Private Eye from 1995 on Unum and Peter Lilley in the Tory Government

As the left-wing blogs have repeatedly pointed out, the Tories’ welfare reforms, in which the disabled are assessed and routinely denied benefit for being supposedly ‘fit for work’, are based on the quack pseudoscience of the American insurance giant, Unum. It’s pet doctors dreamed up the profitable idea that any and every kind of work was useful in helping the sick and disabled to recover. This was enthusiastically taken over by the Tories and New Labour, as it justified throwing hundreds of thousands off disability benefit on the spurious grounds that they could work.

The results have been horrendous. Severely mentally ill people have been driven to the point of suicide by the threat of losing their benefits. Doctors and psychiatrists have seen increased numbers coming to them suffering from stress due to assessments. Critically ill people, including those dying of cancer, have been told that their benefits have been stopped, as they are well enough to work.

In his ‘Footnotes’ column in Private Eye’s issue for Friday, 16th June 1995, Paul Foot published this article on Unum, which had been brought into John Major’s Tory government by Peter Lilley. Here it is:

Doctor On Call

To help him in his bid to save £2 billion a year by slashing the benefits of disabled people, Peter Lilley, social services secretary, has hired the vice-president of a big multinational private insurance company which is using the benefit cuts to boost its sales.

Overcoming the xenophobia to which he so often gives voice at Tory party conferences, Mr Lilley has appointed an American.

Founded in Portland, Maine, in 1848, the Unum Corporation describes itself as “the world’s leading light in disability insurance”. Unum Ltd, its British arm, is based in Dorking, Surrey. It issued its annual report last September, when chairman Ward E. Graffam enthused about “exciting developments” in Britain.

He explained: “The impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system heralded in the November 1993 Budget will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.” In January, the full extent of Lilley’s plans to replace invalidity benefit with incapacity benefit revealed to the Commons. Estimated “savings” for the year 1996-97 were £410 million; for 1996-97 £1.2 billion; and for 1997-98 an astonishing £1.7 billion.

Obviously, with so much less government money going to sick and disabled people, the opportunities for private disability insurance were enormous. No longer could people rely on benefit income if they became ill or disabled. They would have to fend for themselves. Accordingly, UNUM Ltd, as its chairman had promised, “launched a concerted effort to harness the potential”. In April this year, a glamorous and expensive advertising campaign coincided with the new rules for incapacity benefit.

One UNUM ad warned: “April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble”. Lurid tables estimating weekly outgoings for an average family at £276, and benefit under the new rules at £100, urged people to “protect yourself with a Long Term Disability policy from UNUM”.

Crucial to the new rules were tougher medical tests to find out if people really are incapacitated. The Benefits Agency Medical Services (BAMS) recruited a new corps of doctors to carry out new “all-work tests”. The basic change in the tests was simple. In the past, disabled or sick people were entitled to benefit if they could no longer do their job. From now on, people are entitled to benefit only if they can do no work at all.

The new medical tests were fundamental to the “savings” Lilley hoped for. If the tests were too lax – if doctors were allowed to slide into sentimental slackness in assessing peoples’ ability to do any work at all – the whole purpose of the tests would be thwarted. So Lilley’s department set up an “incapacity benefit medical valuation group” to “monitor and validate the quality standards for the doctors involved in the all-work assessments”.

The most famous member of the group is Dr John Le Cascio, second vice-p0resident of the Unum Corporation, who has recently be seconded to the company’s British arm. Dr Le Cascio was also invited last year by Lilley’s department to help in the extensive training of doctors in the new techniques of testing. The DSS stresses that “the doctors don’t decide the incapacity benefit – that is done by an adjudication officer”. No doubt; but the officer makes a decision on the expert medical information provided the tests.

No press release was issued about Dr Le Cascio’s appointment. No one told taxpayers that the DSS is shelling out £40,000 to Unum Ltd for Dr Le Cascio’s services in the year from October 1994 to September this year. A DSS spokeswoman explained: “This comes down basically to a daily rate of £440 a day. That’s cheap for a consultancy, actually”.

The Eye asked Dr Le Cascio if he agreed there was an absolutely obvious conflict of interest in his position as validator and monitor of tests for a benefit, the cutting of which was being exploited to the full by the advertisements for his company. He replied:

“Well, I don’t feel that way of course, and if I did I wouldn’t have accepted the job. I was brought in for a specific reason, and that is to teach some of the medical principles which are contained in the design of the new test – that’s what I do, that’s my area of expertise. I’m a technical person and I can do that. To me, there is no sort of conflict as long as I do that job. I feel comfortable doing it, and I assume that those in the department feel comfortable with my contribution. The reason they’ve turned to me is because the commercial insurers have been working with this sort of valuation system for a long time and that’s where the knowledge lies.’

It was thus Peter Lilley and the Tories, who introduced Unum and the wretched work capability assessment. New Labour retained and expanded them, but the ultimately responsibility lie with the Tories. And the results have been horrendous. Mike estimated that about 52,000 people a year have been killed through benefit sanctions.

All so Lilley could persecute the poor and sick, and his friends in private insurance could make a quick buck.

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3 Responses to “Private Eye from 1995 on Unum and Peter Lilley in the Tory Government”

  1. Dr Sarah Glynn Why we must resist the work cure | Real Media - The News You Don't See Says:

    […] Unum has embedded itself firmly in the UK establishment, even sponsoring a sympathetic research centre at Cardiff University. Their argument that many problems can be solved by changing people’s attitude has become engrained in the system, and the replacement of welfare with private insurance is the underlying logic of welfare ‘reform’ as a whole. […]

  2. SUWN response to the Consultation on Social security In Scotland | scottish unemployed workers' network Says:

    […] Foot, Paul (1995) ‘Doctor on Call’, Private Eye, 16 June 1995, reproduced here: https://beastrabban.wordpress.com/2015/04/13/private-eye-from-1995-on-unum-and-peter-lilley-in-the-t…; Rutherford, Jonathan (2007) ‘New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare’ Soundings […]

  3. Dr Sarah Glynn: Why we must resist the ‘work cure’ – Black Triangle Campaign Says:

    […] Unum has embedded itself firmly in the UK establishment, even sponsoring a sympathetic research centre at Cardiff University. Their argument that many problems can be solved by changing people’s attitude has become engrained in the system, and the replacement of welfare with private insurance is the underlying logic of welfare ‘reform’ as a whole. […]

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