Posts Tagged ‘Scope’

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I’ve mentioned far too many times before, about 600 + people have died in misery and despair after having their benefit withdrawn due to these tests.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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From Private Eye: Welfare to Work Companies and the Profits of Workfare

January 28, 2015

pauline-pens

The mad jobcentre manager from the League of Gentlemen, who delighted in humiliating claimants, while doing everything she could to stop them from actually getting a job. This is definitely case of life imitating art.

In their issue for the 24th January – 6th February 2014, Private Eye published this story about how changes in government legislation could allow welfare-to-work companies to earn more from placing their unemployed clients in workfare than from actually finding them a paying job. The article ran:

Welfare to Work
Nice Little Earner

Welfare-to-work companies could end up earning more taxpayer cash by placing people into unpaid community workfare than into work, under the government’s latest scheme for the unemployed. The companies could even profit from recruiting the unpaid workers themselves.

From April, through the new Community Work Placements (CWP), thousands of benefit claimants will have to do six-month’s workfare for charities and community organisation lose benefits. They will be expected to do 30 hours of unpaid work a week up to a total of 780 hours – which is more than double the 300-hour maximum offenders serve on community pay-back.

It is all part of the controversial £300m “Help to Work” package, which is aimed at the hundreds of thousands of people who leave the government’s dismal Work Programme without a job.

Favourites to run 18 schemes across the country include the scandal-hit A4E and Atos, the least favourite outsourcing giant among disabled people, as well as charities such as the Conservation Volunteers, Groundwork UK, the Salvation Army and YMCA. Tender documents however, reveal payment conflicts in the scheme that may make it as wasteful a way of getting people into work as the Work Programme itself. And with CWP, workfare companies could potentially sign unpaid workers to their own businesses and be paid by taxpayers for doing so if they can show that the unpaid role has a “community benefit”.

Payment will also be incremental: work companies will get 20 percent of an agreed fee at the start of any placement, a further 20 percent when someone has been on placement or in paid work for over 12 weeks, and a further 30 percent after 22 weeks on workfare, work or a combination of the two. They only receive the finial 30 percent if the claimant finds a permanent job lasting at least six months. This creates a built-in disincentive to find people temporary work before completion of at least 22 weeks on CWP – companies will earn only 40 percent of the fee otherwise. They not only lose the final 30 percent of the fee for failing to secure a permanent job, but miss out on 30 percent of the fee if a temporary job ends before 22 weeks and the company is unable to move the claimant straight into other short-term work or a work placement.

As previous studies have shown, the voluntary sector has no real need for hundreds of thousands of unpaid workers. Most charities do not have the capacity or skills to employ chaotic individuals dubbed the “hardest to help” – and many are opposed to what they see as the exploitative nature of forced unpaid work, which puts others out of employment.

Many major UK charities, including Oxfam, Scope, Marie Curie and Shelter, have said they will have nothing to do with workfare. The tender documents themselves make it clear that the Department for Work and Pensions itself does not expect to pay the full 100 percent in the vast majority of cases – it does not expect more than a fifth of participants to find a permanent job. Community Work Placements seem more designed to force people to work unpaid than they do to help people find real jobs.

A few days ago, I posted up another piece from the Eye reporting that several members of one of the workfare companies had been prosecuted for fraud. They altered the figures of the numbers of people for whom the company had found work. The companies only get paid for their results, and the government actually expected most to fail when they set the scheme up. Now it also seems that workfare is almost deliberately structure to keep people in unpaid work.

This will, of course, come as absolutely no surprise to anti-workfare campaigners like Johnny Void. Void has made clear many times, along with other left-wing blogs and those by the unemployed themselves, that workfare is basically just a modern form of slavery. I have myself posted blog pieces pointing out the similarity between workfare, and the compulsory ‘voluntary’ work put in practice in the Third Reich, the Reichsarbeitsdienst, and the use of slave labour in the Nazi concentration camps and Gulags of Stalin’s Russia. This article suggests that the similarity is not accidental. Workfare really is slave labour, to exploit the unemployed.

As for the charities named in the article, Oxfam, Scope, Marie Curie and Shelter are to be congratulated and praise for their principled stance against this exploitation. The opposite goes to the Conservation Volunteers, the YMCA, the Salvation Army, and Groundwork UK. They have been named repeatedly by bloggers like Mr Void as exploiters. For this, they deserve nothing but contempt and opprobrium.

Private Eye on Workfare Exploitation: Nice Little Earner

February 7, 2014

Serf Work

Russian serfs at work – a system Cameron and the Coalition wish to bring to Britain with workfare.

I found this article on how the government is using Welfare to Work to supply cheap labour to big business, rather than get people into work, in last fortnight’s issue of Private Eye.

Nice Little Earner

Welfare to work companies could end up earning more taxpayer cash by placing people into unpaid community workfare than into work, under the government’s latest scheme for the unemployed. The companies could even profit from recruiting the unpaid workers themselves.

From April, through the new Community Work Placements (CWPP, thousands of benefit claimants will have to do six-moths’ workfare for charities and community organisations or lose benefit. They will be expected to do 30 hours of unpaid work a week up to a total of 780 hours – which is more than double the 300-hour maximum offenders serve on community pay-back.

It is all part of the controversial £300m “Help To Work” package, which is aimed at the hundreds of thousands of people who leave the government’s dismal Work Programme without a job.

Favourites to run 18 schemes across the country include the scandal hit A4E and Atos, the least favourite outsourcing giant among disabled people, as well as charities such as the Conservation Volunteers, Groundwork UK, the Salvation Army and YMCA. Tender documents, however, reveal payment conflicts in the scheme that may make it as wasteful a way of getting people into work as the Work Programme itself. And with CWP, workfare companies could potential sign unpaid workers to their own businesses and be paid by taxpayers for doing so if they can show that the unpaid role has “community benefit”.

Payment will also be incremental: work companies will get 20 per cent of an agreed fee at the start of any placement, a further 20 percent when someone has been on placement or in paid work for over 12 weeks, and a further 30 percent after 22 weeks on workfare, work or a combination of the two. They only receive the final 30 percent if the claimant finds a permanent job lasting at least six months. This creates a built-in disincentive to find people temporary work before completion of at least 22 weeks on CWP – companies will earn on 40 percent of the fee otherwise. They not only lose the final 30 percent of the fee for failing to secure a permanent job, but miss out on 30 percent of the fee if a temporary job ends before 22 weeks and the company is unable to move the claimant straight into other short-term work or a work placement.

As previous studies have shown, the voluntary sector has no real need for hundreds of thousands of unpaid workers. Most charities do not have the capacity or skills to employ chaotic individuals dubbed the “hardest to help” – and many are opposed to what they see as the exploitative nature of forced unpaid work, which puts others out of employment.

Many major UK charities, including Oxfam, Scope, Marie Curie and Shelter, have said they will have nothing to do with workfare. The tender documents themselves make it clear that the Department for Work and Pensions itself does not expect to pay the full 100 percent in the vast majority of cases – it does not expect more than a fifth of participants to find a permanent job. Community work placements seem more designed to force people to worki unpaid than they do to help people find real jobs.’

Which is exactly what Johnny Void and others, including myself, are also saying.