Tag Archives: Employment Support Allowance

Benefit-related deaths: Why can the Tories provide SOME death counts but not others?

Government minister Justin Tomlinson raised more questions than he answered when he responded to questions on benefit-related deaths last week.

Labour MP Madeleine Moon asked how many claimants of the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment had died within six months of their claim being refused – under normal rules.

His reply: 10,380 between April 2013 and July 31, 2018.

Firstly, that’s 2,390 more than Ms Moon was told on February 1, when the government stated that 7,990 claimants had died between June 2013 and July 2018.

Did they all die during April and May 2013? That would be an appalling death count if so!

But it seems the toll may actually be worse.

You see, Ms Moon’s original request was for the total number of claimants who had died. Her request last week was only for those who died under normal rules – excluding those who had applied under special rules because they had a terminal condition.

So these figures relate to people who would not be expected to die because of their health condition.

The government’s caveat – “There is no evidence in this data to suggest someone’s reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise” – doesn’t get it out of possible responsibility for these deaths. We have no reason to believe that their reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death. Therefore was must assume that something else was responsible – possibly related to the lack of money due to the government ignoring a justified benefit claim?

Ah, but the government never carries out that kind of research and always refuses permission for anybody else to do so. Doesn’t it?

Here’s the record.

But the plot thickens!

It seems that, while the Department for Work and Pensions was entirely capable of providing the statistics on PIP within its own cost limits, it is unable to do the same for deaths of people on Attendance Allowance, Employment Support Allowance or even Universal Credit.

Why not? What’s so special about these benefits that it would be too expensive to reveal the total number of deaths? Is it because that number is embarrassingly large?


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Tory minister for suicide prevention: ‘Like curing malaria with the plague’

Jackie Doyle-Price: The new minister for suicide prevention supported all the policies that have pushed people to take their own lives – and joked about suicide as well. Is that what the Tories think this issue is – a joke?

It was an easy mistake to make. When I heard the Conservative government had appointed a minister for suicide prevention I thought, “Does this mean they’re finally accepting responsibility?”

Alas, I was mistaken.

But you only have to look back over the last six years of Vox Political‘s output to see the Tory record, going back to my report on the Bedroom Tax-related death of Stephanie Bottrill. Her inquest found that stress and pressure placed on her by the Conservative-led government of the day contributed to her suicide.

You would also be well-advised to revist my article about ‘chequebook euthanasia’ – the idea that the Conservative government consciously drives benefit claimants – especially people with long-term illnesses and disabilities – to suicide in a way that means they can then deny any connection with the death.

We have seen such denials many times in recent years, embodied in the now-standard claim that “correlation does not equal causation” and “suicide is complicated; there are many possible causes”.

Sure, correlation does not necessarily equal causation. However, when half of all the women who have ever taken the Tory government’s Work Capability Assessment have attempted suicide – as The Independent has told us – I think it’s safe to say Conservative policies push people towards it.

But the announcement of Jackie Doyle-Price’s appointment to the new role said only that she would “help tackle the stigma” associated with suicide. And the only initiative announced was support in schools.

And her commitment to the role was instantly called into question when it was revealed that Ms Doyle-Price has consistently voted for the cuts in social security benefits that have been blamed for the multitude of suicides and suicide attempts.

Nursing Notes tells us: “According to the website TheyWorkForYou, Ms. Doyle-Price has consistently voted to reduce housing benefit, voted against raising benefits in line with inflation, voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability and voted forty-six times for an overall reduction in spending on welfare benefits.

“Statistics show that those with long-term physical or mental health issues are significantly more likely to be dependent on the state for assistance with housing and living costs.

“Social isolation, financial and health struggles are thought to be some of the leading risk factors for preventable suicide in the UK.”

The article quotes Vicki Nash, Head of Policy and Campaigns at Mind, who said: “Mind found that half of people with mental health problems have thought about or attempted suicide as a result of social issues such as housing issues, finances, benefit support, and employment. We need a benefits system that is supportive – not one that drives people into poverty.”

Damn straight, Keith.

The revelation that she actually made a joke about suicide makes it even worse.

https://twitter.com/MattTurner4L/status/1050070483876614144

This Site’s long-time friend and fellow campaigner for the rights of sick and disabled people, Samuel Miller, has raised a few pertinent points on this matter, especially the final one:

Was it? I don’t think so.

I think it was a signal; they appointed the least appropriate person for the job because they think the deaths and attempted deaths of hundreds of thousands of people are nothing but a big joke. They really are that repulsive.

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The spirit of Scrooge is haunting the DWP

Reginald Owen as Iain Duncan Smith in 'A Christmas Crisis-loan'.

Reginald Owen as Iain Duncan Smith in ‘A Christmas Crisis-loan’.

Here’s a tale of festive woe from the BBC News website:

More than 32,000 people have not received benefit payments in time for Christmas due to a Department for Work and Pensions “administrative error”.

The cash was due to go into bank accounts on Christmas Eve but will not now be paid until Friday, 27 December.

Most of those affected are first time claimants or people expecting one-off payments such as crisis loans.

The DWP urged them to call the department or a Jobcentre by 5pm to arrange payment within three hours.

A spokesman said the problem had only affected a “limited number” of claimants, totalling 32,200.

“The vast majority of regular benefit payments have been made on time this Christmas,” the spokesman added.

“However due to an administrative issue, a number of one-off or more irregular payments will now be paid on the 27th December, rather than the 24th.

“We have procedures in place to ensure that anyone who has been affected by this and who contacts us today (24th December) will get their benefits paid, usually within three hours.”

Some of those affected include new claimants waiting for their first payment, those owed arrears, people who have applied for Social Fund crisis loans and “in a very few cases” pension-related arrears.

The categories of benefits affected include Jobseekers Allowance, Employment Support Allowance, Social Fund and pensions.

We could all put a name to that “administrative error”: Iain Duncan Scrooge – I mean, Smith.

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MPs: Terminate the deadly Atos assessment regime before anyone else dies

Sick and disabled people in the UK can justifiably feel they are lining up for a death sentence as they prepare to take the dreaded Work Capability Assessment – the test devised by the Department of Work and Pensions and run (badly) by the French company Atos.

It leads – directly or indirectly – to an average of 32 deaths every week.

But there may be a ray of hope for them in the fact that the Labour Party has secured a Parliamentary debate on Atos and the WCA, to take place on September 4 – next Tuesday.

It is to be hoped that this will be the debate when Labour leader Ed Miliband finally gets off the fence and puts his weight – and that of his party – fully against the murderous system imposed by Chris Grayling and his master Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom are on record as stating that their version of the system is preferable, and less harsh, than that carried out under the previous Labour government.

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written two open letters to Mr Miliband, calling on him to break cover and declare his opposition to the scheme, and it seems bizarre that he has left people wondering for so long whether he actually supports a scheme that kills society’s most vulnerable.

The signs are hopeful that Mr Miliband will support change. In a letter to Sonia Poulton, he wrote: “Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle… I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals. These concerns… have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen. We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form.”

Let’s remind ourselves why it’s important. There’s a petition online at the moment, calling for the restoration of benefits to an Afghanistan war hero who lost his leg in the line of duty. Sapper Karl Boon lost his left leg in a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been stripped of his benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS.

In signing the petition, I wrote: “More penny-pinching from the poor by the government that doesn’t have the guts to tax the rich. Here’s a man who has risked his life and lost a limb in the service of his country, and all his country’s leaders can think of doing in return is taking away his financial support – aided by a foreign company. We have witnessed many stories like that of Sapper Karl Boon over the last two years and it seems to me that there is no depth to which the current government will not sink. To those in government, I say: Prove me wrong. Give this man the respect he deserves and pay him what you owe him.” Too harsh? Think on this: At least Karl Boon is currently still alive.

Let’s also remember that we’re experiencing an enormous rise in hate crime against the sick and disabled, fuelled by government propoganda and a right-wing media that’s primed to support it. ITV’s Tonight programme reported last Thursday (August 23) that more than 65,000 hate crimes against the disabled were reported in the last year. You can read my article on this blog site to find some of the stories.

So why has Miliband sat on the fence for so long?

There are two issues to separate out here.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having regular assessments to judge whether a person on one or both of the disability benefits is able to work, or will be likely to be able to do so in the near future. The only people who can be against that are people who want the easy life, living on benefits and off the hard work of the taxpayers.

But the way the Coalition regime has gone about these assessments, through its private contractor Atos, is totally inappropriate and unfit for purpose. We can see that in the many horror stories that have come out over the last few weeks and months.

Why should those who are permanently disabled be forced to go through reassessment every few months? They’re never going to get better! But we have Atos reports saying an amputee will be fit for work as soon as his arm grows back (for crying out loud)!

Why are doctors’ reports ignored? I know there is an argument that doctors may be persuaded to sign people off work when they aren’t actually unfit but, if the assessments were carried out by properly qualified medical professionals, working in accordance with the standards their qualifications have set for them, those would be found out. Instead, we get unqualified assessors working to a tick-box questionnaire, that isn’t remotely adequate to the job and has been acknowledged (as we saw on both Dispatches and Panorama) to be designed to get people off benefit.

There is no realism to the questions in the assessment, no anticipation of the kind of work that a person will be asked to do. There is no acknowledgement of the ways an employer would have to stretch to accommodate people with particular disabilities. Signing somebody as fit for work because they have one finger able to push a button does not make them attractive to an employer and merely sets them up to fail, possibly on a life-threatening scale because, as we know and I make no apologies for repeating, 32 people are dying every week because of the assessment system.

So what’s the alternative?

A better assessment would refer to the notes made by a patient’s GP, but would also include tests by a medical professional to ascertain the current condition of the disability – that it has been correctly reported.

It would then go on to cover the patients’ ability to carry out the sort of work that they might reasonably be likely to see on offer. Would they be able to manage it with a minimum of bother to an employer? That is the only way we will see sensible assessments coming in.

Atos is not fit to carry out these assessments in any case. The company had a bad reputation in France before it ever got a British contract and does not deserve to be making money from the taxpayer by condemning British people to the death that many of them have suffered.

These are the arguments I would wish to hear aired during the Parliamentary debate on the subject.

What would you like to hear?

Ashamed to be British as prejudice and bigotry stalk the streets

“Too many people in this country wallowing in their own self-pity who will find the slightest reason to avoid doing a day’s work. Get them out to work by force and take their money off them. I dont see why I should work so hard and pay so much tax to pay for the lazy and workshy to sit at home.”

There is so much wrong with this statement that I hardly know where to start. It is a genuine comment, made in response to a BBC news article, and describes the writer’s reaction to a report that the National Audit Office has discovered problems with the contract between the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos, the company hired to carry out work capability assessments on people claiming Employment and Support Allowance. The test works on a points-based system – 0 points means you are ‘fit for work’, while 15 or more mean you must receive benefit.

The report sparked a debate on the suitability of Atos to be running the assessment system, the value of the system itself, and also the honesty of claimants – the last group inspiring the headline at the top of this article.

Let’s recap a few facts: Less than 0.4 per cent of disability benefit claims are fraudulent. The Work Capability Assessment is designed to ensure that 87 per cent of disability benefit claimants are pushed onto Jobseekers Allowance within a year of taking the test (as proved by both Channel 4’s Dispatches and the BBC’s own Panorama). That’s 217.5 times as many claimants as are committing fraud and therefore must include some people who are entitled to the benefit. The Work Capability Assessment is a computer-based ‘tick-box’ assessment that is carried out by people who are not medical professionals; the opinion of a claimant’s own GP is, it seems, ignored.

Now let’s look at some of the comments. All emphases are my own:

“The fact is our benefits system is clogged to the hilt with benefit cheats and people avoiding work.” So 0.4 per cent amounts to being “clogged to the hilt”? I don’t think so.

“Unfortunately the “bad back brigade” who have fleeced the system over the many years have wrecked it for the genuine disabled. Very sad.” This person thinks they know exactly what claimants are saying, despite never having experienced an assessment. I doubt they have even spoken to a person who has taken one.

“The whole problem has been created by the vast majority of malingerers who think they are entitled to something for nothing.” Vast majority – less than one-two-hundredth of claimants is a vast majority in this person’s mind.

“If you’re genuine and unfit for work then the test will show it. Please don’t worry. However, you fraudsters out there who sponge off us hard working taxpayers: It’s not on, that you can sponge like you’ve been doing for so long. Go and get a job or create your own way of earning a living. If it wasn’t for you the country wouldn’t be in such a mess, most of our taxes are given to you lazy sods.” Where do I start with this one? Try this: Less than one per cent of tax money is spent on benefit payments for the sick and disabled (according to the Daily Mail).

“As someone who knows the WCA very well I can easily say that 90 per cent of the so-called disabled people claiming are nothing short of fraudsters. Start giving these fraudsters 10 years for their deception and see how many continue to claim. Those who are disabled and genuinely can’t work have nothing to worry about.” We’ll get to comments from those who are disabled and genuinely can’t work, a little later in this article. Remember the claim, though: They have nothing to worry about.

“I can name a dozen who COULD work but are claiming disability! In fact, I’m begining to wonder if I’m the only bloody one working in my postal code!!!! One scrounger is off of work with some wrist injury, but doesn’t stop him [doing] cash-in-hand jobs or being at pub. I thought Dave “Everyone deserves an holiday” Cameron was going to crack down on this? I see no evidence of it whatsoever…” A classic case of someone seeing only what they want to see?

“There are people out there who abuse the system at our expense. We all know of at least one, maybe more, such case…. I’m no medical expert but I know if someone’s on DLA and out driving a taxi or whatever then he/she’s a fraudster. They should be reported.” For the record, DLA (Disability Living Allowance) is an in-work benefit; it is intended to make it easier for disabled people to manage the extra expenses incurred by their disability and make it possible for them to have a job. This person is completely mistaken.

“So many people use ESA as a means to escape having to look for work. I see it every single day.” Oh! This is a good one. For information, only the support group of ESA claimants get the benefit without having to look for work; the work-related activity group receive the benefit for one year only, during which time they are expected to attend interviews and courses intended to make it possible for them to get a suitable job. After the year is up, they are taken of ESA and put on Jobseekers’ Allowance (which is cheaper for the government as it pays less money). Those in the support group aren’t expected to seek work because of the nature of their disability and the high likelihood that their condition is terminal – between January and August 2011, official figures show that 5,500 people in the support group lost their lives.

All right.

To balance these views, below are some comments from people with genuine experience of the system – claimants or those close to them. Before we get to them, let’s remind ourselves that the UK is experiencing a dramatic increase in violent hate crime against the disabled, as I have reported in a previous blog. Since 2009, these crimes have increased by 60 per cent nationwide; in my own police force area they multiplied fourfold between 2010 and 2011.

My belief is that government propoganda, coupled with hysterical reporting of so-called benefit scroungers in the right-wing press, has served to whip up hatred against this tiny section of society – those who are the most vulnerable and the least able to protect themselves. Divide and conquer has always been the Conservative way. They don’t want people to be angry at them, so they create another bogeyman for folk to hate instead. It’s a strategy that worked very well in Germany during the 1930s.

So how do the disabled react to claims that they are mostly fraudulent, lazy scroungers?

“Absolute rubbish. Do you know the medical records of all these people you claim are fraudulent? Or are you just taking a guess. The media sensationalise the 0.5 per cent of claims that are fraudulent, but what about the stories of the other 99.5 per cent? The propaganda is sickening.”

“Genuinely sick and disabled people are judged as fit for work and demonised by the Govt. Little wonder that fools abuse the sick and disabled folk who are ‘officially’ labelled as scroungers.”

Let’s see how Atos treats benefit claimants, shall we?

“Took my neighbour to a tribunal [I think they mean a Work Capability Assessment], member of tribunal helped me almost carry her in. Result…. fit for work! Well done Atos, you’ll get YOUR money.”

“My sister has MS, an auto-immune disease that varies in severity from day to day. On the days she’s mobile enough to attend an assessment, she’s told she’s fit to work, and her benefits get cut. On days she can barely move or see, she simply has her appointment rescheduled to when she is better. It’s a catch-22, and the stress of it has landed her back in hospital on more than one occasion.”

“My daughter-in-law’s father had an Atos medical, he is on morphine for a severe back condition that he has had surgery for, his pain management clinic say he is unemployable, guess what Atos say he is?”

“My brother is severly autistic. He has no speech, can’t read or write, severe learning difficulties, epilepsy, and stays in residential care. My mum got a phonecall demanding a phone interview with my brother to assess his fitness to work. They then sent a completely inappropiate form to fill out (adressed to my brother) asking about his fitness to work. Whole thing was an upsetting disgrace.”

“I have had the same debilitating disease for 29 years, got the full 15 points needed for the benefit at my first medical, then on the second they decided to give me 0. After an 8 month wait a Judge upheld my appeal against the 0 points. And now three months later the government want me to go through the same medical assesment again.”

“Before I’d ever heard of ATOS, I received a phone call from them at home one Friday evening at 8 o’clock. The person demanded that I give them my name, date of birth and National Insurance number. I said I wasn’t prepared to disclose any personal information to someone I didn’t know, whereupon I was told that, unless I did, they would suspend my benefits. I hung up. Shameful, but typical, of them.”

“I was on ESA because I have fibromyalgia, and am often in so much pain, I can hardly walk. I was ‘assessed’ and found to be capable of working. The letter informing me of this decision had been backdated 1 month, making it impossible for me to appeal the decision (within 1 month of the date at the top of the letter). There was no proof I got the letter late, though, so it was no good trying.”

“I have won my case at two tribunals and now I wait for a third. Once I one the first DWP really wanted me hence my third tribunal. Each tribunal takes approx 14months to happen. Life is very difficult during the wait costing me dearly healthwise. I had no income since April 30th this year. Atos always give me 0 points the judge has always given me max.”

The stress caused by the Atos/DWP treatment of claimants means that an average of 32 sick or disabled people are dying every week, while going through the assessment regime or the appeal process after being passed ‘fit for work’.

Now let’s see some genuine accounts of how disabled people are treated on the streets:

“I get abuse nearly every time I go into town because of my disability. It’s not even worth going to the supermarket anymore, I’d rather get somebody else to go for me.”

“Me and my husband have degenerating arthritis and several other medical conditions. I get abused and called ignorant because people don’t look where they are going and expect me to jump out of the way of their trolleys in the supermarket because I walk too slowly.”

“When [X] goes to the supermarket to buy a loaf of bread, he can be subjected to sly comments and in some cases threatening abuse, just because he is youngish and using a walking stick. These same people will go next door to the bank and put on a nice smile for the counter girl. He now goes out when it’s raining when few people are about. I’m ashamed to be British.”

Many have been put off claiming the benefits that the law says they should receive, because of the stigma attached to them – which is, of course, what our Tory-led government wants. The aim of the exercise, as I mentioned above, is to get as many people off benefit as possible. How they live thereafter is of no interest to the government; it just doesn’t want to pay people what they are entitled. And the plan is working. A huge proportion of the population is failing to claim benefits to which it is due. Here’s what some have to say:

“I have had my biggest relapse of a long-term condition in 20 years and have been off sick 5 months. I have not gone on to benefits yet for fear of being penalised as have read the horror stories on many health related blogs.”

“Before I reach retirement age I will not be able to work. I am, frankly, terrified of the world I might live in by then and cannot help feeling that the hope of some is that we die before we reach the wrong side of the balance sheet.”

“It’s a scary time to be a disabled/ill person; if the condition doesn’t kill you the government are trying to do it through stress and uncertainty.”

But most are unbowed, and have vowed to fight to the end:

“I started working when I was 13 carried on until my wife’s accident. I have paid in far more than I will ever get out. I object in the strongest possable terms to being called a scrounger and fraudulent,” wrote one.

And another pointed out: “90 per cent of cases are won at appeal if you take a specialist advisor to your appeal. 40 per cent are won if you go alone. Don’t give up.”

As was once declared next to an airbrushed picture of David Cameron, on hoardings across the country, “We can’t go on like this”. But people won’t vote for the most popular alternative – Labour – unless that party vows to put forward a fair and balanced assessment process for the sick and disabled, ending the sick-minded prejudice against the most vulnerable in society.

I say: As soon as Labour promises this, let’s have an election.

Let’s get Ed on-side

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written a letter to Ed Miliband, in order to secure his opposition to the DWP/Atos work capability assessment regime that is killing 32 disabled people every week. She has invited readers to ‘sign’ her letter by filling in their names and postcodes in the Comments column of her blog. It will be closed to new signatures from midday on Saturday (August 4) so get yours on quick! Here’s the link:

http://ramblingsofafibrofoggedmind.wordpress.com/2012/08/01/open-letter-to-ed-miliband-please-add-name-and-postcode-if-you-agree-with-contents/#comment-1723

New Atos contract to increase misery for the disabled

Not content with killing 32 Incapacity/Employment Support Allowance claimants every week, the Department for Work and Pensions has awarded the contract to test whether disabled people should continue receiving benefits to Atos.

The firm won contracts worth more than £400 million, although in Wales and parts of central England the job will go to outsourcing company Capita.

Since the assessment regime for those on IB/ESA is continuous, this means that, less than a year from now, disabled people may have to undergo two deeply flawed assessments – within the same month – to get the essential financial support they need to live their lives.

Since ESA pays less than IB, it is not even certain that their living costs will be covered, even if they are among the lucky 12-13 per cent of claimants who are likely to be successful.

The aim of the change from Disability Living Allowance to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is to cut spending by 20 per cent over the next three years. The fraud rate, according to the DWP’s own figures, is less than 0.5 per cent. It is easy to deduce, therefore, that even if all the fraudulent claimants are taken out of the system (they won’t be), another 39 times as many honest claimants will unfairly lose their benefit.

The assessment system is likely to be based on that already in place for IB/ESA. This means about 500,000 people would be cut from the benefit roll due to arbitrary judgements based on a scheme that has already been proven to be flawed, target-driven, and – in many cases – fatal.

As if that isn’t bad enough, David Cameron has announced he wants to desecrate the NHS constitution, in order to allow the sale of millions of UK residents’ medical records to pharmaceutical companies without consent. This will allow those companies to develop new drugs – which is a good thing – which they are likely to sell back to the health service at sky-high prices – which is bad.

The information will be anonymous – he says – but it won’t be long until ways are found to trace it back to individual patients, who will then, for example, face exorbitant insurance premiums or be refused a mortgage. It is believed that consent for the sale of your records will be assumed unless you tell your GP otherwise.

Disability benefits – who’s really faking it?

Earlier this week, both Channel 4 and the BBC gave us new documentaries about the way disabled people’s claims for state benefits are assessed. On Channel 4, Dispatches offered “Britain on the sick“, while the BBC’s Panorama was entitled “Disabled, or faking it?”. Both are available to watch on the web at the following addresses:

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/dispatches/4od#3388055

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01lldrc/Panorama_Disabled_or_Faking_It/

Both programmes were made to address the government’s focus on benefit cheats, and the narrative it has created that people claiming disability benefits are workshy scroungers who are perfectly capable of getting a job. This fiction has gained traction amongst the public and has led to verbal abuse and in some cases physical attacks on disabled people – including some on Disability Living Allowance who do have jobs (DLA is an in-work benefit, intended to defray the extra costs incurred when a person has to live with disability).

Let’s look at the official figures. The Department for Work and Pensions, which runs the disability benefit system, published a report called Fraud and Error in the Benefit System in February this year. It provided the following statistics:

For the financial year 2010-11, 0.8 per cent of benefit spending was overpaid due to fraud, amounting to £1.2 billion. This proportion was the same as in 2009-10.

For different benefits, this breaks down as follows: Retirement Pension 0.0 per cent; Incapacity Benefit 0.3 per cent (this is being changed to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) the subject of the documentaries); Disability Living Allowance 0.5 per cent; Council Tax Benefit 1.3 per cent; Housing Benefit 1.4 per cent; Pension Credit 1.6 per cent; Income Support 2.8 per cent; Jobseeker’s Allowance 3.4 per cent; Carer’s Allowance 3.9 per cent.

From these figures, we can see that the number of fraudulent claims for Jobseeker’s Allowance – able-bodied people claiming benefit while they look for work – is eight and a half times larger than for fraudulent disability benefit claims.

The £1.2 billion cost of fraud to the taxpayer is not a small amount, I’ll grant you – but the DWP is hoping to claw back £10 billion with its new assessment regime, run by the French company Atos. That’s almost 10 times as much money as is being paid out to fraudulent claimants.

Yet the department claims that people with a legitimate claim have nothing to fear.

Dispatches reporter Jackie Long stated: “[We have] uncovered evidence that a tough regime of tests is secretly trying to push almost 90 per cent of these claimants off the sick, to look for work.”

The programme took advantage of undercover filming to show the training process for an ESA assessor who would carry out Work Capability Assessments and then determine which group a claimant would join: the support group (for those whose disability meant they were likely to need permanent help from the state), the work-related activity group (for those whose disability should not prevent them from getting a job, with the right help), and those who are fit for work.

Early in the programme, the trainer states categorically: “This new benefit, Employment Support Allowance was meant to take people off the benefit.” And later: “This was specifically designed to take people off Incapacity Benefit.” She goes on to admit that any assessor who puts more than 12-13 per cent of their cases (about 1/8) into the support group will be “audited” – their work will be queried and they will be asked to put some of these people into the other groups.

The documentary featured interviews with people that demonstrated – graphically – how inadequate the test was; a man deemed able to work at a supermarket checkout who would have fallen asleep because of the high dosage of painkillers he’s taking; a woman who could lose a leg if she uses a wheelchair habitually – and has been working hard to avoid that – who was then told she could work if she used one and would not, therefore, receive benefit.

The test asks whether claimants are able to move an empty cardboard box or push a button. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope, described it as “deeply flawed” and “outrageous”.

Even though Atos assessors’ decisions are final in 94 per cent of cases (DWP decision makers accept their advice), they are told they never need to worry about appeals against those decisions (which occur in more than 40 per cent of cases) and the tribunal hearings that take place (which cost £45 million per year) – they never go to the tribunals and won’t be blamed.

On both programmes, Atos and the DWP were adamant that the DWP has not set targets for assessors to follow. The evidence we have seen shows that they were lying.

The target is the percentage of people being put on the top rate of disability benefit – the support group. The trainer: “You are being watched carefully for the rate of support group. If it’s more than 12 or 13 per cent you will be fed back – your rate is too high. I do not set the criteria; that is what we are being told.” She said assessors would be constantly audited to see what they do. Another trainer said that figure came from the DWP.

When the doctor who carried out the training, and the undercover filming, was put to work, he carried out eight assessments – four of them were bounced back and he was told to take points off. The documentary’s producers contacted Atos, who expressed doubt about the doctor due to his political background.

Panorama followed case-histories also – the most noteworthy being that of the gentleman who was, for all intents, harassed by the system. Found fit for work despite being told to see a doctor by the assessor – the doctor discovered he had a critical heart condition – he won an appeal only to be contacted again, weeks later, with notification of a further assessment. At the time, he was waiting for a heart operation. Again found fit for work, he was waiting on a second appeal when he suffered a fatal heart attack. It could be argued that this man is dead because of DWP harassment.

Both documentaries featured claimants who had been wrongly placed into the work-related activity group – including one man who was sitting catatonic in a mental hospital at the time.

A doctor said the tests are adding to the cost of NHS work, rather than saving money, because people were booking GP appointments for the sake of their benefits, rather than their health.

Atos refused to be interviewed in either documentary, and details of its contract were hidden because they claimed it contained sensitive commercial information. But on Panorama, Employment Minister Chris Grayling, defending his regime, said: “We do not have a financial target for the reassessment of people on Incapacity Benefit, or for the level of new applications for ESa which are successful. There are no targets anywhere in the system, for numbers of people to move onto or off benefits.” As we have seen evidence proving the opposite, we know that this minister was lying.

And the most damning statistic of all: According to Panorama, every week, 32 people die after being declared “fit for work” by WCA assessors.

That means, at the time of writing, 960 people have died since January 1 this year, after being declared “fit for work”. The DWP, Atos, Mr Grayling and his DWP boss Iain Duncan Smith don’t just have blood on their hands – they’re swimming in it.

Show your contempt for this arrogant dictatorship

Does anybody reading this still think the UK is a democracy?

I dare say most people are aware that the government, in the House of Commons, has reversed all seven amendments made by the Lords to the Welfare Reform Bill. This means the new benefits cap of £26,000, per family, will include Child Benefit.

The Bill will also:

  • Require cancer patients to undergo a means test for Employment Support Allowance – if they fail, they have to look for work
  • Reduce the lower rate of the ‘disabled child’ element of Child Tax Credits
  • Means test other ESA claimants every year
  • Stop young disabled people who have never worked from claiming ‘contributory’ ESA
  • Impose ‘under-occupancy’ penalties on social tenants with one spare room
  • Force single parents to face Child Support Agency charges, even if they have taken steps to reach a settlement

There is no mandate for these changes, or any of the other changes in the Welfare Reform Bill. The Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition does not have permission from the electorate to do this, because it was never part of either of their manifestos. This is undemocratic.

The House of Lords, in amending the Bill to prevent the measures I mention above, had been contacted by many people on benefits, and made their decision in the knowledge of the financial trauma it will cause if allowed to go ahead unchanged. This was the only opportunity the people affected by the Bill had to plead a case, and the government’s pig-headed refusal to pay attention (let’s call it a ‘not-listening’ exercise, in recognition of the sham that was carried out in respect of the Health and Social Care Bill, which is likely to cause even more harm to the honest people of the UK). The reversal in the Commons therefore flies in the face of the will of the people. This, too, is undemocratic.

Furthermore, the government has announced it will use a rule known as ‘financial privilege’ to prevent the Lords from sending the same amendments back to the Commons when they consider the Bill for the final time.

Now, Parliamentary convention has long stated that the Lords do not deliberate on “money” Bills, such as the Budget – but such legislation is never introduced to the Lords in the first place. As the Welfare Reform Bill was, there is a strong argument that this rule does not apply.

It is highly unusual for a government to introduce a Bill to Parliament with the intention of it being considered by both Houses, only for it to declare the Bill beyond the auspices of the Lords at this relative late stage in proceedings – and for this reason the whole process could end up in a judicial review.

In other words, for this to happen, it must normally be decided before a government is humiliated over its unsound policies – not after. This, again, is undemocratic.

Let’s not forget that the government falsified the results of its own consultation process about this bill. More than 90 per cent of those taking part opposed the changes in the bill but this was ignored in the report, which was intended to show that the public supported the change. It does not. This, yet again, is undemocratic.

This break with precedent could have further implications for other major government bills going through the Lords, including the Legal Aid and NHS Bills, both of which are highly controversial. Need I point out how undemocratic all of this is?

Finally, none of these measures are necessary. If the government taxed big businesses properly, instead of excusing them from paying the vast sums of money they owe, then there would be enough in the Treasury to keep benefits as they are and pay off some of the national debt. This is what the majority of the people in my country want and their refusal to do it is totally undemocratic.

If you’re not living in a democracy – and if you’re in the UK, you are definitely not living in a democracy any more – then you’re living in a dictatorship.

It is a dictatorship ruled by two parties that did not even gain a majority in the last General Election.

We have another three years of this agony, as matters stand at the moment.

All I can suggest right now is that we make our contempt for this arrogant cartel known at every opportunity. If any of the above makes you angry, make sure you’re on the electoral register and then get out and vote against them every chance you get.

There are elections in May. They’ll be a good place to start.