Tag Archives: WRA

‘More or Less’ on the ESA deaths: MORE stupidity, LESS accuracy

Inaccurate: This meme - and others like it - provided an inaccurate interpretation of DWP statistics that the Torygraph and the BBC have seized, using them to hide the real issue. Thousands of ESA claimants are still dying every year but the DWP refuses to say how many. Why not? As David Cameron himself has said many times, "If you've nothing to hide, you've nothing to fear."

Inaccurate: This meme – and others like it – provided an inaccurate interpretation of DWP statistics that the Torygraph and the BBC have seized, using them to hide the real issue.
Thousands of ESA claimants are still dying every year but the DWP refuses to say how many. Why not? As David Cameron himself has said many times, “If you’ve nothing to hide, you’ve nothing to fear.”

BBC Radio 4’s More or Less promised a feature on the long-discussed deaths of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance in its programme on Friday – and delivered five minutes of drivel that is an insult to the intelligence of anybody concerned.

As a reporter, I am staggered that the BBC has had the bare-faced cheek to patronise us in this manner.

The feature (which may be downloaded here – it’s the August 29 edition) took as its premise claims made on the social media that 10,600 people have died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos assessors.

There are several issues with this. Firstly, this claim is two years out-of-date. Many more are likely to have died since then but the figures are not available because the Department for Work and Pensions has refused to release them. Secondly, the claim is inaccurate, based on a misunderstanding of the DWP statistical release ‘Incapacity Benefits: Deaths of recipients’ published in July 2012.

We already know that the claim was inaccurate. Why is the BBC determined to rake over these old coals?

For the sake of the BBC and anyone else who is similarly hard-of-thinking, let’s go back to what the statistical release actually says.

Officially – according to the DWP – the 10,600 deaths were of people leaving ESA with a recorded date of death, between January and November 2011. The government document made it clear that “data on the number of ESA claimants who have died following a ‘fit for work’ decision is not available, as the Department does not hold information on a death if the person has already left benefit”. Efforts to persuade the DWP to change this policy and follow up ‘fit for work’ decisions by checking on claimants’ health at intervals afterwards have been refused at all times.

Therefore we may safely conclude that the number of deaths of ESA claimants is probably many times greater than official figures suggest.

In the Now and Then piece, the Daily Telegraph‘s Tom Chivers, enlisted to provide some spurious relevance to the show’s finding, said: “The DWP say they don’t keep records of the number of people who died after their benefits were cut off because that’s irrelevant to them; it’s no longer their problem. So we don’t have the full figures.” This is correct.

The trouble is, it is the DWP’s problem – and it’s certainly a problem for the rest of us – because anyone who has died in this way almost certainly did so as a consequence of the loss of their benefit! The news media has been riddled with stories of these people over the last few years, and we can be sure that the volume of known stories is a fraction of the true number of cases.

Back to the statistical release: Of the 10,600, the government said 2,200 died when their assessment had not been completed. This clearly suggests that the assessment process had failed these people – they died before they were able to access the support they needed.

A further 1,300 were in the Work Related Activity group. This suggests that they had been placed in the wrong group and should have been in the Support Group.

Finally, 7,100 were in the Support group. The statistical release states that “those in the Support Group receive unconditional support due to the nature of their illness, which can include degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability”. However, just three paragraphs above, the same release states that the information it provides relates to people “whose latest WCA [work capability assessment] date (or activity towards assessment) was before the end of November 2011”.

This means that people in the Support Group do not receive “unconditional support” at all – they have to undergo periodic reassessment, at irregular intervals (due to the nature of the assessment process – you never know when they’ll get round to you again). This meant that people with degenerative conditions, terminal illness and severe disability are subjected to the stress and anxiety of having to face a flawed assessment system – rigged to find them ‘fit for work’ if at all possible – at any time. Stories in the press about people with terminal cancer (the most famous example) being forced back to work can only have increased this stress, making the possibility of early death more likely.

That is the situation. Now let us examine what the BBC had to say about it.

The More or Less feature is inaccurate from the start.

It states: “In 2011, existing Incapacity Benefit and Income Support claims were replaced with something called Employment and Support Allowance.” In fact, ESA was introduced by the previous Labour government on October 27, 2008 and while IB and IS claims were not migrated until 2011, it would be wrong to think that the deaths under discussion were of the migrated claims in isolation.

“Claimants were made to undergo a Work Capability Assessment to determine whether they were entitled to the new allowance and how much money they might get. Now some critics complain that these assessments are stacked against claimants. Seriously-ill people are being dismissed as malingerers by Atos Healthcare and having their claims denied. And in the middle of this argument, up pops the truly shocking finding that 10,600 people have been cut off from this vital benefit and then died within six weeks.”

Two things: Firstly – THAT IS NOT THE FINDING! See the analysis of the statistical release (above). Secondly – the claim is two years old; it was made when the statistical release was issued back in July 2012 and debunked shortly afterwards. Why is More or Less covering this old news when it could be asking relevant questions?

One has to ask why the programme enlisted help from – of all people – Daily Telegraph blogger Tom Chivers. He published a controversial piece about the Atos deaths on July 9, proceeding from the same – wrong – starting-point as More or Less. His argument is irrelevant because it does not relate to the problem.

In the broadcast, Chivers compounded the error with further inaccuracies: “In July 2012 there was a Freedom of Information request about how many people died within six weeks of their benefit claim ending,” he blithely spouted. WRONG. Here is the request, copied verbatim from the DWP’s statistical release and pasted here:

Information request: Can you please provide me with the number of ESA claimants who have died in 2011?

Can you please break down that number into the following categories:

  • Those who are in the assessment phase
  • Those who have been found fit to work
  • Those who have been placed in the work related activity group
  • Those who have been placed in the support group
  • Those who have an appeal pending

(This is the format I have used in both of my own, subsequent, FoI requests on this matter, and I believe Samuel Miller’s was phrased the same way. The DWP has sidestepped all three.)

There is nothing about any six-week period after the claim ended. The request is about ESA claimants who died during 2011 – no more, no less.

Chivers accurately quotes a paragraph from the response which mentions the six-week time figure. He goes on to say that he found it questionable and checked it with the DWP. What he then tells us suggests that the fault lies with the Department for Work and Pensions, for deliberately failing to directly answer the direct questions that had been put to it.

“They said no – actually there is a rather weird, obtuse meaning of it, which they mean it was six weeks either side of this thing – there was a six-week period either side of the death and that was when the claim ended.”


That has nothing to do with the original request! If they died, they died!

“A lot of these people would have died, and then the claim ended shortly afterwards because they were dead,” Chivers said, as though it excused the DWP of any wrong-doing. All he was doing was reiterating the problem – that people have been dying while claiming ESA!

Presenter Tim Harford then chimed in: “So what the DWP are doing here is, they take a snapshot, they see a certain number of people are making a benefit claim and are alive, and then six weeks later they take another snapshot and they discover that these people are no longer making a benefit claim, and these people are no longer alive?”


This would make a nonsense of the DWP’s statistical release from 2012. It covers a period from January to November 2011, inclusive. That’s 11 months, not six weeks! No ‘snapshots’ were taken – it was a running total showing all deaths during the c.48 weeks covered, not the sum of two ‘snapshots’ taken six weeks apart. In fact, the DWP should be grateful for this because 10,600 deaths within six weeks comes out at 1,767 deaths per week, rather than the 220 maximum that some of us have been suggesting.

Not content with producing a statement of utter nonsense, Harford decided to confuse the listening public with a completely different interpretation within minutes of the first: “So 10,600 claimants didn’t die six weeks after their claim ended; 10,600 claimants died within the same six-week period as their claim ended – not the same thing at all.” Correct – it’s not even the same thing you said moments previously, Tim.

And it still isn’t accurate! Look at the top of this article again. The DWP made it perfectly clear that it does not monitor what happens to people after their claim ends – these are all people who died while claiming the benefit, who should have been receiving the maximum amount of care possible, but didn’t.

That is the issue More or Less should have been investigating. That is why the show, Harford, Chivers and the BBC have failed us so appallingly.

The perpetrators of this atrocity decided to end with some unbearably smug platitudes – to show how completely they have misunderstood the situation, it seems.

From Chivers: “What this comes down to, as far as I’m concerned, is just a dreadful piece of communication by the DWP. This fairly, well, not simple but not complicated piece of information has been translated into 10,000 people dying within six weeks of being callously removed from their benefits.”

Wrong! Thanks to a few inaccurate memes, Chivers has tried to translate the DWP’s information into something it is not, diverting attention away from the real problem.

People are still dying – on a daily basis – because of the way the Department for Work and Pensions has decided to handle claims for incapacity benefits. It is a national scandal.

Remember: Those 10,600 deaths cover a period of just 11 months, ending nearly three years ago. How many have died since then? Has the number escalated or decreased? If More or Less had done its research, it could have been reporting on the biggest genocide of the British people by their own government since the Harrowing of the North.

Instead, we got this from Tim Harford: “So the moral of this story: It’s always worth asking what a statistic is really counting, rather than assuming we know.”

Really? What a shame Mr Harford did not practise what he was preaching.

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Freedom of Information tribunal on benefit deaths – April 23

Vox Political may seem a little quiet over the next 30 hours or so. This is because the site’s owner, Mike Sivier (that’s me), will be travelling to Cardiff to take the Information Commissioner and the Department for Work and Pensions to a tribunal.

The aim is to secure the release of mortality figures – death statistics – covering people who were claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance during 2012.

Figures for later dates were not part of the Freedom of Information request that forms the basis of this action (submitted back in June 2013, nearly a year ago), so it is unlikely that these will be forthcoming. The hope is that the tribunal will judge in favour of the information being released, ensuring that further requests cannot be blocked by the DWP.

The government’s claim is that a single-sentence, off-the-cuff line at the end of a Vox Political article about the FoI request constitutes a co-ordinated, protracted and obsessive campaign of harassment against the DWP, and for that reason the request is vexatious.

It is utterly ridiculous. It brings the DWP and the Freedom of Information Act into disrepute. Yet it is enough to prevent this valuable information from being published.

It is important to have the data in the public domain, as a yardstick by which the government’s so-called ‘reforms’ to the benefit system may be judged. Between January and November 2011, 73 deaths were recorded every week, just among people in the work-related activity group of ESA and those going through the assessment process. The government does not monitor the progress of people it has marked ‘fit for work’ and thrown off-benefit altogether, and this group is four times as large as the WRAG, meaning the death toll could be anything up to five times larger than we understand at the moment.

The government has claimed that it has been implementing changes designed to make ESA serve its claimants better. An increased death rate will disprove that. Of course, a lowered death rate would support the government’s position but, if this were the case, it is logical to expect the government to have publicised it widely without any prompting.

This is why tomorrow’s tribunal is important.

People are dying every day and nothing will be done to stop it unless the severity of the situation is made clear.

Let’s all hope we get the result we need.

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DWP calls in Rentadoc to harass the sick off-benefit

Ingeus out of favour: This image was found on a site protesting against Workfare and demonstrates the high regard in which it is held by previous users of the Ingeus service.

Ingeus out of favour: This image was found on a site protesting against Workfare and demonstrates the high regard in which it is held by previous users of the Ingeus service.

Perhaps we’re jumping the gun with the headline but alarm bells tend to go off when you read that “people on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work”.

Everyone working on Employment and Support Allowance should already know what everyone receiving it knows – it’s more a bloodbath than a benefit.

This is down to the attitude of the healthcare professionals already working on it – the people who (and God forbid you should ever ask to see their qualifications) automatically sign 70 per cent of claimants as ‘fit for work’, whether they are or not, and tell most of the rest they need to be work-ready within a year.

The result? Mental breakdowns, depression and suicides; physical breakdowns, worsening of existing conditions, and premature deaths. By the thousand.

These are the people who ask claimants when amputated limbs are going to grow back, and who tell people with Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis that they’ll be fit for work within six months.

If you did (God forbid) ask them where they got their qualifications, it was probably the Teaching Hospital of Noddyland.

“People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits [italics mine] – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November,” the DWP press release states.

Isn’t this what happened with people on Jobseekers’ Allowance? Suddenly they had to start fulfilling lots of pointless extra requirements or their benefits would be withdrawn? Part of that is a regular meeting in which – as far as we can ascertain – innocent people are harassed, threatened and abused by DWP employees who are themselves, it seems, millimetres away from nervous exhaustion brought on by the pressures of the job.

Claiming benefits, it seems, is now an endurance test: Who cracks (up) first?

Now, for 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for ESA in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire, there’s no relief even if they have a nervous breakdown and have to claim ESA on mental health grounds.

“People involved in the pilot – who have all been assessed as being able to work at some point in the future – will have regular appointments with healthcare professionals as a condition of receiving their benefit, to focus on helping them move closer to being able to get a job.”

There you go – all judged as able to work in the future. Presumably Iain Duncan Smith has taken a look at their files, glanced into his crystal ball, and declared that he has a “belief” in their fitness to work. If any of these people are reading, please contact this blog if you have a progressive health condition that won’t ever improve.

Because the meeting is a condition of receiving benefit, anyone attending can expect to be treated abominably. This is not about helping you back to work, or even back to health; it’s about kicking you off-benefit and nothing further. The aim, as with JSA, is to cut claimant numbers and thereby cut spending.

“It’s really important we give people who are disabled or have a health condition the support they need to get into work if they are able,” said employment minister Esther McVey who knows nothing about this at all (despite having been minister for the disabled).

“Traditionally, this help has tended to be work-related, but this pilot will look at whether a more holistic approach is more successful in helping people to manage their conditions and so break down their barriers to work.”

The biggest barrier to a person with a disability getting work is the fact that the Conservative-led Coalition government has been closing down employment opportunities for them and removing incentives for employers to take them on.

The healthcare professionals will be provided by Ingeus UK – a welfare-to-work provider that has been involved in the Work Programme – you know, the time-wasting scheme in which jobseekers are taken off the unemployment statistics while they learn simple skills that, in fact, most of them already have.

The company’s website is very slick but contains no information about the number of doctors in its employ.

Oh, and guess what? The company is half-owned by Deloitte, one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancy firms that currently writes British tax law to make avoidance easy for the big corporates. How much tax has Ingeus paid lately?

“Everything we do is results driven”, the site declares.

One wonders what Ingeus will do when the casualties start piling up.

More dodgy numbers on jobs for the disabled from the fake statistics machine

Making up the numbers: Thousands more disabled people are becoming self-employed, contributing to a huge boost in the number of private businesses - or are they?

Making up the numbers: Thousands more disabled people are becoming self-employed, contributing to a huge boost in the number of private businesses – or are they?

Someone in the Coalition government needs to watch what they’re saying – otherwise people all over the UK might come to unintended conclusions.

Take a look at this: “Over 2,000 more disabled people got the support they needed to get or keep their job, compared with this time last year, official figures released today (22 October 2013) show” – according to a Department for Work and Pensions press release.

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.

Now look at this: According to a press release from the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, the number of private sector businesses in the UK increased by 102,000 between the beginning of 2012 and the same time in 2013.

There are now 4.9 million private businesses in the UK, with those employing fewer than 50 employees comprising nearly half of the total.

Some might think this is brilliant; that the DWP and BIS are achieving their aims of boosting private-sector business and finding work within those businesses for disabled people.

But dig a little deeper and a more sinister pattern emerges.

Doesn’t this scenario seem odd to anybody who read, earlier this year, that the DWP was having deep difficulty finding work for disabled people from the ESA work-related activity group?

Or, indeed, to anybody who read the BBC’s report that work advisors were pushing the jobless into self-employment?

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?

The reference to jobs for people with mental health problems would be particularly useful for a government that has just appealed against the result of a judicial review that found its practices discriminate against this sector of society.

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.

And let’s not forget that, since the Coalition came into office, 52,701 firms have been declared insolvent and 379,968 individuals. Around 80 per cent of new self-employed businesses go to the wall within three years.

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.

Mark Hoban: A message isn’t scaremongering if it’s true

Mark Hoban, sending even his colleagues to sleep in another Parliamentary debate.

Mark Hoban, sending even his colleagues to sleep in another Parliamentary debate.

Employment minister Mark Hoban has accused Parliament’s public accounts committee of “scaremongering” after it attacked the Department for Work and Pensions’ work capability assessment.

He said, according to the BBC: “Rather than scaremongering and driving down the reputation of the WCA, critics might like to acknowledge the fact that independent reviews have found no fundamental reforms are needed to the current process because of changes we’re making.”

That sounds a lot like self-justifying nonsense to me.

I wonder whether we may reasonably expect any better of him, when we know he edits comments on his own Facebook page to remove anything remotely critical. If you don’t believe me, just you go there and try it!

But okay, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt and try examining the committee’s criticisms at ground-level. We all know my partner, Mrs Mike, has been – and is continuing to go through – the assessment system. Let’s go through the committee’s conclusions with reference to her example.

The first conclusion was that “the decision-making process for new Employment Support Allowance applications and Incapacity Benefit reassessments all too often leads to the wrong decisions and is failing far too many people”. The decision after Mrs Mike’s assessment was that she should go into the work-related activity group for ESA. It was only after she had an interview with a WRA provider – six months after the assessment – that they told us the decision was wrong, she should be in the support group, and we should seek reassessment. So in our case, I find that the committee’s conclusion was ACCURATE.

Conclusion number two: “The Work Capability Assessment may unduly penalise people with specific health problems. The one-size-fits-all approach is not appropriate for particular groups, for example, people with mental health, rare or variable conditions. The process is too inflexible and makes it extremely difficult for individuals with particular conditions to demonstrate the impact of their conditions on their ability to work. Too often the process is so stressful for applicants that it can impact on their health.” Mrs Mike has fluctuating conditions – fibromyalgia, mental health problems, and a back condition that causes pain, although the level of that pain can vary from day to day. As I have demonstrated in my response to the first conclusion, she was put into the wrong group – in the opinion of a work-related activity provider employed by the Department for Work and Pensions. That’s pretty conclusive! I was present at the work capability assessment interview and can assure any doubters that it is an extremely stressful process – not just physically, because claimants have to prove the limits of their physical abilities, but also emotionally. It took her days to recover her composure after the assessment. There are continuing issues to do with mental health, as the current nature of the process – leaving people waiting for months at a time before a decision, or until they can move on to the next step, then the disappointment of being told there was a mistake and they have to go through the whole process again – seems engineered to create mental instability. Therefore I must find that in this case also, the committee’s conclusion was ACCURATE.

The next conclusion states: “The Department does not know the full cost to the taxpayer of the overall decision-making process for Work Capability Assessments. Whilst some costs are known, such as the £26.3 million paid to HM Courts and Tribunals Service for its work on appeals, there is little information on the cost and impact on the National Health Service or on some of the internal interactions within the Department.” Whilst it is true that Mrs Mike has been to see her doctors (physical and mental) since her assessment took place, and throughout the ensuing mess, I would not try to put a price on that extra process. Therefore I cannot say for sure whether this conclusion is accurate or not. However, we all know that a high proportion of appeals are won – more than 90 per cent of those in which the claimant has sought legal representation, in fact, so it is reasonable to believe that the government is paying a high price to the courts. On that basis alone, it is reasonable to question whether the government is getting value for money.

Conclusion four: “The Department has failed to develop a competitive market for medical services. The market for medical service providers is under-developed and Atos Healthcare is currently the sole supplier for all the Department’s medical assessments. It has also been awarded two of the three current contracts for the Personal Independence Payment. The Department is too relaxed about the risk to value for money resulting from a dependence on a monopoly supplier, and on the limitations this has on the Department’s capacity to remedy poor performance.” Personally, I am unhappy with the thought that a profit-centred marketplace should be created around people’s health. This is why I opposed the Health and Social Care Act that has caused so much harm to the NHS in England since it became law. However, the point that it is hard to remedy poor performance when a single company holds a monopoly on assessments is reasonable. Mrs Mike’s assessment was carried out by Atos. That assessment reached a wrong conclusion. Who will carry out her reassessment? Atos. You see the problem.

Worse than that, though, is the underlying issue – that Atos has been briefed to push as many people off-benefit as it can. This is why the work capability assessment is based on the “psycho” part of the biopsychosocial model, itself a discredited medical theory. The aim of the assessment process is to tell claimants that their illnesses or disabilities are all in their minds, and that in fact they are perfectly capable of work. Considering the Labour Party’s policy is reprehensibly shoulder-to-shoulder with that of the Coalition in this regard (Liam Byrne very recently said Labour would continue reforms of social security benefits along similar lines) there seems very little hope for people with disabilities in the future. I find the committee’s conclusion ACCURATE in the case of Mrs Mike, and note with trepidation that the future seems bleak, no matter what government we have in the future.

I do not intend to address the fifth and sixth conclusions as they seem to be operational matters within the Department for Work and Pensions. Before Mr Hoban claims any victories, I should add that all the reports I have seen tend to bear out the comments of the public accounts committee.

But the final conclusion states: “The Department must improve its internal processes to improve the quality of decision-making and contract management. The size of the Department and its impact on individuals and on the public purse requires us to have the utmost confidence in the capability of the Department to deliver. Robust systems are a crucial part of this. We are concerned that the Department is unduly complacent regarding the quality of the decision-making process, particularly given the hardship which can be caused to individuals when the decision is wrong.” Clearly, neither I nor Mrs Mike have any confidence in the DWP’s ability to deliver the right decision regarding a person’s ability to work. Therefore I find the committee’s comment about complacency ACCURATE. The hardship which can be caused to individuals is something my partner and I are being forced to face at the moment – as a possibility, should a reassessment decision go against her. We are all familiar with cases in which people have either died from the worsening of their health conditions (conditions denied by the DWP and Atos) or from suicide provoked by a worsening of their mental health due to the assessment process and fear for the future of themselves and their families. These are real issues.

By suggesting such fears are “scaremongering”, Mr Hoban hugely weakens his own case.

Success for one disability campaign – but another needs your help

You may remember an irate column on this blog a few weeks ago, berating the British public for failing to provide the required 100,000 signatures for Pat’s Petition.

The petition, calling on the government to “stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families”, totalled more than 62,600 signatures when it closed, fair short of the required amount of support.

I am delighted, therefore, to report that there will be an Opposition Day debate in the House of Commons, bsed around the petition.

The Labour Party agreed to the debate after campaigners sent an open letter to Liam Byrne, the shadow Work and Pensions Secretary.

The petition’s creator, Pat Onions, wrote: “The debate will probably take place some time in January and we will only have a week’s notice, so the important thing now is to get ready for the debate and make sure all the issues we have been campaigning on get attention.

“The theme of the motion for the debate will be the Pat’s Petition demand that the government stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families, and a demand for a cumulative impact assessment. It’s a very wide brief so if you want to focus on a particular issue that’s fine.

“We will need lots of help from you all to make sure that, after all your effort, this debate gets real results. We will also need help to ask MPs from all parties to speak in this debate.”

Contact your MP via this link.

This is all very encouraging.

But securing a debate does not mean any battles are won, and another aspect of the fight against those disproportionate cuts to benefits and services is the appeal to the United Nations by Samuel Miller – another matter which has been well-reported on this site.

Mr Miller is calling for people who are sick or disabled, and in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance, to send him scans of letters from their GP that state, explicitly, that they are not fit for work.

“This information is needed for the filing of United Nations complaints against the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland,” he wrote.   “It is my opinion that the British government’s mandatory Work Programme for sick and/or disabled persons is in violation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which it signed on September 16, 1968 and ratified on May 20, 1976. (See http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/pdf/cescr.pdf and http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/cescr-ratify.htm)   “Further, it is my opinion the British government is violating the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and Optional Protocol.” (See http://www.un.org/disabilities/documents/convention/convoptprot-e.pdf and http://www.un.org/disabilities/countries.asp?navid=12&pid=166)

I strongly urge anyone who is able to help Mr Miller to send him copies of these documents. The more information he is able to collect, the easier it will be to persuade the United Nations that the British Government is knowingly and deliberately causing serious harm to sick and disabled people across the UK.

The email address, as ever, is [email protected]

Confusion reigns over work programme for the disabled

I took Mrs Mike up to the Job Centre on Friday, for an interview with her advisor on the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance.

Linda (Mrs Mike) has been in the WRAG since her work capability assessment in August. I won’t go into the details of that particular interview because those of you who have experienced it will know that, even in the best of circumstances, it can be harrowing for a disabled person.

This interview was a far cry from that; it helped a lot that Linda knew her advisor – they worked together on a previous job.

We went through Linda’s circumstances and the list of her disabilities, and it was explained that, at the end of her year on the WRA group, she will be assessed again (we’re not looking forward to that!) to decide whether she may be found fit for work or has to go back for another year in the WRAG. This was news to me; my impression was always that you had the year, then you got booted out onto Jobseekers’ Allowance.

It was explained that she could choose to work with her advisor or with work placement provider companies, to find employment for her that is suitable with regard to her disabilities; work placements will not be valid if they do not accommodate an individual’s sickness or disability (this is a fact – I looked it up on the government’s own documentation and they do have a duty to ensure the activity is “appropriate to the participants health condition or disability”).

Mandating – forcing a disabled person to participate in the work programme by making it a condition under which they continue to receive benefit – would only happen if a claimant failed to participate in the work-related activity scheme on any level. It’s what happens when people refuse to have anything to do with it, Linda was told.

I noted that this still means Linda has to take part in some form of activity, but here’s the thing: Mrs Mike does actually want a job. She wants to be a contributing member of society and she wants to be able to pay her way. She is not, by any stretch of the imagination, a scrounger.

what she does not want is to be forced into an exploitative situation where she is made to do work that is unsuitable for her, with no concern about whether it will worsen her condition. She spent months, after her illness began, trying to soldier on at her former job and getting worse every day. She won’t go through that again.

Imagine, then, my surprise on getting home to read an article in The Guardian, stating that, from tomorrow (Monday), the government will “allow private back-to-work companies and jobcentre case managers to force [Linda] and more than 300,000 sick and disabled welfare claimants into unpaid work experience for an unspecified length of time.

“Also from that day – the UN’s international day of persons with disabilities – if those in WRAG who have illnesses ranging from cancer to paralysis to mental health issues do not comply with such instructions, they can be stripped of up to 70 per cent of their benefits and forced to live on £28.15 a week.”

The paper showed that the scheme was already in disrepute. According to the rules (and, again, I’ve read them) providers must ensure that a work placement is of “community benefit”, but the article stated “since February the DWP has stopped answering freedom of information requests about where people are being sent to work – even when instructed to do so by the information commissioner – because it fears the [Mandatory Work Activity] scheme will collapse under the weight of public protest if details are released.

“The DWP has admitted that … private, profit-seeking companies can participate in the scheme.”

the paper added that, according to the latest figures, between 1 June 2011 and 31 May 2012 there were 11,130 conditionality sanctions applied to ESA WRAG claimants. The average length of such sanction is seven weeks.

Linda and I already know that neither the work programme nor the mandatory work activity scheme (Workfare) have any effect on increasing people’s chances of getting into a job. They are ways of funnelling taxpayers’ money to the bosses of the ‘work programme provider’ companies. “Why take part, then?” you might ask. The answer is threefold: Firstly, to show willing; second, to avoid sanctions; third, to get direct experience of how it works in practice.

All this, of course, takes place in an environment where organisations like the British Heart Foundation are pulling out of the programme. According to the newspaper, “the charity said it was offered cash incentives by private companies running the programme if it took on jobseekers. The BHF refused such payments, as it would have meant the charity being paid while its volunteers – in desperate need of a job – worked for no pay in return.

“The DWP said it was not troubled by this practice: ‘We pay providers to find us placements; it’s up to them what arrangement they make with organisations who will take someone on.'”

This is interesting, considering Iain Duncan Smith is adamant that no payment is made other than by results.

On the BBC he said: “Unlike previous work programmes that the last government did where they paid up to half the money just for taking the person on, we don’t do any of that. what we say is, the company concerned has to get them into work but just not into work; also into a job that is eventually, say, six months – that’s when we pay them.”

He also said that the six-month period of work that participants need to build up (presumably before these companies get paid) can be split between placements. We’ve never heard that before, and it seems a rough-and-ready reinterpretation of the rules, as most employment currently lasts no more than four months before people end up back on Jobseekers’ Allowance.

Employment minister Mark Hoban told the Guardian: ‘”People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back into a job have nothing to worry about.

‘”They will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help. But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.”‘

What bargain? He seems to misunderstand the meaning of the word. A bargain is an agreement in which each party has obligations to the other.

What sanctions are imposed on the DWP if it fails to provide the service – as stated – to claimants? None, that I can see.

Be assured I will keep you posted on future developments.

PS For everyone about to embark on this new adventure in disability benefits, I think it is important that you read this website – Securing your rights on Welfare to Work(fare). It provides important information on protecting your rights, which may be eroded if you sign certain documents presented to you as part of this programme.

Only you can close the Atos slaughterhouse

If any MP, government representative or stooge tells you the UK is bankrupt, or close to it, ask them why we can afford to pay Thierry Breton £1.9 million to preside over a company running a flawed system that leads to the deaths of 73 of us every week.

Mr Breton is the boss of Atos, the company that has been “reassessing” people who used to be on Incapacity Benefit, in a bid to clear the vast majority of them from the government’s welfare benefit bill within a year of assessment.

Only between 12-13 per cent of those who go through the Atos ‘work capability assessment’ keep their benefits indefinitely, going through to the ‘support group’ of the new Employment and Support Allowance. This means they have conditions which mean they will never be able to work in any way – and, in practice, many are likely to die in the near future.

Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions say this figure should be 30 per cent, but that seems more likely to be the percentage transferred from IB. In regard to new cases, I’ll stick with what the Atos trainer said on Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary in July.

The others are either put into a ‘work-related activity’ group and told to get better within 12 months, or marked ‘fit for work’ and told to get looking for a job. These are where the controversial deaths take place, due to stress exacerbating people’s illnesses or suicide because they cannot see a way to go on.

For this, Mr Breton is being paid around £1 million per year. His bonus – nearly another £1 million – means he pocketed £1.9 million in total (before tax – although he could always seed it away in one of the tax havens the government is assiduously failing to close down).

This is why disability specialist Samuel Miller needs to hear from people whose family members or friends have suffered at the hands of Mr Breton’s company. Mr Miller is putting together a file of atrocities which he intends to send to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations.

The aim is to show that austerity measures are violating British people’s human rights. His best hope is in receiving coroners’ reports where the cause of death is found to be destitution and/or suicide.

He can’t do this on his own.

I reported Mr Miller’s plan last week and as a result he has received some responses – but many more are needed. He needs you to get in touch – if you have been affected.

If nobody does anything, the government will merrily assume it is right to persist with a regime that leads to 73 deaths, of your loved ones, every week. And they will continue. If you are disabled, you may be next.

So don’t leave it to somebody else. If you have been affected, get your story in to Mr Miller. You could also contact your local news media and get them to run a story about this, with his email contact details: [email protected]

If they don’t run anything, ask them why. There does seem to be a media blackout and this must be overcome as well.

Otherwise you, or someone you know, could end up like Susan Atkinson, who died of cancer last year, aged 37, after Atos told her she was fit for work.

A friend of hers, Donna Thornton, wrote: “I’m not saying they caused her death but they did add  more stress and worry, which I do think helped her give up the fight.

“Her quality of life before she died was so very sad for me to watch – instead of her last few weeks of life being happy ones, they were sad and upsetting. I couldn’t even help her as I was going through the same.”

Donna, who has been in three car crashes, has fibromyalgia, nerve damage, has had shingles and suffers depression, wrote: “I just received a letter saying I have got to got to court this time to appeal.

“Not only do I feel like a criminal but feel sick [that] I’ve got to go through all this to prove I am sick and disabled.

“This system is so wrong; they have got me in so much debt over the past two years, I now want to give up the fight. Life is hard enough being sick, never mind going through all this.

Please help before I end up on Atos’ death list.”

Is this familiar? [email protected]

It’s not just the Atos assessments that are pushing people to the brink, of course. How many of you will be affected by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’? [email protected]

Pressure from the public can stop the insanity of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions, and the other government “reforms” (what a cheek, to suggest changes that will ruin the lives of millions of people are improvements).

But it’s not going to happen if people can’t be bothered to lift a finger.

All it takes is an email. If you can read this, surely you can do that?

New e-petition gives you another chance to challenge murderous disability benefit cuts

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6-iTZR8CoI&feature=player_embedded]Campaigners for an end to the unfair cuts that have led to the deaths of 73 disabled people every week have launched a new petition, calling for the government to pause and review this deadly regime.

It comes days after an earlier attempt, known as “Pat’s Petition” failed due to a lack of support by the mainstream media. Even though it was starved of publicity, the petition gained more than 62,000 signatures – but it needed 100,000 to secure a Parliamentary debate.

The petition calls for the government to “Stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and families.” It says the Welfare Reform Act (brainchild of Iain Duncan Smith and his Department for Work and Pensions) should be be reviewed and the government should “amend its contents in a fairer and more socially-acceptable format.”

I can already hear cries of disbelief from some of you, as you read this. Don’t tell me – you don’t know anything about this; you thought that the government was cracking down on benefit scroungers, not people who deserved help; you thought the mainstream press had been telling you the facts.

You thought wrong, I’m afraid!

But you’re not alone. I refer you to this comment from Cyril Zeldane, on my previous article about the petition: “I was very upset by this, and by what ATOS, JC+, DWP and the state more broadly has been doing for a while… I was equally angry to hear about it for the first time today, now that it’s too late.”

The simple fact is that the mainstream media have been tranquillising the population by burying the facts. I’m talking about the BBC, ITV, national and local radio, the Daily Mail, the Express, the Telegraph, the Sun… the list goes on and on. Some papers like the Independent and the Guardian carry sporadic accounts, and columnists like Sonia Poulton have been slugging it out like gladiators to get the message across.

But most people are as “Jay” describes in his comment to the petition piece: “People still don’t care enough because they still don’t understand what is happening.”

What’s happening is this: People on welfare – the sick, the disabled, the unemployed and the elderly – have been collectively labelled as scroungers. Stories in the right-wing press and on television have reinforced this view, by showing benefit cheats being brought to justice. Of course, benefit fraudsters do exist – but they total 0.4 per cent of the total number of claimants.

Meanwhile, the government’s policy, enacted by Atos assessors through the work capability assessment for Employment and Support Allowance, is to allow just 13 per cent of claimants a secure future, knowing that they will continue to receive benefit for an indefinite period of time – although even then, ESA payments are lower than the Incapacity Benefit that it has replaced.

Of the remaining 87 per cent, most are branded “fit for work” and lose their benefits. Some go on to the ‘work-related activity’ group of ESA recipients, continuing to receive benefit for 365 days (one year), during which time they are expected to take steps to ensure they are fit for work by the time their benefit runs out. This group includes people with progressive conditions who will never get better, but who have been put their because Atos have a quota to meet.

The effect on the health of disabled people who have been through this process is catastrophic. Current figures, which have been made available by the government after a Freedom of Information request, show that on average, 73 people are dying every week due to the strain of losing their benefit.

One such person is Brian McArdle, whose son Kieran told the Daily Record (“The what?” I hear you cry. News blackout in the mainstream press, remember? You’ll only read about it in more independently-minded papers like the Record) that “constant worry about how he would survive without the cash he needed robbed Brian of the will to live”.

It seems the 57-year-old had a stroke on Boxing Day last year which left him paralysed down his left side, unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress, but after a work capability assessment he was found fit for work and his benefits were stopped. He had another stroke days before his appointment, and the heart attack that killed him came the day after his benefits were stopped.

That’s the truth of the Coalition’s disability benefit assessment regime.

Now that you know, please go to the government’s e-petitions site, sign the petition (it’s only a click away via the link in this article) and get your friends to do the same.

And spread the word, because you can’t rely on the mass media to do it for you.