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DWP bases benefit decisions on allegations about the assessors’ character rather than evidence

Paper exercise: To some people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the sight of an ESA50 form is enough to trigger anxiety, panic, or even heart attacks.

Paper exercise: To some people with disabilities and long-term health conditions, the sight of an ESA50 form is enough to trigger anxiety, panic, or even heart attacks.

This Writer was amazed – yes, dear reader, amazed – to discover a new wrinkle in the DWP’s web of deceit, while writing a letter in support of a friend’s appeal against an Employment and Support Allowance decision.

My friend – who has multiple conditions, both physical and mental – had been placed in the work-related activity group nevertheless, and at 2pm yesterday, Yr Obdt Srvt was staring in astonishment at the DWP decision-maker’s professed reason for doing so.

It was the same for all the descriptors: “I place greater weight on the evidence of the Health Care Professional because they are trained disability analysts and the advice they provide is both impartial and unbiased”.

The DWP decision maker had not based his (or her) reasoning on any evidence at all, of course.

Examining the wording of this statement, we see that the decision was in fact based on two unsubstantiated claims about an unnamed ‘Health Care Professional’ who has never met the claimant – my friend had been migrated onto ESA from another benefit in a paper exercise and had not been asked to take part in one of the DWP’s medical assessments (which, in any case, we know are unfit for purpose).

Who is this ‘Health Care Professional’? How do we know this person is a trained disability analyst? Because this was a paper exercise, the ‘Health Care Professional’ had gone unnamed and had never met the claimant. They had never been asked to produce any credentials so the claimant was left with no idea whether this person really was a “trained disability analyst” or not.

I knew their advice was not impartial or unbiased because it was wrong. They had not taken account of the evidence they had been given but had chosen to ignore it instead. Looking at the ‘mobility’ descriptor alone, I know that the claimant in question has significant problems with walking so the advice that “there was no evidence to indicate that you were unable to do this activity” is incorrect, therefore the decision is also incorrect.

Most pernicious of all is the fact that my friend’s disabilities make it extremely difficult to challenge this faked, falsified decision. My friend suffers from chronic anxiety, with poor concentration and memory, panic attacks, and a tendency towards stress. When dealing with authority figures, my friend tends to lose track of what they are saying, fixating on elements that are tangential to the main issues. This makes it very hard to fight wrong decisions, which is why This Writer was asked to step in.

How many other disabled benefit claimants are there, who don’t have recourse to somebody like me?

Reading between the lines, it seems possible, if not downright likely, that the DWP decision maker saw an opportunity to achieve benefit savings targets by pushing somebody, who is clearly not going to be ready for work within a year, into a group where they will lose benefit after that time and be forced to seek work anyway.

If you want to know what happens to people in that position, look at the case of Michael O’Sullivan.

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DWP’s shame: Facts reveal how ministers duped the press

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 - after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Lest we forget: We know that, on average, 73 people died every week between January and November 2011 – after undergoing the DWP work capability assessment administered by Atos. Who knows how many are dying now?

Today the DWP finally released its press release claiming that huge numbers of people who wanted Employment and Support Allowance have been found fit for work instead.

Interestingly, the DWP story differs from that published by the BBC, even though the corporation must have used a version of the press release provided to it in advance.

In the BBC story, released on Saturday, “More than a million others withdrew their claims after interviews” – but the DWP press notice, released today, claims “More than a million others withdrew their claims before reaching a face-to-face assessment”.

In addition, the DWP release features a long section on its Disability Confident roadshow, and there is another statistic which claims that the proportion of disabled people in work has reached 45 per cent.

Disability Confident, designed “to encourage more employers to hire disabled people”, “to showcase the talents of disabled people and highlight their tremendous value to the British economy” is, on the face of it, a good idea.

But I wonder if it isn’t a smokescreen to hide how the DWP is pushing thousands of disabled people into saying they are self-employed and taking tax credits rather than ESA, in order to fudge the figures and make it seem as though good work is being done.

Vox Political reported on this before ,and it is worth adding that the BBC itself ran the original report that work advisers were pushing the jobless into self-employment.

Oh, what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive…

Of course, the best source of ESA-related statistics is on the iLegal site where the figures behind the press release have been picked apart by an expert who doesn’t have a vested interest in saving ministerial face.

They show that an average of 83 per cent of the 1,078,200 Incapacity claimants who were assessed qualified for ESA between October 2012 and May last year, while 88 per cent of the 1,332,300 ‘repeatedly assessed’ were re-qualifying.

While the DWP and the BBC have claimed 1.8 million people have magically disappeared from the Incapacity/ESA claimant count, the DWP’s own figures confirm that overall numbers have reduced by only 156,630 since May 2010.

The iLegal article makes it clear that “the claimant count is far from a static number; each month thousands of claimants come on and off all benefits”. But it seems clear that the BBC/DWP figure is a conflated total, simply adding up all new claims – rather than claimants – from 2008 onwards.

This is exactly why UK Statistics Authority chief Andrew Dilnot chastised the government after the Conservative Party released an almost-identical press release last year, using then-current (but still inaccurate) figures and not mentioning Disability Confident.

Let’s go back to the number of people found ‘fit for work’ after assessment. Has everybody forgotten the hammering that the government took during a debate on Atos’ handling of the Work Capability Assessment, exactly a year and a week ago today? If you have, don’t worry – you can read all about it here.

The debate demonstrated time after time that the work capability assessment, as devised by the DWP’s Conservative ministerial team and run by its employees at Atos, was not fit for purpose; that the overwhelming majority of those who had been found ‘fit for work’ were nothing of the sort; and that “this is a government that is perfectly happy with a system that is throwing thousands of sick and disabled people to the wolves”.

The government refused to listen. Then-Employment minister Mark Hoban (standing in, conspicuously, for Esther McVey, who was minister for the disabled at the time) said the independent reviews conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington had identified areas of improvement and appropriate steps were being taken.

This claim was false. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his year one review alone, almost two thirds were not fully and successfully implemented.

The government also claimed, repeatedly, that Prof Harrington had supported the migration of Incapacity Benefit claimants to ESA. When fellow blogger Sue Marsh contacted him for confirmation, he responded: “I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it. IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?”

I’d say so – to everybody but the Coalition government.

Now:

A good reporter at the BBC would have had all this information to hand. They would have known that the work capability assessment was extremely controversial and had been shown, many times, to be unfit for purpose. They would have known that the government had been slapped down by the UK Statistics Authority after releasing an almost-identical press release last year. They absolutely should have known that other reporters in the same organisation had revealed that the DWP had been pushing disabled people into claiming they were self-employed in an effort to cook the books.

With all that information to hand, it begs the question: Why did they then go ahead with the propagandised misrepresentation of the facts that appeared on the BBC News website on Saturday?

And, before reporters at Business Standard (“A million Britons found lying for illness benefits“?), the Belfast Telegraph, International Business Times UK, Metro, The Times, Channel 4 News, Press TV, Descrier, SME Times, AoI Money, The Mirror, Gloucester Citizen, Huffington Post, Evening Standard, and especially the Daily Mail, whose article was hysterical in both senses of the term, allow me to ask…

What’s your excuse?

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