Posts Tagged ‘‘Incapacity for Work’’

From 2012: Private Eye on Bad Atos Decisions and Flawed Government Reports

January 20, 2015

In their 27th January – 9th February 2012 issue, Private Eye reported the case of Keith Tilbury, a man who had suffered severe physical and psychological harm after being accidentally shot by a police firearms instructor. Despite the severity of his injuries, Mr Tilbury was nevertheless judged fit for work by Atos. The same article also criticised the government report which forms the basis for the government’s replacement of the Disability Living Allowance with the Personal Independence Payment. It ran:

Fit-For-Work Tests
Shits in the Dark

In the Eye’s growing post-bag of appalling decisions made by French service company Atos in assessing sick and disabled people as being ~”fit for work~”, one of the most shocking concerns Keith Tilbury.

Mr Tilbury spent 13 days in a coma fighting for his life after he was accidentally shot in the stomach by a police firearms officer. The bullet smashed a rib, damaged his sternum and put a hole in his liver. He had to have part of a kidney removed and lost part of his bowel. He had massive entry and exit wounds, muscle and other extensive soft tissue damage.

Since that disaster in 2007, Mr Tilbury has suffered two heart attacks, two while undergoing surgery, a quadruple coronary bypass, two transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), one full-blown stroke resulting in reduced vision 9in his eyes, post-operative complications – and post-traumatic stress disorder.

Mr Tilbury, 60, says: ” I have had many hours of cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychotherapist trying to work out why a Thames Valley Police firearms instructor would fire Dirty Harry’s weapon of choice – a.44 magnum – in a seminar room.”

Given his well-documented health records, Mr Tilbury, who had been a civilian emergency call centre operator, is trying to establish how on earth the Atos nurse or doctor – he is not sure which – could decide that he is fit to work without “dropping down dead” when there has been no improvement in his health since his last assessment.

Like thousands of others, Mr Tilbury is having to go through the ordeal of appealing against the decision. He sees the box-ticking Atos test – drawn up with the help of US insurance giant Unum, which was fined millions in the US for cheating its clients – as no more than a government tool to slash the benefits of people who through no fault of their own can no longer work.

As the Eye has extensively reported (see issues 874, 1300, 1301 and 1302), Unum has been helping both Tory and Labour government with so-called welfare reform, going right back to Peter Lilley’s 1994 social security “Incapacity for Work” shake-up.

Atos, which boasts that its contract with the current government is worth “approximately 100m a year”, happened to be the only other private company sitting alongside Unum on the then Labour government’s panel which reviewed and came up with the hated “work capability test” which is now failing Mr Tilbury and thousands like him.

Companies like Atos and Unum (which markets its insurance on the back of welfare reform) now stand to make even more millions, however, as the coalition presses ahead with its plans for similar assessments for those receiving disability living allowance (DLA). By replacing DLA with a personal independence payment which is subject to regular review and face-to-face assessments, the government says it can save £1bn because it claims many people no longer require the support.

But a recent detailed study, Responsible Reform, accuses the government of consistently using inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants, while concealing the overwhelming opposition to its latest reform. The detailed 40-page study – dubbed the Spartacus report and written and funded by disabled people receiving DLA, excluding those with mental health conditions, had remained remarkably stable.

One of the authors, Kaliya Franklin, said: “cutting spending on DLA will increase the burden on local authorities, the NHS and community services at the very time they seeking to find savings by reducing eligibility, particularly for social care support.”

There is no point in subjecting people with permanent disability to regular assessments and those whose conditions do improve would welcome reform – and indeed assessments – if they were simplified and considered robust, fair and transparent. But as Mr Tilbury and so many like him have found, the government’s work capability test, delivered by Atos, is none of those things.

PS: After the shooting incident in which Mr Tilbury was injured, Thames Valley police was fined £40,000 with £25,000 costs and the PC fired the weapon, David Micklethwaite, £8,000 and £8,000 costs, for breaching health and safety regulations.

Although Atos have now pulled out of administering the test, the same deep flaws remain. The test itself, as reported by many bloggers such as Johnny Void, and Mike over at Vox Political, is based on discredited pseudoscience, the biopsychosocial model of illness. Johnny Void has also blogged the other day about how the new contractors for the test, Maximus, will pursue exactly the same policies and recruit many of the same personnel. The only difference is that they’re better at PR, and are seeking to conceal their involvement behind a front company. And Unum are still pressing for further contracts and the dismantlement of the welfare state.

As for the discontinuation of the DLA and its replacement with PIP, many bloggers, including Mr Void and Mike have criticised this. Bloggers like Glynis Millward and the people at DPAC also posted on the findings of the Responsible Reform report.

The Work Capability Assessment is rubbish, and has been shown repeatedly to be rubbish. But as Johnny Void has reported, some Labour shadow ministers continue to think that the system only needs to be reformed.

It doesn’t. It needs to be scrapped completely, along with the parasitic and malign companies, Unum and Maximus, that formulated and administer it.

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

April 10, 2014

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.