Private Eye on Blair’s Privatisation of the Government Service Examining Disabled Claimants

And which, needless to say, subsequently led to the the private company awarded the contract finding severely disabled people ineligible for benefit and fit for work.

I found this very enlightening article in an issue of Private Eye from 21 years ago, for Friday, 19th May 2000. It describes how the Tories intended to privatise the Benefits Agency Medical Services, the part of the agency that examined disabled claimants to see if they qualified for benefits. In opposition, Blair and his chums had been against the scheme, but once they were in government that all changed. They were all in favour of it, the office was privatised and the contract awarded instead to Sema. This was despite the fact that the company had no qualified doctors. Sema then took on two other companies to help it with the work and engaged various New Labour politicos to lobby for it. Once it had the contract, it started declaring severely disabled people fit for work. And so was the pattern set for the subsequent reigns of Atos and Maximus.

The article, entitled ‘Cringe Benefits’, runs

It was a Tory idea to begin with: how to make more money out of the disabled for a big private company.

After a “study of options” about what to do with the rather expensive government system for examining disabled people to see if they were entitled to benefit, the Tory government concluded that contracting out to the private sector was “most likely to deliver the improvements sought”.

Tory ministers agreed and the publicly-owned Benefits Agency Medical Services was divided into three areas “to encourage competition in terms of bids”. The Tory government fell in the spring of 1997, to be replaced by Labour with a huge majority and secretary of state for social services, Harriet Harman, who had been eloquent in the condemnation of privatisation.

Ms Harman, however, was at once convinced of the case for privatising the testing of the disabled, and in February 1998 (in the interests of competition) she awarded the contracts for all three areas to one company, Sema.

It was a juicy contract too. A government memorandum at the time announced that the three contracts would cost the government £305m, a figure which the memo announced, “represented savings of £62m” compared with what the service used to cost the taxpayer.

One problem which soon became clear was that Sema had no medical experience whatsoever. The British Medical Association, disgusted by the company’s treatment of doctors and patients, complained officially that Sema executives “did not understand the complexities, having had no experience of employing doctors”. This obviously worried the company so much that when the five original bidders were invited to discuss the complexities of their new contract with the BMS, which represents most British doctors, two declined, including Sema.

If it didn’t have any doctors or medically qualified staff, Sema made sure it was well-stocked with “new” Labour lobbyists. It hired Westminster Strategy, which had a batch of such lobbyists on tap. Jo Moore, former Labour press officer; Mike Lee, who used to work for David Blunkett; and former chair of the Fabian Society and wanabee Labour candidate Mike Dauber. To clinch the business, Sema acquired the then employment minister Andrew Smith as a speaker at its glittering conferences.

Partly to make up for this lack of experience, Sema engaged two companies as sub-contractors to do the new work, Nestor Healthcare group and Nestor Disability Analysts. The board of the former was graced by a former Tory MP, Charles Goodison-Wickes, who quickly made way for the more acceptable Anne Parker, who chairs the Carers Association and is an examiner for the Child Support Agency. Nestor Healthcare has just branched into prisons, explaining in true “new” Labour tradition that “prisoner numbers are steadily growing”.

The performance of these Sema subsidiaries, and of privatisation in general, has recently been examined in detail by the House of Commons social services committee, whose shocking report has just been published. “Too often”, say the report, “the organisation fails to deliver an adequate service… at its worst it puts claimants through examinations which are painful and distressing and gives poor advice.”

Bizarre examples of the doctor’s hostility to the people they are examining are provided by the report. In one case a patient was described as healthy because she could sit up watching television for up to two hours. In fact this patient could only watch television lying down. In another case a patient’s dirty fingernails were submitted as evidence of his ability to work in the garden – whereas in fact he could not even wash himself.

The conclusion makes sad reading for the “new” Labour lobbyists and privatisers of past years. There has been no improvement whatever. “our inquiry has led us to conclude that, so far, the primary focus of Sema has been on operational efficiency to achieve value for money rather than the delivery of a quality service”.

How has Labour responded so far to these devastating allegations? It has handed over a confidential contract for running the Labour party’s own membership records to…. Sema. And Sema’s subsidiary has won a contract for the provision of an immigration centre for Group 4.’

And Starmer would have us all vote for him, because Tony Blair did such great things for the people of this country. Well, Blair was serious and better than the Tories at tackling poverty. But the privatisation of that part of the Benefits Agency has just led to 20 years and more of profiteering and rigged assessments in order to throw genuinely disabled people off benefits.

The process needs to be renationalised, and the Tories, Starmer and his coterie of New Labour apparatchiks kept well away from power.

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2 Responses to “Private Eye on Blair’s Privatisation of the Government Service Examining Disabled Claimants”

  1. A6er Says:

    Reblogged this on Tory Britain! .

  2. Jeffrey Davies Says:

    Ah the aktion t4 rolling along with out much of a ado yet people’s don’t realise that they one step away from having to claim yet not many fight back against the these charlitans you forgot crapita in all this the era of Jesus companies were the sick disabled mentally ill are made fit for work welcome to Christian Britain

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