Mims Davies: Not only does she not know the effect of benefit sanctions on claimant’s mental health; she doesn’t care.
This isn’t the first time the Department for Work and Pensions and the Tory ministers running it have turned down a demand to assess the impact of benefit sanctions on claimants.
They’ve been doing it for years.
But it’s nice to see that public disgust with the implication behind it is growing.
Employment minister Mims Davies responded to a Parliamentary question on the subject, said no assessment has been made of any link between benefit sanctions and mental health problems in claimants, including suicidal tendencies.
But look at the reactions – like this, from Manzoor Ali, director of Barakah Food Aid, which offers donated goods to people struggling to make ends meet:
“People are committing suicide, or on the verge of suicide. Once this sanction comes in, they’re left with no money. It becomes this rollercoaster of a journey. It creates more problems for them,” he said.
“Their benefits are completely cancelled so they’ve got literally nothing coming in. It can take four to six weeks. Sometimes they’ll get an emergency loan, but that is then immediately taken out of their benefits once it’s reinstated. It’s a vicious cycle.
“Some of the people tell me they’re on the verge of calling it a day they don’t know how much longer they can take it. It’s unbelievable.
“The number of children I’m seeing who are just silent. Many are going to school without breakfast. This issue is going to have a future impact – the children will grow up with mental health issues.”
Research by Salford City Council in 2016 found that sanctions were “devastating” for claimants and could lead to suicide. It was ignored.
Leading psychologists urged ministers to immediately stop the practice or risk soaring rates of mental health problems – in 2017. They were ignored.
A report by the Money and Mental Health Policy Institute in March 2019 found that universal credit was “ruining lives” with burdensome red tape for people with mental health issues, and called for an end to sanctions for those in crisis who can’t attend job interviews. It was ignored.
The DWP did pledge in 2013 to review the policy of suspending benefits “on an ongoing basis”, but a report by the Work and Pensions Committee in 2018 found that no such evaluation had been carried out and the government subsequently had “no idea how many people were suffering” as a result of the policy.
The only possible conclusion is that the policy is doing exactly what the Tories want and that mental suffering leading to suicide is the intended aim.
That is not the policy of a government that has the interests of its people at heart.
I wonder how anybody could ever believe that.
Fortunately, it seems only a dwindling number of people still do.
So, I’ll tell you what.
Why not share this article, and see if we can increase the number of people who don’t believe the Tories any more?
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.
Boris Johnson really does seem to have gone out of his way to offend the nation with his government appointments.
Disability campaigners are furious at his decision to make Nadine Dorries as the new minister for mental health after she published a disability hate tweet two years ago.
A petition, calling for her to be removed, awaits your signature:
Boris Johnson MP: Replace Nadine Dorries as Minister for Mental Health – Sign the Petition! https://t.co/5CVl4MeRvy via @UKChange Made a derogatory tweet about disabled peopled calling them "window licking trolls"
Anne Novis, chair of Inclusion London and an advisor on disability hate crime to the Metropolitan police, said the tweet made Dorries unfit to be minister for mental health.
She said the term “window lickers” was frequently discussed by trainers in disability equality training sessions, who explain how it originated as a term of abuse for people with Down’s syndrome or cerebral palsy because they often cannot control their tongues.
Now, she said, it tends to be used as a term to attack disabled people in general.
Novis said: “It indicates not only that Nadine Dorries would use such offensive language but also that her understanding would be very poor about issues faced by disabled people, including mental health issues.
“You wouldn’t accept it around racist, or religious or cultural difference; you just wouldn’t accept that sort of language and expect someone then to go into a post that is meant to be assisting those people.
“There would be no confidence in her. We would have no confidence in this person being a minister because of what she has brought across through her language.”
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.
Jeremy Corbyn likened Theresa May to Baldrick, saying her “cunning plan” was to have no plan at all [Image: Daily Mirror].
Forget Brexit or Heathrow’s forthcoming new runway – Prime Minister’s Questions today was all about mental health.
Karl Turner told a packed House of Commons that his 25-year-old nephew, Mattie, had recently died while waiting six months for a ‘talking cure’ appointment to help him handle depression. He said these treatments were often a dangerous waiting game and a postcode lottery, and asked what Theresa May was doing to sort it out.
She stuttered through a non-answer about having established parity of esteem between physical and mental health treatment but accepted there was more to do, and moved on – only to be stopped in her tracks by Labour’s Alison McGovern, who wasn’t satisfied.
The Conservative manifesto promised shorter waiting times for people with mental health problems, but prescriptions for anti-depressants are on the rise and waits for treatment are lengthening, she said. Was the Tory manifesto just words, or would the PM ever deliver?
Mrs May, out of her depth, reiterated her previous statement.
Help came – too late, from Tory MP Helen Whately, who quoted Mrs May’s commitment to improved mental health on the day she became prime minister, and asked a hastily-prepared planted question about the Tory government’s five-year plan for mental health.
Mrs May responded with words from a piece of paper that had been slipped to her, showing an increase in appointments of 40 per cent since 2010, but the damage had been done. If she needs a planted question and the help of hastily-scribbled statistics to get her out of a hole, she won’t hold public confidence.
There were other disasters. Fellow Conservative Dr Tania Mathias backstabbed Mrs May over her decision to allow a third runway at Heathrow, when air pollution standards were already being breached.
Mrs May said air quality standards could be reached, but bizarrely reached toward road transport to help justify herself. Apparently electric vehicles on the roads will help Heathrow airport meet its air quality requirements!
It wasn’t all grim, though. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn enjoyed rubbishing Mrs May’s strategy on Brexit. After hearing her stuttering about “being very clear” on her aims for Brexit (while being about as opaque as she could be, he said: “I thought for a moment the prime minister was going to say ‘Brexit means Brexit’ again. I’m sure she’ll tell us one day what it actually means!”
Some commentators have accused Mr Corbyn of missing an open goal by neglecting to ask her about her speech to Goldman Sachs bankers, in which she outlined her concerns for business of the UK were to leave the EU after the referendum that, at the time, had yet to be held. But Mr Corbyn was skilful to avoid that; critics would only have attacked him on the grounds that times have changed.
A much better tactic was to say: “When you’re searching for the real meaning and the importance behind the prime minister’s statement, you have to consult the great philosophers. The only one I can come up with is Baldrick, who says, ‘Our cunning plan is to have no plan’.”
Mrs May’s attempt at a riposte – that the actor playing Baldrick (Tony Robinson) was a member of the Labour Party – was subsequently torpedoed by her own supporters, who gleefully undermined their leader by showing that Sir Anthony does not support Mr Corbyn.
Mark Wallace, executive editor of ConservativeHome, showed how far out of his depth he was by re-tweeting this comment from Sir Anthony:
To those tweeting me about 'MSM', Corbyn faces no more hostile media than every Lab leader in history. He's just inept at dealing with it
Around 100,000 children were affected by benefit sanctions between the beginning of April 2013 and the end of March 2014, according to a new report.
In the same period, nearly seven million weeks’ worth of sanctions were handed out to benefit claimants.
The data, obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, will feature in this evening’s episode of Channel 4’s Dispatches, entitled Britain’s Benefits Crackdown.
The report – Time to Rethink Benefit Sanctions – is published today by the Baptist Union of Great Britain, Church Action on Poverty, the Church in Wales, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church and the United Reformed Church. It contains new data on the severity and length of sanctions under ‘welfare reform’, and on how sanctions affect vulnerable groups such as children and those with mental health problems.
It features the stories of people like James [not his real name] who have had their benefits sanctioned: “During the first three weeks of my sanction I continued to look for work as I was required to.
“By the fourth week, however, I was exhausted, unwell and no longer had it in me. I was not eating as I had no food and was losing a lot of weight. I told the Jobcentre I was unwell through not eating, but was sanctioned for another three months for not looking for work properly,” he added.
According to The Void, Job Centres are being awarded special ‘sheriff stars’ for meeting sanction targets (that’s right – the sanction targets that the DWP keeps insisting don’t exist, even after being presented with the proof). Link: http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/2014/12/21/sandra-gives-the-game-away-jobcentres-given-sheriffs-stars-for-hitting-benefit-sanction-targets/
“Those who already have the most difficult lives are those most likely to be sanctioned,” said Paul Morrison, public issues policy adviser for the Methodist Church and one of the authors of the report. “Sanctions impact disproportionately on young people, care leavers, homeless people, single parents, the mentally ill and those with long term illness. This system causes problems for the very people that most need help.
“But sanctions don’t just have a financial impact. The people we’ve spoken to have told us of the shame, demoralisation and loss of self-worth caused by this system. As Christians we believe that everyone is loved, valued and made in the image of God, and we have a responsibility to challenge any structure or system that undermines that dignity.”
The Churches are calling for a full and independent review of the regime and for urgent reform of the hardship payments system to avoid the deliberate imposition of hunger.
This is worth highlighting – these churches consider the government to be deliberately forcing hunger on people. Doesn’t that run against Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as enshrined in the UK’s Human Rights Act? Human rights campaigning organisation Liberty says this is the case, with this web page quoting a case study that includes “food and drink deprivation”.
In the meantime, they are urging the Government to suspend all sanctions against families with children and those suffering from mental health problems. Most importantly, they say, there needs to be a change of culture, from one of enforcement and punishment to one of assistance and support.
“If you commit a crime, no criminal court in the UK is allowed to make you go hungry as a punishment,” added Niall Cooper, Director of Church Action on Poverty. “But if you’re late for an appointment at the Jobcentre, they can remove all your income and leave you unable to feed yourself or your family for weeks at a time.
“Most people in this country would be shocked if they knew that far from providing a safety net, the benefit sanctions policy is currently making thousands of people destitute. This policy must be reviewed urgently.”
The Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, said: “The findings of this report are disturbing. It exposes a system that is harsh in the extreme, penalising the most vulnerable of claimants by the withdrawal of benefits for weeks at a time. Most worryingly, it appears from DWP guidance, quoted in the report, that deprivation and hunger are knowingly being used as a punishment for quite trivial breaches of benefit conditions. Employers would not be allowed to stop someone’s wages for a month the first time they were 10 minutes late for an appointment, but this is the kind of sanction that is being imposed on some of the most vulnerable people in our society, including those with mental and physical health problems.
Here is the DWP’s own guidance to Job Centre officials on the subject. Judge for yourself:
The Archbishop continued: “We are concerned that the problem may be even worse in Wales, recognising the higher levels of poverty in this country. No Welsh data, however, is included in the report because despite submitting a Freedom of Information request to the DWP three months ago, we are still waiting for a reply. There is supposed to be a 20-day turnaround period for Freedom of Information requests. We are pursuing this.”
It is clear that the DWP is in breach of the Human Rights Act and is subjecting benefit claimants to torture as punishment for late attendance at appointments.
This report by the churches is to be welcomed. Now, what can they do to punish the government for torturing its own citizens?
Sneer v smile: Alan Milburn has tried to talk down Ed Miliband’s plan for the NHS, but the Labour leader is still smiling.
The word of the day appears to be ‘entryism’. A commenter used it to describe BNP/EDL infiltration of UKIP, and it seems just as appropriate to describe Alan Milburn’s membership of the Labour Party.
What does this man have to do with left-wing policies? Nothing. Yet he was Health Secretary under Tony Blair – and a vile job he did of it, too. His period in office – and after – was notable for his support of private involvement in the health service, and in public service provision generally.
This writer reckons that’s enough to suggest he was an example of Conservative Party entryism into Labour. Look at the NHS in England now – Milburn played a major part in that process!
Now he has criticised Labour’s focus on the NHS as a “comfort zone campaign” and warned the party was ill-prepared to carry out the necessary reforms to the NHS if elected.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s The World at One he also warned that the party risked the same fate as in the 1992 election which Labour lost.
Vox Political does not currently have a recording of the programme, but the above report, from the BBC News website, explains all we need to know.
He’s trying to torpedo Ed Miliband’s campaign for his Tory masters. Labour is running for election with the NHS as its principle campaign issue, planning to restore it to full public ownership and Milburn – the privatisation junkie – is out to hobble his own party.
This happened on the day Ed Miliband set out a “10-year plan” for the health service – signifying an intent to restore it over the course of two future Parliaments.
Speaking in Trafford, close to the very first hospital that became part of the NHS in 1948, he said: “The central idea is this: that we must both invest in the NHS so it has time to care and join up services at every stage from home to hospital, so you can get the care you need, where you need it.
“We will… train and hire more doctors, nurses, care-workers and midwives – so that they all have the one thing that patients need most: an NHS with time to care.
“We will end the scandal of neglecting mental health by prioritising investment in young people and ensuring teachers are trained to spot problems early.
“By saving resources on privatisation and competition, we will end the scandal of patients having to wait days, even weeks, for a GP appointment.
“We will use the resources we raise to hire 5,000 care workers – a new arm of the NHS – to help elderly people stay healthy at home.
“And because we will be putting in place one system of health and social care we will end the scandal of care visits restricted to 15 minutes.
“If we win the general election in May, the next Labour government will:
“Build an NHS with the time to care: 20,000 more nurses and 8,000 more GPs.
“Join up services from home to hospital, guaranteeing GP appointments within 48 hours and cancer tests within one week.
“It fell to those after the Second World War to build the NHS. It fell to Labour in 1997 to save it from years of neglect. It now falls to us to protect and improve it once again.”
Vigil: This was taken when the case was appealed in October 2013.
Does anybody fancy helping create a stir outside the Royal Courts of Justice next week? Don’t worry, you shouldn’t get arrested.
The courts will be the venue for the judicial review of government policy regarding claimants of Employment and Support Allowance who have mental health issues, from July 7-9. That’s between Monday and Wednesday next week.
On Tuesday (July 8), the Mental Health Resistance Network, supported by Disabled People Against Cuts, will be holding a vigil at the front entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice building on The Strand, between midday and 2pm.
The aim is to highlight the important issues around the case.
This should help: Buses 4,11,15,23,26,76,172 and 341 all stop at the front of the Royal Courts of Justice, 171, 188, 243, 521 and X68 stop at Kingsway and Aldwych Junction nearby. The nearest underground station is Temple (District Line), Holborn (Central and Piccadilly Line) and Chancery Lane, (Central Line).
Anyone with stories of how you have been affected by the Work Capability Assessment is invited to come and share them – and support the fight for justice.
So how about it?
DPAC’s website has this to say about the judicial review: “Two people who claim benefits on mental health grounds initiated a judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN). In May 2013, the judges presiding over the case ruled that the WCA places mental health claimants at a “substantial disadvantage” and that the DWP should make “reasonable adjustments” to alleviate this.
“Often mental health claimants struggle to provide further medical evidence to support their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and may not be able to accurately self report how their mental health conditions affect them, either when completing forms or at face to face assessments. Many claimants are wrongly found fit for work and subjected to the stress of appealing the decision.
“The claimants who brought the case, DM and MM, asked the court to rule that the DWP should be responsible for obtaining further medical evidence at every stage of the process to improve the chances of a more accurate decision being reached about whether a person is able to work or to start preparing for work and to avoid the need for a face to face assessment in cases where this would be especially distressing for the claimant. In addition, claimants who are at risk of suicide or self harm would be more likely to be identified. In such cases, regulations 29/35 would apply. These regulations are intended to reduce risk of harm but the DWP often fail to identify who they apply to.
“The Department for Work and Pensions appealed the judgement. Their appeal arguments were mainly concerned with legal technicalities but in December 2013 the judges issued a ruling that upheld the original judgement in May. The DWP did not launch a second appeal.
“Under the Equalities Act of 2010, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is required to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to mitigate any disadvantages experienced by disabled people. The forthcoming hearing will be concerned with establishing what adjustments the DWP should make to the WCA process. We already know from the original hearing that they plan to run a pilot study to assess the “reasonableness” of obtaining further medical evidence. We want to ensure that any study will be fair, honest and approached with an open mind. Unfortunately we find it hard to trust that this will happen.
“In his witness statement of July 2013 Dr Gunnyeon, Chief Medical Advisor and Director for Health and Well-Being at the DWP wrote, ‘ESA was designed to be a different benefit from Incapacity Benefit (IB), being a functional assessment rather than a diagnostic one. The face-to-face assessment is a key part of this process as the only truly independent part of the process. Moving away from this would, I believe, be a retrograde step which would seriously undermine the way in which the assessment process has been conceived and designed. It would represent a return to the position in Incapacity Benefit (IB), where claimants were “written off” on the basis of their diagnosis’.
“Most people would be amazed to learn that the DWP are fighting tooth and nail against having to consider a person’s actual problems when assessing them for benefits.”
For those who cannot attend the vigil, it is still possible show your support on Facebook and Twitter, using the hashtag #wcamentalhealth
It goes on to say that the number of people receiving support under the Access to Work programme between April and June this year increased by 10 per cent on the same period last year, to 22,760. Access to Work “provides financial help towards the extra costs faced by disabled people at work, such as support workers, specialist aids and equipment and travel to work support”.
Apparently the new stats show the highest level of new claims since 2007 – 10,390; and more people with mental health conditions than ever before have taken advantage of Access to Work.
The press release also states that young disabled people can now get Access to Work support while on Youth Contract work experience, a Supported Internship or Traineeship; and businesses with 49 employees or less no longer have to pay a contribution towards the extra costs faced by disabled people in work. It seems they used to have to pay up to £2,300 per employee who uses the fund.
Isn’t it more likely that the DWP and Work Programme providers, faced with an influx of disabled people into the programme from the ESA WRAG at the end of last year, encouraged them to set up as self-employed with their own businesses in order to get them off the claimant books?
Does it not, then, seem likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 getting help from Access to Work were offered it as part of a self-employment package that also, we are told, includes start-up money (that admittedly tapers away over time) and tax credits. The attraction for WP providers is that they would earn a commission for every claimant they clear off the books in this way.
So it seems likely that a large proportion of the 22,760 may now be self-employed in name alone and that these fake firms are included in the 102,000 new businesses lauded by BIS.
Is it not logical, therefore, to conclude that these are not government schemes, but government scams – designed to hoodwink the general public into thinking that the economy is improving far more than in reality, and that the government is succeeding in its aim to bring down unemployment?
Some might say that this conclusion is crazy. Why would the government want to release information that directly indicates underhanded behaviour on its part?
The answer is, of course, that it would not. This government wants to convince an undecided electorate that it knows what it is doing and that the country’s future is safe in its hands. But its right hand doesn’t seem to know what its left is doing – with regard to press releases, at the very least.
Therefore we can say that, in trying to prove that it is competent, the Coalition government has in fact proved the exact opposite.
So someone really needs to watch what they’re saying – if they don’t want people all over the UK to come to unintended conclusions!
AFTERTHOUGHT: The BIS press release adds that the government’s ‘Plan for Growth’, published with the 2011 budget, included an aim to create “the most competitive tax system in the G20”. By “competitive” the Treasury meant the system had to be more attractive to businesses that aim to keep as much of their profits away from the tax man as possible. It is a commitment to turn Britain into a tax haven and the VP post earlier this week shows that the government has been successful in this aim. What a shame that it also means the Coalition government will totally fail to meet its main policy commitment and reason for existing in the first place: It can’t cut the national deficit if the biggest businesses that operate here aren’t paying their taxes.
Despair: How can you get the government to do the right thing when the rules mean it doesn’t have to?
Those of you who read the comments on this blog will be familiar with Nick. He’s a gentleman who has been ill for a very long time. The effects of his illness are readily apparent just by looking at him – he describes himself as having the appearance of an inmate in a Japanese POW camp during World War Two.
The Department of Work and Pensions still wanted to tell him he was able to seek work; they only stopped trying to cut his benefits because his MP intervened.
This is how he describes the attitude of the Coalition government: “David Cameron … is not to be trusted as he has a way of killing people in a very barbaric way, the way of silence, in the privacy of one’s home, to have a letter dropped on them to place that person in a deliberate panic, knowing and hoping it kills them.”
Elsewhere, he states: “I myself have lost all my many online friends bar one… over the past three years – all dead at the hands of the DWP.”
Now this government department is doing its best to starve the life out of Mrs Mike, it seems.
She received a letter yesterday that makes absolutely no sense at all, to anyone with sense. Attend:
“Please allow us to apologise for the lack of communication you have received regarding the changes in your benefit. As per normal procedure, you should have received a letter and phone call some weeks ago to prepare you for the end of your contribution based ESA claim. An invitation to claim income related ESA should then have been sent out. A fault on your claim meant that our processing section did not receive a prompt to contact you to explain the changes to contribution based ESA eligibility.”
Our first reaction to that was: Not our problem. The “fault” on our claim would be one that was created at the DWP, by DWP employees, and is entirely the responsibility of the DWP. But who suffers for it? We do.
“I can see that you have an ongoing appeal against being placed in the Work Related Activities Group of ESA. I cannot see an outcome to the appeal as of yet. Once an outcome has been reached, we will contact you. If successful, you will be placed in the Support Group of ESA.”
The letter goes on to contradict itself, revealing that a decision-maker examined the appeal – in April – and determined that another work capability assessment would be necessary to find out whether Mrs Mike is less able to work now than she was in July last year.
We were not told about this decision. We have not been notified about any new WCA. And now we are confused – are we supposed to be claiming income-related ESA, or waiting for the results of the appeal – an appeal which has been ongoing for nearly half a year now – in case Mrs Mike gets put into the support group. And how is she supposed to live until then – on roots and berries?
“Please be aware that we receive a very high volume of appeals; due to the volume, it is not possible to resolve each appeal as quickly as we or our ESA claimants would like. However, please be assured that your appeal is ongoing and you will be contacted when we have an outcome. In your case, our Decision Maker has stated that we will need to know the outcome of your next medical assessment before we can progress your appeal.”
Yes, we are indeed aware that the DWP receives a very high volume of appeals – 255,084 between January and March. The cost of these appeals to the taxpayer totalled £66 million between 2012-13 – and that it is losing them in increasing numbers. This is because Atos assessors and DWP decision-makers have been making decisions that are not only wrong according to the law but harmful to the lives of those affected. Do I really need to quote the 73-deaths-per-week figure that we all know and loathe – and that we all believe has inflated to even more horrific levels since it was first released? We don’t know because the DWP – again – is refusing to release the figures it holds.
“When you were migrated across to ESA from Incapacity Benefit, you attended a medical for ESA reassessment. The outcome of this was that you were to be placed in the Work Related Activities Group for a period of 12 months, effective from 21.06.12. It is for this reason that you were sent an ESA50 form in May this year; you were due for your 12month review, as stated when your claim was migrated from IB to ESA.”
This is what we deduced when we received the form – which arrived with no explanatory letter. We completed it and sent it back very quickly and had heard nothing about it since. It would be logical to expect a response, or indeed a decision, before a benefit claim expired, but we’re dealing with the DWP here, whose agents seem to think they are a law unto themselves.
Note the two inaccuracies: Mrs Mike’s ESA started on August 14 last year, and the Work Capability Assessment is not a medical check and should not, in any circumstances, be described as one. It is a tick-box assessment to determine whether a claimant is capable of performing any work that may be used by the DWP as an excuse to close their claim. Nothing more.
“Your completed ESA50 has been received by ATOS; we are currently waiting for them to set a date for your new medical assessment. You will be contacted when this date has been set.”
Oh, so the fault lies with Atos, does it? That’s nice to know. In the meantime, what are we supposed to be using to pay the bills?
And has anyone noticed that we now have a choice between combinations of three ongoing matters: We can make a new claim for income-related ESA; we can wait for a decision on our appeal, which requires another work capability assessment; and/or we can wait for Atos to pull its finger out of whichever bodily orifice is appropriate and arrange a WCA in relation to the 12-month review, which is also awaiting a decision – all after the claim period has ended!
Will we have to attend two work capability assessments? That seems to be what’s implied, although nothing in the letter clarifies this.
“I have referred your letter of complaint to our Complaints Resolution Manager, for their response. I do appreciate that you have not experienced the level of communication or customer care that we seek to provide.
“Hopefully this answers your queries.”
How has this answered any queries? All it has done is create more questions!
“Once you have completed and returned the enclosed ESA3 form, we will be able to reassess your claim and consider income related ESA.
“Once you have been seen for your next medical, we will be able to progress your Support Group appeal. If placed in Support Group, it is possible that we will be able to recommence payment of contribution based ESA.”
Aren’t these mutually exclusive? Which do they expect us to do? And – again – how do they expect us to live while we’re doing this and waiting for them to get on with it?
Note that there is no mention that we can apply for a Short Term Benefit Advance while waiting for the DWP to fulfil its responsibilities. Few people know about this and the Department aims to keep it that way. Why’s that, do you think?
It is well-known to the DWP that, along with her physical problems, Mrs Mike suffers from mental health problems and depression. As I write these words, she’s asleep on the sofa where she has been bawling her eyes out for much of the morning, in utter despair at the situation. That’s the same sofa where she spends many days at a time in such agony that she cannot move.
She won’t be another casualty of this institutionalised cruelty, but now I have to be extra vigilant to make sure she doesn’t get low enough to do herself a mischief. That’s an extra burden on me, when I already have my hands full, running the household and trying to find ways to make ends meet (like the Vox Political book, Strong Words and Hard Times*).
Meanwhile, what sanctions have been placed upon the DWP officers who have been working on this case?
None at all.
Everyone knows unemployed people claiming Jobseekers Allowance have to sign a ‘Jobseekers Agreement’ in which they agree to meet stringent conditions in order to receive their benefit. In the same way, people on ESA must report changes in their own circumstances and medical health, in order to allow their benefit to be updated correctly. Both arrangements rely on correct and timely administration by the DWP.
But this is not happening – nor is it likely to happen in the future – because, when you check to find what sanctions may be placed on the DWP for failing to uphold its side of the agreement, what do you find?
None at all.
Of course, responsibility for the policy lies not with those who carry it out but with the policy-maker, in this case the Secretary of State, Iain Something Smith. How much will he pay as a penalty for masterminding this failure of a system that has caused so much agony to so many people – and that is costing the taxpayer so much extra money in legal challenges?
I’ll tell you. It’s exactly the same as the amount of remorse the failed, Returned-To-Unit Army bag-carrier showed when he was challenged about the people his policies have killed:
None at all.
There will be no hope for the sick and disabled of this country until those responsible for their persecution are made to pay the price for it.
*Vox Political: Strong Words and Hard Times may be bought here, here, here, here and here – depending on the format in which you wish to receive it.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban: His attempt to cover up the failings of the ESA Work Capability Assessment, and his nepotistic use of a former employer to rubber-stamp the cosmetic changes, bring all politics and politicians into disrepute.
Who do you believe about the Work Capability Assessment?
Not the government, obviously.
You may have missed this – because it hasn’t been reported widely in the mass media – but a quiet row has been running for several months, concerning the collection and use of medical evidence to support applications for Employment and Support Allowance, the benefit people taking the WCA have applied to receive.
The government – whose spokesman appears to be Employment Minister Mark Hoban rather than Esther McVey, the Minister who is actually responsible for Disabled People – insists that decisions are made after consideration of all medical evidence supplied by claimants, and that they can provide further evidence during the reconsideration process or appeals.
But there is a mountain of evidence that this is a load of bunkum.
Back in 2010, an ex-military claimant, ‘Mrs S’ wrote a damning report on the service at the time. It stated: “This dangerous DWP contract offers the medical opinion of the Atos Healthcare Disability Analyst as a PRIORITY, which the DWP Decision Makers accept verbatim, so all additional specialist medical opinion of consultants, offered by the patient/claimant, is totally overlooked. Consequently, desperately ill people are now being declared fit for work because they are physically capable of collecting a pen from the floor. Patients, welfare advisors and MPs all presume that specialist medical opinion by a consultant will be accepted because they are unfamiliar with the details of the contract.
“The contract requires specialist medical opinion for several conditions… This is routinely ignored by Atos Healthcare with devastating consequences, whilst the UK government offer total support for this private company.
“Atos Healthcare doctors do not have access to a patient’s detailed medical history at the interview with the patient, as confirmed by Atos Healthcare, so one needs to question why so much detailed medical evidence is requested, which will be totally ignored?
“Atos Healthcare is totally unaccountable for all medical examinations. All usual patient safety networks in place for NHS and private healthcare do not apply and, according to the GMC and the Healthcare Commission, Atos Healthcare, as a company, ‘…have total immunity from all medical regulation.’
“There is no clinical supervision whatsoever.”
Get the picture? This situation has not changed in three years, despite the claims of Mr Hoban that he is “committed to ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is as fair and accurate as possible”.
On Tuesday (August 13), New Statesman published details of several Atos claimants with mental health problems who – surprise, surprise – have been let down by the system.
One of these, who had previously attempted suicide, was driven to a further attempt to take her own life after receiving a string of 18 letters from a Work Programme Provider, all sent after it was advised to leave her alone for the good of her health.
“The DWP said it would not investigate the matter because [the Work Programme Provider] has its own internal complaints procedure,” the article stated, before going on to report on how that worked.
The company refuted the allegation and went on to say that it “takes its responsibilities to its customers and staff seriously. We have robust policies on safeguarding and data protection in place to ensure their privacy and safety is always maintained. With this in mind, it would be inappropriate for [us] to comment on individual any cases”.
It is clear that there is a culture of unaccountability running right through this system; the only people who bear the consequences of Work Capability assessors’ actions are the claimants themselves.
Perhaps that is why so many are dying that the DWP is now afraid to publish mortality figures for people going through the process. The suicidal person mentioned in the Statesman article would have been one more to add to the multitude, if they had succeeded in taking their own life.
This is what your votes support – a state-sponsored drive for sick or disabled people to kill themselves, rather than continue to be a burden on a Conservative-led government. Compassionate Conservatism – and this is at its most compassionate.
Let’s add in a few details. We know that the government recently lost a court battle in which it claimed that the current process was fair to people with mental health conditions. The Upper Tribunal disagreed and now the DWP is appealing against that decision – because ministers don’t want their underlings to have to consider medical information on anyone that hasn’t been gathered in the biased way ensured by the Atos Healthcare training system.
“We already request claimants supply any evidence they feel will be relevant to the assessment in the ESA50 questionnaire,” the department said in an email quoted by the Statesman.
But we already know from ‘Mrs S’ that this information is “totally overlooked”. It was in 2010 and we have no reason to believe the current situation is any different, judging from the treatment of claimants.
Now it seems claimants are finding it harder to get the expert medical evidence they need, because GPs are either refusing to hand it over, or are charging more money for it than claimants receive for their personal survival.
In southeast Wales, Bro Taf Local Medical Committee has come under fire for ordering GPs to stop providing support information to disability benefit claimants who were appealing against WCA decisions. The LMC has said its problem is not with the provision of evidence itself, but with the “increasing number of appeals [which] has resulted in more GP appointments being taken up to deal with such requests”.
Hoban said last month that he was bringing in “additional providers” to carry out assessments from summer 2014 and had already directed Atos to improve the quality of its written reports following assessments.
This will do nothing to improve matters, if the contract and the training given to the new providers is the same as that given to Atos.
And he has engaged a company to “provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes”. This company is PricewaterhouseCoopers, Mr Hoban’s former employer. The connection with the Minister implies an inappropriate relationship from the get-go.
Put it all together and you have an attempt to carry out business as usual, under the veil of a ham-fisted cover-up involving friends of the Minister. Anyone bothering to check the facts will see it as further evidence of the corruption that is rotting the institutions of British government with staggering rapidity under the Conservative-Liberal Democrat administration.
But there is a worse effect, which has a bearing on all politicians: Even those who accept such announcements at face value will consider this to be a failure by government. “They can’t get anything right” will be the chorus from the Great Uninterested – and the continuing furore as mistakes – and deaths – continue to take place will only reinforce the view that we should not give any politicians the time of day.
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