Posts Tagged ‘Incapacity Benefit’

Vote for Corbyn to Stop the Work Capability Tests

June 8, 2017

This is the text of another of my table-top pamphlets, this time against the notorious Work Capability Tests. These were also introduced by New Labour at the behest of Unum and other private healthcare providers.

These are not objective tests to assess who is well enough to support themselves. They are simply a callous, bureaucratic mechanism for throwing people with disability off the benefits they need to support themselves. These have included severely disabled people, including terminal cancer patients in comas!

This iniquitous system has been retained and expanded by the Tories – David Cameron and his Lib Dem lackey, Nick Clegg, and now Theresa May.

It is killing people. As I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests. Stilloaks, Johnny Void, Mike at Vox Political and DPAC have put together lists and videos putting names to faces, to show the human reality of these statistics – whose mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, brothers and sisters were killed thanks to the Thatcherite insistence of cutting down on welfare.

The number of people, who have died after having been assessed as ‘fit for work’ is well above ten thousand, though the true figure may never be known. Mike and the other disability activists, who tried to get the figures were blocked by IDS and the DWP at every turn when they tried to get them.

Jeremy Corbyn has also promised to end workfare.

So vote for him. Don’t let the Tories kill more disabled people under the pretence of saving money.

Stop the Work Capability Test –
Before More People Die

by David Sivier

One of the very worst policies introduced by various governments as part of their campaigns to dismantle the welfare state over the past decade has been the Work Capability Test. This was introduced by New Labour in October 2008 along with a new benefit for the disabled and long-term sick, the Employment Support Allowance, which replaced Incapacity Benefit. The Work Capability Test is intended to show if the person claiming benefit really cannot work. It consists of questionnaire, in which boxes are to be ticked in answer to particular questions about the claimant’s health and disability. 2Ten of these tests were on the claimant’s physical health, and another ten are on their ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual’ fitness. There may also be a brief physical examination. The tests are performed by medical doctors working on behalf of a government outsourcing company. This was given to the French company, Atos, but the company was forced to terminate its contract a year early in 2014 following public anger at the system’s incompetence and maladministration. The contract was then given to an American company, Maximus. The tests may be repeated as often as the JobCentre Plus decides. If the disabled person scores low in the tests, they are judged fit for work. They lose their ESA and are told to apply for Jobseeker’s Allowance.

The tests are based on a monograph, The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Beneft, by Gordon Waddell and Mansel Aylward, of 2005 and a succeeding work, Is Work Good for Your Health and Wellbeing? By Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton. They were also strongly influenced by a 2001 New Labour conference, in which Aylward was a contributor, Malingering and Illness Deception. These led in turn to the publication of a Green Paper in 2006, A New Deal for Welfare: empowering people to work – an independent assessment of the arguments for the proposed Incapacity Benefit reform. Both Waddell and Aylward were professors at the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, which was funded by the American insurance giant from 2004-9. The Work Capability Test uses a form of Bio-Psychosocial model of assessment, developed in America by Unum Provident. This model of assessment is considered to have been devised by George Engel in 1977. In 2006 a paper produced by Professor Christopher Butler and his colleagues attacked the model as ‘wanting’ and inadequate. Waddell and Aylward’s 2006 paper has also been attacked and discredited by Emeritus Professor Alison Ravetz.

Unum, and pseudo-medical testing actually became part of the disability benefits system twelve years or so prior to the Waddell and Aylward’s paper, in 1993, when the-then Conservative Health Secretary, Peter Lilley, introduced tougher testing designed to evaluate whether claimants were totally incapable of work. They had previously been awarded benefit if they were unable to do their job. Lilley considered that this approach was to open to sentimental interference by doctors, and so set up an ‘Incapacity benefit medical valuation group’, whose members included Dr John Le Cascio, the second vice-president of Unum Corporation. Lo Cascio had recently been seconded to its British branch, Unum Ltd, based in Dorking in Surrey. In 1994 Lo Cascio was appointed to train the British doctors charged with carrying out the tests by the Benefits Agency Medical Services. New Labour claimed that the purpose of the Work Capability Tests has been ‘to get people back into work’. This was always a misleading claim. New Labour had a ten-year plan to remove one million people from the 2.8 million receiving disability benefits. Their Secretary of State for Health declared ‘We know that being in work can be good for your wellbeing’, echoing the title of the paper by Waddell and Burton. 13 Years before that, Lilley introduced the tests with the aim of cutting £2 billion from the benefits bill.

And Unum itself regarded the benefit cuts as a great commercial opportunity. In their report in 1994, Chairman Ward E. Graffam was enthusiastic about ‘exciting developments in Britain’, saying ‘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.’

Atos immediately decided that three-quarters of those in receipt of benefit were fit for work.16 Between the introduction of the tests in October 2008 and February 2012, the Department for Work and Pensions made over 1.36 million decisions on whether to award ESA following the administration of the tests on claimants. It declared 794,000 sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’. From the very beginning, the tests were criticised as being vastly inaccurate, and the treatment of claimants under it as cruel and degrading. ‘We Are
Spartacus’, a network of disability researchers and campaigners, denounced the way claimants were ‘wrongly assessed, humiliated and badly treated’. In response to repeated requests by disability campaigners, the DWP finally released the figures for the number of people dying over 11 months in 2011 while in receipt of ESA. 10,600 people in total had died. Of these, 1,300 had died after being taken off benefit following the decision that they were ‘fit to work’. Some of the people, who have died, committed suicide in despair at having their income terminated. One of these was a 47 year old man, who took a drug overdose. Others experienced a deterioration in their mental health due to the stress of assessment. Between 2008 and 2014, there were 600,000 appeals. This constitutes a third of all assessments, and in 2012-13 there were 465,000 appeals, with a success rate of 39 per cent. In some areas, lawyers had a success rate of over 80 per cent overturning decision by Atos against the claimant receiving benefits. 60 per cent of those, who had successfully appealed had scored zero. That is, Atos had declared them entirely fit for work. In 2013, however, the Conservative government took the decision to end legal aid for claims for welfare payment, which meant that fewer people would be able to afford to take the government to court.

In America, Unum Provident was fined $31.7 million in a class action lawsuit in California in 2003 for running ‘disability denial factories’. Two years later in 2005, John Garamendi, the California Department Insurance Commissioner, fined the company $15 million, declaring ‘Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years’. The insurance commissioners of 48 American states had made a settlement with the company by 2006 that required it to review 200,000 claims and pay a $15 million fine. In 2008 the American Association of Justice declared that the company was the second most discredited insurance provider in America.

Despite public anger at Atos’ conduct of the Work Capability Test for ESA, the government in 2012 awarded the company another contract, worth over £400 million, for assessing whether disabled people were suitable for the Personal Independence Payment that was scheduled to replace the Disability Living Allowance in 2013. The Disability Living Allowance provided the handicapped with up to £130 per week to help them look after themselves. This was mostly awarded to help people cook, wash, and assist those with mobility problems. In the three years from April 2013 to 2016, this is to be phased out and replaced with the PIP, which is designed to get people back into work. The government was determined to cut spending on the PIP by twenty per cent during these three years, after the number claiming DLA rose by 30 per cent to 3.2 million people between 2002 and 2011. This was expected to throw 500,000 people off disability benefit.

As with their administration of the ESA fitness to work tests, Atos has proved to be less than efficient in its administration of the PIP. Those applying for the benefit may have to wait months before being notified that they are entitled. The cancer charity, MacMillan Cancer Support, stated that there were serious delays in the approval of payments. As well as leaving the terminally ill without this benefit, it also meant that they were unable to claim other vital benefits with which PIP was linked. As a result, some were forced in their desperation to take out loans from payday loan companies, which have a truly exorbitant interest rate. The number of problems with ESA dealt with by Citizens Advice rose by 54 per cent from 2011 to 2012, when the bureaux dealt with 450,000 of them.

Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, Mind, criticised the tests for failing to consider the effects of mental health on people’s ability to work. In an interview with the Guardian in 2012, he said

The system is based on assumptions that claimants need to be forced back to work, rather than supported on their own terms, and that those not well enough to go back to work are somehow perceived as scroungers. These attitudes only serve to further damage individuals’ mental health and increase the time until they may be ready to return to work.

Richard Hawkes, the chief executive of Scope, another disability charity, stated that the tests ‘should be more than an exercise in getting people of benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.’ The House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee condemned the tests, stating that the system was so flawed it needed to be completely overhauled.

Guy Standing in his A Precariat Charter states that governments have been able to cut benefits for the disabled far more than for other groups, because they are a minority and so there is likely to be fewer objections to their treatment and lost votes. He also recommends that any firm hired by the government to provide services for the disabled should be bound by three commitments. The first should be to the disabled themselves; the second should be to the government; and the third should be to the whole of society, as the rest of us could be next. The employment contract awarded to such outsourcing firms should include penalty clauses requiring them to compensate the disabled claimant directly when they do not award them the correct benefits. This compensation should be much more than the benefits the disabled person did not receive. They should also be penalised for their mistakes. This would be a start, but it is not enough. The problem lies not with the companies administering the tests, but with the whole system of tests itself. The cause of the problem is attitude of successive governments, from John Major’s Conservatives, through Blair and Brown’s New Labour and then the Conservative-led governments of David Cameron, that the disabled should automatically have their benefits reduced, regardless of the poverty and hardship involved. The goal should be to provide benefits to support the poor and disabled, rather than cuts intended to reduce the tax burden for the rich. The Work Capability Test and the poverty and stress it inflicts should be stopped. Now.

Again from 2011: Private Eye on the Failure of A4E

January 21, 2015

I’ve published a number of pieces from Private Eye over the last few days detailing the colossal failure one of the government’s workfare providers, A4E. They were massively incompetent from the start, and the National Audit Office was also very much aware that the welfare-to-work scheme was so flawed that it was bound to fail, and need bailing out. Here’s another piece from the Eye from four years ago providing more information on the company’s staggering ineptitude.

Yob Creation
Working Beef

With the riots highlighting the urgent need for job opportunities for Britain’s disaffected youth, who can solve Britain’s unemployment crisis? Recent inspections by Ofsted suggest that benefit-busting private firm A4E, one of the government’s favourite welfare-to-work outfits, is not the answer.

Since the Eye first exposed A4E’s shortcomings last autumn (Eyes 1271 & 1272), the firm has been awarded five multi-million-pound contracts to run pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme, covering East London, the East Midlands, South Yorkshire, the North West and South East. But three Ofsted inspection reports on A4E schemes are far from encouraging.

The reports rate performance on a scale of one to four; but A4E doesn’t score above a “3” or “satisfactory”. In other words, the company earning millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money to help the jobless was never found to be “good”, let alone “outstanding”. Even when an inspection report into A4E’s management of 8,795 apprenticeships and work-based trainees on the “Train to Gain” scheme was said to be “satisfactory” overall, the trainees still often failed. The inspectors said: “Too many learners still do not complete their programme within the agreed time. The overall apprenticeship success rates have improved slightly over the last three years but are still low. To many learners do not complete their apprenticeship on time. Advanced apprenticeship success rates have declined.”

A re-inspection last year of A4E’s “New Deal” job-finding scheme in Northumberland found it had improved from “unsatisfactory” to “satisfactory”, but this still left many of the unemployed in difficulty. “A4E’s job entry rate increased slightly in 2009/10 but at 26 percent remains below contractual targets,” said the inspectors.

A4E’s work on a “Pathways” scheme in Leeds designed to help 7,000 disabled people on incapacity benefit was also found to be “satisfactory” even though the unemployed were still let down. “Outcomes for participants are inadequate,” found the inspectors, who said A4E’s job-finding skills were “unsatisfactory”.

Given the underwhelming results, why does the government put so much faith in busted benefit-busters like A4E.

In other words, if A4E was a school, it would almost certainly be placed in special measures, along with much media hoo-ha about declining educational standards. It isn’t, but I suspect the Eye’s last question was rhetorical. My guess is that they’re getting the contracts, despite their record of what can only be described as abject failure, because they are Tory donors, sponsoring events and providing support to the particular politicians.

From 2012: Private Eye on Fraud by Workfare Company

January 21, 2015

This Sunday, 18th January, I reposted an article from Glynis Millward’s blog, reporting the trial and conviction of several A4E employees for fraud. They had been falsifying the numbers of unemployed people the company had helped back into work, in order to get money under the government’s ‘payment by results’ scheme. Although noteworthy, it wasn’t the first time a workfare company had committed such fraud. Johnny Void has also blogged about similar abuse of the system by the workfare companies. And three years ago, Private Eye reported a similar case of what may have been fraud by Working Links in their edition for the 18th -31st May 2012. The article ran:

Workfare
The Links Effect

“Benefit-busting contractor” contractor Working Links tried to claim government cash for helping people into work when the “clients” couldn’t be traced, were still receiving Jobseekers Allowance or were actually helped by rival “workfare” companies.

The company also made several duplicate claims, asking to be paid twice for helping the same person, according to internal papers passed to the Eye. The documents, which cover Working Links’ £5m-plus contract for work on the New Deal for Disabled People in 2007-8, were found in a disused desk on a rubbish tip.

Working Links, one of the UK’s largest “benefit-busters”, had contracts to encourage incapacity benefit claimants back into work through coaching, interview advice and other “job club” activities. It was paid around £300 for each unemployed “client” and received bonuses of more than £1,000 for each one getting a part-time job and nearly £3,000 if they found full-time work.

The files include monthly invoices from Working Links to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ranging from £400,000 to £1m. The DWP rejected up to £20,000 a time on many invoices because of multiple errors. The DWP did not investigate the false claims nor treat them as fraud, and the files do not show these were deliberate errors. However, they do show that Working Links was more enthusiastic about claiming cash from the government than it was about keeping accurate records. Separately, DWP “compliance visits” have found systematic overclaiming in some Working Links offices. (See Eye 1311).

Overclaiming appears rife among workfare contractors. Emails between the DWP and the National Audit Office obtained under freedom of information by the Eye show that “benefit-busting” firms made more than 10,000 false claims on the “New Deal” employment scheme in 2010-11. In the emails, the DWP told the auditors about failures in checking that claimants the contractors claimed to have helped had actually signed off benefits. The DWP describes “30 percent failing the check and around 10 percent ultimately unvalidated”.

A third of claims by contractors are initially questioned. Most are cleared up, but the remaining 10 percent are false. The DWP found that of 104,767 invoices from New Deal contractors, 10,462 failed the off-benefit check and remain “unpaid”. This means that companies like Working Links and the giant A4E asked for to £30m they were not due. The DWP did not pay the cash, but the fact that it did not investigate the false claims further shows a liberal attitude to the contractors.

Working Links, part-owned by temp agency Manpower and consultant CapGemini, has many other government contracts, including £300m for running the new Work Programme in Wales, Scotland and the South West.

This is a shocking statistic, but it isn’t really surprising. I posted up another piece by Private Eye yesterday reporting on the conclusions of the NAO several years ago that the welfare-to-work scheme would fail, and would need bailing out. Moreover, as Johnny Void has repeatedly blogged, the workfare system is so flawed that you are far more likely to get a job through your own efforts than from one of the workfare companies.

The entire scheme is set up to encourage fraud, and based on the exploitation of the unpaid labour of the jobless themselves. It should be totally discontinued.

UKIP: Disabled People on Benefits Are ‘Parasitic Underclass of Scroungers’

December 14, 2014

I found this short article attacking UKIP for their vile demonization of the disabled on the Political Scrapbook for last Friday. Entitled UKIP: disability benefit claimants are “parasitic underclass of scroungers”, it refutes Fuehrer Farage’s claim that he has never said anything against disabled people by citing a policy document from their manifesto. This claimed that 75 per cent of those claiming incapacity benefit were actually healthy, and declared them to be malingerers created by the welfare state. The article quotes the document as stating

“The welfare state has also created a brazen culture of benefit “scrounging”, whereby individuals who are perfectly capable of working refuse to do so, and go on benefits instead. They frequently justify this by feigning illness.

“This gives rise to a parasitic underclass of “scroungers”, which represents both an unreasonable tax burden on the working population.”

Accordingly, the Kippers demanded that Incapacity Benefit should be cut by £1,300.

Not surprisingly, given the way the Kippers and Conservatives delete and disavow manifesto promises they now find extremely awkward, this has vanished from the Kippers’ website. The article does, however, contain a link to it.

The articles at http://politicalscrapbook.net/2014/12/ukip-disability-benefit-claimants-are-parasitic-underclass-of-scroungers/.

This is yet another good reason why no-one in their right mind should vote for the Kippers.

From 2011: Private Eye on Atos Throwing the Severely Disabled Off Benefits

April 11, 2014

This is from Private Eye’s edition for the 9th – 22nd December 2011.

ATOS

Unfit For Purpose

The government’s proposal to stop GPs writing sick notes for long-term illness and hand the work to “independent assessors” has private companies rubbing their hands. Bit it has alarmed those who far that patients will have to endure the same type of tick-box assessments as those needing benefits, as carried out by Atos.

The huge French service company has been slated by MPs and charities over its health and capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, leading to wrong decisions in up to 40 percent of cases and causing “fear, anxiety and distress” to many disabled people.

Now an Atos insider tells the Eye that, under pressure from government to produce figures showing the number of claimants coming off benefits, coupled with competition to run the multi-million-pound contract, the situation may get worse. In the past 12 months a number of experienced doctors have left the company because they no longer want to part of a “target-driven” system that they say is unfair to the claimants and compromises their professionalism. One said it was “immoral”.

They have not apparently been replaced, and most medical assessments are now carried out by n8urses, who are less expensive – but would have fewer skills in musculo-skeletal disorders or mental illness, two of the main causes of disability.

For those who have been assessed by Atos, the result can be devastating. Secretary Debbie, 44, has been unable to work since a brain haemorrhage 14 years ago left her needing regular nerve-blocking injections into the head and intravenous drug treatment. She suffers from excruciating headaches and is partially sighted.

Her consultant detailed in a letter how her “excruciating” chronic cluster headaches and migraine were rated by the World Health Organisation as “one of the most disabling chronic disorders”. In August she saw an Atos assessor – a doctor, not a nurse – who appeared sympathetic. However, Debbie and her partner say the assessor then made false statements about the examination, saying an eye had been carried out when it hadn’t and bizarrely alleging that she self-harms, which she says she has never done.

The DWP then told Debbie her incapacity benefit would be replaced by employment support allowance (ESA) and that she must attend work-related activity group meetings (WRAG) seven miles from her home. If she fails to attend she will lose her benefits. She told the Eye: “my consultant, my GP, everyone says there’s no way I can work. I can’t see very well, I bang into things, I can’t even make a cup of tea without spilling boiling water. I can’t travel unattended … Yet according to Atos I’m able to work.” Having lost her appeal against having to attend the activity group, Debbie is to file a formal complaint about the Atos doctor to the General Medical Council.

Similarly, in April 2009, Mike, a 52-year-old academic, was found to have a brain tumour the size of a squash ball after he collapsed and had a massive seizure. Six weeks of radiotherapy reduced its size, and Mike has remained stable – although he relies on strong anti-convulsants to keep epilepsy, seizures and focal fits at bay – and is exhausted after short periods of mental or physical activity. Two months after the diagnosis he was ordered to attend an Atos assessment and was found to be capable of work.

Mike has found that the DWP had hidden information showing that people with terminal illness, like him, should not have had to undergo such an assessment, and that any assessment that does take place should be by an expert. But it took him two years of appeals to obtain his entitlements. His battle for compensation continues.

This confirms the other reports that Atos are instructed to find a certain percentage as fit for work, in order for them to be thrown off benefits. I’d also come across elsewhere the information that some of the doctors initially involved in the assessments had left because of its immorality and unprofessionalism. And from my own experience and those of some of the commenters here, and the reports of other bloggers like Jayne Linney I know that Atos lies and falsifies its medical reports to get the results it desires.

There is some useful information here for those seeking to challenge Atos. The article’s statement that terminally ill people should not have to undergo assessment may be of some help to some of the others challenging their assessments. Atos has a long history of declaring medically capable of finding work people so tragically afflicted. Jayne Linney has suggested that as many as 55,000 people a year may have died after being assessed by Atos. If only a small proportion of these were diagnosed as terminally ill by their doctors, then it means that Atos has been massively in breach of regulations. Which is probably why bloggers such as Mike over at Vox Political have been refused this information, and denounced as ‘vexatious’ by the DWP for daring to do so.

Vox Political Goes to Tribunal for Freedom of Information 23rd April

March 29, 2014

Confrontation: Let's hope the FoI tribunal ends as well for Vox Political as his encounter with the dragon did for St George. [Image: bradfordschools.net]

Yesterday, Mike announced that he finally had a date for the tribunal, which will adjudicate on his appeal against the decision of the DWP and the Information Commissioner to refuse to release to him the figures for the people who died whilst claiming ESA or Incapacity Benefit in 2012. Mikes states that

The aim is to find out how many people died while going through the claim process, which is extremely stressful for people who are – by definition – ill or disabled; and also to find out how many have died after being put in the work-related activity group of Employment and Support Allowance claimants, as these are people who should be well enough to work within a year of their claim starting.

The great Soviet dissident, Andrei Sakharov, made a ringing declaration of the immense importance of freedom of information, as well as speech, for a truly democratic society. I’ve already blogged on this on Sunday, but given the immense importance of this issue, Sakharov’s words still bear repeating.

Intellectual freedom is essential to human society – freedom to obtain and distribute information, freedom for open-minded and unfearing debate, and freedom from pressure by officialdom and prejudices. Such as trinity of freedom of thought is the only guarantee against an infection of people by mass myths, which, in the hands of treacherous hypocrites and demogogues, can be transformed into bloody dictatorship. Freedom of thought is the only guarantee of the feasibility of a scientific democratic approach to politics, economy and culture.

But freedom of thought is under a triple threat in modern society – from the deliberate opium of mass culture, from cowardly, egotistic, and philistine ideologies, and from the ossified dogmatism of a bureaucratic oligarchy and its favourite weapon, ideological censorship. Therefore, freedom of thought requires the defence of all thinking and honest people. This is a mission not only for the intelligentsia but for all strata of society, particularly its most active and organized stratum, the working class. The world-wide dangers of war, famine, cults of personality, and bureaucracy – these are perils for all mankind.

He then goes to state that a true Freedom of Information law must allow for the active encouragement of examination and investigation:

A law on press and information must be drafted, widely discussed, and adopted, with the aim not only of ending irresponsible and irrational censorship, but also of encouraging self-study in our society, fearless discussion, and the search for truth. The law must provide for the material resources of freedom of thought.

E. Salisbury, ed., Sakharov Speaks (New York: Knopf 1974), in Robert V. Daniels, A Documentary History of Communism Vol 1. Communism in Russia (London: I.B. Tauris & Co. Ltd. 1985), 372,373.

Sakharov was writing in the very repressive conditions of the former Soviet Union. Nevertheless, his description of the immense importance of freedom of thought and information is relevant everywhere. I hope that the Tribunal similarly believes in the absolute importance of freedom of information, and upholds Mike’s appeal.