Tag Archives: New Approach

It’s time to take a stand against the Coalition’s new benefit-reduction enforcer

The leaflet advertising the anti-Maximus 'Mass Action' day.

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.

So please, whether you are a benefit claimant yourself or are able-bodied but concerned, please consider attending at a location near you. The full guide to events is on DPAC’s (Disabled People Against Cuts) website.

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Action against new Work Capability Assessment firm is planned before it even starts

The leaflet advertising the anti-Maximus 'Mass Action' day.

The leaflet advertising the anti-Maximus ‘Mass Action’ day.

What’s the most notable fact about the government’s new Work Capability Assessment contractor – Maximus?

Is it the claim that the company will carry out no less than one million work capability assessments in its first year? No.

Is it the fact that 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? No.

Is it the fact that citizens of the United Kingdom have already organised a day of action calling for the company to be sacked, before it has even started work? Could be!

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 firm is promising to clear a backlog of around 600,000 claims for Employment and Support Allowance. In the light of the Medicaid debacle in America, one is forced to question whether another falsification case is looming on the horizon.

Ah, but Maximus says it is hiring hundreds of “healthcare professionals” to deal with the heavy workload. This does not inspire confidence as anyone who has had dealings with the Atos version of this job description will be aware that very few of them had backgrounds in healthcare or behaved in a professional way.

Take note: Maximus is not taking on any additional doctors. This means the percentage of doctors involved in the process will decline against that of “healthcare professionals”.

According to the BBC, “Atos was appointed by the Labour government in 2008 to carry out assessments, but was dogged by controversy as the number of people wrongly assessed as fit for work grew.” In fairness it should be pointed out that the number of mistakes grew exponentially after the Coalition Government’s Iain Duncan Smith introduced stricter standards around 2011.

“At the same time, increasing numbers won their appeals at tribunal.

“Some people who had been told they were fit for work and should find a job later died.” Nobody knows how many, because the Department for Work and Pensions does not monitor what happens to people after they have been thrown off-benefit. The death toll could number thousands.

Meanwhile, we know that 10,600 people who were granted the benefit died between January and November 2011 – more than 200 per week.

The DWP has jealously guarded all death statistics since then – now nearly four years ago. It is believed this is because the total would cause public outrage on a level not yet seen.

This image shows the general public feeling towards Maximus.

This image shows the general public feeling towards Maximus.

It is therefore unsurprising that disability organisations have organised a day of action against Maximus, which they see as just another ‘front’ company supporting government policies that have not only failed, but have done so in the most prejudicial way possible – risking people’s lives.

The day of ‘Mass Action’ has been organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), New Approach, Black Triangle and the Mental Health Resistance Network.

It will take place at Maximus’ headquarters – Level 1, Queen Anne’s Gate, London, starting at 1pm on Monday (March 2).

If you have any doubts at all about the government’s motives in employing Maximus, or the company’s ability to assess people’s illnesses and disabilities in a reliable way, then you are invited to attend.

In addition – of course – please spread the word.

Further information is on DPAC’s website: http://www.dpac.uk.net

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Shouldn’t we call time on the Work Capability Assessment?

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On the day Mrs Mike was at first supposed to take a new Work Capability Assessment, then told it was cancelled (then received a letter confirming this – and then this writer attended the centre to make sure), Ekklesia has published a piece by Bernadette Meaden asking whether there’s any point to the process at all.

She writes: “It’s important to remember that these assessments are not a ‘medical’, as the public may believe. They are officially described as a ‘functional assessment’: they assess people as if they are machines, to see which bits are working and which bits aren’t. They disregard many medical symptoms such as pain and exhaustion, which is why people who are obviously seriously ill can be assessed as ‘fit to work’, why so many people appeal their decision, and why the government’s own expert adviser, Professor Malcolm Harrington, once described the WCA as ‘mechanistic and inhumane’.

“Not all the people who have been through a WCA will have been given a face-to-face assessment. Some will have received a decision based on their completion of the lengthy and complex ESA50 form, and supplementary information they have supplied. But for all who have been assessed, whether face to face or via bureaucracy, it will have been an added stress at a time when they may be coming to terms with a life-limiting diagnosis, or going through unpleasant treatment.

“To have your doctor say you are unfit to work, but to have the decision as to whether you will receive support in the hands of a medically unqualified DWP Decision Maker is not conducive to anyone’s health.”

Surely, she suggests, the only way all of this stress and effort can be justified is if the WCA found that people who were actually fit for work had managed to get themselves onto an incapacity benefit instead – but this is not what the figures show.

After no less than 4.8 million stress-inducing assessments (and remember, stress can kill), “the numbers receiving Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance have barely changed, and in fact have reduced at a slower rate than they did in the years prior to the WCA being introduced”.

The 4.8 million figure comes from Nick Dilworth, who blogs on the excellent iLegal site.

He writes, “the most recent DWP figures for the tougher than tough Work Capability Assessments” show that “until November 2012 an average of 28,500 claimants a month were being found ‘fit for work’ [when adding the totals for those claiming Employment and Support Allowance as a ‘new’ claim, those who had been re-assessed, and also those undergoing conversion from older incapacity benefits to the newer allowance]. However, since then the numbers found fit for work have steadily decreased to an all-time low of just 1,600 claimants recorded for the month of December 2013 (the most recent DWP figure available).

“It’s almost as if they don’t want anybody being found fit for work these days,” he writes. “One thing is for certain, it will all change once Maximus gets going properly after March 2015. Little wonder ESA appeals have fallen, eh?”

At least it suggests that people aren’t simply giving up on the system, as is happening due to the JSA sanction system.

The random factor in all of this is the fact that we are dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions, which is notoriously untrustworthy when dealing with claimants.

Why do you think this writer had to seek confirmation that Mrs Mike’s new assessment had been cancelled in triplicate? It was the only way to make absolutely sure. Having fallen foul of the DWP’s hair-trigger benefit cancellation machine in the past, we weren’t going to let it happen again.

But Mrs Mike is lucky in that respect – she has the services of an able-bodied and articulate carer. How many of the 28,500 who were found fit for work every month until November 2012 could say the same thing?

Having attended Mrs Mike’s original Work Capability Assessment back in mid-2012, this writer knows that she found the experience of having to carry out physical tasks for an unqualified “healthcare professional” both painful and humiliating. She spent the following three days on the sofa, unable to move because of extreme pain – and the DWP put her in the work-related activity group and told her she should be better in a year.

And now it’s 2015; she still isn’t better and this writer had to humiliate several DWP representatives when they tried to claim otherwise and cut off her benefit lifeline. Again, how many people who were thrown off the WRA group had someone who could do the same?

Now, Nick tells us this is just the deep breath before Maximus turns up and tries to knock the wind out of all our sails.

As Ms Meaden suggests, wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the Work Capability Assessment and replace it with something else?

Nick is a member of New Approach, an organisation calling for that to happen.

Please have a look at the website and consider giving it your support.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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