employment spokesperson Deirdre Brock just four days later (November 13):
Ms Brock said “Changes to benefits are actually resulting in huge cuts to the money that people with disabilities have to live on… Does the Minister agree that starvation does not encourage anyone into work and that cutting off funding to people in need does not help to end that need? Will she commit to reversing these invidious cuts?”
To this, Ms Newton replied: “There are no cuts for people on those benefits.”
What? Does she not remember voting to remove the “work-related activity component” totalling £29.05 per week, from payments of Employment and Support Allowance to people in the Work-Related Activity Group receiving that benefit?
In fact, Judy Hamilton is mistaken – Ms Newton a teller at the vote in 2015.
She did vote at a division in 2016, though – and fully supported the cut. Read about it here.
Her voting record as a whole shows that she has wholeheartedly supported cuts in social security benefits wherevery possible. Read about that, here.
So we have yet another filthy liar, shovelling falsehoods at us from the government benches of the House of Commons.
How much longer must we put up with this contempt from our so-called elected “representatives”?
Sarah Newton doesn’t represent sick people – she doesn’t represent the disabled.
She represents the interests of rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.
And that’s strange, because many people who are claiming benefits have been forced onto social security because of illnesses or disabilities sustained while working for the same rich people who don’t want to pay their taxes.
So perhaps we should call for Ms Newton’s job title to be amended. She clearly is not a minister of state for disabled people.
Considering Ms Brock’s comment about starvation – a comment that is easily proved accurate with reference to the multitude of deaths since the Conservatives started cutting benefits, one title presents itself.
Ms Newton should be known as the Liar of State responsible for Disability-based Genocide.
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No doubt some of you will scream that this post is overdramatizing, but the consequences of further fiscal consolidation (that’s austerity to most of us), as laid out in Professor Simon Wren-Lewis’s latest Mainly Macroarticle, seem undeniable.
He tells us the National Institute has used the model NIGEM to analyse the macroeconomic impact of the different political parties’ fiscal plans post-2015, which is published in the latest Review. (Chris Giles has a FT write-up.) The result: The more fiscal austerity you undertake, and if monetary policy fails to perfectly offset the impact on demand, the lower output will be.
You don’t need a crystal ball to see what this means, if we get another Conservative, or Tory-led, government. Lower output means a lower tax take, therefore less money to spend on the NHS and welfare benefits (areas like Defence and International Development will always have funds – we can’t let ourselves go defenceless and we must continue our programmes of cultural imperialism, after all).
So further Tory austerity instantly implies the imposition of even harsher standards of qualification for state benefits, pushing even more vulnerable, sick and disabled people off the books and into their graves. We’ve all known that voting Tory is an endorsement of state-sponsored suicide but it’s time we all owned up to it.
It means the sale of the National Health Service in England to private companies will be accelerated, with consequent impacts on the amount of grant funding for the health service in the other UK countries; the service will continue to worsen and even more deaths will be the result.
But the Tories will want to pretend to the media that all is well, which means an increased push to get people into part-time, temporary or zero-hours work, and an increased number of benefit claimants being funnelled into work activity programmes that, in fact, reduce the number of available jobs. The resulting low-pay economy is exactly what the Conservatives want; the workers will be kept down and the employers can pocket the profits.
Nobody in the government or even the Bank of England will tell you this because, it seems, they haven’t done any analysis and won’t make any such forecasts.
The Office for Budget Irresponsibility is not allowed to look at alternative fiscal policies in the short term and must therefore put the bravest possible face on what is offered to it – that is why every single forecast to come out of that organisation has been hopelessly optimistic.
We’re back to evidenceless policies again. The Tories are saying “everything will be okay”, because – for them – it will be. They and their rich friends will have loads of cash. Who cares that the entire infrastructure of the United Kingdom – and the British way of life – will be dismantled and disappearing from under them?
Think this is overexaggerating? Let’s go back to Prof Wren-Lewis and examine the Tories’ record. He writes: “If you go back to 2010, the OBR’s main forecast didn’t look too bad: the recovery was continuing, and interest rates were able to rise as a result.
“But good policy does not just look at central projections, but it also looks at risks. Then, the risks were asymmetric: if the recovery became too strong, interest rates could always rise further too cool things, but if the recovery did not happen, interest rates would be stuck at their lower bound and monetary policy would be unable to keep the recovery on track.
“In 2010 and beyond that downside risk came to pass [bolding mine], and the recovery was delayed. Fiscal policy put the economy in a position where it was particularly vulnerable to downside risks, which is why it was an entirely foreseeable mistake.
“Exactly this point applies to 2015 and beyond. The problem with further fiscal consolidation while interest rates remain at their lower bound is that it makes the economy much more vulnerable to downside risks.”
In other words, it seems Conservative policy, as set down by History graduate and towel-folder George Osborne, deliberately weakened this country’s ability to recover from the crash of 2008 and afterwards.
How secure is you job? How safe are your savings?
Do you really want to risk them on more Tory bungling?
Has anybody else noticed the eerie similarity between the drop in unemployment over the last three months, recorded by the Office for National Statistics (132,000), and the number of jobseekers put on sanction by the Department for Work and Pensions every month (170,000)?
According to a Guardian report, the Lib Dems said the number of sanction referrals has increased from around 60,000 a month in the early part of the last decade to around 170,000 today – and went on to state that around 15 per cent of these sanctions were overturned on the grounds that the decision was flawed.
That means 144,500 jobseekers would be off-benefit at the moment. If the figures show a drop of only 132,000, then unemployment has in fact risen by 12,500 people!
People claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance who have their benefits sanctioned by DWP staff are not included in unemployment counts. Nor are those who have been sucked into mandatory work activity schemes, for that matter…
The Liberal Democrats, you see, want to introduce a “yellow card” system – well they would; yellow is their colour – to give rule-breaking jobseekers a final warning before sanctions are imposed, and DWP bosses a chance to check the facts and avoid mistakes.
On the face of it, this might seem like a good idea – and it would be very interesting to monitor such a scheme, if implemented.
If the claimant count were to rise, we would have proof that the Conservatives have been using sanctions to manipulate the figures.
Why are we being asked to believe it is such a surprise that the number of working people who have to rely on housing benefit has doubled in the last five years – at huge cost to the taxpayer?
It is all part of the “long-term economic plan” that the Conservatives keep mentioning, every chance they get.
That plan is to provide government support to major employers and to private landlords rather than the people who need it.
We know that the Conservatives have spent almost 40 years working to undermine working people, with policies designed to increase financial insecurity among those who have to work for a living. For example, the humbling of the unions ensured that increasingly meagre pay settlements would contribute to an ever-widening gap between the lowest and the highest rates of pay. Huge amounts of wealth have been transferred from the masses to an ever-smaller ‘elite’, guaranteeing their support for the Tories.
Ever-diminishing pay and rising living costs have meant that increasing numbers of people have had to claim benefits, even though they have been in full-time work. Again, this attacks people on low and middle incomes, rather than those who are paid the most; people in the highest tax brackets have been able to take advantage of legal tax avoidance schemes, some of which have been created by the current Chancellor, George Osborne. That has left those on lower pay scales to subsidise housing benefit through the taxes they pay – another drain on their resources.
Depressed rates of pay for those in work have necessitated government action on benefits for the unemployed, in order to justify claims that the Coalition has been “making work pay”. This has meant below-inflation increases in out-of-work benefits that have made them inadequate to cover living costs, forcing the unemployed to face the possibility of losing their homes and possessions to the bailiffs as their debts mount up. In order to avoid this, they find themselves forced to accept work at ridiculously low rates of pay, if they can find it.
A consequence of all this is that private landlords benefit from increased inflows of housing benefit into their pockets. The law allows them to increase their rents in line with the going rate, with no reference to tenants’ ability to pay; housing benefit is then used to help tenants achieve that amount, but it is the landlord who benefits from the increase – not the tenant. These are people who are already, by definition, well-off – otherwise they would not have been able to buy the property and make it fit to rent out.
The Conservatives’ “long-term economic plan” is to leech wealth from anybody poorer than them and create a new feudalism, with themselves as lords and everybody else as vassals, only able to make a living under conditions granted by the moneyed few; a modern slave-state.
According to The Independent, the cost to the taxpayer of in-work benefits will be £6 billion by 2018-19, nearly triple the £2.2 billion it cost in 2009-10. LabourList reckons the total cost of in-work poverty by 2019 will be more than double that amount, at £12.9 billion.
The total cost of housing benefit has already almost tripled, from £8.8 billion in 1990 to £24.4 billion now – despite the apparent efforts of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions. This is because all their cost-cutting efforts have been about finding ways of denying the benefit to people who deserve it.
Helping people earn enough to obviate the need for housing benefit runs contrary to the “long-term economic plan”, you see.
And what do you think this says about where the benefits of economic growth are going?
The Independent article states that the Department for Work and Pensions has claimed the number of unemployed housing benefit claimants has fallen since 2010, arguing that it is better for people to be employed, paying taxes and contributing towards their rents than to be “languishing” on out-of-work benefits, living on government payouts.
Technically, this may seem like a good argument. The minimum wage for full-time work is £11,700 per year, more than the increased tax threshold introduced by the Coalition government – but this means that, with Income Tax at 20 per cent, a full-time worker would lose one-fifth of everything earned above the £10,000 threshold, passing just £340 on to the government. They are likely to receive more than that in housing benefit. And the level of pay is still a pittance.
Worse still, a drop in the number of unemployed claimants does not mean they have all found jobs. Some will have been pushed off the system by the Bedroom Tax, which has made it impossible for some households to meet their rent commitments.
And there is no guarantee that the extra working people are paying taxes either – they might be self-employed (or claiming to be self-employed – see earlier VP articles on the subject) who are not earning anything like enough money to provide for themselves; they might be on zero-hours contracts – technically in work but on health-endangering wages; they might even be on a government-mandated Workfare scheme, in which case their only pay will be state benefits.
Mark Harper, Minister for Disabled People, claimed that the Coalition government had taken action to get the system under control by capping benefits “so no family can claim more than the average family gets by going out to work and we’ve put an end to unlimited housing benefit”.
He added that Labour voted against the cap, and against a general limit on benefits.
Harper’s claim that the system under the previous Labour administration “saw some people claiming £104,000 a year,” is also disingenuous as it related to a handful of people in specific circumstances. None of them are receiving anything like that amount now, and it is unclear whether this had anything to do with Coalition policies.
Labour, on the other hand, has hit the nail squarely on the head by pointing out that the rise in benefit claims is entirely due to the Tory-led Coalition’s failure to tackle low pay, insecure work and the cost of living crisis – although the opposition party stopped short of actually claiming that this was the plan all along.
The party has said that, if elected into office, it would build more homes and cap rents, easing the excessive demand that has made it possible for landlords to demand more and preventing abuse of the rental market.
Senior Liberal Democrats have been warned they might end up with no MEPs after next month’s European Parliament elections, due to the party’s current electoral unpopularity (according to the Daily Telegraph).
The electorate certainly has plenty of reasons to punish the party that has become known as the ‘Tory Democrats’ due to its adherence to Conservative Party policies in the Coalition government.
But here’s an interesting point: Conservative support has not dropped off in the same way.
Sure, the LDs are Tory enablers who betrayed their own pledges before the first votes were cast in the 2010 election, but the Conservatives betrayed their promises too. And the Conservatives were behind most of the policies that have caused the damage.
The Liberal Democrats voted the Bedroom Tax onto the statute books, but it’s not their policy – it’s a Conservative scheme.
The Liberal Democrats had very little to do with the changes to Employment and Support Allowance that have led to the deaths of so many people with long-term illnesses and disabilities – Conservative ministers pushed them into practise.
The Liberal Democrats had little to do with the increased sanctions regime that has been foisted on the unemployed in order to cook the benefit books – that was a Conservative idea.
The Conservatives are responsible for the plan to cut back access to Legal Aid, so rich criminals can walk free while the innocent poor are told to admit offences they have not committed and go to prison.
The Conservatives introduced mandatory work activity (colloquially known as Workfare) for people on benefits – both unemployment and sickness, meaning companies get free labour and there are fewer paying jobs in the economy.
The Conservatives introduced the Workplace Pension, which has led to employers encouraging their workforce to take out private pensions that they cannot afford, in a bid to avoid paying their own part of the scheme.
The Conservative Party’s answer to the immigration question was to send vans around London encouraging people who were in the UK illegally to “go home”. This scheme led to the victimisation of British citizens because other people thought they looked foreign.
The Conservatives told us all they would protect the National Health Service and then started a process of privatisation that has led to billions of pounds worth of services being ‘outsourced’ to private health firms – who pay handsome donations to the Conservative Party – at huge cost to the taxpayer (because private firms need to make a profit, don’t forget).
The Conservative Party has fed the public one lie after another, using its puppet right-wing press to brainwash people into believing its nonsense. When these falsehoods have been exposed, ministers have tried to bluster their way out of the blame.
The Conservative Party has engineered the feeblest economic recovery in British history, ensuring that only the very rich have been able to benefit while the poorest – who actually made it happen – are set to be thousands of pounds worse-off in 2015 than they were in 2010.
And yet it is the Liberal Democrats who have lost the most support.
Exploitation: The logo on the cups says, “Conservatives – for the privileged few” – and the intern carrying them isn’t included.
“We’re all in it together” are we, George?
The Conservative Party represents “fairness”, “for hardworking people”, does it, David?
It seems not – if we are to judge the Conservative Party by its actions, rather than its words.
Yesterday a website focusing on graduate careers blew the full-time whistle on these deceptions, exposing how the Tories have been briefing MPs and candidates on ways to avoid paying the minimum wage by exploiting the perceived differences between volunteers, interns and paid employees.
The article on Graduate Fogsaid a memo circulated to Party members was advising them to start calling their unpaid interns ‘campaign volunteers’, in order to evade “potential hostile questioning” about exploitative business practices.
It would have been better for the Party spokesperson to deny that Conservatives have been wrongly recruiting people as employees – under the umbrella title of ‘interns’ (which means nothing in UK law), while treating them – for payment purposes – as volunteers.
But that was impossible because it is exactly what has been happening – as the memo makes clear.
Look – here it is:
Graduate Fog kindly published it for us all to examine.
The part that blows the gaff is a “suggested template reply” for “hostile questioning” about the issue of “recruiting unpaid interns”.
Clearly, this is what Conservative chiefs want to avoid.
Clearly they would not have gone to the effort of circulating a memo if NOBODY was “recruiting unpaid interns”.
So there is a clear implication that some Conservative Party MPs and prospective Parliamentary candidates, in fact, have been “recruiting unpaid interns” – and illegally exploiting them by demanding that they carry out the duties of employees.
The tone is clear from the get-go: The Conservative Party is running scared.
Members are told that people working in an unpaid capacity are no longer to be described as ‘interns’ – they are ‘campaign volunteers’ from now on because, that way, there is no obligation to pay them.
Conservatives are advised not to pay anything at all to these ‘volunteers’ – even expenses – as this could lead to them being classed as ‘workers’ and establishing ‘mutuality of obligation’. This would be equivalent to payment for services rendered – and the ‘volunteer’ would therefore be classed as a ‘worker’, requiring payment for services rendered, at the minimum wage or higher.
From now on, the memo states, recruitment adverts should be “appropriately worded” – meaning there must be nothing resembling a “formal job description”. This means references to “work”, “worker”, “hours” of work, “tasks” the ‘Volunteer’ will be “expected” to perform, and “expenses” are all out.
Instead, Party members are advised to use words like “volunteering”, “volunteer”, “campaigning administration”, and “help” – and to describe functions carried out by the “volunteer” as “the kind of activities it would be great to get some help with”.
This advice would not be necessary if Conservative Party MPs and prospective Parliamentary candidates had not been illegally “recruiting unpaid interns”.
For the interns themselves, this should be terrific news: There can be no requirement for them to turn up to work, and no disciplinary measures may be taken against them if they don’t. They may come and go as they please and do not have to conform to any set working hours. Nor may they be expected to perform any specified duties.
If the Tories want people to do that kind of work, they can pay for it like everybody else.
… although the minimum wage probably won’t be enough.
Here’s the first ‘political blipvert’ created by Vox Political‘s fellow blogger at Another Angry Voice, on the subject of Iain ‘Returned To Unit’ Smith and the hugely expensive breakfasts he has claimed from taxpayers’ money.
It’s ironic that this should come on the day I find that Mrs Mike’s ESA has been terminated without notification.
Readers may recall she appealed against the decision to put her into the work-related activity group back in January this year, after being advised by a work programme provider that it was not possible to help her, in her current condition. The DWP says it is in receipt of that appeal. Clearly its officers have done nothing about it.
Now we’ve been told to claim Income-Related ESA and I’m printing out the forms as I write this article. It will be accompanied by a sternly-written letter of complaint which I will also forward to my MP, in the hopes that it might do some good.
Getting a little worried, George? According to a commenter on this blog, IDS is “not listening to anyone and will be carrying on until the bitter end”. So much for democracy, then.
The Department for Work and Pensions has turned down my Freedom of Information request on the number of people who have died while going through the Atos benefit assessment process, or shortly afterwards – claiming that I am harassing officials with a co-ordinated, web-based campaign to disrupt the organisation.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “They’re having a laugh, aren’t they?”
My request was for the department to provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died in 2012. Please break that figure down into the following categories:
Those who are in the assessment phase
Those who were found fit for work
Those who were placed in the work-related activity group
Those who were placed in the support group
Those who have an appeal pending
I stated that I was aware that the DWP came under criticism last year because it did not follow up on the conditions of people who had been found fit for work and signed off the benefit, and said I hoped this had been rectified and follow-up checks carried out, so details of
Former ESA/IB claimants who have died after being put onto Jobseekers’ Allowance, and
Former ISA/IB claimants who were taken off benefit but put onto no other means of support, and the number of these who have died
could be provided.
Here’s the response. Read it and weep:
“Upon considering your request I consider it to be vexatious in nature and therefore under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act the Department is under no duty to answer your request.
“To be a vexatious request the Information Commissioner’s guidance notes that we should consider, amongst other things:
whether compliance would create a significant burden in terms of expense and distraction
whether the request has the effect of harassing DWP or causing distress to staff.
“On your website where you share information about the request you have raised with other people, you have stated “I have therefore, today, sent a Freedom of Information request to the DWP … I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers”. With this as the stated aim of the exercise I believe your request is designed to harass DWP in the belief that encouraging others to repeat a request which they know has already been raised will affect the outcome of that request.
“Compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request also causes a burden, both in terms of costs and diverting staff away from other work, due to the significant time required to administer these requests.
“The ICO also advises that if a public authority has reason to believe that several different requesters are acting in concert as part of a campaign to disrupt the organisation by virtue of the sheer weight of FOIA requests being submitted, then it may take this into account when determining whether any of those requests are vexatious.
“As your request is part of a website based campaign I consider that it meets the above criteria and therefore is vexatious in nature.”
Readers may remember I sent my request after a previous attempt by Samuel Miller had failed. His request did not succeed because he was a single individual the officials thought they could push around – now mine has failed because they say I’m acting mob-handed and they think I’m trying to push them around!
In other words, they’re trying to have it both ways.
If I recall correctly, they refused Mr Miller’s request on the spurious argument that the previous FOI request – for which he was requesting an update – was a one-off. This was clearly nonsense.
We all know that it is in the public interest to know how many people are dying as a result of government policy. The DWP certainly knows it because of the reaction the information received when it last became public knowledge – press coverage and public outrage. Therefore there is no justification for any argument that it has not monitored these figures. Any claim that it has not had reason to monitor deaths after people were thrown off the benefit may also be rejected because of the strong public reaction against the Department for failing to provide this information last year.
Now they are rejecting my request on the specious argument that I am harassing them by the strength of my numbers… My number being exactly one. I have not organised anybody else into doing anything; I merely suggested that if the DWP refuses to answer a lone voice, it may pay more attention if others make the same request.
I find it extremely interesting to note that DWP officials are monitoring my blog. I made no mention of it in my email to them. Some might find that sinister.
I take issue with the claim that “harassment” of the DWP is “the stated aim of the exercise”.The stated aim was for the DWP to release its figures on the number of people who have died, either while going through the assessment process for IB or ESA, or afterwards – as stated in the FOI request. The suggestion that others might wish to do likewise was clearly an afterthought.
I dispute the claim that compliance with multiple repetitions of a known request causes a burden in terms of costs and staff time. In the Internet age, only one response to a request needs to be written; it can then be sent to multiple recipients at no cost in money or time, as readers of my blog are aware after receiving identical messages in response to correspondence they have sent on other matters. In any case, this is beside the point as the comment about compliance with multiple requests is irrelevant. I had no reason to expect that anyone would follow my lead when I put in my own request – it was a single request for information and any suggestion that it was part of an orchestrated campaign of harassment is paranoid hysteria.
Furthermore, it distracts from the fact that there was no reason to refuse the original request by Mr Miller. If the DWP had simply answered his questions, there would have been no reason for my request or any of the many others the department seems to be claiming it has received (for which I have no proof other than the vague implication that this is the case).
Bear in mind that this is the same government department that accused a disabled woman of harassment, alarm or distress under Section 5 of the Public Order Act, against everybody working for it – and sent the police around to her Cardiff flat, just before midnight on a Friday night last year, to put the frighteners on her. They are well-acquainted with the practice of turning the facts upside down. Just who was being harassed, again?
This leaves us with the impression that the Department for Work and Pensions will do anything to withhold the figures on the number of deaths caused by its policies.
It seems unlikely that a government department would go to such lengths unless those figures reveal a serious problem with the policy; therefore we may reasonably suspect that the number of deaths has increased, perhaps dramatically.
In turn, considering that we know ministers, the Secretary of State (Vox‘s Monster of the Year 2012 – Iain Duncan Smith), and the Prime Minister have all been warned that the assessment system they have brought in (admittedly inherited from Labour but altered under the Coalition) – and all have refused to instigate changes to make it more humane – it seems possible that a legal case for corporate manslaughter of the many thousands who have died could be made – IF the current figures were made available.
This means that its own actions have put the DWP, its officials and ministers, precisely where I want them.
We all knew they were unlikely to give up the information without a struggle, and the shape of our campaign would be dictated – to a certain extent – by their response to our reasonable requests. Now we have that response, we may proceed.
… But we’ll leave our departmental interlopers guessing about exactly what we’ll be doing, I think!
Tell him about it: Dr Paul Litchfield is carrying out a review of the Work Capability Assessment and needs to know how you think the system could be improved. The Coalition government would like him to think that there is no need for any change at all; if you don’t tell him exactly what you think of it, he won’t know any different.
An article on this site earlier today publicised the DWP’s call for submissions to its independent review of the Work Capability Assessment and called for anyone with experience of the process to contribute by answering the four questions at this web address:
As someone with direct experience of the assessment procedure, I made my own submission shortly after writing the piece, and I am reproducing it here. I threw as much information into the submission as I could, and I would like to take this opportunity to beg everybody who has also experienced a work capability assessment to do the same. It is weight of numbers that will carry any changes to this diabolical, unfit-for-work assessment system; if you have been affected, you cannot rely on other people to get it changed for you.
Here are the questions and my responses:
1. If you have undertaken a WCA yourself or represented somebody who has, what has been your/their experience of the face-to-face assessment and follow up contact with the DWP?
Before the assessment we were not provided all the information we needed, such as details of how to arrange to have the interview recorded. I went along with a Dictaphone, expecting this to be allowed, but the Atos employees made a huge fuss about it and it was clear that they were not prepared to go ahead with the interview if we insisted on recording it. This would not have been our fault or theirs, but the fault of the DWP for failing to make the situation clear. The DWP claims to have only 31 recorders available to it, but this seems ridiculous when every work capability assessment is carried out on a laptop computer which is perfectly capable of running audio recording programmes and burning the resulting files to disc. Fears that someone might tamper with the files (hardly likely between finishing the interview and creating the disc minutes later) can be allayed with a simple time-check at the beginning and end of the recording; the length of the recording should match the time expired between the start time-check and the stop time-check. Microphones are extremely cheap – even more so if ordered wholesale – so there is no reason not to provide them in order to ensure sound clarity. The assessment itself was inadequate – not fit for purpose. The problem is that the questions have been devised in order to shoehorn ESA claimants into particular categories – therefore the assessor needs straightforward “yes” or “no” answers about conditions that are NOT straightforward, and for which such answers would be inappropriate. I attended my partner’s WCA and, with almost every question, she was trying to explain how her situation affects her. This was of no interest to the person conducting the assessment. The problem lies in the fact that the whole system was originally devised by an American insurance company – Unum – in order to find ways of refusing payouts to customers whose policies had matured. Despite the fact that this strategy led to the company being successfully prosecuted in its home country, the UK government enthusiastically hired Unum to transform the assessment of disability/incapacity benefit claimants along the same lines. The implication is always that the claimant’s illness is in his or her mind, and in fact they are perfectly capable of doing a job. There is no effort to find out the claimant’s actual medical condition – all effort is devoted to finding which category they can most easily be put into. There’s more but I’m out of space!
2. On the basis of your experiences, can you suggest any changes to improve the face-to-face part of the WCA? Please give details of why you think these changes would help.
Scrap the work capability assessment as it currently exists; it is a waste of time and money. The interview should be a genuine fact-finding exercise in which a genuine medical doctor gathers all the evidence possible about a claimant’s case, including evidence from their GP and other experts involved with it, and makes an assessment without having to conform to any requirements imposed by the government (which has its own agenda). My partner has mental health issues but there was no attempt to address them. She also has fluctuating health conditions but these were not explored either. New guidelines on these may have been brought in after her assessment but she was not contacted about them afterwards.
3. Thinking about the overall WCA process from when you make a claim for ESA to when you receive a notification of a decision from the DWP, what changes do you think are needed? Please give details of why you think these changes would help.
The ESA50 form should be scrapped and re-thought. The questions in the ‘descriptor’ section are bizarrely-worded and unfit for use as any means to judge a person’s fitness for work. For example, section 8, ‘Getting around safely’, is said to be about visual problems, but the request is “please tick this box if you can get around safely on your own”. I had to write “This is a misleading question. She can’t, but not because of sight problems”. The form provides an opportunity to mislead assessors about the issues they will face at the assessment. The decision notification must be much more detailed. Claimants need to see not only what the decision was, but why it was made. They do not currently receive a copy of the assessment/assessor’s notes, and must instead request it after receiving the decision notice, if they intend to appeal. Why? What does the DWP/Atos/the individual assessor have to hide? Making the recording of assessments mandatory and providing all the documents used to make a decision along with the decision notice itself would hugely increase transparency in the process, helping to prevent costly mistakes.
4. Please give us any further information and evidence about the effectiveness of the WCA, particularly thinking about the effect on claimants, that you consider to be helpful.
My partner was put in the work-related activity group of ESA and told she would be contacted about what she would be required to do. She had to wait FOUR MONTHS (out of a 12-month benefit period) before anybody got in touch. After an interview at the Job Centre, a work programme provider contacted her and established, within half an hour of telephone conversation, that there was nothing they could do with her. She was advised to request reassessment, which she did. That was six months ago and we have heard nothing. As her benefit period is coming to an end, she is currently undergoing reassessment anyway, but this does not excuse the DWP from its tardiness. You can see from this that the WCA, in my partner’s case, produced an inaccurate response. She is not the only one – statistics from the tribunals service show the number of appeals against WCA decisions between January and March have more than doubled, compared with the same period last year, and findings for the claimant have risen to almost half of cases (43%). The work programme has failed most WRAG members – as it failed my partner. Only 10% of them have found work, according to the DWP – around 1.7% of all ESA claimants. This conforms with the view that the rest have been misplaced and are too sick or disabled to work. Of course, the WCA has had a devastating effect on many claimants – statistics last year showed dozens were dying every week, while going through the process, while appealing, or after having been found ‘fit for work’. The DWP is refusing to release current figures, which implies that they have not improved. This proves that the system does not work and should be scrapped. The fact that claimants have DIED while going through this process, and ministers have done nothing about it, implies corporate manslaughter and I would certainly recommend that criminal investigations take place on this basis. Hopefully others will provide details of some of the deceased; otherwise I should be able to provide contact details.
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