Tag Archives: work capability

Tories pressurised benefit assessment company to find sick claimants fit for work, says doctor

Despair: Harsher criteria in benefit assessments led to sick people being found fit for work, pushing them to despair and suicide.

Let’s be fair: The Conservatives put Atos under immense pressure to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work sickness benefits.

Disability News Service attributed the pressure to the Department for Work and Pensions but, like all government departments, it only carries out the orders of the government of the day.

DNS stated that a new document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work, shows that a doctor working for the private firm Atos, contracted to carry out benefit assessments, made it clear that the Conservative-run DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find him ineligible.

The doctor’s representatives told General Medical Council (GMC) investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on Atos disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”

They also told the GMC in their evidence that Atos assessors, who “had no formal psychiatric training”, were not required by DWP to use a medical tool that evaluates the severity of a person’s depression.

They also claimed that the criteria applied during Work Capability Assessments had been “altered” by DWP to make it more difficult for claimants to be found eligible for ESA.

We know this to be true; Iain Duncan Smith demanded that these criteria should be made harsher when he took over as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010.

DNS reminded us that Mr O’Sullivan’s death in September 2013 led to a coroner blaming failings in the notorious work capability assessment (WCA) system for his death, and writing to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths.

Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA over the last five years.

The O’Sullivan case also illustrates an excellent reason Labour wants to end the involvement of private companies with the benefit assessment system.

The team investigating the death submitted questions to the DWP – only to be told last year that some of them must be directed at Atos.

Those questions were passed to the company in January and it still hasn’t answered, according to DNS.

This indicates that the privatisation of benefit assessments is a mechanism to allow buck-passing between the government, the civil servants of the DWP and the company to ensure that nobody has to take responsibility for an entirely avoidable death.

That is the most despicable aspect of it.

Source: WCA death doctor: DWP put ‘immense pressure’ on Atos to find claimants fit for work – Disability News Service

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Don’t believe Boris Johnson on benefits – he is only offering more poverty, misery and death

Boris Johnson: He can clap his hand over his mouth but he won’t stop the cruelty. That can only come with a government headed by somebody else.

Boris Johnson has finally published the Conservative manifesto amid a stink of embarrassment – and, for benefit claimants, a hard slap of insult.

Mr Johnson offers just one promise to benefit claimants – to reduce the frequency of Personal Independence Payment reassessments –  and I don’t believe it.

If Tories target a disabled person to lose their benefit, they will find an excuse to do so. Scheduled reassessments may be cut – but Mrs Mike has been threatened with random reassessments on many occasions, triggered by any reason the DWP could cook up.

The end to the freeze on working-age benefits is not a new policy; it has been set to happen in 2020 since it was introduced.

Universal Credit goes untouched, despite being possibly the biggest catastrophe to hit vulnerable people in the UK since the welfare state was introduced in the 1940s.

Mr Johnson has promised to continue impoverishing people from the moment they are forced to claim the benefit, with a five-week wait that we know pushes people towards starvation and homelessness as they struggle to pay the bills and stay out of the food bank.

(Tories think food banks are fantastic, by the way – except when they want to pretend Labour is responsible for their proliferation.)

Beyond that, the Tory manifesto offers nothing else but a vague promise to “do more to make sure” UC works.

Hang on! I’ve heard that before, somewhere! Isn’t it what the DWP says, every time the news reports a Universal Credit-related death?

Bang! Someone dies. The Tory-run DWP says, “We promise to learn the lesson.”

Boom! Another one bites the dust. The Tory-run DWP says, “We will do more to make sure UC works.”

There is only one conclusion to be had:

Universal Credit will never work for its claimants.

And as far as the Conservatives are concerned, it works best when it is killing people.

But what of other aspects of the benefit system? Here’s a quick rundown:

The Conservatives with NOT end the cruelty of the Bedroom Tax, nor do they have any intention of increasing the Local Housing Allowance to protect people against the threat of eviction.

The Conservatives will NOT end the so-called “digital barrier” that obstructs people who have trouble coping with computers and the internet from claiming benefits. They like putting obstacles before the poor.

The Conservatives will NOT end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments.

The Conservatives will NOT end Work Capability Assessments, or PIP assessments.

The Conservatives will NOT end their cruel sanction regime.

The Conservatives will NOT scrap the benefit cap.

The Conservatives will NOT end the two-child limit on benefits and scrap the so-called ‘rape clause’. They like humiliating women who have already been violated.

The Conservatives will NOT try to ensure that women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships by the system by paying the child element of benefits to the primary carer.

Still, the Liberal Democrat offer is little better.

Jo Swinson is quite happy to keep Universal Credit. She thinks reducing the wait from five weeks to five days might help – apart from that, she offers nothing to anybody apart from the self-employed, to whom a Lib Dem government (that will not happen, of course) would be “more supportive” – whatever that means.

Other Liberal Democrat offers are just plain vague. What do they mean when they say they’ll abolish Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) and replace them with “a new system that is run by local authorities and based on real-world tests”? Does anybody know?

How will Ms Swinson “enshrine in law the government’s responsibility to ensure that existing and new public policy is audited for its impact on food security”?

These are brutal times. People need hard promises, not meaningless mummery.

In fairness, the Liberal Democrats do make a few good, hard promises. But another party has made the same promises and does have a realistic chance of forming a government and making them real: Labour.

Yes, it’s great that the Lib Dems would like to end the two-child limit on benefits, end the benefit cap, abolish the Bedroom Tax and increase local housing allowance, reverse cuts to Employment and Support Allowance for people in the Work-Related Activity Group, and reinstate the Independent Living Fund.

But you can be sure that the only way the Liberal Democrats will get into government in December is in coalition with another party; having already ruled out allying with Labour, that means Ms Swinson’s only option is the Conservatives, and the Tories will never allow any measures to relieve the pressure on the poor.

A Labour government would actually do those things.

And Labour would cancel Universal Credit and replace it with a system that is a genuine benefit for people claiming it.

Labour would dissolve the DWP and replace it with a revamped Department for Social Security, ending the environment of suspicion and persecution that was instilled by Iain Duncan Smith and replacing it with support for those in need.

(This Writer worked in the old DSS, before it was rolled into the DWP. The automatic assumption there was that claimants were telling the truth about their situation, about their disabilities, and about their needs – not that they are lying, as is the claim now. It was a better place to work, and it was better for the claimants too.)

But you know Labour’s offer – it’s all right here.

Boris Johnson’s manifesto shows an intention to continue the cruel Conservatism we’ve endured for nearly 10 years.

Let’s take this opportunity to tell him where he can stuff it.

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Promises on disability and social security show Labour has listened

The Labour Party has paid attention to the people and published a manifesto that promises to end many of the injustices that the Conservative government (with the Liberal Democrats between 2010 and 2015) introduced.

This Writer feels duty-bound to tell you that reading the chapter on Social Security was an uplifting experience on many levels, as so many of the subjects This Site has highlighted have been tackled.

Labour will scrap the Department for Work and Pensions. This Site said the DWP had become so badly damaged by the culture of persecution instilled in it by Tory ministers from Iain Duncan Smith onwards that the only option was to dissolve it and start again. It will be replaced with a new Department of Social Security.

Labour will scrap Universal Credit. Since it began to be developed, This Site has highlighted the fact that UC was a hugely-expensive disaster – a position that was proved when it was implemented; instead of providing a convenient all-in-one safety net for people facing hard times, it has instead deliberately pushed them into poverty. It will be replaced with a new system, to be developed carefully, intending to end poverty by guaranteeing a reasonable standard of living.

While this new system is being prepared, Labour will introduce interim measures to end the cruelty imposed by the Conservatives (and Liberal Democrats), all of which address complaints raised by This Site and others:

Labour will end the so-called “digital barrier” that obstructs people who have trouble coping with computers and the internet from claiming benefits. It will offer telephone, face-to-face and outreach support.

Labour will end the five-week wait for Universal Credit payments.

Labour will reintroduce fortnightly payments, to help people manage their money.

Labour will end the Tory sanction regime.

Labour will scrap the benefit cap.

Labour will end the two-child limit on benefits and scrap the so-called ‘rape clause’, which it describes (as I do) as “immoral and outrageous”.

Labour will pay the child element of benefits to the primary carer, to ensure that women are no longer forced to stay in abusive relationships by the system.

The changes won’t just extend to Universal Credit, though.

Labour will end the Bedroom Tax and increase the Local Housing Allowance to protect people against the threat of eviction.

And the party will reform the benefit system to end its punishment of people with long-term illnesses and disabilities:

Labour will end the “dehumanising” Work Capability Assessments and PIP Assessments.

Labour will stop benefit assessments being contracted-out to private companies and ensure that all benefit assessments are carried out by DSS employees in future.

Labour will increase Employment and Support Allowance by £30 a week for people in the Work-Related Activity Group, reversing the Tory cut.

Labour will raise the basic rate of support for children with disabilities to the same level as Child Tax Credits.

Labour will give extra support to severely disabled people without a formal carer, so they can meet the extra costs they face.

Labour will increase Carers’ Allowance to the level of Jobseekers’ Allowance. This is the only measure that This Writer thinks is inadequate. Having been a carer, I know that CA is a pittance, but an increase of a few pounds a week is unlikely to help much. More harmful is the fact that, if a carer earns more than a set amount (around £120 a week), the entire allowance is cancelled. It would be better to introduce a taper, so that the amount of CA is reduced according to the amount a person earns.

And Labour  will help disabled people who want to work by bringing back specialist employment advisors, introducing a government-backed Reasonable Adjustments Passport scheme to help people move between jobs more easily, and reviewing support for disabled people at work, including the Access to Work scheme.

These are all terrific policies.

They make Labour the obvious choice for voters who are currently claiming unemployment, sickness or disability benefits.

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Was Mark Wood the last stumbling-block for Atos?

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Everybody should know by now that British citizen Mark Wood starved to death four months after a medical assessment by Atos found him fit for work, even though it was only reported widely yesterday.

The ruling on the 44-year-old was made against the advice of his GP and in the knowledge that Mr Wood – who lived in David Cameron’s Witney constituency – had mental health conditions including phobias of food and social situations. He weighed just 5st 8lbs when he died in August last year.

His GP, Nicolas Ward, told an inquest into Mr Wood’s death: “Something pushed him or affected him in the time before he died and the only thing I can put my finger on is the pressure he felt he was under when his benefits were removed.”

In a normal society operating under the rule of law, that should be enough to trigger a halt on all work capability assessment medical tests while the entire system is examined with a view to preventing further harm. This was discussed in Parliament last week (read my live blog) but because this was a backbench motion the government has insisted that it only needs to take the unanimous vote in favour of the move as “advisory” – and has done nothing.

That is not good enough for many of us. Samuel Miller, the campaigner who has been trying to bring UK government discrimination against the disabled to the attention of international organisations like the United Nations has already signalled that he will be demanding action.

On Twitter yesterday (February 28), he wrote: “I’ll inform the UN’s human rights office… as well as write the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP); a corporate manslaughter investigation into Atos and the DWP needs to be opened.

“I’ll also file a criminal complaint against Atos and the DWP with Britain’s Metropolitan Police Service.”

Mr Miller has also been awaiting a ruling from the Information Commissioner on his Freedom of Information request from November 6, 2012, demanding details of post-November 2011 Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimant mortality statistics. The Commission called on the Department for Work and Pensions to come up with a valid reason for its refusal, under the FoI Act and the DWP has failed to provide one so far.

For Mr Miller, the situation has now dragged on far too long. “I’m not going to wait for a ruling from the Information Commissioner’s Office, which I’m unlikely to win. Due to the tragic starvation death of Mark Wood, I’m going to request that the UN’s human rights office obtain a subpoena from the International Criminal Court prosecutor, requiring that the Department for Work and Pensions release the post-November 2011 IB and ESA claimant mortality statistics that I requested on November 6, 2012.”

He is also awaiting the findings of an inquest into the death of Stephanie Bottrill, the Bedroom Tax victim who died when she walked in front of a lorry on a busy motorway, after leaving a note blaming the government. That hearing has not yet taken place.

Samuel Miller has cerebral palsy and lives in Canada, and yet he is willing to do all this to correct injustice in the UK. He puts most of us to shame.

Of course, I am looking forward to my tribunal hearing, in which I hope to trigger the release of those post-November 2011 IB and ESA claimant mortality statistics. If Mr Miller manages it first, then my hearing will focus on why my request for the information was dismissed as “vexatious”, as this has serious implications for any future Freedom of Information requests.

I’d like to hear from others who are doing something about this – even if it only comes down to contacting their MP.

Or do you think this man’s death should be in vain?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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Vox Political’s top 12 of 2013

Government repression of the people, plans to give corporations the power to overrule national laws, the end of legal protection of our human rights and the continuing horror story that is the Coalition government’s idea of a benefit system were among your top priorities in 2013.

It would have been easy to write a ‘review of the year’ highlighting what I think were the main issues of the year, but this may not have been representative of the feelings of readers.

Instead – borrowing an idea from Pride’s Purge – let’s look back at the articles you, the reader, found most interesting. These are the subjects that we should all watch carefully as the new year progresses and we move ever-closer to the general election of 2015.

While we can see Conservative and Liberal Democrat policies reflected in these stories, let’s also ask what Labour would do. What are the policies of the Opposition on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership? Would the current Labour leadership reverse party policy of the last 100 years and move to restrict our legal freedoms (as suggested by the disastrous decision to support Iain Duncan Smith’s repressive retroactive law on Workfare in March)?

And what about the other parties – the Greens, UKIP, and the new pretenders that have sprung up in protest at the excesses of a government that was never elected by the British people but has set about changing the face of Britain in such a massive way that the UK of 2015 will hardly be recognisable as the same country that went to the polls in 2010? Are they a serious political force, a vote-splitting annoyance that could allow the Tories back into power, or an expression of the nation’s conscience?

Take a look back – and then take a look forward.

1. Sleepwalking further into Police State Britain as law offers new powers of repression (November 11)

2. Death of a great man marred by the hypocrisy of a weasel (December 6)

3. Iain Duncan Smith has committed contempt of Parliament and should be expelled (May 10)

4. Back to the Dark Ages as the Tories plan to scrap your Human Rights (March 10)

5. Judges find DWP ‘fitness for work’ test breaches the Equality Act and is illegal (May 22)

6. UK police state moves a step closer (to your door) (February 11)

7. Austerity programme proved to be ‘nonsense’ based on a spreadsheet mistake (April 19)

8. Is Labour planning to betray its core supporters by siding with Iain Duncan Smith? (March 16)

9. The biggest threat to democracy since World War II – and they tried to keep it secret (December 4)

10. Are you going to let David Cameron abolish your rights without a fight? (June 10)

11. MPs tell their own Atos horror stories (January 18)

12. Skeletons in ministers’ closets (or indeed bedrooms) come back to haunt them (May 6)

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Mr ‘Political’ goes to Westminster, looking for justice

"I'm not licked. And I'm gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies." - James Steward as Jefferson Smith in Mr Smith Goes To Washington

“I’m not licked. And I’m gonna stay right here and fight for this lost cause. Even if this room gets filled with lies.” – James Stewart as Jefferson Smith in Mr Smith Goes To Washington

Congratulations are due to Labour MPs John McDonnell and Grahame Morris, who have persuaded Parliament’s Backbench Business Committee to agree that a debate on the ‘WoW’ petition will take place in the House of Commons, early in the New Year.

Responsibility now falls back on the British people to make sure our elected representatives do not squander the opportunity, as the Commons Work and Pensions Committee squandered its chance to hold Iain Duncan Smith to account for his own, and his department’s, statisticial inaccuracies.

The petition, on the government’s website, passed its target of 100,000 signatures at the beginning of the month, meaning the Backbench Business committee had to consider whether a Commons debate should take place.

Those who oppose it will be trying to find any reason – no matter how small – to avoid having to consider the changes it demands, so its supporters need to go through it, line by line, making sure they can justify every claim and every demand with hard facts.

We cannot rely on our MPs to do this. Even those who are sympathetic may not have the time or the resources to research the issues properly; and we have seen from the woeful Work and Pensions meeting on Monday that it is best not to leave Parliamentarians to phrase their own questions.

To use an angling metaphor – which seems appropriate – we must allow no opportunity for these worms to wriggle off the hook.

So, for example, the petition demands “a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform”. The government has denied that this is possible, saying it would be too complicated to carry out and that “external organisations have not produced this either”.

But the Joseph Rowntree Foundation’s report, Monitoring Poverty and Social Exclusion 2013, states: “There is a … growing number of people … in very deep poverty. They are being hit by … overlapping measures from welfare reform”. We can expect some Conservative MPs to demur over the differences between “cumulative” and “overlapping” (probably down to their respective spellings) but it seems clear that the Foundation not only has the evidence needed to provide a cumulative assessment, but has already carried it out.

It should also be noted that the Foundation has said the effects of this year’s changes cannot be quantified yet, and we must wait until next year to learn what further damage may have been caused; this is just the beginning.

The petition also calls for “a New Deal for sick and disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions” – meaning evidence would need to be available to show that the Coalition system does not adequately cater for those needs, abilities and ambitions.

It demands an immediate end to the work capability assessment, and strong evidence will be required to show that this is necessary. Individual cases are fine on an anecdotal level – for example the single-question medical assessment (“Did you get here by bus?”) that led to the refusal of benefit for the poor lady from Kingswood who then took her own life; it seems clear that there was no attempt to understand the state of her mental health.

But these stories must be supported by the weight of numbers. We know that 3,500 people in the work-related activity group of ESA claimants died between January and November 2011. How many ESA claimants have died since then, and how many of them were in the group where they were expected to be working again within a year? We don’t know, because the statistics have been suppressed. Why have they been withheld? Is it because the number of deaths has risen to an even more horrifying level?

If the government wants to deny that this is the case, then it must provide proof. The Coalition has had more than a year to produce these figures; if it is unable – or unwilling – to do so then they must be damning indeed.

This article’s headline is based on the title of the film Mr Smith Goes To Washington (the ‘Political’ refers to the fact that some commenters, here and on Facebook, refer to me as if ‘Vox Political’ was my real name). It is a statement of my intent to go to London and watch the ‘WoW’ debate in person, just as Jefferson Smith attends the US Senate to seek justice in the film.

Of course I won’t be able to speak in the debate. If I could, though, I might pick a few words from that old movie, because they are just as relevant today:

“Take a look at this country if you really want to see something. You’ll see the whole parade of what Man’s carved out for himself, after centuries of fighting. Fighting for something better than just jungle law, fighting so’s he can stand on his own two feet, free and decent, like he was created, no matter what his race, colour, or creed. That’s what you’d see. There’s no place out there for graft, or greed, or lies, or compromise with human liberties.

“Great principles don’t get lost once they come to light. They’re right here; you just have to see them again! I wouldn’t give you two cents for all your fancy rules if, behind them, they didn’t have a little bit of plain, ordinary, everyday kindness and a little looking out for the other fella, too.”

Or how about this one? “I guess this is just another lost cause. All you people don’t know about lost causes. They were the only causes worth fighting for – for the only reason any man ever fights for them. Because of just one plain simple rule. Love thy neighbour. And in this world today of great hatred a man who knows that rule has a great trust. And you know that you fight harder for the lost causes than for any others. Yes you’d even die for them.”

People have died for this cause.

Those of us who remain have a duty not to lose it.

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‘Moaning’ Work and Pensions committee lets IDS ‘off the hook’

131210IDScommittee

It is said that you can get the measure of a man, not from his words, but from his actions. Iain Duncan Smith brought bodyguards to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday. (Monday)

Why did he need the muscle? Probably because he knew how his behaviour would be received. This is a man who is absolutely not going to accept criticism, in any form at all.

The man whose benefit reforms were mocked by Ed Balls last week as “In Deep Sh…ambles” batted away concerns about inaccurate statistics as somebody else’s fault and, when confronted with a whistleblower’s claim that jobseekers were being sanctioned indiscriminately, said he wanted to see the evidence.

That’s a bit much, coming from the man who is still withholding the mortality statistics of people going through the assessment regime for Employment and Support Allowance. Where is that evidence?

Our evidence that he had a bodyguard comes from Paula Peters on Facebook, who attended the meeting. She wrote: “The police, and they were armed, hustled him into the room. He had a bodyguard in the room with him! What the hell for? We are entitled to watch proceedings and follow due process.”

Dame Anne Begg, chairing the meeting, pointed out that the UK Statistics Authority has received more complaints about the Department of Work and Pensions’ use of statistics than any other government department.

His response: “Yes, but I’ve had two letters. One was about two years ago, concerning something about the use of them on immigration, but they let that one sit – and the last one was where we had a discussion on the use of where I referred to those going back to work on the back of the benefit cap. They said that … I should not make the link. I believed it to be the case – that those people were going back to work due to the fact of reducing the cap; that’s my belief. They said it should not remain as a flat statistic, which we’ve accepted.”

So in that one respect, he admitted that he was wrong.

But he also said: “We have published, over the period that I have been there, over 500 statistical releases. We’ve also started the innovation of ‘ad hoc’ releases – which, actually, we were congratulated for by UKSA… We try and publish as regularly as possible… We try to sell a positive message, and I know there have been issues around negativity with regard to disability benefits.”

Pressed on the fact that Grant Shapps had claimed nearly 900,000 people shuffled off ESA because they weren’t willing to take the work capability assessment, the Secretary of State denied responsibility: “We didn’t actually – and have never – given them that idea about those figures. It was something that they put together and released themselves. I wasn’t even aware that they were going out with that comment at the time… I have had conversations with him and others about being careful to check with the department.”

Committee member Debbie Abrahams wanted to know about the claim by a whistleblower in Job Centre Plus, that JSA claimants were deliberately being set up to fail, contrary to the Civil Service code, with ploys including making appointments without telling the claimant, in order to create an easy opportunity for a sanction and thereby distorting statistics – not after they had been collected but in the collection itself.

She said the whistleblower had tried to raise the issue with managers at all levels, but had been rebuffed each time.

“Well, I’m not aware of that,” drawled Mr Duncan Smith, “and I have to say that I would like to see his evidence for that. With respect, he is making an allegation about some of the incredibly hard work that job advisors do. There’s always one or two people who have a different view about operating in an organisation. I happen to believe that, unless it is proved to the contrary, people in Job Centres do a very good job, work very hard, and they apply sanctions within the rules.”

Challenged on this by Dame Anne, he started to claim that sanctions are always issued because of failure to comply with the strictures imposed on claimants, provoking an interruption from Debbie Abrahams that caused his mask to slip momentarily. “I have listened a lot to what has been said – and moaning about this… You’ve had a fair crack at this.”

So there you have it. Statistical errors are nothing to do with Iain Duncan Smith. Sanctions are always applied fairly and never to distort the statistics.

And anyone who thinks otherwise is “moaning”.

Paula Peters, in her Facebook post, said that disability minister Mike Penning met people from organisations representing the disabled. She reported his words as follows:

“Our disabilities are our fault.

“Diabetes is a lifestyle choice.

“Everyone who claims benefits is frauding the system.

“Everyone who uses the access to work programme is frauding it.”

The public verdict on the meeting has been universally negative. Nicola Clubb (again on Facebook) summed it up well: “I have just watched an hour’s worth of IDS and the DWP evidence to the Work and Pensions Committee and they let him and his three cronies off the hook.

“They did not push him him to explain his use of dodgy stats, they just asked him about a couple of pieces of data released by people.”

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Betrayal/Collusion

despairToday’s article is for the doubters; the deniers. You know who I mean – people who have been brainwashed by the government’s rhetoric about its benefit cuts; who actually believe that they aren’t doing any harm to people who don’t deserve it.

That view is, of course, nonsense.

Government policy, as spearheaded by Vox Political’s ‘Monster of the Year, 2012’, Iain Duncan Smith, is to clear as many people off the books as possible, whether they deserve state support or not. The weasel words it uses to justify the policy would be risible if they were not so harmful.

The sick and disabled have come under especially intense attack from the Conservative-led government, not only with its divisive “strivers v skivers” rhetoric but also with a contradictory system that seems intended to provoke depression and despair in all those who are put into it – especially the mentally ill.

I think they want these people to kill themselves. It takes them off the benefit books.

It’s as simple, and ugly, as that. If you support a Conservative government; if you support a Liberal Democrat MP, then there’s blood on your hands as well.

I mention this now because I have been in the unenviable position of being able to watch a disabled person coming apart at the seams, as the welfare state into which she has paid is taken away by the ConDem nation.

My significant other – Mrs Mike – has been at the mercy of the ESA assessment system since early 2012. First there was the notification letter that she would have to undergo an Atos assessment at some point in the future. No date, just the warning. She was kept in suspense for months.

The assessment took place in June or July last year and was deeply distressing on both a physical and mental level. First we were told we were not allowed to record the interview. That was not only incorrect but illegal. Secondly, although the assessor was polite, he did put Mrs Mike through physical tests that left her in tears, and asked questions that deeply disturbed her state of mind. She remained deeply upset and uncomfortable for several days after the interview.

I would contend that it was contrived that way, in order to discourage people from continuing with their claim.

After several more weeks, we received notice that she would receive ESA, but would be in the work-related activity group, starting in August. This meant, apparently, that her benefit would last for one year only, starting on a date in August. By the end of that year, she would be expected to have recovered her health enough to have found a job that she could do.

Bear in mind, please, that the job market is deeply depressed. The government has not created a million new jobs, as David Cameron keeps trying to tell us. It has cooked the books and is lying to us about the result. Only last week, we heard that work programme providers – and I’ll get back to them in a moment – have been encouraging people to defraud the system by saying they are self-employed when they have no paying work to do, in order to allow those firms to claim the massive bonuses they are contracted to receive if they remove someone from the benefit books. Tax credits are to end when Universal Credit comes in, so this little wheeze is doubly vindictive.

Bear in mind also that, at the time, Mrs Mike had been ill for 11 years. Her condition is one that may continue indefinitely, or may dissipate at any time. One thing we do know about it is that stress makes it worse. She physically clenches up and that aggravates her symptoms.

The letter said she would soon be contacted by Job Centre Plus, who would arrange activities to get her into work. There then commenced a lengthy period in which she was left waiting by the authorities, all of whom seem to have decided they had better things to do.

She was finally contacted in December – five months after she received her notification letter, and four months into the period of her ESA benefit. Interview at the Job Centre. We attended. A very nice person, who is a personal acquaintance of Mrs Mike anyway, took us through the options and it was decided that someone from one of the associated firms – I’ve been calling them work programme providers because that’s all I can imagine them to be – would contact her to take matters further.

There then followed another month-long wait – partly caused because the person who was to deal with Mrs Mike became ill and had to postpone the interview. In January – now five months into the ESA period – she had a telephone call and after a brief conversation, handed the phone to me. I was told: “We cannot help her.” The advice was to seek reassessment as she should be in the support group.

This means the previous six months in the system had been nothing but a pointless waste of our time. We are now going through the process of arranging a reassessment – to get it done before April, when people asking for this or appealing against decisions are likely to be put on Jobseekers’ Allowance – with all the responsibilities that go with it – while their cases are considered.

Let me pause and go back to the title of this article. I’ve covered “betrayal” – that’s the government’s betrayal of people on benefits, who have paid into a system only to find their money has disappeared into a government black hole and they’ll be pushed away just as soon as possible, whether they are capable or not.

What about “collusion”?

Readers of this blog will know that we have been having problems with our landlord, a social housing provider. This organisation caused flooding in our home by failing to respond appropriately to a callout after we discovered a leak in a water pipe connected to our heating system. The problem had been caused by workmen putting in new bathroom fittings and decoration back in October/November on behalf of the housing association – they put a screw through the pipe, which worked its way loose in the cold weather. The company’s 24-hour emergency callout service proved to be nothing of the kind. When someone eventually came out to fix the boiler, he said we should leave the water on, because the housing association had told him the repair people from the company responsible would be out that evening. The housing association had lied to him; when the cupboard under the stairs and part of the kitchen flooded as a result of his advice, he was the one who was told to fix the problem, even though he didn’t have the right equipment. He went through a gas pipe while he was trying to go through the floorboards, too.

Mrs Mike had been in hospital that day, having an operation on her wrist. She needed peace, quiet, and rest. She got stress, aggravation and the extreme upset of seeing her possessions wrecked by entirely-avoidable water damage.

The housing association has phoned us irregularly ever since, either asking for information or promising us that people would come out to fix the collateral damage caused by the repair – and always providing the wrong information. A man came out on Monday, from yet another contracted-out firm, to fix the upstairs flooring. Mrs Mike wasn’t entirely happy with the job so someone else will have to come and finish it but never mind that, because yesterday (Wednesday) the housing association phoned to say the company that caused the problem in the first place would be coming out to do the same job! We told that person that we were sick of talking to employees; let him put the company director on the phone to us. We’ll sort it out with that person instead. Whoever they are, perhaps they’ll be fascinated by the abuses wreaked on tenants by their firm. Did I write “fascinated”? I meant “horrified”.

Practical upshot of all this was that Mrs Mike collapsed in floods of tears yesterday lunchtime. She’d had too many people messing her around and couldn’t take any more – physically or mentally. On the same day, a letter arrived from the DWP about the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment. It actually stated that she would be receiving more money in her DLA (around £1.40 per week; a ridiculous amount) but she was utterly unable to absorb that information or accept that it wasn’t bad news.

We had to contact the local mental health services and Citizens’ Advice, to get treatment for her mental state and help to combat what Mrs Mike now sees as an attack on two fronts.

The housing association is fully aware of its tenant’s health condition – or would be, if its employees could be bothered to read their notes before calling us. By its very nature, it provides accommodation to people who are on benefits or low pay. Therefore it follows that, if it causes undue aggravation to those tenants, it is helping the government’s scheme to do away with them.

Collusion.

And then we have the bedroom tax, coming into effect in April. I was pleased to see Cameron take a pasting over the issue in Prime Minister’s Questions yesterday – but disappointed to see that some members of the public have been supporting his line that it is a reasonable thing to do, and that it is not a tax.

The latter issue is a matter of semantics; they’re splitting hairs. If the government is taking away money that you would otherwise receive, and keeping it for itself, then you will see it as a tax. I think the people who are saying it isn’t a tax must be people who won’t be affected by it. People who, incidentally, will themselves be no better off as a result.

But again, this is collusion. The government has found another way to divide the nation, trying to garner popular support for its policy against a minority group.

Looking at the question of whether this is a reasonable thing to do, it occurs to me that, even by the government’s own standards, it isn’t. This is a complication of the housing benefit system. Now, the amount a claimant receives will be dependent on the number of bedrooms in use in their home. Doesn’t that go against the grain of the government’s policies – for a simplified benefit system (Universal Credit), for a simplified pension system (flat-rate pensions were recently announced)?

This government will simplify as much as it can – but only when that suits its purpose. And its purpose is to hammer the poor. The simplified schemes I’ve mentioned will take money away from people, not give them more. The complicated change to housing benefit will do the same thing.

With public collusion.

So, to all those people who support the government’s disastrous changes, I must say: This government doesn’t care about you. It’s not doing these things to help you. It wants your money too.

What are you going to do when the government turns on you, and there’s nobody to help you because you sold them down the river over disability benefits and housing benefit?

Will the changes be reasonable when they put you into poverty?

I thought not.

But by then, it will be too late.