Posts Tagged ‘Paul Farmer’

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I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests.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.

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Chief of Charity Mind to Head Government Mental Health Review with Chief of HBOS

January 14, 2017

Mike has also posted up today another story, reporting that Paul Farmer, the head of the mental health charity, MIND, has caused further anger among mental health workers and activists by agreeing to head a government review of mental health in the workplace. This review would also be headed by Lord Dennis Stevenson, the head of the banking conglomerate HBOS. May has stated that this is part of her government’s decision to looking into the ‘burning injustice’ of mental health. Among the issues it will examine is that of discrimination for jobs.

Farmer upset mental health activists at the end of October, when he claimed that his charity had no contracts with the government. A disgruntled employee then leaked documents showing that despite his denial that it would ever do so, the charity was in fact joining a government framework which would allow it to later obtain them.

http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2017/01/14/fresh-anger-over-minds-government-links-as-farmer-heads-new-review/

This, sadly, won’t come as a surprise to many left-wing bloggers. Johnny Void in particular has covered case after nauseating case where the very charities, who should be protecting the poor, the sick, the homeless and the vulnerable, have instead decided to throw in their lot with the government and become part of the nexus of private firms and non-profit organisations now doing the job of state welfare agencies. And in the cases Mr Void has examined, one after another of the heads of these charities also decide that the punitive legislation inflicted on those unable to work is badly needed to encourage them to get back on their feet. The most notorious of these are the private firms and initiatives seeking to profit from exploiting the unemployed under the workfare schemes. This is also pointed out by Florence, in her comment to Mike’s article above.

Perhaps I’m being too cynical here, but I predict that the review will conclude, following the pseudoscientific bilge spouted by the welfare to work industry, that work is good for those with mental health problems. They will then argue that existing legislation needs to be relaxed, and those with depression, anxiety and other disorders need to get off their rear ends and be forced into work through the workfare schemes.

I can even remember the head of one of these charities running an advert promoting this line. This showed a drawing of a young woman in bed, and the quotes ‘I didn’t get up for work today. I don’t think I’ll get up for work tomorrow’. This was supposed to be an example of the negative attitude that prevents people with mental illness getting jobs, which the charity was determined to combat.

I’ve got news for them. They really obviously don’t know what they’re talking about. One of the things I’ve learned from my own experience after a nervous breakdown years ago from talking to others like myself is that those with mental illness do not just arbitrarily decide they don’t really feel like working. It’s the opposite. They cannot face work and its stresses. And accompanying the depression itself, is further feelings of depression and guilt over the fact that they have not been able to ‘pull themselves together’. Many of them may even have been working for several weeks or months before it all becomes far too much.

And quite often, they may have been driven to their depression by the job itself, through pressure of work, vindictive or poor management, or simply mind-numbing, soul-destroying boredom.

And you can see how this review is going to be slanted by the appointment of Lord Stevens. Is he a mental health professional, say, a psychologist, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse, or neurologist? No, he’s a banker. I dare say his appointment will be defended on the grounds that he understands the needs of business, but the reality is that he’s there to make sure that anything done in the name of the mentally ill will benefit private business. So you can bet that both he and Farmer will recommend that some part of the welfare state that actually protects and defends the mentally ill should be sold off or abolished on some spurious pretext.

Theresa May has no interest in removing or combating the ‘burning injustice’ of mental illness, as her party’s policies have created so much of it. She is merely interested in seeming to do something, and by allowing the further exploitation of her party’s victims.

Vox Political: Tory Lack of Investment in Mental Health Costing £105 Billion a Year

February 15, 2016

Mike has put up a piece about a report by Paul Farmer for the mental health charity, Mind, which argues that the Tories’ refusal to invest in mental health is costing the British economy £105 billion a year. See http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2016/02/15/tories-failure-to-invest-in-mental-health-costs-economy-105-billion-a-year-says-report/.
The piece also states that Cameron is due to make a statement about his government’s policies towards mental health this Wednesday.

I am not surprised about the amount of damage neglect of the country’s mental wellbeing is doing to the economy. I have, however, no illusions that David Cameron wants to do anything about it. He will want to be seen as doing something about it, and so will probably make noises about how he and the government take this issue very serious, but any action taken will ultimately only be trivial and cosmetic.

It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the country’s losing so much money because of this issue. Sick people can’t work, or can’t work as well as those enjoying good health. And very many people are being left very sick indeed by the government’s policies. If they’re threatened with losing their jobs, and their homes, or being unable to pay their bills because their jobs don’t pay, or they don’t get enough welfare benefit – if they’ve luck enough not to be sanctioned – and they’re saddled with a massive debt from their student days that they can’t pay off, then they’re going to be scared and depressed. And the Tory employment policies are deliberately designed to make people scared and depressed. It’s all to make us work harder, you see. It’s psychological carrot and stick, but without the carrot and the stick very much used.

Mike himself has reblogged endless pieces from welfare and disability campaigners like Kitty S. Jones and the mental health specialists themselves, blogs like SPIJoe, about how the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression due to the government’s welfare-to-work programme has skyrocketed. The latest statistics are that there 290,000 people suffering because of poor mental health due to the quack assessments carried out by Atos and now Maximus. And 590 people have died of either neglect or suicide due to being sanctioned. That no doubt includes people, who could have contributed to the economy, if they’d been properly supported. But they weren’t. They were thrown of sickness and disability, and left to fend for themselves. They couldn’t, and so they died. Just as prescribed by the wretched Social Darwinism that seems to guide the policies of these monsters in government.

The government’s big idea of helping people back into work is to tell them to pull themselves together, and put them through workfare. As cheap labour for big corporations that don’t need it, like Tesco. Now with the genuinely depressed and anxious, it isn’t the case that they don’t want to work. It’s that they can’t. I know from personal experience. There gets to be a point when you really can’t go into work. And it isn’t just a case of not feeling bothered or up to it either. You feel ashamed because you can’t work. And putting you back into work, before you’re ready, won’t help.

But that’s ignored, or simply doesn’t register with the New Labour and Conservative supporters of this vile and destructive welfare policy.

I’m reblogging Mike’s article now because it ties in with several programmes about depression and mental health issues this week. And 9 O’clock tonight on BBC 1 there is The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive Revisited with Stephen Fry. This is the sequel to a documentary he made, The Secret Life of the Manic Depressive, ten years ago. Fry’s bipolar himself, and in the original documentary he spoke to other sufferers, including Hollywood star Richard Dreyfuss and one of the very great stars of British pop in the ’90s, Robbie Williams. Fry was on the One Show on Friday talking about the show. He mentioned there was a much greater awareness of the problem. He described talking about it before pupils at the most elite and famous public school in the country, and saw his young audience nodding in agreement when he talked about self-harm. He stated that this was astonishing, as when he was at school no-one had heard of it.

Presumably Fry means Eton, and I’m not particularly surprised to find that some of the pupils were all too aware of what he was talking about. The entire regime at public school seems designed to turn the young scions of the ruling classes either into complete bastards, or absolute mental wrecks. I can remember reading accounts in the Sunday Express when I was at school, where ex-private schoolboys stated that they had been left emotionally numb and scarred by their experiences. And the former schoolgirls had similarly had an horrific time. When former pupil described how the girls at her school were perpetually in tears. So much for happy schooldays and jolly hockey sticks.

This Wednesday, at 10.45 pm, the BBC is screening a documentary, Life After Suicide. The blurb for this runs

The leading cause of death in men below 50 is suicide, yet people still seem reluctant to talk about the grim reality. Angela Samata, whose partner Mark took his own life 11 years ago, meets others who have suffered a similar loss. Those she meets include Downton Abbey actor David Robb, who talks about the death of his actress wife Briony McRoberts in 2013; a Somerset farmer and his five young daughters; and a Norfolk woman who is living with the suicides of both her husband and her son. Showing as part of BBC1’s mental health season.

And at a quarter to midnight the following evening, on Thursday, there’s the rapper Professor Green: Suicide and Me. The Radio Time’s blurb for this goes

This deeply personal, affecting film created a nationwide stir when it was first aired on BBC3 last autumn. “Crying’s all I’ve bloody done, making this documentary.” remarks Stephen Manderson, aka rapper Professor Green, describing the emotions that frequently overwhelm him as he tries to better understand why his father committed suicide.

His conclusion is simple: men need to talk about their emotions.

That helps a lot. One of the reasons why women are apparently less likely to commit suicide is because women have more friends, to whom they can confide and share their troubles. But in the case of general depression and anxiety, much can be done to prevent this simply by easing the immense economic and social pressures on people, pressures that have been made much worse through the government’s austerity campaign, as well as making sure there’s better understanding and treatment available for mental illness.

Well, that’s me done on this issue. As Dr Frazier Crane used to say, ‘Wishing you good mental health’.