From 2011: Private Eye on Unum’s Role in Shaping Government Welfare Policy

This is from the Eye for the 11th – 24th November 2011:

McGarry Unum pic

Jack McGarry, Chief Executive at Unum.

Welfare Reform

Mutual Benefits

Tricky questions are again being asked about the profits American insurance giant Unum stands to make from its massive media push on income protection cover, promoted as the answer to the latest tough welfare reforms.

Pulling stunts like persuading six bloggers to live for a week on the current average benefit of £95 and then write about it, Jack Mcgarry, chief executive at Unum UK (pictured), earlier this year warned: “The government’s welfare reform bill will seek to tighten the gateway to benefits for those people unable to work due to sickness or injury. Each year up to 1m people in the UK become disabled and the reforms mean that working people will be able to rely less on state benefits to maintain the standard of living they were used to prior to their illness”.

Well, Unum should know. Behind the scenes it has been helping Tory and Labour governments slash the benefits of disabled and sick people for years – going right back to Peter Lilley’s social security “Incapacity for Work” reforms of 1994. Lilley hired John Le Cascio, then vice-president of Unum, to advise on “claims management”. Le Cascio also sat on the “medical evaluation group”, which – according to Professor Jonathan Rutherford in the academic journal Soundings – was set upt to design and enforce more stringent medical tests.

At the same time, the UK wing of Unum was launching what it boasted was “a concerted effort to harness the potential” from predicted cuts in benefits, urging people to protect themselves with a “long-term disability policy from Unum”.

The Eye first questioned Unum about the possibility of a serious conflict of interest back in 1995. Dr Le Cascio said he didn’t “feel that way” and wouldn’t have taken the government job if he thought there was a conflict. That, of course, was ten years before Unum was found guilty in the US of “systematically violating” insurance regulations and fraudulently denying or “low-balling” claims using phony medical reports, misrepresentation and biased investigations (see Ad Nauseam, last Eye).

Fast-forward 16 years, and plus ca change. Unum’s tarnished reputation has done nothing to diminish its influence here and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is still denying there’s anything amiss about Unum’s more meddling. In a lengthy reply last month to Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg’s chief adviser, the DWP neatly skirted questions about whether Unum was advising on welfare reform and about its unlawful activities in the US.

Yet Unum executives sat on both the mental health and physical function “technical working groups” set up under the Labour government in 2006, which reviewed and finally came up with the new, stricter “work compatibility assessments”, introduced for new claimants in 2008. In fact Unum and Atos, the huge French outsourcing company that holds the government’s multimillion contract to conduct the widely criticised assessments on behalf of the DWP (see in the Back, last Eye), were the only for-profit companies represented on the groups. Unum chief executive McGarry has now been appointed to the expert panel reviewing the sickness absence from work system announced by the government in February.

Prof Rutherford wrote that Unum had also been “building its influence” in a variety of ways over a number of years. He said that in 2001 Le Cascio was a key player at a ground-breaking conference at Woodstock near Oxford, title “Malingering and Illness Deception”. Malcolm Wicks, Labour work minister at the time, and Mansel Aylward, then chief medical officer at the DWP, were among the 39 delegates.

In the same year, Unum launched a public private partnership to act as a pressure group to extend influence in policymaking. And in 2004 it opened the £1.5m UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. (The Centre has since be renamed and Unum says it no longer provides any funding – no doubt because of claims that academic integrity could be called into question by its influence).

Unum has been lobbying, sitting on expert groups and hosting meetings at party conferences of all colours ever since. And lo and behold, in May this year, Unum’s then medical officer Prof Michael O’Donnell jumped ship to become chief medical officer at Atos. He barely had time to catch his breath before giving evidence to the Commons committee looking at the welfare reform bill.

But Unum is once again denying any conflict of interest “since our current work with the DWP and our marketing campaign are different”. It said its current consultation work is about helping people return to work and its advertising campaign was educational and does not support tightening benefit changes.

Meanwhile disability activists who have fallen foul and been forced to appeal cuts in DWP benefits based on flawed Atos assessments, and campaigning groups like Black Triangle, think the whole thing stinks and are urging MPs to investigate.

So Unum is, like Maximus, another private contractor hired to implement government welfare policies, a company with a history of corruption in the US. And like many of the other companies involved in the government’s welfare reforms, it helps formulate the very same policies from which it stands to make a profit. Meanwhile, the sick and disabled are thrown off benefits due to their advice. And, as you’d expect, they’ve even got a connection of the past masters of cruelty, fraud and corrupt influence, Atos.

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14 Responses to “From 2011: Private Eye on Unum’s Role in Shaping Government Welfare Policy”

  1. Mike Sivier Says:

    Reblogged this on Vox Political.

  2. Samuel Miller (@Hephaestus7) Says:

    Unum Group also has a checkered past in the U.S.

    For much of the past decade, Unum has been under a cloud because of shoddy and unprofitable policy underwriting that has forced it to boost its claim reserves. Moreover, its former practice of denying coverage to disabled clients resulted in an expensive settlement in 2005 with attorneys general in 49 states. Another settlement in 2006 ended a probe led by then-New York attorney general Eliot Spitzer into “pay-to-play” broker compensation and incentives. (Barron’s, May 5 2012)

    • beastrabban Says:

      Thanks, Samuel. I’ve come across something about Unum having a dodgy history over the other side of the Atlantic, but didn’t know the details.

  3. Helen Maddock Says:

    Hi, Just to let you know that I am not receiving your blog to my inbox any longer……any idea why? Another illuminating article thank you.

  4. Helen Maddock Says:

    Oh and thanks for the book list, currently enjoying Chavs with History of Parliament to follow….very thought provoking not to mention challenging when one realises how we have all been fooled and manipulated. I recommend Chavs to everyone.

  5. beastrabban Says:

    Thanks, Helen. Unfortunately I don’t really have a clue why you’re no longer getting my blog in your inbox. I’ll check this end to see if there’s anything wrong. Mike over at Vox Political had a problem a while ago with some people not receiving his blog. I wonder if this is the same problem.

  6. mozzas01 Says:

    I’ve been writing about this for 4 years now and there have been 3 debates in the HOC about it.

    Click to access THE%20HIDDEN%20AGENDA-a-research-summary-March-2013-FINAL.pdf

  7. ravenswyrd1 Says:

    Reblogged this on Ramblings of a Fibro Fogged Mind and commented:
    Unum a name that will not be forgotern come the reckoning… Dxxx

  8. From 2011: Private Eye on Unum’s Role in Shaping Government Welfare Policy | Beastrabban’s Weblog | sdbast Says:

    […]… […]

  9. The influence of the private insurance industry on the UK welfare reforms Says:

    […] or illness but on capacity assessments’ have all come to pass as Unum Provident Insurance have influenced UK Government welfare policy since […]

  10. Mark Catlin Says:

    Reblogged this on markcatlin3695's Blog.

  11. prometheus1938 Says:

    British Senior Citizes Party have been warning against Unum & Atos connections for nearly 5yrs. Disgraceful Tory/Libdem Gov’t have ignored the warnings from USA.

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