Yes, there’s a crisis going on involving the coronavirus pandemic. That shouldn’t mean work on other life-threatening issues should stop.
And this is a life-threatening issue. Jodey Whiting is only the most well-known among many people who have died because the Department for Work and Pensions ignored its own rules for safeguarding vulnerable people.
And now we find that after an entire year, the companies involved in assessing people for disability benefits have made no progress in improving their safeguarding procedures. None at all.
Last year, freedom of information responses from more than a third of councils across England, Scotland and Wales showed that Atos, Capita and Maximus had made just four safeguarding referrals to those local authorities over the previous three years.
Despite repeated warnings about the need to inform social services departments when there are clear and significant concerns about a claimant’s safety or welfare, they issued a total of just two referrals each during 2019 and the first month of 2020 across 89 councils.
It seems to This Writer that the lives of benefit claimants mean little to these money-making giants – or to their client, the Department for Work and Pensions.
And why should they? Every time someone dies, the DWP and the Tory government sweep the facts under the carpet.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
The Department for Work and Pensions office in London.
A happy ending for a change – the DWP really is losing its touch.
Normally, we would be reading about benefits being restored only after the claimant has already died.
It is possible that the gran in this story was lucky because she had an MP who wasn’t a Conservative.
Of course she’s not out of the woods yet. The DWP has said she’ll be reassessed in two years, but the Department will undoubtedly do everything in its power to bring that date forward.
A disabled gran who tried to kill herself after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claimed she was ‘fit for work’ has finally had her benefits reinstated, after an SNP MP highlighted her case in Parliament.
The 60-year-old gran of six, who we’ve decided not to identify, was deemed well enough to work after being assessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by the private firm Maximus on behalf of the DWP.
She also struggles with arthritis and has been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, a long-term and chronic condition that causes pain all over her body.
Her case was brought to the attention of Parliament by SNP MP Alison Thewliss, who has welcomed the U-turn, after first being reported by the Daily Record.
The disabled Gran attempted suicide by taking pills shortly after receiving a letter from the DWP informing her that she had found ‘fit for work’, following assessment by Maximus, and that her benefits would be slashed.
The family has now been informed that the disabled gran’s ESA will be reinstated and that she will not face reassessment for at least two years.
The Department for Work and Pensions office in London.
The Department for Work and Pensions is wasting our money again:
Documents relating to the government’s controversial fit-for-work tests could be blocked from publication after the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) launched a legal challenge.
In April, John Slater submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) asking for details of the ‘outcome reports’ which are completed by the private company contracted to carry out the tests. The reports would include information about the number of people with a terminal illness or limited capability to work subjected to the test.
The DWP initially said it did not hold the information but later argued that releasing it could damage the company’s commercial interests.
Since 2015, Work Capability Assessments (the official name for the tests) have been carried out by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), a subsidiary of the company Maximus.
The outcome reports are produced every month by the CHDA and detail the outcomes of the tests from each assessment centre.
The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the DWP must publish the documents but the department has appealed that decision, meaning the case will now be heard at the First Tier tribunal.
Firstly, this means DWP officers lied to the public – they claimed they did not hold information that had been requested when in fact they did.
Secondly, any company carrying out work for the government should expect to have that work reviewed by members of the public, at the convenience of those people. Labour intended to make that right explicit in law after previous attempts by the DWP to hide behind commercial confidentiality.
Finally, this demonstrates that the Department for Work and Pensions is beyond salvation. It is riddled with corruption and the only option, when a sensible government is returned to office, will be to break it up, sack the worst offenders in its ranks, and restore the Department of Social Security and the Department of Employment as separate entities.
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A certain kind of people are going to say that Lawrence Bond died because he was overweight and his heart could not take the strain being placed on it – that his death had nothing to do with the Department for Work and Pensions. Silly, silly people.
Yes, Mr Bond was obese, and needed help to get his weight down. Did he get it? No.
As a jobseeker, he would have had a certain kind of diet forced on him by budget pressures – cheap food with lots of sugars, salts and fats that pile on the pounds – and add stress to the heart.
Theresa May had a chance to put an end to the addition of such ingredients to cheap food, but in one of her first acts as prime minister, she gave in to the demands of profit-driven food companies. This is the result.
And being a jobseeker added to Mr Bond’s mental health problems, the demands made of him increasing the anxiety he suffered, which also added stress to his heart. Was he getting help for his mental condition? No.
Furthermore, he was in the middle of a second appeal against the ruling that he was ‘fit for work’ by the private American contractor, Maximus – meaning more stress.
It is no wonder this man’s heart could not take the strain any more.
But the DWP can absolve itself of any responsibility: “He was overweight”.
He’ll be another benefit saving from a false finding of ‘fit for work’.
Lawrence Bond, 56, suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after leaving Kentish Town Jobcentre on Thursday. His sister, Iris Green, said that he was in obvious “physical distress” when he arrived at the offices in Kentish Town Road.
Mr Bond suffered from prolonged health problems, including difficulty with mobility and breathing, associated with being heavily overweight. But his incapacity benefit, now known as Employment and Support Allowance, was cut following a second “work capability assessment”, which was carried out by American private firm Maximus in July.
A subsequent appeal was turned down and Mr Bond was awaiting the outcome of a second appeal at the time of his death, his sister said.
His sister said: “I think he suffered from anxiety all his life, but held down regular jobs and was never out of work from the age of 16 … but, of course, his diet was shocking so he put on weight.
“He lost his last long-term job two years ago and by then his weight and unfitness made him unemployable.”
Ms Green said his health deteriorated while he was unemployed, adding: “His anxiety was getting worse as he could not pay bills and was afraid to leave home to go to the shops. Two referrals his GP had made for mental health services had been lost and he said he felt annoyed about that.
“The main thing is that they have the means to make sure this doesn’t happen again. We have such a tick-box society. If we can change that, then people can flag things up and really help someone.”
As Damian Green consults on plans to make it harder for people to claim sickness benefits, it seems he will have few options – judging from the reasons his privately-employed, hired work capability assessors are already using to kick away support for the vulnerable.
Last week, This Blog urged people who have claimed sickness benefits to tell us the nonsense reasons their claims were denied. Some of them are farcical.
All of the comments that follow are true, and were made by real people. I have anonymised them for obvious reasons.
Let’s start with a person who was denied a home assessment. The reason? “He can get to hospital for cancer treatment.” Have a little think about that. Where else but hospital was this person ever going to get cancer treatment? And shouldn’t cancer automatically qualify him for benefit? Apparently not.
Try this: “Can heat up a tin of beans and make toast” The person concerned had explained that if they actually ate beans on toast they would be hospitalised.
“Can sit in the gutter to rest between short bouts of walking.” According to some assessors it is perfectly permissible to force the sick and disabled into the gutter. That’s where the removal of benefits will put them, in any case.
Another claimant was denied benefit because they were able to propel themselves in a wheelchair. The problem? This person does not have a wheelchair.
“Can watch TV for an hour – 0 points.”
“Able to have a bath unaided – 0 points.”
“Tying shoelaces – 0 points.”
(Bear in mind, folks, that these are comments in work capability assessments, and ask yourself: How is watching TV a usable work skill? How does having a bath or tying shoelaces make a person a more attractive employment opportunity?)
“Was able to answer questions without help from another person.”
Of someone with fibromyalgia: “Moved well for someone with arthritis.” Fibromyalgia is not arthritis.
“Despite us explaining that travelling was often difficult as [this person’s partner’s] seizures cause blackouts, amnesia and confusion they completely ignored this and said he had no problem reading signs and getting to places (untrue). They were also … seemingly oblivious to the fact that “non-epileptic” seizures is a medical term, they therefore dismissed them as not serious.”
“I had the ‘Brought a bag, opened a door’ nonsense. Plus it said I was ‘Neat, presentable and well kempt’ when at that point, I actually hadn’t been able to wash or shave my beard for about two months. And my beard is full on Albert Steptoe, not a trendy lumberjack type!”
“When asked if I went to the shops I said yes, once or twice a month as I have to buy food. That got turned into ‘goes shopping every day and uses public transport every day’. When I replied by letter saying I don’t do these things every day the response I got was ‘maybe not, but you can’. So the need to buy food makes a person ineligible for benefit. Doesn’t that mean benefit should only be paid to dead people?
This one is beyond belief: “Shortly after my father died of a massive brain haemorrhage and whilst my brother was in hospital on a life support machine after a brain haemorrhage): ‘enjoys an active social life visiting … brother in hospital on a regular basis.’ Between those two events I had been diagnosed with a rare and incurable and untreatable disease I knew little about and hadn’t even been assessed by NHS at that point. ‘Has no mental health problems’ – I was clinging on by my finger tips. Incidentally, this assessment was carried out by a consultant psychiatrist with no knowledge of my condition and who promoted Atos by praising the 9-5 hours which allowed him to work on his real passion – making furniture.”
“Refused ESA because I could put a crumpet in the toaster for my daughter.”
“Having a backpack.”
“No problem putting on a coat (that I wasn’t wearing … as it was summer).”
“Can walk around Tesco. This is after I told her I cannot walk around the whole supermarket and that I had recently left my shopping half way through.”
“I got upset.”
“I scratched the back of my head. [They] said I carried two bags of shopping into assessment which was a total lie.”
“My assessor told the DWP that I had never worked and didn’t want to work after discussing with him 20 years in catering and the fact I’d worked since I was 15 and had to give up work due to illness.”
“The DWP … told the tribunal that I hadn’t filled in the application or sent in any medical records. I had sent 20 years worth, registered mail, signed for and had an email confirming they’d received them. The tribunal asked what I had to say to that. I responded ‘How did I get to a tribunal for something I didn’t apply for and how did they receive an assessment from a medical I didn’t attend?’ Then handed them copies/proof of everything I’d said. I was awarded my benefits.”
“At a tribunal they found me fit for work because I could operate my washing machine. I’ve had it for years. All it takes is three buttons – on, cottons, start.”
Here’s a classic that is still being used: “Does not suffer anxiety as they do not rock back and forth in a chair.”
“Claimant stated chronic back pain but on observation was observed to be fit and well. (I have a VISIBLE scoliosis).”
“Claimant stated … suffers from Agrophobia but attended assessment (because they REFUSED a home visit & threatened to cut off my PIP for non attendance).”
“Claimant claims she needs support if forced to go outside but was observed alone for her assessment (my support Worker attended with me).”
“At my tribunal I was denied ESA because, and these are quotes from the DOCTOR, ‘You seem to be able to put your hair in a pony tail, your nails are painted, you have eye make-up on, surely if you suffer from severe morning fatigue you’ll be fine to work afternoons’. I suffer from chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, and illness induced anxiety. And this was 2015! It’s quite unbelievable how rude, unprofessional and belittling these people are. I cried for days afterwards.”
“Was told I ‘showed understanding of my condition’ as evidence that I was lying.”
“My most recent assessment was six weeks ago and the report is filled with so many lies it’s unreal as well as comments such as ‘Carried a sheet of paper in her hand’, ‘Drank water from a disposable plastic cup’. All my money has been stopped because of what this assessor has put in the report, just before Christmas too. Cheers DWP.”
What do you think? Are any of the people who provided these comments fit for work, based on the assessments they mention here?
More to follow tomorrow – if you have been refused sickness/disability benefit for a stupid reason, please tell us about it using the form below.
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Iain Duncan Smith can’t prove us wrong. He deliberately refuses to collect the statistics that would confirm his claims – or ours.
Instead, he has claimed that This Blog (and presumably others) has accused him of “outrageous action”, without providing a scrap of evidence against the allegation.
This Writer is delighted that the Gentleman Ranker has tried to defend himself. I am currently working on a book covering this subject and his words may provide an excellent introduction.
The man we like to call RTU (Return To Unit – a Forces description of someone who trained to be an officer but was a washout) was responding to a request for information from Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee.
Mr Field had asked what data the DWP collects on the deaths of benefit claimants, in an attempt to find out whether there is any link between the work capability assessment (WCA) – carried out on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance and the Personal Independent Payment – and suicide, self-harm and mental ill-health.
The issue had been raised in research by Oxford University and Liverpool University entitled First Do No Harm.
This Blog reported on that document’s findings here – and you would be well-advised to refresh your memory of that article before you see the Secretary-in-a-State’s comments.
You should also read Vox Political‘s follow-up article in which a response from the Department for Work and Pensions – attempting to deny the research findings – is comprehensively disproved.
Iain Duncan Smith started writing his letter without a leg to stand on. Here it is – read it for yourself and see if you have any sympathy for his attitude.
Note that he admits the DWP has a “duty of care” to benefit claimants. It has taken years to get him to admit this and it will be very important if – for example – corporate manslaughter charges arise in the future.
Where he says the report’s authors admitted there was no evidence of a “causal link” between the WCA and suicide, he is of course being disingenuous. Iain Duncan Smith would not be satisfied with any evidence other than coroners’ findings that all 590 suicides mentioned by the report were attributed by the perpetrators to the work capability assessment. That was never going to happen.
But the report did examine other causes and eliminated them. While it states there is no direct evidence of a causal link between the WCA and suicide, the deaths certainly aren’t linked to any other cause.
Note also, Duncan Smith’s claim that the lack of a causal link was not reported in the media is not true.
The comment that there is no evidence the people with mental health problems underwent a WCA is covered in This Blog’s follow-up article, but for clarity I’ll repeat it here:
“Jonathan Portes of the National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) told This Writer that… the DWP’s response ‘reflects a basic misunderstanding of how you do this sort of analysis! Looking at WCA cases would be precisely wrong. You need to be able to control for selection – to do that here, [you] need to look at [the] whole population.
“’Let’s try [an] example. Does Coke make you fat? You can’t just look at people who drink coke & ask if they’re fatter, but if in areas where Coke [is]cheap, [and] people [are] on average fatter, *controlling for everything else*, that does tell you something.’
“So, in order to ensure that the correct cause is ascribed to any particular effect, those who carried out the study had to examine the health of the population as a whole, and eliminate elements that could relate to everybody, rather than just those who took the work capability assessment. They needed to rule out “unobserved confounding” – unseen elements contributing to the results.”
And that is precisely what they did.
Duncan Smith’s assertion that being sent back to work can “promote and protect health, and also reverse the harmful effects of long-term unemployment or prolonged sickness absence” is only accurate if the person doing the work is healthy enough for it – and, by definition, may not be applied to those whose mental ill-health has driven them to suicide.
Inaccurate WCA findings that claimants are “fit for work” or may be “fit for work” within a year of their assessment also mean that many ESA claimants will be sent back into the job market before they are healthy enough. In these cases, there can only be one result: Being sent back to work will make their health worse.
Of course it will; there is a reason they stopped working and claimed ESA in the first place. If that reason still applies, then sending them back to work can only have one result.
Anyone wanting to suggest that a large number of ESA claimants are committing fraud in order to avoid work should remind themselves of the facts: While a TUC survey has shown people think 27 per cent of the ‘welfare’ budget is claimed fraudulently, the government’s own figure is just 0.7 per cent. For ESA claimants it reduces even further, to 0.4 per cent. That’s one person out of 250, rather than roughly one in four – a big difference, especially when one considers the effect on their health of sending an ill person back to work prematurely, as Iain Duncan Smith appears to be advocating.
And then there is this:
The handwriting is appalling so This Writer will try to translate: “NB: There are some out there in the media and social media who have used raw figures to accuse the govt of outrageous [sic] action. I would hope that the committee would not seek to follow suit. I note that having introduced the ESA and the WCA, the Labour Party now seeks to attack it as though they had nothing to do with it. Surely the committee should seek to recognise the good intent of those engaged in this difficult area.”
Those engaged in this area have no good intent whatsoever – let’s get that clear from the start. Their intentions are well-covered in previous articles on This Blog, which I will forward to Frank Field and his committee.
As for “some out there in the media and social media who… accuse the government of outrageous action” – I think he means me.
How nice to have official recognition and how clever of him to describe his own behaviour accurately.
Outrageous action? That’s exactly right.
Iain Duncan Smith’s department practises ‘chequebook euthanasia’ – WCA assessors use psychological ‘nudge’ techniques to push the mentally-ill towards suicide in order to reduce the “burden” on society caused by these “useless eaters”.
Even Frank Field – chairman of the work and pensions committee who contacted Iain Duncan Smith over the Oxford University and Liverpool University allegations – has raised concerns about this behaviour:
It is outrageous.
Even more outrageous is the fact that Iain Duncan Smith is trying to deny it.
This may be a longshot, but can anybody else detect a stitch-up for care services on the horizon?
Maximus runs assessments for sickness benefit claimants – people who need care. Now it will oversee the management of advice on care in homes and hospitals.
Is it paranoid to see a conflict of interest here?
The source article quotes the chair of one service-user network who said his organisation had not been contacted to work in the new system. That may not be enough to condemn Maximus/Remploy – but who will be carrying out the work.
People with a vested interest in saying what Maximus/Remploy wants to hear?
The care watchdog has been criticised for awarding a discredited outsourcing giant new contracts to manage the use of service-users as expert advisers in care homes and hospitals.
Two-thirds of the new contracts to run Experts by Experience – which pays people with experience of using care services to take part in Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections – have been awarded to Remploy.
Remploy, which will start delivering the Experts by Experience programme on 1 February 2016, was formerly controlled by the UK government but is now mostly owned by the US outsourcing company Maximus, which already has a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contracts to provide employment support and assessment services for disabled people.
Since Maximus was awarded the DWP contract to take over provision of its controversial “fitness for work” tests from Atos, activists have repeatedly drawn attention to its troubling history in other countries.
Anger: People taking part in a welfare-to-work protest in London in 2012 [Image: PA].
We know from the Autumn Statement that Mandatory Work Activity and Community Work Placements are being scrapped.
This has been welcomed by organisations like Boycott Workfare, who have campaigned against the enforced “work 30 hours per week for your benefits” schemes ever since they were introduced in 2011.
But it is only being replaced by something which is potentially much worse: the so-called Work and Health Programme.
According to the Daily Mirror, this new scheme aims to help long-term sick people find a job, “but a DWP spokesman could not confirm whether it will involve forced labour because the details have not yet been drawn up”.
To This Writer, it seems like an amalgamation of the ‘workfare’ schemes with the current ‘Health and Work Service’. You see? All they’ve done is reverse the words.
Health and Work is intended to prevent people from taking sick leave from their jobs that lasts any longer than four weeks (if This Writer recalls correctly).
Current operator Maximus (which also operated the Work Programme in a clear conflict of interest) was tasked with running a “work-focused occupational health assessment” which “will identify the issues preventing an employee from returning to work and draw up a plan for them, their employer and GP, recommending how the employee can be helped back to work more quickly”.
So it seems the scheme will be rolled out to lump in people who have jobs – but are ill – with people who don’t have jobs and make them all jump through the same hoops in order to keep their benefits or sick pay.
Health won’t get a look-in and it seems likely that the scheme will make sick workers even less able to return to their jobs than if they are left alone to get on with it. In other words, they’ll be treated like ESA claimants.
This seems extremely contradictory.
On one hand, the Conservative Government is saying it is trying to get as many people off benefits and into work as possible, but on the other hand, the same Tories are saying once you get into work, you’d better not get sick, because you’ll be treated like a person on benefits!
It’s another incremental erosion of the rights of UK citizens, reminiscent of the words of Adolf Hitler: “The best way to take control over a people and control them utterly is to take a little of their freedom at a time, to erode rights by a thousand tiny and almost imperceptible reductions. In this way, the people will not see those rights and freedoms being removed until past the point at which these changes cannot be reversed.”
But then, so much of the Conservative Government’s behaviour is directly relatable to the Nazis – especially where the Department for Work and Pensions is concerned (“Arbeit macht frei”, Mr Duncan Smith?) so perhaps we should not be surprised.
All this is mere speculation, of course.
It will be interesting to see how much of it corresponds with the reality – when the DWP finally unveils it.
The accusations against DWP are coming thick and fast now. Here’s the latest, courtesy of Disability News Service:
A disabled man died of a heart attack, just an hour after being told that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) was threatening to stop paying his out-of-work disability benefits.
Alan McArdle, who had previously been homeless but was living in council accommodation in Slough with the support of a charity, told the friend who had read the DWP letter to him: “They’ve sanctioned my money,” before he collapsed.
The government contractor responsible for finding him work, the discredited outsourcing giant Maximus, had reported him to DWP for failing to attend appointments intended to move him towards work, as part of the Work Programme, despite being told about his severe ill-health.
Slough’s Labour MP, Fiona Mactaggart, accused DWP of being responsible for her constituent’s death, and told Disability News Service she would raise his case in the House of Commons.
The mitigating words from DWP and Maximus manage to be both pathetic and infuriating at the same time. The DWP spokesperson came out with the current excuse:
“It’s misleading to link a death to someone’s benefit claim.”
Readers of This Blog will know that this replaced the previous excuse, “It is irresponsible to suggest a causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim”, after it became plain not only that it is possible to suggest such a link but also that it would be irresponsible not to point it out.
The Maximus line was:
“Participation in the Work Programme is mandatory for people in the WRAG who are in receipt of ESA. We make strenuous efforts to inform participants about their obligations and contact them if they fail to show up for arranged meetings.”
The reason Mr McArdle had been sanctioned was for failing to keep in contact with Maximus. His mobility had become so poor that the organisation had allowed him to do this by phone – this fact alone is enough to raise questions regarding why he was not allowed to join the support group of ESA, where he would not be required to attend meetings and in which he obviously belonged.
He had suffered injuries after a fall that required him to be admitted to hospital, meaning he had been unable to contact Maximus as usual. When Mandy McGuire, project manager of the charity Slough Homeless Our Concern (SHOC), who had supported McArdle for 16 years, had told Maximus the situation, she said the company’s reply had been a little different:
“He hasn’t come in, so we will get him sanctioned.”
This is a clear example of DWP persecution leading to a claimant’s death. How obvious does it have to be?
He died from the shock of being told his benefits had been cut off while he was in hospital, for crying out loud. He didn’t belong in the work-related activity group at all; his health was so poor, he should not have been subjected to its pressures.
Maximus, the company monitoring his performance on the Work Programme, is also the company responsible for carrying out work capability assessments. It seems clear that Mr McArdle’s assessor was very badly mistaken about his condition.
He was wrongly assessed, put in the wrong group of ESA, and wrongly sanctioned – but both the DWP and Maximus are, incredibly, trying to say it isn’t their fault.
The leaflet advertising the anti-Maximus ‘Mass Action’ day.
Today’s the day, people! It’s time to show the government what you think of its new Work Capability Assessment company – Maximus.
Demonstrations against the American insurance provider, which is said to have a long history of denying the existence of medical disability in claimants (in order to avoid paying out on claims), are taking place up and down the United Kingdom.
This writer has been asked to mention the campaign outside the Atos/Maximus assessment centre on St Agnes Road, Heath, Cardiff CF14 4YJ, taking place between 1pm and 4pm. Readers from Cardiff or parts nearby are urged to go along and show the strength of their feelings about this firm.
The main demonstration is in London, at the address in the image at the top of this article.
In Edinburgh, it is at Argyle House, 3 Lady Lawson Street, Edinburgh, EH3 9SJ.
Maximus has been hired by the Coalition Government after ending the contract with Atos due to “significant quality failures”. The contract is worth no less than £595 million over three years – nearly £200 million per year. No doubt public sector employees could have provided the service cheaply and more efficiently but right-wing ministers like the Tories always prefer contracting-out; it means they have someone to blame when things go wrong.
The company has a history of ending lawsuits against it in the USA by making out-of-court settlements costing millions of dollars, with the most notable plaintiffs being the US government in a case involving falsified Medicaid claims, and the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission in a case involving disability discrimination.
Claimants of sickness and disability benefits in the UK are deeply distressed that their government should be insensitive enough to hire such a firm – the message it sends out to vulnerable people is that the government is happy to renege on its duty of care, when the message should be that vulnerable people should be able to rely on the support they deserve.
Remember, people suffering from long-term illnesses and disability have paid their taxes and are entitled to the benefits funded by those contributions.
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