Tag Archives: Income Support

Tories sneak out continued benefit freeze behind announcement of royal engagement

It’s all right for some: The Tories chose the day Prince Harry and Meghan Markle announced their engagement to reveal that benefit claimants won’t receive a penny more next year.

Oh, joyous day! (That’s unless you receive Universal Credit, Jobseekers’ Allowance, Employment and Support Allowance, Income Support, Housing Benefit, or have the amount of your payments limited under the Benefit Cap, of course.)

As the Royal Family announced the engagement of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, the Department for Work and Pensions decided it would be a good day to release some bad news – so ministers quietly published their proposed benefit rates for 2018-19.

As you can see, in the cases of the above-named benefits, there is no change.

So people on zero-hours contracts, in part-time work or low-paid full-time employment, and the long-term sick or disabled will find it even harder to make ends meet next year – let alone celebrate the nuptials of a man whose own state benefits are far better-paying than theirs.


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The Conservative Party – nasty, stupid and clumsy

Is this the face of a 'Caring' Conservative? Or is he nasty and clumsy? And if he is, does that mean the supporters behind him are stupid?

Is this the face of a ‘Caring’ Conservative? Or is he nasty and clumsy? And if he is, does that mean the supporters behind him are stupid?

Independent luminary Andreas Whittam Smith reckons the Conservative Party in its current form is both nasty and stupid – and also clumsy, if his latest article is to be believed.

Nasty because of its aggressive behaviour – such as the decision to withdraw support for rescue operations that save thousands of migrants from drowning as they attempt to cross the Mediterranean to Europe.

Or because of benefit assessment policies that mean people living with progressive and degenerative conditions such as Parkinson’s, motor neurone disease and rheumatoid arthritis are being subjected to what a group of charities describes as “upsetting and unnecessary” examinations to see whether they will recover enough to look for work in the future – a pointless exercise because their conditions are flagged up from the start as progressive and degenerative; they’re never going to get better.

Or because, after the Resolution Foundation found that one-in-five employees (4.9 million people) earned less than the living wage, George Osborne is promising that if the Conservative Party wins next year’s general election, then most welfare payments that the working poor rely on – including child benefit, tax credits, jobseeker’s allowance, housing benefit and income support – will be frozen in April 2016 for two years. They are currently rising by 1 per cent a year. He will make the working poor poorer.

zTorypromise

Clumsy because they have imposed unpopular decisions on the people in an unfair way. Mr Whittam Smith defines fairness in terms of “the four main elements that go into creating a sense of procedural justice: Those concerned should have been able to play an active part in the process. The rules should be applied with sensitivity to individual situations. Decision-makers should be impartial and fair. And the agents of the system with whom people have to deal should treat them with respect.”

He continues: “There is no evidence that people living with progressive and degenerative conditions or members of the working poor or families struggling to pay care bills for elderly relatives have been consulted. There is no evidence of sensitivity to individual situations or else the bedroom tax legislation would have recognised the special difficulties of disabled tenants who are unable to share a bedroom and would have taken into account where homes have been specially adapted.

“As for the agents of the system with whom people have to deal, outsourcing many of these tasks has not produced happy results. Naturally the outsourced staff work by the book. They cannot be flexible or understanding. They are chiefly concerned with getting the job done as quickly as possible so as to reach the profits targets set by their employers. And then, in the final analysis, claimants are not dealing directly with the state at all but with a sort or mercenary army. Mutual respect cannot exist in these circumstances.”

Let’s expand on the last point for a moment, and connect it with the previous points about benefit assessment, with this snippet of information: An academic report from Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling has confirmed that the Tories’ welfare reforms are not helping people to find work.

According to Alan Wyllie on the A Working Class Man blog, the report showed:

  • “The current welfare system is not helping people find work. Those who had moved into employment found work independently and not due to Jobcentre Plus services;
  • “There was limited support on offer to help recipients of out of work benefits move into work. Those participating in the Work Programme did not report that it was helpful;
  • “Most people wanted to work but issues such as childcare, illness and training made it difficult for them to do so;
  • “The current welfare system also does not appear to meet its aim of ‘make work pay’. People who had moved into work felt only slightly better off and continued to find it difficult to make ends meet;
  • “Benefit freezes or restricted increases have meant falling real-term incomes, with many study participants finding it hard to meet basic needs.

“The report concludes that: ‘Participants with a health condition or a disability, and those who were lone parents, reported that they wanted to be in work but faced considerable barriers to doing so, which were unlikely to be addressed by increasing conditionality.

“’According to the views of participants, stronger conditionality is unlikely to get more people into work, due to a lack of suitable work and barriers in the areas of education, skills, employability, childcare and health.’

“The researchers found that claimants who did not abide by the new conditions faced serious consequences.

“’The impact on benefit recipients who fall foul of new rules – or who are affected by a mistake on the part of a benefits agency that is not their fault – can be severe,’ they said.”

That’s nasty – not only have benefit changes been forced onto people without any regard for them, but they don’t even work.

However, this – moving back to Mr Whittam Smith – may be the Tories’ downfall. He points out: “Nowadays we are no longer a homogenous mass but an agglomeration of minorities. In my own circle of family and friends, for instance, there are people who are disabled and others with serious illnesses. There are those who are single parents, others who are retired. There are middle-aged people with back-breaking mortgages, others who are and young and ambitious. There are regular Church-goers as well as non-believers. There are people in jobs, and people who cannot find work. There are Londoners who can’t conceive of living anywhere else (I am one of these), and people who resent the capital city and all its works.

“Each of these minorities has its own particular concerns and needs, prejudices and resentments, but yet feels sympathy for any group that is badly treated.

“The Coalition led by its Conservative ministers has often gone about its work in an unfeeling, insensitive manner. And for that shortcoming there could be a price to pay at the next general election.”

Quite so – especially as they came into government under the banner of ‘Compassionate Conservatism’. What a terrible joke.

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‘More or Less’ on the ESA deaths: MORE stupidity, LESS accuracy

Inaccurate: This meme - and others like it - provided an inaccurate interpretation of DWP statistics that the Torygraph and the BBC have seized, using them to hide the real issue. Thousands of ESA claimants are still dying every year but the DWP refuses to say how many. Why not? As David Cameron himself has said many times, "If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear."

Inaccurate: This meme – and others like it – provided an inaccurate interpretation of DWP statistics that the Torygraph and the BBC have seized, using them to hide the real issue.
Thousands of ESA claimants are still dying every year but the DWP refuses to say how many. Why not? As David Cameron himself has said many times, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.”

BBC Radio 4’s More or Less promised a feature on the long-discussed deaths of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance in its programme on Friday – and delivered five minutes of drivel that is an insult to the intelligence of anybody concerned.

As a reporter, I am staggered that the BBC has had the bare-faced cheek to patronise us in this manner.

The feature (which may be downloaded here – it’s the August 29 edition) took as its premise claims made on the social media that 10,600 people have died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos assessors.

There are several issues with this. Firstly, this claim is two years out-of-date. Many more are likely to have died since then but the figures are not available because the Department for Work and Pensions has refused to release them. Secondly, the claim is inaccurate, based on a misunderstanding of the DWP statistical release ‘Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients’ published in July 2012.

We already know that the claim was inaccurate. Why is the BBC determined to rake over these old coals?

For the sake of the BBC and anyone else who is similarly hard-of-thinking, let’s go back to what the statistical release actually says.

Officially – according to the DWP – the 10,600 deaths were of people leaving ESA with a recorded date of death, between January and November 2011. The government document made it clear that “data on the number of ESA claimants who have died following a ‘fit for work’ decision is not available, as the Department does not hold information on a death if the person has already left benefit”. Efforts to persuade the DWP to change this policy and follow up ‘fit for work’ decisions by checking on claimants’ health at intervals afterwards have been refused at all times.

Therefore we may safely conclude that the number of deaths of ESA claimants is probably many times greater than official figures suggest.

In the Now and Then piece, the Daily Telegraph‘s Tom Chivers, enlisted to provide some spurious relevance to the show’s finding, said: “The DWP say they don’t keep records of the number of people who died after their benefits were cut off because that’s irrelevant to them; it’s no longer their problem. So we don’t have the full figures.” This is correct.

The trouble is, it is the DWP’s problem – and it’s certainly a problem for the rest of us – because anyone who has died in this way almost certainly did so as a consequence of the loss of their benefit! The news media has been riddled with stories of these people over the last few years, and we can be sure that the volume of known stories is a fraction of the true number of cases.

Back to the statistical release: Of the 10,600, the government said 2,200 died when their assessment had not been completed. This clearly suggests that the assessment process had failed these people – they died before they were able to access the support they needed.

A further 1,300 were in the Work Related Activity group. This suggests that they had been placed in the wrong group and should have been in the Support Group.

Finally, 7,100 were in the Support group. The statistical release states that “those in the Support Group receive unconditional support due to the nature of their illness, which can include degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability”. However, just three paragraphs above, the same release states that the information it provides relates to people “whose latest WCA [work capability assessment] date (or activity towards assessment) was before the end of November 2011”.

This means that people in the Support Group do not receive “unconditional support” at all – they have to undergo periodic reassessment, at irregular intervals (due to the nature of the assessment process – you never know when they’ll get round to you again). This meant that people with degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability are subjected to the stress and anxiety of having to face a flawed assessment system – rigged to find them ‘fit for work’ if at all possible – at any time. Stories in the press about people with terminal cancer (the most famous example) being forced back to work can only have increased this stress, making the possibility of early death more likely.

That is the situation. Now let us examine what the BBC had to say about it.

The More or Less feature is inaccurate from the start.

It states: “In 2011, existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support claims were replaced with something called Employment and Support Allowance.” In fact, ESA was introduced by the previous Labour government on October 27, 2008 and while IB and IS claims were not migrated until 2011, it would be wrong to think that the deaths under discussion were of the migrated claims in isolation.

“Claimants were made to undergo a Work Capability Assessment to determine whether they were entitled to the new allowance and how much money they might get. Now some critics complain that these assessments are stacked against claimants. Seriously-ill people are being dismissed as malingerers by Atos Healthcare and having their claims denied. And in the middle of this argument, up pops the truly shocking finding that 10,600 people have been cut off from this vital benefit and then died within six weeks.”

Two things: Firstly – THAT IS NOT THE FINDING! See the analysis of the statistical release (above). Secondly – the claim is two years old; it was made when the statistical release was issued back in July 2012 and debunked shortly afterwards. Why is More or Less covering this old news when it could be asking relevant questions?

One has to ask why the programme enlisted help from – of all people – Daily Telegraph blogger Tom Chivers. He published a controversial piece about the Atos deaths on July 9, proceeding from the same – wrong – starting-point as More or Less. His argument is irrelevant because it does not relate to the problem.

In the broadcast, Chivers compounded the error with further inaccuracies: “In July 2012 there was a Freedom of Information request about how many people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending,” he blithely spouted. WRONG. Here is the request, copied verbatim from the DWP’s statistical release and pasted here:

Information request: Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?

Can you please break down that number into the following categories:

  • Those who are in the assessment phase
  • Those who have been found fit to work
  • Those who have been placed in the work related activity group
  • Those who have been placed in the support group
  • Those who have an appeal pending

(This is the format I have used in both of my own, subsequent, FoI requests on this matter, and I believe Samuel Miller’s was phrased the same way. The DWP has sidestepped all three.)

There is nothing about any six-week period after the claim ended. The request is about ESA claimants who died during 2011 – no more, no less.

Chivers accurately quotes a paragraph from the response which mentions the six-week time figure. He goes on to say that he found it questionable and checked it with the DWP. What he then tells us suggests that the fault lies with the Department for Work and Pensions, for deliberately failing to directly answer the direct questions that had been put to it.

“They said no – actually there is a rather weird, obtuse meaning of it, which they mean it was six weeks either side of this thing – there was a six-week period either side of the death and that was when the claim ended.”

What?

That has nothing to do with the original request! If they died, they died!

“A lot of these people would have died, and then the claim ended shortly afterwards because they were dead,” Chivers said, as though it excused the DWP of any wrong-doing. All he was doing was reiterating the problem – that people have been dying while claiming ESA!

Presenter Tim Harford then chimed in: “So what the DWP are doing here is, they take a snapshot, they see a certain number of people are making a benefit claim and are alive, and then six weeks later they take another snapshot and they discover that these people are no longer making a benefit claim, and these people are no longer alive?”

NO!

This would make a nonsense of the DWP’s statistical release from 2012. It covers a period from January to November 2011, inclusive. That’s 11 months, not six weeks! No ‘snapshots’ were taken – it was a running total showing all deaths during the c.48 weeks covered, not the sum of two ‘snapshots’ taken six weeks apart. In fact, the DWP should be grateful for this because 10,600 deaths within six weeks comes out at 1,767 deaths per week, rather than the 220 maximum that some of us have been suggesting.

Not content with producing a statement of utter nonsense, Harford decided to confuse the listening public with a completely different interpretation within minutes of the first: “So 10,600 claimants didn’t die six weeks after their claim ended; 10,600 claimants died within the same six-week period as their claim ended – not the same thing at all.” Correct – it’s not even the same thing you said moments previously, Tim.

And it still isn’t accurate! Look at the top of this article again. The DWP made it perfectly clear that it does not monitor what happens to people after their claim ends – these are all people who died while claiming the benefit, who should have been receiving the maximum amount of care possible, but didn’t.

That is the issue More or Less should have been investigating. That is why the show, Harford, Chivers and the BBC have failed us so appallingly.

The perpetrators of this atrocity decided to end with some unbearably smug platitudes – to show how completely they have misunderstood the situation, it seems.

From Chivers: “What this comes down to, as far as I’m concerned, is just a dreadful piece of communication by the DWP. This fairly, well, not simple but not complicated piece of information has been translated into 10,000 people dying within six weeks of being callously removed from their benefits.”

Wrong! Thanks to a few inaccurate memes, Chivers has tried to translate the DWP’s information into something it is not, diverting attention away from the real problem.

People are still dying – on a daily basis – because of the way the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to handle claims for incapacity benefits. It is a national scandal.

Remember: Those 10,600 deaths cover a period of just 11 months, ending nearly three years ago. How many have died since then? Has the number escalated or decreased? If More or Less had done its research, it could have been reporting on the biggest genocide of the British people by their own government since the Harrowing of the North.

Instead, we got this from Tim Harford: “So the moral of this story: It’s always worth asking what a statistic is really counting, rather than assuming we know.”

Really? What a shame Mr Harford did not practise what he was preaching.

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Wrong again, Daily Mail! UN human rights investigation is welcome here

Daily Fail Logo

Philip Daves, Conservative MP for (to that constituency's great embarrassment) Shipley: With this history, he should be the last person the Daily Mail asks to justify Coalition policy on the disabled.

Philip Daves, Conservative MP for (to that constituency’s great embarrassment) Shipley: With this history, he should be the last person the Daily Mail asks to justify Coalition policy on the disabled.

Where, exactly, is the “fury” that the Daily Mail wants us to believe has been sparked by the UN’s decision to investigate breaches of human rights by the Coalition government?

Nowhere, apart from at the Daily Mail and the Coalition government!

The paper reported yesterday (correctly) that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) has launched a formal investigation into whether the UK’s Coalition Conservative and Liberal Democrat government has committed “grave or systemic violations” of the rights of disabled people.

It then went right off the rails by adding that Conservative MPs had branded the investigation as “politically motivated”, saying this country’s record on help for disabled people was among the best in the world. Take particular note of the word “was”.

And who did the paper find to speak up for the government? None other than Philip Davies MP, who wanted to exploit the disabled with a plan to force them into work for less than the minimum wage.

“These people at the UN are idiots,” said Mr Davies, who is an imbecile. Nobody should accept his word on anything. The people of his Shipley constituency must be bitterly embarrassed that they ever elected him.

In fact, the paper is not wrong in saying the UK’s record was very good, as long as it qualifies that remark by adding “until the general election of 2010”. After then, disability policy went pear-shaped in a big way.

Even the box-out in yesterday’s article – which, one must presume, is intended to show how well the government is treating the disabled – shot itself in the foot.

“The disability living allowance (DLA)… has now been replaced by the personal independence payment (PIP),” it states. “In 2012, there were over 3 million DLA claimants in the UK, but the Government estimates 600,000 fewer disabled people will qualify for PIP by 2018.”

Take note of the wording; the paper accepts that the people losing benefit are disabled. DLA and PIP are intended to provide support for the disabled in their daily lives (including work), so this passage is an admission that the government is cutting disabled people off from the support they need.

Discussing the Work Capability Assessment “for those claiming Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Income Support”, the box-out comes seriously unstuck in its attempt to use – shall we say – diplomatic language to disguise what is happening.

“Almost two million people were assessed by health workers” it states. These people were not doctors – they were “health workers”. In fact, it turns out that these so-called medical professionals were almost entirely unqualified to confirm or deny the conditions of the people they were examining; their job was to put simple “yes” or “no” answers in a computer-based tick-box system devised by a private insurance company called Unum, for the purpose of denying benefit to as many people as possible.

“Those ruled unfit for work were then moved onto the new Employment and Support Allowance and were given another exam, again using a points-based system, to decide how much support they qualified for,” the box-out added. This is completely inaccurate, of course. People on the old benefits received just one WCA, to determine whether the government would allow them to receive ESA. They were, however, forced to undergo reassessment at uneven intervals thereafter, in a form of government-sponsored psychological torture.

The sheer volume of error caused by the system was such that no less than 10,600 claimants died between January and November 2011. We have no data on fatalities since then because the cowards in the Coalition government have refused to release them. In addition, the volume of appeals against WCA decisions skyrocketed – even after some of those who lodged proceedings died due to the stress of going through a lengthy procedure while having to survive on nothing but fresh air and the kindness of others.

In response, the government has changed the rules in order to make it harder for people to appeal.

Is this the kind of treatment that your government wants you to think is among the “best in the world”?

The main article also sideswipes UN special rapporteur for housing Raquel Rolnik, although a paragraph rehashing the abusive nickname ‘Brazil Nut’, coined by the Mail a few months ago, appears to have been removed from the web version.

It merely states that she “sparked a furious reaction from Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith after she criticised the so-called ‘Bedroom Tax'”. He wasn’t the only one. Grant Shapps had a few things to say about it too – and both of them were slapped down hard by her response, which demonstrated very clearly that their information was wrong and hers was accurate.

You can read the whole story on Vox Political.

Start here.

This one is particularly revealing about the Tory reaction to Ms Rolnik’s visit.

Here is information that shows Ms Rolnik was right and the Tories – and the papers supporting them – were wrong.

Finally, here is an article about the Mail‘s response to the UN poverty ambassadors who said Coalition welfare changes may breach the UK’s international treaty obligations to the poor.

Put it all together and there’s no reason at all to pay any attention to the Daily Mail or its coterie of Tory rent-a-quotes.

Extra:

Samuel Miller should be known to all those of you who have followed the plight of the sick and disabled under the Coalition government.
He has written the following comment, which Wordpress seems keen to deny with an ‘Invalid security token’ warning:
“The Daily Mail’s fury at the UN’s inquiry into disability rights violations is predictable and frankly feigned. An initial analysis of its published news stories reveals that the tabloid has, for the most part, willfully ignored the welfare crisis for Britain’s sick and disabled people and has paid scant attention to the deaths associated with the draconian welfare reforms.
“As an experiment, take the names from this video (https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=LmTI3NETGGs) and insert them into the site search of the Daily Mail, filtering by ‘most recent’, ‘oldest’, and ‘relevance’. You’ll easily find Stephanie Bottrill (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/search.html?sel=site&searchPhrase=stephanie+bottrill ), but be hard-pressed to locate other deceased individuals, such as Craig Monk (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/debate/article-2117718/British-people-committing-suicide-escape-poverty-Is-State-wants.html; thanks largely to the concern of journalist Sonia Poulton).
“Other welfare deaths covered by the Daily Mail include only Jacqueline Harris (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2513284/Half-blind-woman-crippled-pain-killed-benefits-bosses-stopped-disability-payments–following-TWO-MINUTE-assessment.html), and Mark Wood (http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2570144/Aspergers-sufferer-phobia-food-dead-judged-fit-work-benefits-cut.html)—the death of David Clapson, a diabetic former soldier, recently received coverage by both The Mirror and The Guardian, but was ignored by the Daily Mail.
“I wish to commend you for your tireless efforts and support, Mike.”
Thank you for the kind words, Samuel.

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ESA/WCA inquiry chair: ‘Victims are NOT being sidelined’

Dame Anne Begg. [Image: BBC]

Dame Anne Begg. [Image: BBC]

Dame Anne Begg has responded to concerns that people who submitted evidence to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments were being sidelined – with a denial.

The committee’s chairperson said the call for evidence generated 190 submissions, and every single submission will be circulated to all committee members.

In addition, the committee clerk in charge of the inquiry, who will be writing the brief for committee members, has carefully read all the submissions as they have come in, she stated in an email yesterday. (March 30)

“However, in line with our practice in the past when we have received a large number of submissions describing personal experiences (such as our inquiries into the roll out of ESA and the Pensions Bill) we have taken the decision that not all of the personal submissions will be treated as ‘formal written evidence’ which is published along with our report,” she continued.

“This is because a number were very personal in nature, or didn’t address the terms of reference, while some asked for anonymity which isn’t possible in formal evidence, or included inappropriate language.

“It was made clear in our call for evidence that the committee would make the decision whether a submission would be treated as formal evidence or not. However, it is still treated as evidence – just not ‘formal written’ evidence.

“Once the formal evidence is published, you will be able to see that there are quite a number from individuals so it is simply untrue to say that all individual submissions are being ignored, suppressed or sidelined.”

Are you happy with that?

Personally, I can’t say that I am entirely convinced, as my own evidence (for example) fits the required criteria and should not be omitted from the formal evidence for the reasons Dame Anne mentioned in her email. Yet this is what has happened.

I responded, saying it is hard to give the benefit of the doubt to any Parliamentary investigation into this issue because of the mistreatment that people have suffered over the past few years.

While I would like to think that the Work and Pensions Committee, and those who work for it, will treat us all with fairness, it is only prudent to suggest that we all keep a watchful eye on proceedings, including all documentation that comes from this inquiry. If there is the slightest hint of foul play, then it will be our responsibility to raise the alarm.

Hopefully Dame Anne, the committee and its clerks have realised that their conduct is being scrutinised.

Let us hope they respond positively.

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Why are victims being sidelined by MPs’ inquiry?

Sidelined: People like this lady have campaigned across the UK against the unfair assessment system for sickness and disability benefits. Now that they are finally getting an inquiry into this corrupt system, are their views going to be ignored? [Image: Guardian]

Sidelined: People like this lady have campaigned across the UK against the unfair assessment system for sickness and disability benefits. Now that they are finally getting an inquiry into this corrupt system, are their views going to be ignored? [Image: Guardian]

Here’s a disturbing email from the Commons Work and Pensions committee:

“Thank you for your submission to Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments.

“The Committee has received a large number of written submissions from individuals who have claimed ESA and undergone WCA, setting out their personal experiences of the process.

“Your submission, along with other similar personal testimony submissions, will be circulated to the Members of the Committee as background information to the inquiry rather than published as formal evidence.

“I know that the Committee will find submissions such as yours very helpful in their inquiry and I would therefore like to thank you for taking the time to contribute to the inquiry.”

Background information?

I smell betrayal.

I did not write a detailed description of Mrs Mike’s suffering at the hands of the Department for Work and Pensions, just so that it could be hidden away and ignored as “background information”!

Look at the committee’s original call for evidence. It was “particularly interested” to hear views on, among other things:

  • Delivery of the WCA by Atos, including steps taken to improve the claimant experience
  • The effectiveness of the WCA in indicating whether claimants are fit for work, especially for those claimants who have mental, progressive or fluctuating illnesses, including comparison with possible alternative models
  • The ESA entitlement decision-making process
  • The reconsideration and appeals process
  • The impact of time-limiting contributory ESA and
  • Outcomes for people determined fit for work or assigned to the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) or the Support Group.

The experience endured by Mrs Mike, who has both progressive and fluctuating physical conditions and mental health issues, included a humiliating work capability assessment medical examination and being pushed into the WRAG after a wrong decision by Atos/DWP. The Department failed to inform her of its decision on her appeal, and failed to act on that decision before cutting her benefit (it didn’t tell her that was going to happen either). If I had not been around to stand up for her, she might have been thrown onto the streets by now.

Is the Work and Pensions Committee no longer “particularly interested” in stories like that?

If so, what kind of inquiry are we likely to get?

A whitewash?

Dame Anne Begg chairs this committee. I’m going to contact her and see what she has to say for herself and her people.

If you have received the same communication, no doubt you’ll want some answers as well. Please let me know if you have.

It is entirely possible that there is a good reason for what I’ve been given. Until I know what it is, though, I have to suspect the worst.

If I wait for this inquiry to take place and then find we’ve all been betrayed, it will be too late.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Send your ESA/WCA experiences to the new MP inquiry

Fit for purpose? Parliament's Work and Pensions Committee wants to hear about your experience of the work capability assessment and ESA.

Fit for purpose? Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee wants to hear about your experience of the work capability assessment and ESA.

The government wouldn’t do it – so an influential Parliamentary committee has decided to launch its own inquiry into Employment and Support Allowance and the Work Capability Assessment that determines eligibility for it.

I will be submitting evidence to this inquiry and I strongly suggest that, if you have a story to tell, then you should provide evidence as well.

According to the Parliament.uk website, the decision to undertake an inquiry from today (February 6) was made in light of recent developments including the publication of several reviews of the WCA, expressions of concern from DWP regarding Atos’s performance in delivering the WCA, and the introduction of mandatory reconsideration.

Submissions of no more than 3,000 words are invited from interested organisations and individuals.

The Committee is particularly interested to hear views on:

  • Delivery of the WCA by Atos, including steps taken to improve the claimant experience
  • The effectiveness of the WCA in indicating whether claimants are fit for work, especially for those claimants who have mental, progressive or fluctuating illnesses, including comparison with possible alternative models
  • The process and criteria for procuring new providers of the WCA
  • The ESA entitlement decision-making process
  • The reconsideration and appeals process
  • The impact of time-limiting contributory ESA
  • Outcomes for people determined fit for work or assigned to the WRAG or the Support Group and
  • The interaction between ESA and Universal Credit implementation
  • Submissions do not need to address all of these points.

The deadline for submitting evidence is Friday, March 21.

To encourage paperless working and maximise efficiency, select committees are now using a new web portal for online submission of written evidence. The web portal is available on the Parliament.uk website here.

The personal information you supply will be processed in accordance with the provisions of the Data Protection Act 1998 for the purposes of attributing the evidence you submit and contacting you as necessary in connection with its processing.

Each submission should be in Word format with as little use of colour or logos as possible, and have numbered paragraphs.

If you need to send a paper copy, send it to: The Clerk, Work and Pensions Committee, House of Commons, 7 Millbank, London SW1P 3JA.

Material already published elsewhere should not form the basis of a submission, but may be referred to within a proposed memorandum, in which case a web link to the published work should be included.

Once submitted, evidence is the property of the committee. It is the committee’s decision whether or not to accept a submission as formal written evidence.

Select committees are unable to investigate individual cases.

The committee normally, though not always, chooses to make public the written evidence it receives, by publishing it on the internet (where it will be searchable), or by making it available through the Parliamentary Archives. If there is any information you believe to be sensitive you should highlight it and explain what harm you believe would result from its disclosure. The Committee will take this into account in deciding whether to publish or further disclose the evidence.

Further guidance on submitting evidence to Select Committees is available on the Parliament website.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in October 2008 for claimants making a new claim for financial support on the grounds of illness or incapacity. It replaced Incapacity Benefits, Income Support by virtue of a disability and Severe Disablement Allowance.

ESA is paid to people who have limited capability for work (who are placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG)), and people who have limited capability for work related activity (who are placed in the Support Group).

Most claimants applying for ESA are invited to a face-to-face assessment to help determine whether they fall within either of these two groups or whether they are fit for work. This Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is carried out by Atos Healthcare under its medical services contract with DWP. Atos produces a report and this is used by the DWP Decision Maker, alongside any other additional evidence, to determine whether the claimant should be placed in the WRAG or the Support Group, or is fit for work.

In April 2011, the Government began reassessing existing Incapacity Benefits (IB) claimants to determine their eligibility for ESA using the WCA. The Committee published a report on Incapacity Benefit Reassessment in July 2011.

A debate was held in Parliament on January 13, in which MPs called for an inquiry into the effect of changes to the benefit system on the incidence of poverty in this country; the question was whether poverty was increasing as a result of the so-called reforms.

Parliament voted massively in favour of the inquiry (125 votes for; two against), as reported here.

But the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government ignored the vote and did nothing.

It seems this committee-led inquiry is the next-best thing.

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BBC confirms ‘Tory mouthpiece’ accusation with updated lies about ESA

131029bbcbias

I have complained to the BBC and the UK Statistics Authority about this disgrace.

Today (January 25) the BBC published a scurrilous little screed claiming that “nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work”. Needless to say, the figures come from the Department for Work and Pensions and aren’t worth the time it took to type them in.

The story states: “The DWP claims 980,400 people – 32% of new applicants for Employment and Support Allowance – were judged capable of work between 2008 and March 2013.

“More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews, it adds.”

It goes on to say that disability campaigners had stated that the work capability assessment tests were “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”, but says nothing about the fact that an almost-identical story was withdrawn last year after it was found to be riddled with inaccuracies – if not outright lies.

Even more bizarre is the fact that the story does provide the factual reason for claims being withdrawn. They “either returned to work, recovered or claimed a benefit “more appropriate to their situation”.

In other words, these people used the system in exactly the right way, yet the DWP – and the BBC – are pretending that they were trying to fiddle it in some way.

To explain what happened last year, let’s look at a letter from Sheila Gilmore MP to Andrew Dilnot, head of the UK Statistics Authority, and his response. You can find it on page 39 of the DPAC report on DWP abuse of statistics.

The letter from Sheila Gilmore states: “On 30 March 2013 an article by Patrick Hennessy entitled ‘900,000 choose to come off sickness benefit ahead of tests’ was published in the Sunday Telegraph. Please find a copy enclosed. I believe that the headline and the subsequent story are fundamentally misleading because they conflate two related but separate sets of statistics. I would be grateful if you could confirm that my interpretation of what has happened is correct.

“The sickness benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People have been able to make new claims for ESA since October 2008, but those in receipt of the benefits it replaced – Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance, and Income Support on the grounds of disability – only started migrating across in April 2011.

“The article implied that many of this latter group were dropping their claim rather than having to go through a face-to-face assessment, with the implication that they were never really ill in the first place and had been ‘playing the system’.

“However I have checked the figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions and it would appear that the figure of 900,000 actually refers to all those who have made new claims for ESA since its introduction over four years ago, but who have since withdrawn their application before undergoing a face-to-face assessment. These people were not claiming the benefit before and generally drop out of the system for perfectly innocent reasons – often people become ill, apply as a precaution, but withdraw when they get better.

“Of the 600,000 people who have been migrated from Incapacity Benefit over the past two years, only 19,700 have dropped their claim. This is the figure that should have featured in the headline, but the 900,000 figure was used instead.”

Mr Dilnot replied: “Having reviewed the article and the relevant figures, we have concluded that these statements appear to conflate official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity
benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA.

“According to official statistics published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in January 2013, a total of 603,600 recipients of IB were referred for reassessment as part of the migration across to ESA between March 2011 and May 2012. Of these, 19,700 claims were closed prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012.

“The figure of “nearly 900,000” referenced in the article appears to refer to the cumulative total of 878,300 new claims for the ESA (i.e. not pre-existing IB recipients) which were closed before undergoing assessment in the period from October 2008 to May 2012.

“In your letter, you also expressed concern about the apparent implication in the Sunday Telegraph article that claims for ESA had been dropped because the individuals were never really ill in the first place. The statistical release does not address the issue of why cases were closed in great depth, but it does point to research undertaken by DWP which suggests that ‘an important reason why ESA claims in this sample were withdrawn or closed before they were fully assessed was because the person recovered and either returned to work, or claimed a benefit more appropriate to their situation’.”

What he was saying, in his officialese way, was that the Conservatives had wrongly ‘conflated’ monthly figures into a cumulative total; they had misled the press about the figures’ significance; and the press release (which then mysteriously disappeared) ignored a clear caveat in the DWP’s own report that the reason the claims were dropped each month had nothing to do with fear of medical assessment but were because people recovered and went back to work, or else were switched to another benefit deemed more suitable to their circumstances.

Now the BBC has resurrected this story, with brand new, larger numbers that add in the totals for 2013 without telling you whether these were all new claims, or repeat claims, or a mixture; they are all treated as new.

The claim that 980,400 people had been found fit for work after medical tests – the feared Atos work capability assessments – is also extremely questionable – as the BBC well knows.

Its own Panorama programme, ‘Disabled or Faking It?’, investigated whether the DWP was knocking people off-benefit in order to hit financial targets – in essence, making people destitute in order to show a budget saving. A Channel 4 Dispatches documentary, ‘Britain on the Sick’, proved that this was happening. Both were shown at the end of July 2012.

I have complained to the BBC and to Mr Dilnot about the deeply offensive and defamatory way in which these lies have been resurrected, in order to encourage the general public to hold people who are genuinely ill in hatred, ridicule and contempt. If you believe this cause is just, go thou and do likewise.

This behaviour is even more appalling when one considers the rise and rise of hate crime against the sick and disabled.

Members of groups such as DPAC or Black Triangle may even wish to take libel action against the corporation and the DWP on the basis of this report.

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Victims tell how they were unfairly knocked off sickness benefits

130628esaappeals

‘Have 230,000 sick and disabled people been wrongly knocked off-benefit and forgotten?’ That was the question posed on this blog just two days ago, based on an analysis of statistics from the ONS and CESI. Without more input from the Department for Work and Pensions it is impossible to answer the question – but two former claimants have come forward with stories that support the allegation.

“I’m one of them!” wrote Steven Dix on Twitter. “My wife and I are now ÂŁ400 a month worse off, with IDS’ ‘help’!”

He explained: “When I was on Incapacity Benefit it was indefinitely – then came ESA.”

Mr Dix was put on contribution-based ESA totalling ÂŁ97 per week – but this only lasts for a year. After that, “I was told that my wife, who is on minimum wage at Asda, earns too much for me to get income-related ESA.

“We were told we could only apply for Working Tax Credits, but guess what? Because I got ESA in the tax year 2013/14 we don’t get anything until tax year 2014/15 when we will have to apply again, and we can’t have anything backdated until then!

“We married on September 3, 2013; we did not qualify for housing benefit between then and December 25, 2013 and so now have ÂŁ400 rent arrears to make up, and I have to find another ÂŁ68 for overpayment of housing benefit (the bedroom tax) to pay back for that period too!”

Mr Dix stated that he had been made to feel like a criminal. “My crimes? I’m disabled and got married!

“The government keep on about how they’re helping working taxpayers and how they are helping married couples like my wife and I, but I really am wondering how much worse things would be if we weren’t getting David Cameron’s ‘help’!

“Now of course I have no independant income, I’m unable to work, and only have ÂŁ168 DLA at the lower rate per month, half of which goes to Wonga.com!”

So this victim clearly deserves sickness benefit because he is unable to work, but has been denied it because of the arbitrary 365-day limit on contribution-based ESA; his low-paid wife can’t claim Working Tax Credits because of a legal loophole and so they have had to take money from a payday loan firm – the one that famously contributes to Conservative Party funds.

How convenient for Wonga.com and the Tories. How devastating for Mr Dix and his wife.

On Facebook, a person going by the moniker Nomine Deus tells us: “I was kicked off-benefit (long term Incapacity) in 2012.

“I am not eligable for Jobseekers [Allowance] or Income Support as my wife works and is paid just over the qualifying amount for one and works too many hours for the other. I live out in the sticks and would be forced to travel to sign on at my own expense and then put onto workfare etc, again at my own expense (or rather my wifes expense). I am forced, therefore, not to sign on at all.

“We are already in fuel poverty and struggling financially. I am still suffering my original condition. I believe there must be many like myself out there.”

These are only two stories of people who have fallen through the holes Iain Duncan Smith has created in what used to be the safety net of social security.

Who can doubt that there are many, many more?

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