Sep 082014
 

Response
(1) The Work Capability Assessment is a much more rigid test & cannot be compared with former Personal Capability Assessments.  It is inconceivable that a conclusion can be reached that the more rigid Work Capability Assessment has become easier to negotiate than the previous Personal Capability Assessment which had a lower threshold.
It is not accepted that there has been any form of significant improvement in the claims process surrounding the Work Capability Assessment.
Never before has one benefit assessment process attracted so much adverse publicity and negativity as the Work Capability Assessment.
It stands to reason that if the test is set as high bar as the Work Capability Assessment is, it logically follows that qualifying for entitlement will be far more difficult than qualifying for the previous Incapacity Benefit via the Personal Capability Assessment process used to determine eligibility for Incapacity Benefit & Income Support on the grounds of incapacity for work.
It is not accepted that any accurate comparison with Incapacity Benefit can be drawn without full regard to analysing similar cohort factors such as the ages, ICD coding, duration of claim, gender, and regions of the claimants being taken in to consideration.

(2) No comparisons can be drawn between Incapacity Benefit & Employment & Support Allowance without a proper scrutiny of a more complete set of statistics
Before drawing any analysis between Incapacity Benefit and ESA, the numbers of claimants used in the comparison including on and off flows would need to be carefully scrutinised. This is especially important where the flow rate is mixed with ib/ESA migration cases and where it can no longer be safely concluded that new ESA claimants are not in fact older claimants who have since submitted a fresh claim.
Between October 2008 and September 2013 the ESA regime has involved a total departmental case-load (across all cohorts) of 6,440,000 cases involving 4,396,400 Work Capability Assessments of which 1,198,700 were a repeat.  A case load of this magnitude requires considerable analysis across all cohorts before any accurate comparisons can be drawn between the older incapacity benefits and ESA.  The former was far less complex in cohort terms.
Between October 2008 and September 2013, 1,407,400 claimants have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group (453,300 at repeat assessment) and 1,437,300 in the Support Group (479,800 at repeat assessment).  These figures are considerably higher than those relating to the new ESA claim group in which 484,900 have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group and 445,400 have been placed in the Support Group. Far more information is required as to not only the numbers allocated to the groups but also what happens to the claimants after they have been assessed in to a placement.

(3) The DWP needs to produce statistics on appeals & reconsiderations before any reliance be can be placed on the Work Capability Assessment statistics.  Well over a million claimants have disputed the findings of Work Capability Assessments and the full dispute outcomes are as yet still unknown.
From April 2009 to December 2013, HMCTS figures confirm 1,054,541 ESA appeals have been lodged with Tribunals of which an average of 40 + % of those already heard have been overturned in the claimant’s favour.  These figures are far in excess of any related to the previous Incapacity Benefit and are an obvious indicator of significant numbers of claimants having a lack of confidence in the decision reached at initial assessment.
The DWP’s WCA statistics are inherently unreliable and cannot be read in the context of isolated quotations from quarterly releases without proper reference being made to the more specific and overall totals available.  The overall (cumulative) ‘qualifying’ rates for claimants are (up to September 2013):
-New ESA claimants 47%
-New ESA claimants at repeat assessment 78%
-IB/ESA migrated claimants 80%

Whilst it may be helpful to look at quarterly shifts in the figures, it is the overall cumulative rate which needs to change before it can be safely concluded that any material change has taken place.

The DWP’s WCA statistics are rendered inaccurate by way of the DWP’s inherently slow update of information from the inputting of the number of formal appeals lodged with HMCTS together with a total lack of explanation as to the number of initial decisions overturned informally following DWP reconsideration. This is particularly important in respect of monitoring the effects of mandatory reconsideration since October 2013.

(4) Employment & Support Allowance is an entirely different regime to that of Incapacity Benefit making any comparison unreliable.  Delays with the DWP & Atos Healthcare have resulted in a chronic backlog of 750,000 cases awaiting assessments from which no conclusions can be drawn.  The WCA statistics are made additionally complex by the influx of a case load of 1,354,800 claimants assessed from the Incapacity Benefit migration programme.
The claims process involving ESA is entirely different to that of Incapacity Benefit.  ESA involves the claimant initially being subjected to what should be a 13 week assessment phase before the Work Capability Assessment decision is decided upon by the DWP.  It is only once the assessment phase has been completed that a proper decision can be made as to whether the claimant can move in to the main WRAG/Support Group phases of ESA entitlement.  Chronic delays have built up to a point where the backlog awaiting assessment had recently reached over 750,000 claimants.  It is a clear sign that the DWP was earlier ‘over reassessing’ claimants leading to a substantial lack of residual data on outcomes and the possibility that the Department is now making less rigid placement decisions in order to get though its chronically stretched backlog.
Claimants who have undergone ib to ESA migration do not in any event claim ESA, their claim is merely converted (providing they qualify at the point of WCA conversion) and thus no comparison can be drawn between this cohort and those making a new ESA claim from scratch.

(5) Statistical manipulation
Between October 2008 and September 2013, the Work Capability Assessment statistics record that 1,551,500 claimants have been found fit for work and 1,500,900 claimants have ended their claims without completing their Work Capability Assessment. In total the overall number of claimants who seemingly should have exited Employment & Support Allowance is therefore in excess of 3 million claimants. However the DWP off flow figures for the period October 2008 to August 2013 show the numbers exiting from Employment & Support Allowance to be 2,288,980.

The number of claimants leaving Employment & Support Allowance who closed their claims is a fixed statistic, whereas the number found fit for work is reversible if the claimant appeals or requests a reconsideration.
It is hard to understand how an apparent ‘exodus’ of some 3 million plus Employment & Support Allowance claimants as shown in the assessment statistics is not matched by statistics showing a rise in the numbers claiming Jobseeker’s Allowance.
In addition to the exodus related to assessment, there are also claimants who will have died, transferred to other benefits or ended their claim through time limiting imposed upon contributory claimants in the Work Related Activity Group who cease claiming where there are no grounds upon which to continue claiming income based Employment & Support Allowance.
DWP figures, related to on-flows, show that of October 2008 to August 2013, 636,410 Employment & Support Allowance claimants made a second or more claim for Employment & Support Allowance. This will add substantially to the number of on flows and may therefore give a distorted perception over more claimants claiming as well as ‘clouding’ the influx of what may appear to be new Employment & Support Allowance claimants who are in fact previous claimants who have simply made another claim.

(6) Mistrust
Media articles including those relating to the deaths of ESA claimants such as Graham Shawcross (63), Mark Wood (44), Neil Groves (46), Lee Robinson (39), Elenore Tatton (39), Linda Wootton (49), Brian McCardle (57), Karen Sherlock (44), Trevor Drakard (50), David Groves (56) and others have created a massive mistrust in the Work Capability Assessment as a valid measure of a claimant’s ability to work.  The DWP has failed to produce any up to date statistics upon which any reliable conclusions can be drawn as to the number of deaths & whether they can be ruled out as being directly or indirectly related to the Work Capability Assessment process.
The Work Capability Assessment remains condemned by disability groups, the BMA, National Charities, senior judges and Parliamentary Select Committees. The process has been identified as unfit for purpose and of such toxicity that major re-work is required. There clearly remains widespread concern that the WCA has not improved, customers have no confidence in it in, employers are clearly not convinced by it as an accurate measure of fitness to work as evidenced by the appalling Work Programme Job Outcomes valid to March 2014:
In the New ESA claimant group, out of 484,900 in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’, just 10,760 ended up with a Job Outcome (2.2%)
In the Incapacity Benefit to ESA conversion group, out of 469,200 claimants placed in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ just 980 ended up with a job outcome (0.2%)
In the Incapacity Benefit to ESA conversion group, out of 249,300 claimants found ‘fit for work’ just 3,160 (1.4%) ended up with a job outcome.   Whilst this appalling result is shocking in itself, it should be remembered that the DWP’s figures only point to people on JSA who have been on incapacity benefits.  These figures may therefore relate to claimants who have ended their older incapacity claims and taken up a JSA claim voluntarily without being tested for ESA.
In the overall ‘voluntary participation group’ where there is no mandatory requirement to take part (unless a claimant has agreed to participate) out of 957,500 claimants placed in the Support Group (from both new ESA and incapacity to ESA claim groups) 3,350 claimants (0.4%) ended up with a job via the Work Programme. This group does better than the mandatory groups in incapacity to ESA conversion cases.

(7) Summary
It is unsafe to draw any conclusion that it is any easier for a claimant to make a claim for Employment & Support Allowance than it was for previous range of incapacity benefits. It is not possible to make a valid comparison on the basis of comparing numbers/success. A full explanation as to how claimants made their claims and how they were assessed is required before an accurate comparison can be made.  There is simply not enough information currently available to conclude that the Harrington reviews have led to any identifiable improvement.
A rise in the numbers being placed within the Support Group and Work Related Activity Groups may be more related to the greater number of claimants involved, the appeal/reconsideration results beginning to filter through after data lag, more claimants re-applying after being turned down, less capacity within the Work Programme to handle the larger numbers involved and a reduction in the number of repeat & ib/ESA migration assessments following the announcement that Atos Healthcare were withdrawing from the contract to conduct assessments for the DWP.
For these reasons any claim that it is easier to make a claim for Employment & Support Allowance than it was for Incapacity Benefit is strongly refuted.
By Nick Dilworth.
For and on behalf of New Approach.
New Approach are committed to working with other individuals & groups, please add your signature to this statement by emailing newapproach_uk@outlook.com or in comments.

follow new Approach on twitter @newapproach_uk

website: www.http://newapproachuk.org/

Aug 162014
 

 

(Report from workshop at national meeting of Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice federation)

Fighting Benefit Sanctions

 

The government has a policy  of increasing sanctions to force people off benefits. 

 

More than 800,000 people have been sanctioned in the last year. Referrals to food banks are mainly due to claimants being sanctioned. 

 

Martin Cavanagh is the PCS Group Exec member for civil servants working in the DWP.  The PCS union resolved at their recent conference to oppose both Workfare and Benefit Sanctions. He explained the three central reasons behind the Tories policy of increasing sanctions; Further demonisation of the poor, financial savings for the government, and driving a wedge between claimants and workers. 

 

PCS survey of members working in the DWP revealed that 82% of members felt ‘pressured’ into sanctioning claimants, and 62% said they had made ‘inappropriate’ sanctions decisions. 

 sanctions

The Kirklees Axe The Tax group have used a banner : No Sanction for Claimants! No Targets for Staff! This attracted claimants and some staff to their stall outside a job centre.

 

Roger Lewis speaking for DPAC said that ‘more needed to be done by the PCS.’ But, he insisted, ‘we will not allow the government to divide us. Those working for the DWP alongside claimants have a common interest, we are locked together in a common fight against the Tories.’ 

 

‘More will be done from our union the PCS over the sanctions,’ explained Martin. 

 

‘Advice for claimants on how to challenge sanction decisions has now been agreed between our union, the PCS, Unite the Union Community branches, and campaigners against sanctions. That advice will be issued shortly.’

 

Research has shown that only 1 in 50 claimants who are sanctioned appeal the decision. Of those 90% win their appeal. Forthcoming advice will explain to claimants how they can appeal. 

 

To launch the joint advice and joint campaign, we agreed a day of action against benefit sanctions for Thursday 11th September. 

 

Protests will be organised in every region outside key DWP headquarters or similar high profile government offices.

Fighting Workfare

Public campaigns work! 

 

With just a few protesters the Boycott Workfare actions have ‘shamed’ many employers into withdrawing from the Workfare scheme. Companies and businesses don’t want to be exposed as employing ‘slave’ labour. Only when a company signs up to the Boycott Workfare pledge are they removed for the Boycott Workfare website listing. 

 

Protests outside flagship venues of those companies still in the scheme will continue until the schemes are scrapped.

 

Reblogged with thanks from http://antibedroomtax.org.uk/2013-05-29-04-42-41/latest-news/110-stop-sanctions-11th-sept-day-of-action

 

 

Jul 242014
 

 

Joint statement by Black Triangle Campaign, CarerWatch, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network, Pats Petition, #NewApproach and WOWPetition

The WCA presumes that there are too many people on disability benefits because disabled people are too lazy or too comfortable living on benefits to work.

It is founded in the idea that disabled people need to be harassed and hounded out of their comfortable life into finding work under the threat of loss of benefits.

No one is comfortable living on benefits. Disabled people are no more lazy that the rest of the population.

The real reason that there are so many people on benefits is that society does not include disabled people.

We do not have the same access to education, transport, housing and jobs.

Social attitudes ensure that disabled people in the workplace are seen as a problem, rather than an equal opportunity.

And there are large numbers of disabled people who simply can not work. Why should they be harassed? Why should they be hounded?. Why should they have to live in fear?.

We know, and this report confirms, that many people have wrongly been found “fit for work” when they can’t work.

We also know and the UK courts have confirmed WCA discriminates against claimants with mental health impairments.

The Work and Pensions Committee report recommends “improvements” to make the system more workable and less harmful.

This is pointless, because it would not make the WCA any less wrong or any more useful

We call once again on Labour to commit to scrapping the WCA and to address the real problems that disabled people on benefits face in society.

We call once again on the British Medical Association to send guidance on DWP rules “29 and 35” which allows doctors to prevent foreseeable harm being done to ‘at risk’ patients.

They didn’t improve slavery, they abolished it, because it was wrong.

They didn’t amend Apartheid , they ended it because it was wrong

The WCA is wrong, and it needs to be abolished

Signed

Andy Greene, Disabled People Against Cuts
Annie Howard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Bob Ellard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Debbie Jolly, Disabled People Against Cuts
Denise McKenna, Mental Health Resistance Network
Jane Bence, #NewApproach
Eleanor Firman, Disabled People Against Cuts
Ellen Clifford, Disabled People Against Cuts
Gail Ward, Disabled People Against Cuts
John James McArdle, Black Triangle Campaign
Katy Marchant, Disabled People Against Cuts
Linda Burnip, Disabled People Against Cuts
Michelle Maher, WOWPetition
Nick Dilworth, #NewApproach
Pat Onions, Pats Petition
Paula Peters, Disabled People Against Cuts
Rick Burgess, #NewApproach
Roger Lewis, Disabled People Against Cuts
Rosemary O’Neil, Carerwatch
Roy Bard, Disabled People Against Cuts
Wayne Blackburn, #NewApproach
 
 Posted by at 14:47
Jul 032014
 
Friday 4th July 2pm: Independent Living Tea Party – Caxton House, Tothill St, London, SW1 #SaveILF
Friday 4th July 3pm: LET THEM EAT CAKE? No to all sanctions! Fri 4th July, 3-5pm Peckham Jobcentre.
Monday 7th July 9am: Justice for Tony and George 7th July Sheffield
Tuesday 8th July 12-2pm: Vigil for the WCA Judicial Review High Court, London
Wednesday 9th July 1pm: Legal Challenge to PIP descriptors, Birmingham – Vigil

The flyer that has been printed to hand out during the Vigil for the WCA Judicial Review at the High Court in London on the 8th of July has been reproduced below.

At the end are details of our call for people to support us by writing to Iain Duncan Smith to inform him that you are aware of the case and that you support the claimants’ fight for justice.

And if you can’t make the vigil, you can still join in by tweeting on #wcamentalhealth, Tuesday 8th July, 12pm-2pm


Banner Picture With MHRN and DPAC logos plus title

WHY ARE WE HERE TODAY? You may have heard of the tough new assessments for people claiming disability benefits; the truth is that these are mock assessments that the government are carrying out via Atos which ignore our disabilities and focus on whether we can walk 20 metres, push a button and sit in a chair. We are fighting to ensure that they conduct real assessments instead.

DID YOU KNOW THAT THE GOVERNMENT DO NOT WANT TO ASSESS US ON THE BASIS OF MEDICAL EVIDENCE FROM OUR DOCTORS AND THE OTHER HEALTH CARE PROFESSIONALS WHO TREAT US? Why is this? It is because the assessments that we currently go through are specifically designed to deny us access to benefits and the DWP knows that if they had to look at our medical evidence, the majority of us would qualify for disability benefits. They have been fighting tooth and nail in court to be able to continue carrying out assessments that cause harm, in order to push through the ideologically driven policies of the coalition government, with the ultimate goal of abolishing the welfare state.

THE COURTS HAVE ALREADY FOUND THAT THE WORK CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT PLACES PEOPLE WITH MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS AT A SUBSTANTIAL DISADVANTAGE BY FAILING TO ENSURE THAT WE ARE ABLE TO SUBMIT FURTHER MEDICAL EVIDENCE TO SUPPORT OUR BENEFIT CLAIMS AND TO ACCURATELY REPORT HOW OUR CONDITION IMPACTS ON OUR DAILY LIVES AND OUR ABILITY TO WORK.

It has been successfully argued in court that the DWP should make reasonable adjustments to the WCA process to make it fit for purpose, as is required of them by the Equalities Act of 2010. Today the court is hearing about what reasonable adjustments, if any, the DWP propose to make.
One would never imagine, by looking at the stories in our national media, the high levels of distress, anxiety and fear that the WCA process is causing to people who already live with mental distress. HOWEVER THERE IS CLEAR EVIDENCE THAT THERE HAS BEEN A SIGNIFICANT NUMBER OF SUICIDES BY CLAIMANTS GOING THROUGH THE WCA PROCESS. In addition, an overwhelming number of people have suffered a serious deterioration in their mental health requiring further NHS treatment, including hospital admissions, or have had to increase their medication as a result of having to go through this cruel and iniquitous process.
PLEASE SUPPORT OUR STRUGGLE FOR JUSTICE and ensure that the safety net which exists for all of us remains effective and firmly in place by writing to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the Right Honourable Iain Duncan Smith, MP, to inform him that you are aware of the case and that you support the claimants’ fight for justice.
His contact details are:

The Rt Hon Iain Duncan Smith MP
Secretary of State
Department for Work and Pensions
Caxton House
Tothill Street
London
SW1H 9DA

Or email: caxtonhouse.clerkpru@dwp.gsi.gov.uk
This vigil has been organised by DPAC (Disabled People Against Cuts) in partnership with the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN)


 

 Posted by at 22:41
Jun 172014
 

DWP ministers said only 9% of ESA decisions were wrong.  Our research reveals the DWP have been quoting from figures which state 151,800 appeals have succeeded.  Our evidence shows the true figure to be at least 567,634 – casting serious doubt over 43% of 1,302,200 ‘fit for work’ decisions. 
 

ilegal Press Release – 16th June 2013


DWP’s internal figures reveal a much higher number of successful ESA appeals than have been made publicly available.

article-2520639-19FD00E400000578-512_634x330

DWP reply on 13 June 2014 to a Freedom of Information Act request made as part of an investigation in to DWP figures relating to the controversial Work Capability Assessment by ilegal.org.uk has revealed that of 1,287,323 ESA appeals, at least 567,634 claimants have had the original DWP decision overturned in their favour.

Government’s key defence of the assessments has been that around 9% of all decisions are incorrect.  The most controversial of which are those where a claimant is found fit for work.  DWP figures (for new claims) show that betweenOctober 2008 and September 2013 a total of 1,306,200 fit for work decisions have been made.

It is with considerable disappointment noted that the DWP’s latest publicly available statistics confirm that only 151,800 successful appeals have been recorded out of a total of 410,400 appeals (for new claimants only).  Our investigations reveal evidence of three times as many appeals being ‘internally recorded’ of which
567,634 have been successful.  The DWP have revealed to us figures which show nearly quarter of a million internal reconsiderations have led to decisions on new ESA claims being overturned in favour of the claimant; we have added these to figures from HMCTS tribunals which provides us with a much higher figure than the DWP seems to be prepared to admit to in their publicly available figures.

Our intensive research into the assessment of claimants for the DWP’s Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) has, following a freedom of information request to the DWP, provided one of the final pieces of the jigsaw needed to unpick the Department’s overly complicated statistics. We now have the final clue which has enabled us to identify that no less than 567,634 ESA claimants have in fact had their initial ESA refusals overturned in their favour.

It is a startling revelation that the government department has apparently been keeping a lid on a set of statistics that clearly shows between May 2010 and June 2013 no less than 820,356 decisions were looked at again by the DWP after claimants had been assessed by the controversial private contractors Atos Healthcare. These ‘internal’ statistics show that a very substantial 232,782 (28.5%) decisions were then subsequently overturned in the claimant’s favour.

What makes this all the worse is that these reconsideration statistics come on top of separate figures that show us that of those claimants who did not have the decisions overturned in their favour by the DWP, 817,102 went on to appeal to tribunals arranged by Her Majesties’ Courts & Tribunals Service where a further 332,607 were then overturned in the claimant’s favour by the tribunal.

These figures completely negate all of the DWP’s claims that it is getting the majority of its decisions right

These figures completely negate all of the DWP’s claims that it is getting the majority of its decisions right. Government ministers in conjunction with the DWP’s Press office have been telling us that a million claimants have been found fit for work whereas these figures show that in reality this is only a small part of the true story and that huge numbers have gone on to successfully appeal decisions which were wrong.

These new figures highlight the dubious practice of using the unchallenged assessment results, which only encourage media sensationalisation, with headlines such as those appearing in the Daily Express in July 2011 stating that ‘75% on sickness benefits were faking’. The same article goes on to say that out of ‘…2.6 million on the sick, 1.9 million could work’ before receiving an endorsement from the Prime Minister with an assurance that his government was “producing a much better system where we put people through their paces and say that if you can work, you should work”.

DWP and Ministers know the truth, they just aren’t telling anyone

These figures have been available to the DWP and its ministers since April 2010 from their ‘Decision Making & Appeals Case Recorder (DMACR) – ESA Management Information Statistics’. The DWP confirms this to be unpublished information which is for internal department information only, yet our research notes that the Right Hon Chris Grayling was using the same information in answer to Parliamentary questions on the 10th January 2012. 

We question then why the DWP has consistently ‘over promoted’ only the results of Work Capability Assessments relating to ‘initial’ decisions (including the opinions of Atos Healthcare in the absence of a statutory DWP decision) when it could instead have come clean and declared how hundreds of thousands of their incorrect decisions have since been overturned in favour of the person appealing.

These revelations seriously undermine the DWP’s contention that the initial Work Capability Assessment outcomes are a valid measure of the claimant’s ability to work. The DWP has consistently defended its assessments by giving an impression that only a relatively low number of decisions have been overturned whereas the reality is that well over half a million have resulted in a successful outcome for the claimant.

And this DOES NOT include the 712,000 people awaiting assessments BEFORE they can appeal

This news must have come as cause for grave concern when considered in the light of a recent revelation by DWP Minister Mike Penning which revealed that in addition to the figures we have highlighted, a further 712,000 Employment & Support Allowance claimants are awaiting assessments without which they cannot yet appeal.

This hugely unacceptable backlog of cases means people with disabling medical conditions are left hanging for months and months on a basic allowance way below what they are entitled to. This is leaving hundreds of thousands deprived of the support they require and means having to scrape by on money which is wholly insufficient to meet their needs due to disability and illness. It also means many claimants affected by severe and complex mental health conditions are facing prolonged torment as they wait month upon month for their decision to be overturned before they can even lodge an appeal.

Face up to reality: it doesn’t work. Scrap the WCA

These findings add considerably to the pleas of disabled groups all over the country to scrap the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and to find a better way to assess their needs.

It is simply appalling that the DWP, along with Ministers and other government spokespeople appear to be feeding the media with misleading statistics that are unrepresentative of the real story and instead encourage headlines vilifying the disabled and the genuinely ill. These figures clearly show the DWP has evidence in their possession which shows how in far too many cases the decisions it is making are dead wrong and they know they’re dead wrong.

Editorial notes

Please contact the author of this article Nick Dilworth for verification of any of the figures quoted.  We welcome sharing our findings on social media and allow this information to be produced providing credit is given to the
i-legal website with links to the article produced.

We apologise for the slight delay in publishing this release.  This was due to a need to align the figures to ones recently produced by the DWP in their Work Capability Assessment figures released on the 12th June 2014 which relate to the most recent statistics up to September 2013.

A full supporting explanatory memorandum will be published very shortly.

The Reconsideration statistics relate to new ESA claimants only (excluding incapacity benefit to ESA conversion cases) whereas HMCTS figures refer to all ESA claimants.  It is our contention that had the DWP supplied all of the information we had requested, the figures for reconsiderations would have been considerably higher.

We acknowledge that not all appeals will be against fit for work findings for new claimants but given the DWP’s emphasis on this claimant cohort and the lack of information to the contrary we are of the contention that other appeals relating to claimants being moved from the Work Related Activity Group to Support Group are likely to be of a much lower volume and more likely to be contained within the cohort relating to incapacity benefit/ESA assessment.

We would like to express our thanks to Anita Bellows an i-legal member for her cooperation and for making the freedom of information request upon our guidance and our thanks extend to the DPAC organisation with whom Anita is also a member.

http://ilegal.org.uk/thread/8640/release-staggering-numbers-overturned-secrecy?page=1&scrollTo=21759

with thanks as ever to Nick  @Mylegalforum

Jun 032014
 

 

Who 2 Vote 4 As part of DPAC’s Who 2 Vote 4 campaign Anita Bellows delves in to the history files, to examine who made the decision to move Incapacity Benefit Claimants onto ESA and the warnings that were made about that at the time.


Even before the full reassessment of Incapacity Benefits claimants was in full swing, academics predicted a disaster with 600,000 claimants forced off Incapacity Benefits, particularly for those living in regions of high unemployment.

A Guardian article refers to a study undertaken in 2011 by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research of Sheffield Hallam University (CRESR)  which showed that it was possible to anticipate the dire consequences of IB reassessments and of the ESA regime which relied on a tougher test, but which was already known at the time to be flawed: the Work Capability Assessment.

But the CRESR was not the first, and certainly not the only opponent to the IB migration, and to raise doubts about IB reassessment, the Work Capability Assessment, and the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) regime.

As early as May 2010, the Social Security Advisory Committee, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, and the House of Lords all separately warned first the Labour government and then the Coalition government of the potential negative impacts on disability benefit claimants if the IB reassessments went ahead, especially with a tougher test and a standard of assessment which was “not always good enough, especially for people with mental health and cognitive difficulties”.

Both governments decided to ignore these warnings and to go ahead, even before knowing the findings and recommendations of the first review of the WCA.

Background to the reassessment of  existing Incapacity Benefit claimants

Employment and Support Allowance did not initially affect existing claimants of incapacity benefits, but the Labour Government made it clear from the outset that existing claimants would be reassessed for ESA.

Budget 2008 [para 4.5] announced that all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants would be required to take the Work Capability Assessment from April 2013.

March 2010 regulations

Regulations laid before Parliament by the Labour Government on 29 March 2010 provided for the “migration” of the remaining incapacity benefits claimants customers to ESA between October 2010 and March 2014, provided they satisfied the Work Capability Assessment.

The draft regulations were subject to full scrutiny by the Social Security Advisory Committee (SSAC), who published its report in March 2010 with the response of the government.

March 2010 Social Security Advisory Committee’s report

The Committee believed that the migration arrangements in the draft regulations could not be implemented without the risk of operational stress and adverse impacts on significant numbers of vulnerable people before adding: “In our view, the Department should not embark upon the proposed migration until the well-documented problems with current ESA processes and procedures (including those with the WCA) have been resolved, any changes to the Pathways programme have been implemented and bedded-in, and improvements have been made to the support available for JSA claimants with a health condition or disability”.

The Committee raised also several concerns:

  • Lack of a solid evidence base for the decision to migrate or the proposed migration arrangements.
  • Underestimation by DWP of the support required by this group of claimants, in terms of both their participation in a more active benefit regime and the support required to move them closer to the labour market.
  • ESA evaluation for new claimants is not planned to be completed until 2011, by which time the proposed migration arrangements will have commenced.

And the Committee recommended that the migration to ESA did not proceed to the current timetable but waits until:

  • a stronger evidence base on what works and whether ESA is achieving its aims is available
  • the new regime for claimants with a health condition or disability (as an outcome of the Pathways review) has bedded down
  • DWP’s review of the WCA is complete, recommendations have been considered and any necessary changes have been made
  • demand-side approaches to stimulating the labour market have begun to have a positive impact on local demand for labour, particularly in areas with a high concentration of IB claimants.

And in case the migration did proceed as planned the Committee made several recommendations, notably that the quality of the WCA should be improved, particularly for claimants with mental health problems and cognitive and learning difficulties, and that Incapacity benefits claimants currently exempt from the PCA should be automatically treated as meeting the conditions for the ESA Support Group.

March 2010 Government’s response

In its response in the same document, Point 141, the Labour Government rejected the Committee’s call to alter the timetable for migration, but took on board some of the Committee’s concerns and undertook to continue to engage with “stakeholders” as the migration proceeded, stating:

“The Government has carefully considered the Committee’s concerns in relation to the ESA transitional Regulations and their wider concerns about the migration programme. However, for the reasons outlined in this response it does not accept the Committee’s recommendation that migration should not continue to the current timetable. The Government considers the migration of existing incapacity benefits customers to be a key element of welfare reform and one that will greatly benefit customers at a time when support to get back to work is urgently needed. The Government does not believe it would be right or fair to delay this support for customers who have been without it for too long already”.

June 2010 House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee’s report

In June 2010, after the General election, the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee published a report which echoed the concerns voiced by the SSAC about whether there would be sufficient support for these groups of claimants, and the lack of evidence on how ESA was working for new claimants, notably that the Committee, from the limited evidence they have seen thought that a

“major project with a potential impact on the lives of some of the most vulnerable in the community is being conducted in a rather ad hoc fashion. The second phase is being rolled out before the first has been evaluated and although better information will be sought on the outcomes, the Department’s intended course of action, and evidence to support it, all seem rather vague”

It voices also concerns about the capacity of only 20 Benefit centres to absorb and process the transition of 10,000 cases per week, the arrangements put into place by DWP for Job centres, as “many of the customers will have special needs”, and the quality of the Work Capability Assessment.

The Committee also asked DWP what percentage of those ESA claimants sent down the JSA route obtained work, and what happened to the 30% who moved off benefits, to which DWP replied that the Department did not hold the information centrally, but that it intended “to carry out a qualitative piece of in-depth research on unsuccessful ESA claimants who do not qualify for ESA, have their claim closed, or withdraw their claim”.

One report was published in 2011 [para 4.4.2] in which DWP acknowledged that it knew nothing about ESA claimants found fit for work, and not claiming JSA.

July 2010 House of Lords’s debate to motion

The House of Lords then debated a motion to take note of the Merits Committee’s report on 20 July 2010 which criticised the reassessment of existing IB claimants, the WCA and the ESA regime and which quoted Professor Gregg, the architect of the sanctions regime in the two most recent Welfare Reform Acts as saying: “To start moving people who may have been on incapacity benefit for years straight onto jobseeker’s allowance is ridiculous. Before wading into the stock, the system has to be right“.

To which Lord Freud answered by providing reassurance that everything was fine and under control, and that even this year in March (2010), “a DWP-led review of the work capability assessment found that generally it is accurately identifying individuals for the right support”.


The General Election is one year away and the choice is likely to be between the two main parties.

  • Both of them were alerted in 2010 to the risks people claiming incapacity benefits could be exposed to, if IB reassessments went ahead.
  • Both parties knew there was a real capacity gap in Job centres and Benefit centres to deal with the number estimated by DWP to be found fit for work.
  • Both parties were warned about the issues already plaguing the Work Capability Assessment.
  • Both parties chose to ignore these warnings and to proceed with a flawed reassessment process.

While the Conservative party, through Iain Duncan Smith, and the various Ministers for Disabled People has shown itself to be indifferent to the plight of people who need support because they cannot work, the Labour party should not be let off the hook.

Would Labour have done things differently? Maybe, but the fact is we don’t know, and while they were in power, they did not show any willingness to protect these groups of people from harm.

Before being trusted again, the Labour party has to acknowledge its errors of the past and make concrete proposals to put things right.

The ball is in their court.

 

 Posted by at 16:19
May 202014
 

 

By Anita Bellows

David Webster, a leading authority on UK benefit sanction statistics, reacts to the report published in March by the Policy Exchange think tank (Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system).

His concern is the influence Policy Exchange has on the right of British politics, (having for instance fathered the JSA ‘claimant commitment’ currently being rolled out) and that the report, if left unchallenged, might affect policy.

The report is flawed in many ways:

  • It splits sanctioned claimants into 2 groups: deserving claimants who are sanctioned for the first time for a lower level ‘offence’ and the others, the repeat ‘offenders’. The flaw is that repeat ‘offenders’ are just as likely as first-timers to be wrongly sanctioned, and there is no statistical or factual basis for the report to establish such a distinction. In fact the reconsideration/appeal success rate for ‘higher level’ sanctions is much higher than for ‘lower level’sanctions.
  • The lack of reference to the difficulties of sanctioned claimants highlighted in British literature dealing with sanctions, whichshows considerable objections to the proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties recommended by the report for ‘deserving claimants’, and also that claimants with repeated ‘failures’ are likely to be people with difficulties that make them unable to cope with the system.
  • The report is open about its belief in ‘punishment’ which seems to be desirable in itself. The report builds on the language of criminalisation of sanctioned claimants introduced by the Coalition, although most sanctions challenged in court or through reconsideration have been found to be wrongly applied.
  • The scale of financial sanctions is breathtaking: the maximum penalty for jobseekers is £11,185.20, while the fines normally applied to all offenders by mainstream Courts range from £200 (Level 1) to £5,000 (Level 5).

For Annie Piece

It is imperative to challenge this report which relies on the system’s complexity and the use of selective figures and statistics to obfuscate the fact that most sanctions are wrongly applied, that 9 out of 10 challenged sanctions are overturned and that ‘offenders’ are mainly people who have done nothing wrong and who are facing specific difficulties. Ultimately, David Webster calls for an end to sanctions. It is an objective which must be supported.

Read also the Hit The Donkey blog for a good summary and analysis of David Webster’s comments


NOT SO SMART!

Comments on the Policy Exchange report

Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system’ by Guy Miscampbell, published 3 March 2014

Dr David Webster

Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow

24 March 2014

SUMMARY

The Policy Exchange report Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system (March 2014) aims to address two issues in the current UK regime of sanctions for JSA and ESA claimants: hardship suffered by claimants who subsequently win their appeals, and the existence of some 30,000 claimants per year (around 5% of the total number of people sanctioned in a year) who are repeatedly sanctioned. Its proposals are misconceived and would be counterproductive. The problems of hardship, including resort to food banks, and of wrongly applied sanctions, can affect any of the people receiving the almost 900,000 sanctions handed out per year, not just the around 300,000 first-time ‘lower level’ ‘offenders’ per year who the Policy Exchange proposes should receive what it claims is more ‘compassionate’ treatment. There is no logic to the identification of this group. The proposals would do nothing to reduce wrongly applied sanctions, and while potentially reducing hardship for some, would increase it for others and leave it unrelieved in the case of most sanctions. The proposal for a shaming ‘yellow card’ instead of loss of benefit is destructive and for many claimants would reduce rather than increase engagement. Daily signing-on would also be impracticable and counterproductive for many. The Policy Exchange proposes that these penalties should be applied to people who have done nothing wrong at all. Its claim that harsher sanctions for repeat ‘offenders’ would be more effective in producing compliance is contradicted by the available evidence. Addressing the problems of destitution caused by sanctions, and of wrongly applied sanctions, would require much more drastic reform including ensuring a decent minimum income for all sanctioned claimants, and proper protections against abuse in what is a gravely defective system of administrative justice. More fundamentally, in so far as the state has valid reasons for attempting to promote particular behaviours – and the reasons are often not valid – there are better ways of doing it than taking money away from already poor and/or crisis-stricken people. Sanctions should be abolished.

Comments on the Policy Exchange report

Smarter Sanctions: Sorting out the system’

This Policy Exchange report has secured wide publicity. The Policy Exchange has influence on the right of British politics (having for instance fathered the JSA ‘claimant commitment’ currently being rolled out) and, if left unchallenged, the report might affect policy. The purpose of these comments is to point out where it is wrong.i

The Coalition has changed the official language used in referring to sanctions in such a way as to imply that sanctioned claimants are in effect a type of criminal, particularly through the drafting of the October 2012 Regulations and their Explanatory Memorandum.ii Thus we read of ‘offences’, ‘failures’, transgressions’, ‘serial and deliberate breach’, ‘failure to meet their responsibilities’, and the like. The Policy Exchange report adopts this language uncritically, and adds to it, with phrases such as ‘flout the system’ (p.6), ‘defying the conditionality regime’ (p.7), ‘separate levels of punishment depending on the offence’ (p.29), ‘prevent the system from being gamed by those who have no intention of being compliant’ (p.36), ‘abuse the leniency in the “first” sanction’ (p.36), ‘the most troublesome cases’ (p.37) ‘more extensive punishment for those who consistently abuse this system’ (p.37). But it should be remembered that even when a sanction is lawful (which is often not the case), the claimant has frequently done nothing deserving of any criticism from either a moral or a practical point of view. Very often they have simply taken a different view from the state about the most constructive way forward. Or they are exercising a fundamental right, such as the right to give up a job at any time on whatever grounds they see fit, subject only to their employment contract. Moreover, the fact that a sanction may go unchallenged does not mean that it is reasonable or lawful, since we know from the research evidence that most claimants find the process of challenge too difficult to undertake.

In what follows it has not been possible to avoid using the language of ‘offence’ and ‘punishment’ in reporting what the Policy Exchange has said, but it is important to bear the above points in mind.

BACKGROUND

In order to understand the report it is necessary to be aware that sanctioned claimants lose their benefit immediately and even if they successfully ask for reconsideration or appeal, the money lost is only refunded months later. The financial position for JSA and ESA claimants while under sanction is as follows:

  1. JSA: Since the Jobseekers Act 1995 (implemented October 1996), sanctioned claimants lose all their JSA for the varying period of weeks. They may apply for hardship payments of 60% of JSA (80% for those in a ‘vulnerable’ group) but these are discretionary and are assessed according to a special set of rules designed to ensure that the claimant has no other resources left and has exhausted any possible assistance from family and friends. Claimants not in a ‘vulnerable’ group are not allowed even to apply for hardship payments for the first two weeks. There is no assessment of ‘vulnerability’. ‘Vulnerable’ groups are arbitrarily defined and are mainly people looking after children.

  2. ESA: Sanctions were introduced for long-term sick or disabled claimants in the ESA Work Related Activity Group in October 2008. Up to 3 December 2012, sanctioned ESA claimants lost half of their ‘work related activity component’ (£28.45 per week) for the first 4 weeks and all of it thereafter. Since December 2012, they have lost all of their main payment (the ‘personal allowance’, the equivalent of JSA) but retain the smaller ‘work related activity component’. Sanctioned ESA claimants can apply for hardship payments immediately.

These sanctions are in effect fines. For claimants over 25, and disregarding open-ended loss of benefit for some types of ‘failure’ pending ‘compliance’, they range from £286.80 up to £11,185.20 for JSA, and from £71.70 to £286.80 for ESA. Under -25 benefit rates are lower, so the amounts lost through sanctions are also lower. ‘Hardship payments’ may reduce the amounts lost. About a quarter of sanctioned JSA claimants get hardship payments, but only around 1 per cent get them at the ‘vulnerable’ rate. Table 1 shows the net amounts lost by the various types of claimant, on the assumptions shown.

For comparison, the fines normally available to the mainstream Courts range from £200 (Level 1) to £5,000 (Level 5).

The impact of these sanctions varies according to the circumstances of the claimant. Those with significant financial resources and/or support from relatives or friends may be relatively little affected, especially if they quickly get a job. Those who are already without resources, especially where they do not have support from relatives or friends, and have barriers to employment such as age, literacy/numeracy problems, sickness etc., are driven into total destitution and frequently actual hunger. To its credit, this Policy Exchange report gives short shrift to Ministers’ claims that there is ‘no robust evidence’ to link the increase in food bank usage to welfare changes, including the increase in sanctions. It accepts the obvious, namely that sanctions drive people to food banks.

Table 1: Minimum and maximum financial amounts of sanctions

Age 25+

Age under 25

Minimum £

Maximum £

Minimum £

Maximum £

JSA, no hardship payment

286.80

11,185.20

227.20

8,860.80

JSA, hardship payment, non-vulnerable

200.76

4,560.12

159.04

3,612.48

JSA, hardship payment, vulnerable

57.36

2,237.04

45.44

1,772.16

ESA, no hardship payment

71.70

286.80

56.80

227.20

ESA, hardship payment

14.30

57.36

11.36

45.44

Notes: These amounts do not include open-ended sanctions for some types of ‘failure’ pending ‘compliance’. It is assumed that application for hardship payments is made as soon as permitted and is immediately successful, and that hardship payments are paid throughout the period of the sanction at maximum rate. These assumptions will probably not often be correct. Benefit rates are as at 2013-14.

Source: Author’s calculations.

SUMMARY OF THE POLICY EXCHANGE REPORT’S ARGUMENT AND PROPOSALS

The report argues that the current sanctions system is too harsh on some people and too lenient on others.

It argues that it is too harsh to an estimated 68,000 people per yeariii who receive a 4-week sanction which is subsequently overturned by reconsideration or appeal, for a first-time ‘offence’ which is defined as ‘lower level’ by the October 2012 Regulations. Therefore a policy should be piloted whereby lower level first-time ‘offenders’ should receive either or both of the following penalties (argued to be more ‘compassionate’):

  1. Upon ‘re-engagement’ with Jobcentre Plus, the claimant would have their benefits paid via a ‘yellow card’, usable only at designated shops and, technology permitting, only for designated goods. This substitute penalty should be imposed for a longer period of 8 weeks.

  2. The claimant should have to sign on daily.

The most effective permutation of these penalties (one or other or both) would be established by the pilots.

These first-time ‘offenders’ (but not other ‘offenders’) should also automatically receive assistance with applying for reconsideration or appeal.

The proposed measures would have to be applied to all first-time lower level ‘offenders’ since the outcome of reconsideration/appeal is not known until too late. The report estimates that about 19,000 people a month would be subject to them, but it does not attempt a full-year estimate. At current levels, this would be of the order of 300,000.iv This is somewhat over half the total number of individual JSA claimants sanctioned during a year, which is over 528,000, but only one third of the total number of JSA sanctions (874,850).v

The report argues that the current system is too lenient to people who incur repeated JSA sanctions defined as ‘lower level’ by the October 2012 Regulations. At present a second or subsequent lower level ‘failure’ within the same year incurs a 13 week sanction. The report proposes to add further progression, namely 26 weeks for a third ‘failure’, 39 weeks for a third, and in general 13(n-1) weeks where n is the number of ‘failures’, with a maximum of 156 weeks (which would be reached upon the 13th ‘offence’).vi This proposal would raise the maximum sanction for this group from £932.10 (under-25s £738.40) to £11,185.20 (under-25s £8,860.80). The report does not offer an estimate of the number of people who would be affected by this proposal but the DWP statistics indicate that it would be somewhat over 30,000 per year, around 5% of the total number of people sanctioned during a year.

The report also considers that treatment is too lenient for people with repeated ESA sanctions. At present, the sanction is open-ended until re-engagement and is then followed by a 1-week sanction for a first ‘failure’, 2 weeks for a second, and 4 weeks for a third or subsequent ‘failure’. The report proposes to add further unlimited progression, to 8 weeks for a fourth ‘failure’, 12 weeks for a fifth, and in general 4(n-2) weeks where n is the number of ‘failures’. The present maximum sanction for this group of £286.80 (under-25s £227.20) would be raised to a level limited only by the time to retirement.

This proposal seems scarcely worth making since the DWP statistics show that there are under 1,200 ESA claimants who have ever had more than three sanctions. The algebraic formula is certainly wasted since once beyond six sanctions the numbers are down to double figures in the whole of Great Britain.

The report does not comment at all on the treatment of people sanctioned for JSA ‘offences’ defined as ‘intermediate’ or ‘higher’ level by the October 2012 Regulations. It does not make any attempt to cost its proposals or make any kind of impact assessment.

In considering the weaknesses of the report, these comments deal separately with the ‘too harsh’ and the ‘too lenient’ aspects.

CRITICISMS OF THE REPORT: ‘TOO HARSH’

Identification of claimants who should be treated less harshly

The identification of first-time ‘lower level’ ‘offenders’ as the only claimants who should be treated less harshly is odd. It leaves the following categories of sanctioned claimants who would not be treated less harshly:

– second and subsequent time lower level ‘offenders’, whether successfully appealing or not

– all intermediate and higher level ‘offenders’, whether first-time or not and whether successfully appealing or not.

.

There is no justification for the Policy Exchange proposal to treat these groups less favourably.

Discrimination by first-time/repeat

Repeat ‘offenders’ are just as likely as first-timers to be wrongly sanctioned. Wrongly sanctioned people with a previous ‘offence’ should not be treated less favourably than wrongly sanctioned first timers. The report does not attempt to justify this discrimination, which presumably arises from an implicit assumption that an ‘offence’ renders a claimant ‘undeserving’ and that as a result they should forfeit their right to justice.

Such discrimination would be counterproductive. Consider the hypothetical case of a claimant who ‘offends’ on one occasion, is sanctioned, and who then ‘reforms’ only to find that they are then subjected to a further sanction which is wrongfully imposed, and they are told that because of their previous offence, they are not entitled to fair treatment. This would promptly undermine the supposed effectiveness of the system.

Discrimination by ‘level’

As the report itself acknowledges (p.20), the reconsideration/appeal success rate for ‘higher level’ sanctions is much higher than for ‘lower’: 31.8% compared to 19.9%.vii So there are actually more wrongly sanctioned claimants in this group, and this is even more serious as the sanctions are of much longer duration. Reconsideration/appeal success rates are also significant for ‘intermediate’ sanctions, at 12.3%. Therefore if the objective is to reduce the suffering of wrongly sanctioned claimants, the report’s proposal will not achieve it.

The report does not offer any justification for treating ‘higher’ and ‘intermediate’ ‘offenders’ less favourably than ‘lower’ offenders. It appears simply to have accepted these distinctions uncritically at face value. But this categorization did not exist until October 2012. The Explanatory Memorandum to the October 2012 Regulations did not offer any justification for the categorization, simply claiming without explanation that ‘under the existing regime some sanctions are not proportionate to the failure’. The designation of some ‘failures’ as more serious than others is shot through with unwarranted assumptions.

Intermediate level – Until October 2012 these were not treated as offences at all. They all relate to cases where the claimant does not meet the entitlement conditions for JSA because they are not available for work, not actively seeking work, have not signed on or have not completed a Jobseeker’s Agreement, or are unemployed because of a relevant trade dispute. Such claimants were simply ‘disentitled’, and a new claim showing that the claimant now met the conditions resulted in immediate restoration of JSA, apart from a few ‘waiting days’. The Coalition decided to turn these matters into ‘offences’ and by adding a fixed 4-week sanction to the disentitlement arbitrarily promoted their seriousness above that of ‘lower level’ offences.

Higher level – These ‘failures’ all relate to cases where it is argued that the claimant’s conduct has actually caused their unemployment, i.e. their unemployment is ‘voluntary’ (a claim which is obviously unsustainable in relation to almost all the reasons why claimants are currently sanctioned). This is the rationale for treating them as more serious. In the case of the new offence of ‘failing to participate in Mandatory Work Activity’, this claim is dishonest, since the claimant is not getting a job, but only ‘workfare’ – having to work for their benefits. MWA is ‘intended to help claimants move closer to the labour market, enabling them to establish the discipline and habits of working life, such as attending on time regularly, carrying out specific tasks and working under supervision while delivering a contribution to the community’.viii MWA should be classified as a ‘lower level’ failure, like the other training activities with which it belongs.

But the severity of the penalty for the other ‘higher level’ ‘failures’ has also long been challenged. For 75 years until 1986, the maximum penalty for ‘voluntary unemployment’ was 6 weeks’ loss of benefit. At that time, there were almost no sanctions or disqualifications except for voluntarily leaving a job or losing it through misconduct. During the Thatcher/Howe recession from 1979 on, job leaving was suppressed because people are more careful to hold on to a job when it is more difficult to get another. As recovery proceeded, job mobility rose – as indeed economic efficiency required – and disqualifications for ‘voluntary leaving’ and ‘misconduct’ rose with it, since many of them are imposed on people who simply miscalculate about how easy it will be to get another job. Conservative ministers of the day did not understand this and thought the penalties needed to be increased, to up to 26 weeks in 1988. The Department of Social Security itself subsequently pointed out: ‘Changes in the economic climate …play an important part in people’s attitude to job leaving and job search…Thus it is not surprising that the length of disqualification appears to have little effect on voluntary leaving’ (DSS 1989, p.5). The relatively trivial ‘offences’ introduced or made more common by the Jobseekers Act 1995 could not credibly be penalised at the level of these ‘voluntary unemployment’ disqualifications and this then left it open to the 2012 Regulations to designate the latter as ‘higher level’.

Lower level – Inclusion of missing an interview as a sanctionable ‘offence’ at all is a recent innovation, in April 2010. Before then, it was regarded as an entitlement issue, permitting a resumption of benefit after only the ‘waiting days’. The logic was that if the claimant does not attend interviews, their availability for work is put into question and their claim cannot be progressed. It was the previous Labour government which decided to turn it into a sanctionable ‘offence’.

Discrimination in relation to assistance with reconsideration/appeal

Given that wrongly sanctioned claimants can be found in any group, there is a lack of logic in the proposal that only first-time lower level ‘offenders’ should receive assistance with their appeal. The research evidence (e.g. Peters & Joyce 2006), and the low levels of both reconsiderations and appeals, show that most claimants find the process of challenging decisions too difficult – which is not surprising given the multiplicity of other difficulties which they will be attempting to cope with at the same time.

The proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties

It is striking that the Policy Exchange report makes very little reference to the British literature on the difficulties of sanctioned claimants.ix Instead, references are mainly to US literature on ‘workfare’, revealing the Policy Exchange’s political preferences and connections.x A reading of the British literature would show that there are considerable objections to both of the proposed more ‘compassionate’ penalties.

‘Yellow card’ – This proposal is modelled on the ‘Azure card’ issued to asylum seekers denied leave to remain.xi The British Red Cross is calling for this to be abolished, a fact of which the Policy Exchange appears unaware.xii The implied withdrawal of full citizenship recalls the overt removal of citizenship rights introduced for workhouse inmates by the 1834 Poor Law. The report itself states (pp.6, 33, 36) that the card would work partly through ‘social pressure’, in other words sanctioned claimants would be publicly shamed, even when they are subsequently found to have done nothing wrong at all. Shaming is undesirable, whether claimants are wrongly sanctioned or not, for all the reasons considered by Walker et al. (2013), Ellis (2010) and Citizens for Sanctuary (2010). The report also proposes (pp.6, 32-33) that the card should have to be picked up from the Jobcentre, ‘fostering renewed contact with the sanctioned individual. If they did not re-engage then they would be unable to pick up the card and access benefits’. Given the shame involved in using the card, it seems likely that only claimants in dire need of money would opt to pick it up, and for many, there would thus be a reduced incentive to ‘re-engage’. The report itself (p.10, note 17) references a case where a teacher was wrongfully sanctioned for attending a job interview which took place at the same time as her signing-in time. An offer of a ‘yellow card’ would not only make such a person justifiably very angry; it would also most likely be rejected.

Another problem is that sanctioned claimants often have multiple urgent calls on any funds that come in, e.g. repaying informal debts, feeding a coin electricity meter, buying a child’s birthday present. Many of these would continue to require cash, so denying it would be likely to cause serious crises. The need to find and travel to stores accepting the card would impose further financial costs and waste of time. Indeed it might become impossible for some claimants even to get to the Jobcentre, unless the card was accepted on public transport – an issue on which the Policy Exchange is silent (Reynolds 2010).

The Policy Exchange proposal is that all of these problems should be imposed on people who are completely blameless.

Daily signing-on The main practical objections to this are the time and cost of travel, and the difficulties created for any kind of carer (bearing in mind that large numbers of people have some caring roles even when not classified as ‘carers’, and that there are some 140,000 lone parents with children under 12 on JSA as a result of the ‘lone parent obligation’). Daily sign-on is simply unrealistic for many claimants. It would also run counter to the Policy Exchange-inspired Claimant Commitment, since for many claimants so much time would be taken up in travel that there would be little left for job search. Because of the extremely large differences in the travel times and costs involved, especially between rural and urban claimants, this penalty would bear very unequally on different claimants. It also has a strong resemblance to the oakum-picking of the nineteenth-century workhouse – a deliberately purposeless activity, designed to depress and humiliate. It would be an abuse of the principle of signing on, whose purpose is simply to ensure that the claimant demonstrates their availability for work by their physical presence, and affirms by their signature that they meet the entitlement conditions for unemployment benefit during the relevant payment period. Again, the Policy Exchange proposes that this penalty should be applied to people who are blameless.

CRITICISMS OF THE REPORT: ‘TOO LENIENT’

The report does not cite any empirical evidence in support of its proposal to add further progression of penalties beyond 13 weeks for a third or subsequent lower level ‘failure’. It says (pp. 10-11) that ‘more needs to be done to prevent this group of individuals’ – a ‘hard core of claimants’ – ‘consistently wasting time and resources’. Sanctions should be ‘more punitive for those who are repeatedly attempting to avoid the conditionality regime’ (p.7). The harsher progression ‘would increasingly shift the most troublesome cases onto more punitive sanctions’ and ‘should help provide a more extensive punishment for those who consistently abuse this system’ (p.37). This implies beliefs that (a) claimants are deliberately not meeting requirements, (b) harsher penalties will have greater effects in producing compliance, (c) claimants waste the time of Jobcentre staff but Jobcentre staff do not waste the time of claimants and (d) punishment is desirable in itself.

  1. Claimants deliberately not meeting requirements The Scottish Government (2013) concluded that ‘Research shows that claimants who face sanction are often unable to comply with conditions rather than unwilling. The reasons why claimants receive sanctions are complex and include: lack of awareness, knowledge and understanding of the sanction process; practical barriers and personal barriers’. The evidence shows that the great majority of claimants are doing their best to find work, and that Jobcentres contribute little of value to their search.xiii For them, what the sanctions system often does is to enforce contrived and pointless actions which bring no actual benefit to anyone.

  2. Harsher penalties to produce greater effect At present JSA claimants ‘committing’ a third lower level ‘failure’ receive a sanction of £932.10 (under-25s £738.40), on top of what will have been a total of £1,218.90 (under-25s £965.60) for the first and second ‘failures’, bringing the total penalty to £2,151.00 (under-25s £1,897.70). These sums are already so large for an unemployed person that there is a lack of credibility in the Policy Exchange’s claim that a further increase to a grand total of £3,083.10 (under-25s £2,442.40) upon the third ‘failure’, with yet further subsequent increases of £932.10 (under-25s £738.40) for each subsequent ‘failure’, would succeed where the earlier penalties failed. However, what certainly would happen is that many claimants would spend much longer on the vicious ‘hardship payments’ regime, thus reducing them, and their friends or families, further towards destitution (if they are not there already), and making recovery of their lives much more difficult. ESA claimants currently face much smaller sanctions for repeated ‘failures’ than do JSA claimants, but nearly all of them will be in a weak financial position due to a weak employment record; as in the case of JSA, non-means-tested ESA now lasts only a year, so that very few sanctioned ESA claimants will have income or capital above the qualifying levels.

  3. Claimants waste the time of Jobcentre staff but not the other way round It is clear from the abundant evidence from advice agencies and claimants themselves that most of the waste of time in the JSA system is of claimants’ time by Jobcentre staff, not the other way round. Not only are there the absurd requirements for multiple token applications for jobs the claimant has no chance of getting; there is also the chasing after undelivered letters, the attempts to get phone calls efficiently dealt with and changes of circumstances properly recorded, the referrals to inappropriate courses, the struggle to find a web terminal allowing access to ‘Universal Jobmatch’ followed by the need to screen out the fraudulentxiv vacancies recorded in it, etc., etc.xv

  4. Punishment desirable in itself The report is quite open about its belief in punishment: sanctions’ ‘purpose is twofold; attempting to ensure compliance with the conditionality regime, and’ (emphasis added) ‘punishing noncompliant behaviour’ (p.6). This position is clearly different from that of more moderate advocates of sanctions, such as Gregg (2008), whose report does not mention the words ‘punishment’ or ‘punish’ at all.

The British literature indicates that claimants with repeated ‘failures’ are likely to be people with difficulties that make them unable to cope with the system, like 19-year old ‘Sally’ with learning difficulties mentioned by Broadway & St Mungo’s (2014, p.6). They simply do not fit the image of the deliberately ‘serially noncompliant’ claimant which the Policy Exchange has imagined (p.39). Oxfam (2014) comments ‘The experiences of our projects and partners suggest that someone who is sanctioned for four weeks is more likely to be sanctioned again. Many of these same people are the most vulnerable members of our society.’

A Freedom of Information disclosure by DWP (2013-1075, 18 April 2013) showed that in 2012 (to 21 October), the type of ‘failure’ with by far the highest proportion of sanctions which were repeats (33.4%, relating to 27,570 individuals) was non-participation in the Work Programme.xvi Given the many reports of unsatisfactory services delivered by Work Programme contractors, this is at least as likely to indicate their failure to meet claimants’ needs as fault on the part of claimants. This is borne out by a recent Work Programme evaluation commissioned by the DWP (Meager et al. 2013), which reported a survey of Work Programme providers as revealing that 25.4 per cent thought the Programme ‘very ineffective’ and 22.5 per cent ‘somewhat ineffective’. The same report also stated that there is ‘no conclusive evidence that sanctions were changing job search behaviour or increasing job entry rates.’

There is not much systematic empirical evidence on the effects of escalating sanctions for repeat ‘failures’. An exception is Saunders et al. (2001). Most of their findings about escalating sanctions (2, 4, 26 weeks for 1st, 2nd and 3rd ‘offences’) in the New Deal for Young People were decidedly unfavourable. Many people received 26-week sanctions because the New Deal did not meet their needs, or because of misunderstandings, and many had significant obstacles to employment. They had mainly been allocated to the most unpopular of the four New Deal ‘Options’ and had had little choice. It was felt that once a client had reached the 26 week stage they were unlikely to return to the Option which they had been sanctioned for not attending. Some claimants talked about losing their confidence in relation to job interviews. In general, jobseekers disengaged from ‘the system’ after being sanctioned, particularly those with 26 week sanctions. Many wanted to sign off and have nothing to do with claiming benefits if it meant remaining on the New Deal. Concerns were also expressed over sanctioned clients who had serious personal difficulties that really needed intensive help.

While there is some evidence that sanctions do get some people off benefits faster, and sometimes even into work, all of it appears to relate to sanctions which are much milder than the present UK regime, let alone that proposed by the Policy Exchange. The Netherlands sanctions studied by Abbring et al. (2005) ranged from around 5% of the previous wage for 4 weeks, to 25 or 30% for 13 weeks. Those studied by Van den Berg et al. (2004) were a maximum 20% reduction in benefits for one or two months. Both of these articles were cited by Gregg (2008) to support his advocacy of sanctions. There appears to be no evidence that heavy sanctions are more efficacious than mild ones.

ALTERNATIVE PROPOSALS WHICH WOULD BETTER ADDRESS THE PROBLEMS IDENTIFIED

The Policy Exchange report correctly recognises that two of the biggest problems of the current sanctions regime are the reduction of poor claimants to destitution, and the high proportion of claimants who are wrongly sanctioned. But it is evident from the above discussion that its proposals, far from making sanctions ‘smarter’, would be ineffective and largely counterproductive in addressing these problems. Much more effective solutions are available.

Destitution The report recognises that many sanctioned claimants are made destitute, but proposes to relieve the destitution only of a minority. No one should be made destitute by sanctions, and prior to the Jobseekers Act 1995, no one was. Disallowed or sanctioned claimants were entitled to a reduced rate of Income Support or Supplementary Benefit as of right from the start, assessed on the normal rules. The present vindictive provisions were introduced by the populist right-winger Peter Lilley. Although the Labour Party voted against them, and a Conservative MP crossed the floor of the House in protest, nothing has since been done to reform the system. Gregg (2008), in his review commissioned by the Labour government, side-stepped the issue. He declared (pp.14, 69, 70, 71) that ‘an effective sanctions regime is one that drives behaviour to increase the chances of finding work, and penalises non-compliance without creating excessive hardship’ (emphasis added), but he did not make any recommendations for the avoidance of hardship or even ask how the JSA regime actually impacts on the poor.

Reducing claimants to destitution does not help them to find work and is simply counterproductive (Homeless Watch 2013). Led by the churches,xvii increasing numbers of people are recognising that the creation of destitution by the state, most strikingly revealed by the growth of food banks, is unacceptable. Restoration of a decent income for poor JSA and ESA claimants, whatever they are alleged to have done or not done, is an urgent priority, demanding legislation without delay.

Wrongful sanctions If people are being wrongly sanctioned on a huge scale, as the report admits, then the obvious solution is not the report’s proposal to treat wrongly sanctioned people supposedly less harshly, but to ensure that sanctions are not wrongly applied in the first place. The report avoids this issue by arguing (p.29) that ‘It seems reasonable to conclude that sensible steps are being taken to resolve process issues.’ Presumably this is a reference to the current government-commissioned review of some JSA sanctions by Matthew Oakley, a Policy Exchange alumnus. But Oakley’s terms of reference limit him to communications and process, excluding the issue of wrongful sanctions. Although the current Employment Minister has declared her intention to hold a wider review, she has committed herself to neither the scope nor the timescale of such a review.xviii

Adler (2013), on the basis of evidence running to 2010, has pointed out how few are the protections for claimants in the JSA/ESA sanctions regime and its grave defects as a system of administrative justice. Under the Coalition, matters have become very much worse. Added to the pre-existing problems, there is now a deliberate policy on the part of ministers to drive up the level of sanctions to previously unheard-of levels through managerial pressure on Jobcentre staff. In evidence to the Oakley review (Webster 2014), I have spelled out many of the individual changes which would be required to provide a proper level of protection.

However, these reforms will not address the many other fundamental objections to sanctions. In so far as the state has valid reasons for attempting to promote particular behaviours – and the reasons are often not valid – there are better ways of doing it than taking money away from already poor and/or crisis-stricken people. Sanctions should simply be abolished (Webster 2013).

REFERENCES

Abbring, Jaap H., van den Berg, Gerard J. and van Ours, Jan C. (2005) ‘The Effect of Unemployment Insurance Sanctions on the Transition Rate from Unemployment to Employment’, Economic Journal, 115 (July), 602–630

Adler, Michael (2013) ‘Conditionality, Sanctions, and the Weakness of Redress Mechanisms in the British “New Deal”’, in Evelyn Z. Brodkin and Gregory Marston, eds, Work and the Welfare State: Street-Level Organizations and Workfare Politics, Georgetown University Press

Van den Berg G. J., Van der Klaauw B., van Ours, J. C. (2004) ‘Punitive sanctions and the transition rate from welfare to work’, Journal of Labor Economics, 22(1), 211-41

Broadway & St Mungo’s (2014) Joint Response to the Independent Review of Jobseeker’s Allowance Sanctions, at

http://www.mungos.org/documents/4559/4559.pdf

Citizens for Sanctuary (2010) ‘This new system is breaking my spirit’: A Glasgow Citizen Monitoring Report on the Introduction of the Azure Payment Card, September, at http://www.justiceandpeacescotland.org.uk/Portals/0/Resources/azurecardreportglasgowcitiz.pdf

Department of Social Security (1989) An Analysis of Voluntary Unemployed Claimants, Analytical Services Division, November

Ellis, Jonathan (2010) ‘Time to cash in the Azure card’, Guardian, 6 November 2010, at http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2010/nov/06/asylum-seekers-azure-card

Gregg, Paul (2008) Realising Potential: A Vision for Personalised Conditionality and Support. An independent report to the Department for Work and Pensions

Homeless Watch (2013) A High Cost to Pay: The impact of benefit sanctions on homeless people, September, available at

http://homeless.org.uk/sanctions#.UtBCyLRZi8F

Manchester CAB Service (2013) Punishing Poverty? A review of benefit sanctions and their impacts on clients and claimants, October, available at http://www.manchestercab.org/news_more.asp?news_id=19&current_id=1

Meager, Nigel, Newton, Becci, Foley, Beth, Sainsbury, Roy, Corden, Anne, Irving, Annie, Lane, Pippa, Weston, Catherine (2013), Work Programme Evaluation: Interim meta-report, September. According to Channel 4 News, this report has been suppressed by Coalition ministers and the points from it cited here are as reported in the blog of Gary Gibbon, Channel 4 political correspondent, 12 March 2014, at http://blogs.channel4.com/gary-gibbon-on-politics/work-programme-work/27769

Oxfam (2014) Independent review of Jobseeker’s Allowance sanctions:

Response to call for evidence, available at http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations

Peters, Mark and Joyce, Lucy (2006) A review of the JSA sanctions regime: Summary findings, DWP Research Report No. 313

Reynolds, Sile (2010) Your inflexible friend: The cost of living without cash, Asylum Support Partnership, October, available at http://www.scottishrefugeecouncil.org.uk/what_you_can_do/campaign/azure_card

Saunders, Tanya, Stone, Vanessa, and Candy, Sara (2001) The impact of the 26 week sanctioning regime, BMRB Qualitative, April

Scottish Government (2013) The potential impacts of benefit sanctions on individuals and

households: Welfare Analysis, December, available at

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/Topics/People/welfarereform/analysis/analysisonsanctions

Walker, R., Kyomuhendo, G. B., Chase, E., Choudhry, S., Gubrium, E. K., Nicola, J. Y., Lødemel, I., Mathew L., Mwiine, A., Pellissery, S. and Ming, Yan C (2013) ‘Poverty in Global Perspective: Is Shame a Common Denominator?’, Journal of Social Policy, 42 (2), 215–233

Webster, D. (2013) ‘JSA Sanctions and Disallowances’, evidence submitted to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the Reformed Welfare System, 22 May 2013, revised and corrected 8 August 2013, available at

http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479vw.pdf,

pp. Ev w90-w101

Webster, D. (2014) Evidence submitted to the Independent review of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) sanctions for claimants failing to take part in back to work schemes, 10 January, revised 13 January, available at

http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations

i Some technical issues about the report are not discussed here. One of these is the question of the reasons for the recent rise in ‘reserved’ and ‘cancelled’ sanctions decisions, on which the report quotes my own work. My up-to-date view on this is set out in the briefing at http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sanctions-stats-briefing-d-webster-19-feb-2014-1.pdf

ii Explanatory Memorandum to the Jobseeker’s Allowance (Sanctions) (Amendment) Regulations

2012, 2012 No. 2568

iii The figure of 68,000 is actually an overestimate of the group as defined by the Policy Exchange report. It refers to claimants with a first ‘failure’ falling within the period 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013. The number of claimants within this group failing for the first time ever – which is the group apparently talked about by the Policy Exchange report will be smaller than this but cannot be found from the DWP’s published statistics. The 68,000 figure was incorrectly reported in the media as referring to all people wrongly sanctioned. This is actually a much larger number, at least 140,000 per year, and would be larger still if more people asked for reconsideration or appeal. Dissemination of the inaccurate figure resulted from misreporting by the Policy Exchange itself, on its website and in its press release.

iv An accurate estimate of the number of people receiving a lower level sanction for the first time in a given year cannot be obtained from the published DWP statistics. These show that 295,897 people received at least one adverse low level sanction decision in the 49 weeks from 22 October 2012 to 30 September 2013, but this is after removal of those whose adverse decision was reversed on reconsideration or appeal. Inclusion of these people would raise the number. On the other hand, definition of the group as those with a ‘first time ever’ sanction – apparently the Policy Exchange’s intention – would lower the number.

v See the author’s briefing at http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sanctions-stats-briefing-d-webster-19-feb-2014-1.pdf

vi The algebraic formulae are as used in the Policy Exchange report.

vii These are the report’s calculations, not the present author’s.

viii DWP, Mandatory Work Activity Provider Guidance – Incorporating Universal Credit (UC) Guidance

(January 2014), para.1.7, at https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/mandatory-work-activity-dwp-provider-guidance

ix The British literature on the difficulties of sanctioned claimants includes the two dozen or so submissions to the Oakley review of sanctions listed on the Child Poverty Action Group webpage http://www.cpag.org.uk/content/oakley-sanctions-review-responses-other-organisations. Also Homeless Watch (2013), Manchester CAB Service (2013), and Scottish Government (2013).

x The biography of the report’s author reveals that he served as an intern in the office of a US Republican Congressman for Alaska, Don Young, while the Policy Exchange website has a page inviting donations from ‘American friends of the Policy Exchange’ at http://www.policyexchange.org.uk/component/zoo/item/about-american-friends-of-policy-exchange.

xi https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/258358/vouchers.pdf. It is remarkable that the Policy Exchange (pp.32-33) cites US and Australian examples of payment cards while apparently being entirely unaware of the existence of such a card in the UK or of the voluminous literature about it.

xii http://www.migrantsrights.org.uk/news/2013/red-cross-calls-evidence-azure-card-and-its-impact-asylum-seeker-lives

xiii Almost all the organizations submitting written evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee Inquiry into The Role of Jobcentre Plus in the reformed welfare system who commented on the services provided by Jobcentre Plus were highly critical, accusing Jobcentre Plus of failing to assess claimants’ needs properly and of making inappropriate referrals. See http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmselect/cmworpen/479/479vw.pdf

xiv http://www.theguardian.com/money/2014/mar/16/dwp-jobs-website-universal-jobsmatch

xv http://blog.church-poverty.org.uk/2013/12/04/benefit-sanctions-ineffective-and-immoral/. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development reported in its Labour Market Outlook, Spring 2013, p.2, that employers are receiving 45 applications for each low-skilled job, but only half of the applicants are suitable.

xvi Non-participation in Community Action had a higher proportion of repeat sanctions than the Work Programme but there were so few repeatedly sanctioned individuals (190) that this has been ignored. The next highest proportions were for refusal of employment (16.95%), not actively seeking employment (15.80%), and missing an adviser interview (13.36%). For all other reasons, repeats were under 5%.

xvii See the comments of Cardinal Nichols on 14 February 2014 at http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-26200157, and the letter by 43 Anglican bishops and other clergy on 19 February 2014 at http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/27-bishops-slam-david-camerons-3164033

xviii Esther McVey MP, letter to Debbie Abrahams MP, 1 February 2014, available at http://refuted.org.uk/2014/02/21/newsanctionsreview/

 

 Posted by at 15:16
May 172014
 

Work Capability Assessment Judicial Review for Mental Health Claimants Substantial Hearing 7, 8 and 9th July 2014, Royal Courts of Justice, London.

The Mental Health Resistance Network, supported by Disabled People Against Cuts, are holding a vigil at the front entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice on Tuesday, 8th July 2014 at 12 noon to 2 pm to highlight the important issues around this case.

Vigil for the Appeal of the Case in October 2013May 2013 Ruling in favour of MHRN

Two people who claim benefits on mental health grounds initiated a judicial review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN). In May 2013, the judges presiding over the case ruled that the WCA places mental health claimants at a “substantial disadvantage” and that the DWP should make “reasonable adjustments” to alleviate this.

Often mental health claimants struggle to provide further medical evidence to support their claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and may not be able to accurately self report how their mental health conditions affect them, either when completing forms or at face to face assessments. Many claimants are wrongly found fit for work and subjected to the stress of appealing the decision.

The claimants who brought the case, DM and MM, asked the court to rule that the DWP should be responsible for obtaining further medical evidence at every stage of the process to improve the chances of a more accurate decision being reached about whether a person is able to work or to start preparing for work and to avoid the need for a face to face assessment in cases where this would be especially distressing for the claimant. In addition, claimants who are at risk of suicide or self harm would be more likely to be identified. In such cases, regulations 29/35 would apply. These regulations are intended to reduce risk of harm but the DWP often fail to identify who they apply to.

The DWP Appeal Fails

The Department of Work and Pensions appealed the judgement. Their appeal arguments were mainly concerned with legal technicalities but in December 2013 the judges issued a ruling that upheld the original judgement in May. The DWP did not launch a second appeal.

Reasonable Adjustments to WCA

Under the Equalities Act of 2010, the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is required to make “reasonable adjustments” to mitigate any disadvantages experienced by disabled people. The forthcoming hearing will be concerned with establishing what adjustments the DWP should make to the WCA process. We already know from the original hearing that they plan to run a pilot study to assess the “reasonableness” of obtaining further medical evidence. We want to ensure that any study will be fair, honest and approached with an open mind. Unfortunately we find it hard to trust that this will happen.

In his witness statement of July 2013 Dr Gunnyeon, Chief Medical Advisor and Director for Health and Well-Being at the DWP wrote, “ESA was designed to be a different benefit from Incapacity Benefit (IB), being a functional assessment rather than a diagnostic one. The face-to-face assessment is a key part of this process as the only truly independent part of the process. Moving away from this would, I believe, be a retrograde step which would seriously undermine the way in which the assessment process has been conceived and designed. It would represent a return to the position in Incapacity Benefit (IB), where claimants were “written off” on the basis of their diagnosis”.

Most people would be amazed to learn that the DWP are fighting tooth and nail against having to consider a person’s actual problems when assessing them for benefits!

Come and Support the Vigil at the Royal Courts of Justice

From 12-2 pm, on the second day of the court case, Tuesday 8th July, 2014, at the front entrance of the Royal Courts of Justice, a vigil will take place to highlight the important issues around this case.Picture taken at the Vigil for the appeal of the case in October 2013

The address is Royal Courts of Justice, The Strand, London WC2A 2LL.

Buses 4,11,15,23,26,76,172 and 341 all stop at the front of the Royal Courts of Justice, 171, 188, 243, 521 and X68 stop at Kingsway and Aldwych Junction nearby.

Nearest underground station is Temple (District Line), Holborn (Central and Piccadilly Line) and Chancery Lane, (Central Line)

Please come and share your stories of how you have been affected by the Work Capability Assessment and support DM and MM, in the fight for justice.

If you can’t make the vigil, show your support on twitter and facebook

If you are unable to make it to the vigil in person, you can show your support on twitter and social media, #wcamentalhealth

Watch out for further announcements about how you can show support on social media

 

The MHRN have been low key about publicising this case. We have been too cautious about declaring that we have been vindicated. As a result, few people know that the WCA has been found by a court of law, involving rulings by a number of senior judges, to be failing mental health claimants so badly.

We believe that it is vital that people do know about this victory. After all, outrageous lies about disabled benefit claimants have been shouted from the rooftops in much of the national press. Yet where have the front page headlines about this victory been? Nowhere! We now want to rectify this by making as much noise as possible about the truth: that the WCA does not fairly assess people with mental health problems and there has been terrible suffering as a result.

Please spread the word about the MHRN/DPAC vigil, and about the court case, far and wide.

 Posted by at 21:22
May 042014
 

I’m at rock bottom right now and unable to go through writing it again. I have an appointment to see my MP tomorrow. I have copied and pasted an email I sent to his secretary earlier today. Dear Mary, I was going to write a brief summary of the main issues I’m facing right now and send them to you to save some time tomorrow, but it looks like all my benefits have just been stopped. I was due a DLA payment yesterday (Thursday 27th March) but it’s not been paid into my bank account. I signed on at the Job Centre in Stevenage on Tuesday, but the staff (My Adviser/Coach) doubt that I’m fit for work and think I should be on ESA.
I’ve done everything they’ve asked, searched for work everyday, applied for Jobs, even worked on a business plan to start my own business from home, I don’t know what more I could have done. DWP arranged an appointment for me with PLUSS a few weeks ago and after going there I felt quite optimistic, but when I went to sign on following that, their feedback was that they couldn’t help me because my health problems are too severe. I went to DAS (Depression and Anxiety Service) on 16th March, they can’t help with my Mental Health problems because they are too severe and complex.
Unless I say “I’m going to kill myself” I can’t get any help because local Mental resources are too underfunded and their caseload is too big. I DO NOT WANT TO GO INTO HOSPITAL and I would be extremely uncooperative if I was forced!!! Do you think this is Fair or Just??? What am I supposed to do??? My health problems are hard enough to deal with, without all this!!! I went from mid July last year up until a few weeks ago with nothing other than my £40 a week DLA to live on. I had £500 savings and a good credit rating before then, and a £950 overdraft which I never used until I lost my ESA at Tribunal. I got a statement from my bank this afternoon, I’m £921.12 overdrawn with an available balance of £6.20 (I don’t know how they do their maths?) I have £96 of overdraft charges being taken out of my account on 1st of April. I had come to an arrangement with housing people to pay back the outstanding rent arrears I owed when I started to receive JSA a few weeks ago and had promised a payment of £70 by tomorrow (28th March). DNRS have already tried to send the Bailiffs to my flat to take possessions for outstanding council tax arrears.
I’ve been to CAB numerous times recently. If this is how my life is going to be then what’s the point??? I can’t sleep at night because I’m so stressed out all the time, my health mental and physical are getting worse by the day. Everybody I’ve seen, my Job Centre Coach, CAB, My COPD Nurse and the Doctor I last saw (Dr Roper), PLUSS, DAS and my family ALL SAY I SHOULD BE ON ESA. I have an appointment tomorrow morning with my GP. I need immediate help, no more forms, no more appointments, NO MORE BULLSHIT!!! I refuse to live like this any longer, I can’t take anymore of the daily stress and injustice!!! I SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN IN THIS SITUATION FROM THE START!!! I’ve always been a fighter, I’ve had to survive but I’m totally exhausted now, mentally and physically… I HAVE TAKEN AS MUCH AS I CAN –
My appointment with my MP went well. I was already so angry to begin with made sure I made the most of my 15 minutes. I had written my main issues before hand so that I did not forget anything. To be fair I came away feeling he had listened to me and understood my situation. I was fluent in my arguments and never had any denial from him that what this government are doing to the most vulnerable people in this country is totally wrong. Since then I have applied for ESA again, all done over the phone this time, with help from my local CAB. My MP has also liaised with my GP so that I get to see the same doctor each time.

I have been to my local surgery twice since my meeting and the way I have been treated is 100% better. DWP asked me to get a letter from my GP to inform them of how many hours a week I was capable of working while claiming JSA. My COPD and mental health conditions have worsened considerably over the past few months and my GP signed me off sick saying in his opinion I wasn’t well enough to work, hence the claim for ESA. It’s like a merry go round and so frustrating and stressful it just makes my health and life in general suffer as a result. I stated strongly to my MP that I should never have been in this situation, and far from what Iain Duncan Smith claims to be doing. that he is helping people. My MP agreed.
I am due to receive my first ESA payment this coming Tuesday and looking forward to being able to eat properly again.

If I could give any advice to someone in a situation like mine it would be to get mad, make yourself heard with the right people. I am a fighter but fighting battles everyday to survive is tiring and wears you down. It either that or give in, I wasn’t prepared to give in with the injustices I had to face and wasn’t going to go without a fight.

Update: I received a letter this week from the DWP saying they were investigating my case. We will see what comes of it. I am still angry because of all the debt all this has got me into just trying to survive.
I will never forgive nor forget what this government has done to me and tens of thousands of others.

This is an edited version of a set of emails received by DPAC- all names and places have been changed and the author has given DPAC permission to use this to publicise the inhumane situations many are finding themselves in under the Condem regime

 

Apr 272014
 

Please support Obi and team to continue live-streaming direct actions and events for #dpac, #ukuncut and others. Live-streaming is important for disabled people that cannot always get to events and protests because none of us should be left out of our fight for our rights

It is also important in these times ruled by the right-wing press to get a record of our news and events-its time to fight back and ensure that our voices and protests are heard, recorded, documented and visualised -live-streaming does that- lets support it to continue the  real and uncensored news is seen and heard! Please donate if you can at http://www.gofundme.com/8nzi68

see some of the events live streamed for DPAC

JohnMcDonnell MP Praises DPAC at DPAC conference April 2014

August 5, 2012 Akira: update on ATOS. Paralympics sponsor

August 29, 2012 #ATOS #REMPLOY #ParaOlympics #2012 #Protest by previous gold medal winners

August 31, 2012 #ONN #OLSX covering anti #ATOS #ATOSkills #dpac event at Triton Square, Camden

October 28, 2012 Akira and experiencing Public Transport for a Wheelchair user.

September 3, 2013 DPAC AND BLACK TRIANGLE DIRECT ACTION. BBC PORTLAND PLACE, LONDON

September 5, 2013 DPAC FREEDOM DRIVE.

June 4, 2013 DPAC Bromley Benefit Justice second Meeting

September 26, 2013 10,000 Cuts and Counting

October 5, 2013 SOLIDARITY ACTION WITH UKUNCUT AND DPAC #ROADBLOCKS4JUSTICE

Oct 20, 2013 The DPAC action in Marble Arch . TUC March 2012.

September 28, 2013 DPAC DIRECT ACTION: 10,000 CUTS AND COUNTING. SCRAP ATOS

@Obi_Live
@OccupyNN

https://twitter.com/Obi_Live
https://twitter.com/OccupyTTIP
occupylondon@lists.riseup.net

 

Apr 212014
 

DPAC would like to thank everyone for making last week’s (April 12 2014) National Conference such a huge success. There was a huge turnout with over 150 disabled activists from all over the UK including many new DPAC members attending, but just as important there were hundreds of members and supporters beyond the venue taking part through social media – watching the video live-stream, tweeting and sharing comments, views and sending messages of support. This was fantastic work by everyone and a truly inspiring collective effort.

DSC_1030 con

Here’s a brief outline of how it went.

Programme
The day was timetabled into sections beginning with practical reports and voting on policy motions. This was followed by two workshop sessions and then a closing session for everyone to feedback on the day. Four workshops were available to choose from in each Workshop session. Detailed reports on these will follow later.

John McDonnell MP, a longstanding friend and supporter of DPAC, gave a rousing opening speech to encourage everyone and remind us of the victories achieved so far. He congratulated disabled people and DPAC for fighting back, along with our sister organisation Black Triangle and WoW Petition initiators

As he finished he mentioned his own recent health condition which he said he felt brought him closer to our movement. Ellen reacted quickly by giving him a DPAC t-shirt and declaring him a full DPAC member to instant applause and cheers.

photo1jm tshirt

Finances
The Finance Report showed a healthy state of affairs for the time being thanks to individual donations, t-shirt and badge sales plus grants from the Edge Fund, the Network for Social Change, Trust for London  and the Andrew Wainwright Trust. More fund-raising is necessary going forward.

Motions
1. Government Honours
This proposed that any future candidates for the DPAC Steering Group could thwart the network and collective ethos of DPAC if they had received a national honour like an OBE or MBE. The ‘BE’ refers to the imperialist British Empire which is still celebrated despite what we know of the suffering and oppression this caused. The motion conversations also suggested that any media attention would be focused on those with honours and titles, rather than on the collective network ethos that DPAC ascribes to. The motion was put forward as a rejecting of this possibility and that of the honours system more generally. This was defeated.

2. Discrimination
This motion stated DPAC opposition to discrimination on the grounds of gender, sexuality, age, faith, disability, ethnicity or status. It also empowered the Steering Group to terminate the membership of anyone who supported a party which holds discriminatory policies, like UKIP. This motion passed based on an appeals process being put in place

3. Steering Group Size
This motion sought to expand the Steering Group from 8 members to 12 in order to respond to increased activity and maintain a broad, diverse and inclusive profile. This was passed.

Steering Group
There were 11 nominees for the Steering Group. Conference took a vote on whether to vote for accepting all 11 nominees, or vote for them one by one. Conference voted to accept all 11 nominees. The new steering group are currently reviewing co-opted places and will get back to the additional people that applied past the deadline as soon as possible

Steering Group:
Andy Greene
Bob Ellard
Ciara Doyle
Conan Doyle
Debbie Jolly
Eleanor Firman
Ellen Clifford
Linda Burnip
Paula Peters
Roger Lewis
Sabina Lahur

It was highlighted that the working groups are important in taking DPAC forward. The co-chair said she hoped those who did not stand for the Steering Group but were still interested in getting involved would join these as soon as possible.

Finally, a big thank you to the Conference Organising group and Workshop leaders who worked so hard to make this wonderful event a reality.

Links to videos from the day are here with thanks to Occupy for live streaming on the day to make the conference inclusive to all are here

Links to pictures can be found on DPAC flicker here
Thanks to Pete Riches, Szucs Gabriella and Rob Peters

The powerpoint on highlights of the last year can be found DPAC Report
A link to 2013 and some of the things DPAC did is here

See you on the streets!

DPAC www.dpac.uk.net
Twitter: Dis_ppl_protest
Also find us on Facebook with a group and open page under ‘Disabled People against Cuts’

contact: mail@dpac.uk.net

 

Apr 182014
 

Tribunal – Law Courts, Cathays Park, Cardiff, April 23, 2014 at 10am

Incapacity benefits – deaths of claimants

A tribunal will decide whether the Department for Work and Pensions
should be ordered to release its statistics on the number of people who
have died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support
Allowance, at a hearing next week.

The First-Tier Tribunal (formerly the Information Tribunal) will be
hearing an appeal by Vox Political blogger Mike Sivier, against a
decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse a Freedom
of Information request on the subject.”

http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2014/04/18/information-tribunal-on-deaths-of-ibesa-claimants-next-week/

Apr 182014
 

We read with interest the piece in the Independent by Rachel Reeves and Kate Green regarding Labour’s response to the Work Capability Assessment [1]

Labour should realise that disabled people are deeply distrustful of any Labour reform of a Work Capability Assessment system, which Labour introduced in the Welfare Act of 2007 with the stated aim of removing 1 million claimants from the benefit system [3].

Our position has been and will be that the Work Capability Assessment is deeply flawed in its basic concept, not just in terms of the details of its delivery, and inclusion in the workplace for disabled people cannot simply be achieved by a ‘back to work’ test.

manifesto

In the Reclaiming Our Futures, Disabled People’s Manifesto [4], we state that a priority demand from government is that:

A comprehensive and strategic plan of action is developed with disabled people and our organisations to tackle the discrimination and exclusion disabled people face in work and employment including: increasing quality and range of personalised support available to disabled people, strengthening disabled employees rights and tackling employer discrimination and poor practice

Other key demands include that:

Economic productivity must not be the only measure of people’s worth and value, volunteering offers as much value to society as paid employment. While we recognise that volunteering can offer additional skills, it should not be the default option for disabled people because of our exclusion from paid work

There must be policy and media recognition that there will always be disabled people who are unable or too ill to work. These individuals must be supported by a publically funded system. They should not be penalised or demonised as they are currently.

For true inclusion in the workplace for disabled people a wider approach is necessary including but not limited to:

• Will Labour commit to the restoration of Disabled Student’s Allowance,
• Will Labour commit to the restoration of the Independent Living Fund,
• Will Labour commit to the extension of Access to Work (AtW) to include unpaid voluntary positions,
• Will Labour commit to the reversal of the reduction of people who currently receive DLA, but will not receive PIP and also lose their Motability access,
• Will Labour commit to the reinstatement of the requirement for councils to produce equality schemes on employment and access
• Will Labour commit to the provision of accessible transport.
• Will Labour commit to the reinstatement of “day one” protection from unfair dismissal in employment law
• Will Labour commit to the provision of Employment Tribunals enforcing mandatory organisation-wide measures on preventing disability discrimination
• Will Labour commit to the provision that all government contracts, at a national, regional and local level, are only awarded to companies that are fulfilling measurable equality targets for the employment of disabled people

(for further points see reference 2)

These currently are some of the barriers to inclusion in the workplace for disabled people, and they will not be fixed by simply amending the WCA. The issue must be seen within the context of the wider interconnected system of barriers in place. It must be seen in terms of what a large majority of disabled people have already identified as key problems.

In terms of inclusion we also need from Labour, a recognition that for many disabled people to be able to work there has to be a nationally transportable social care system with a guarantee that people would keep the same levels of funding wherever they needed to move to work.

We need recognition that there is an onus on government and employers to fully accept the spirit of the Equality Act 2010 [4] with its requirement to the opening of work opportunity to disabled people. Without this, no “fit for work test” aimed at cutting disability benefits will make any impact whatsoever on the numbers of disabled people who can attain and sustain employment.

We also need from Labour a stronger recognition that there are many disabled people who cannot enter the work place and should not have to live in fear of being pressured into doing so.

There is much that the article leaves out and that leaves us with a number of serious concerns and questions.

While we are not yet prepared to endorse in any way Labour’s new approach to the Work Capability Assessment, we do see the article by Rachel Reeves and Kate Green as a helpful starting point for discussions on the future of inclusion of disabled people, who want and are able to work, in the workplace and we would welcome an opportunity to meet with them and discuss this further. We would like meet with Kate Green and Rachel Reeves to ask the following questions:

1. Will Labour commit to stop spending public money on private
contractors and return any assessments of disabled people back to GPs
with medical evidence taken into account as well as give a commitment to
look at the barriers to work for disabled people who can and want to
work (in line with the social model of disability)?

2. Will Labour commit to a time and date to talk with DPAC, My Legal,
the Mental Health Resistance Network, Black Triangle, Deaf activists,
those with learning difficulties ( with an outreach of ½ a million
disabled people) to listen to the views of the largest network of grass
roots disabled people on the WCA and ESA?

3. If Labour are committed to scrapping the WCA when will Deaf and
disabled people, and those with mental health issues have sight of the
detail of any alternative Labour is proposing?

4. If Labour accepts the harm, devastation and premature deaths that have
been an outcome of the WCA why have they chosen to suspend their
prospective parliamentary candidate for St Austell and Newquay, Deborah
Hopkins for speaking out in public about the harm caused by the WCA.

5. Will Labour address the disproportionate harm that the WCA and
sanctions on ESA and JSA are causing to all disabled people, in
particular those with mental health issues and learning difficulties?

6. We along with many others insisted that a centralised Independent Living Fund
for Scotland be established and it has been done. They have also promised to re-open ILF to new users, with a commitment of additional funds and recognition of its importance to independent living and obligations to article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Why has the Labour
Party not promised to re-establish it south of the border?

Many of the Statements included in this response are taken from the UK Disabled Peoples’ Reclaiming our Futures Manifesto and are endorsed by a UK network of disabled people and Deaf and Disabled Peoples Organisations, including: ALLFIE, Inclusion London, Equal Lives, DPAC, Inclusion Scotland, Disability Wales and the TUC Disabled Workers Committee [2], who between them reach several million disabled voters.
References
1. How Labour would reform the Work Capability Assessment http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/how-labour-would-reform-the-work-capability-assessment-9265479.html
2. The Reclaiming Our Futures, Disabled People’s Manifesto http://disability-studies.leeds.ac.uk/files/library/UK-Disabled-People-s-Manifesto-Reclaiming-Our-Futures.pdf
3. The Green Paper: The new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work. 2006 http://webarchive.nationalarchives.gov.uk/+/http://dwp.gov.uk/docs/a-new-deal-for-welfare-empowering-people-to-work-full-document.pdf
4. Equality Act 2010 http://www.legislation.gov.uk/ukpga/2010/15/contents

 

Apr 072014
 

DPAC_coloured_Logo_2__biggerWe are very much looking forward to seeing everyone who can come to our national conference on Saturday but it is also important that those of you who can’t get there in person are able to take part. There are a number of ways you can do this:

  • Send messages of support and your ideas for what DPAC should focus on over the next year to mail@dpac.uk.net or @dis_ppl_protest.These will be put up on the graffiti wall at the conference and included in the notes from the day.
  • Watch the conference live on:

http://bambuser.com/channel/OccupyLondon and http://bambuser.com/channel/DPAC

  • Live tweet your questions and contributions to @dis_ppl_protest

  Or email: mail@dpac.uk.net

 The program for the day is at DPAC Conference 2014 Saturday 12th April – Conference Programme

Apr 042014
 

We’ve had a great response to bookings for the DPAC conference on Sat 12th April in London, but places are now running out. Please email:  dpacfightback@yahoo.co.uk

with your details, number of places needed and any access needs.

12th April 2014 – 11am until 5pm

London Met University, Tower Building, 166 – 220 Holloway Road, London, N7 8DP

Since we started in October 2010 Disabled People Against Cuts has been at the forefront of the fight against austerity. With Atos on the run, and the bedroom tax on the ropes we are seeing the results of hard campaigning. But there is much more to do to ensure disabled people’s rights to live independently and with an adequate income.


The national conference is a chance for DPAC members to come together, to share experiences and discuss your ideas for moving forwards.


DPAC are working hard to bring to conference a surprise guest, a person who, if anyone has, has been the catalyst for the re-emergence of disability activism in the last few years, someone DPAC has enjoyed a close relationship with from visiting him at home to donating underpants to supporting his select committee appearances.


Workshops will look at: –  Where Now for the Independent Living Fund campaign,  – Developing a Social Model of Distress,  – Winning the Argument,  – Disability, Art and Protest,  – Building a National Network of Disabled People’s Organisations and Direct Action practical skills among others.

 Please note places are limited so priority will be given to DPAC members. For information about joining please contact mail@dpac.uk.net

The venue is wheelchair accessible. BSL and a note taker will be provided. For access information go to: http://www.disabledgo.com/access-guide/islington-council/london-metropolitan-university-tower-building

For access queries including booking parking please contact DPACfightback@yahoo.co.uk
To book places or for more information please contact DPACfightback@yahoo.co.uk

 

 

 

Apr 022014
 

We are pleased that the DPAC research team’s submission to the Work and Pensions Committee has been accepted and published. We especially want to thank Anita Bellows and Bob Ellard for all their hard work on this.

Great to see submissions from our sister organisation Black Triangle, our allies, Inclusion London, WoW, Nick and Carer Watch.

We are disappointed that no formal national organisation of disabled people claiming to be run and organised by disabled people based in England appears to have submitted any text on this important issue.

The link to see all submissions is http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/esa-wca-inq-2014/?type=Written#pnlPublicationFilter

You need to scroll down the page.

We reproduce DPAC’s submission below for ease of reading

Written evidence submitted by Disabled People against Cuts (WCA0152)

 

Who we are:

DPAC is a grass roots campaign body. It was formed by a group of disabled people after the first mass protest against the austerity cuts and their impact on disabled people held on the 3rd October in Birmingham 2010, England. It was led by disabled people under the name of The Disabled Peoples’ Protest. DPAC has over 12,000 members and supporters and works with many anti-cuts groups, Universities, Disabled Peoples’ Organizations, and Unions

Introduction

1.    This document contains the Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) submission to the Work and Pensions Committee call for evidence on ESA and WCA dated 21/3/14

2.    This submission contains a number of areas of ESA and WCA that we believe demonstrate why the ESA system is fundamentally flawed both in concept and implementation and should be scrapped with immediate effect.

3.    All of the statistical claims made in this document have links provided to verifiable sources

 

WCA Descriptors

 

4.   The WCA descriptors are the criteria used to assess whether a claimant has limited capability for work, in other words whether a claimant falls within the eligibility criteria for claiming ESA, or not.

5.   The descriptors define a set of functions related to work tasks, which, if the claimant can perform to an adequate standard, the claimant is considered able to perform some paid work and therefore not eligible to receive the ESA Benefit.

6.   However we believe that the criteria for ESA eligibility are disingenuous. They take into account only functional ability, NOT the ability to hold down a job in practical terms.

7.   They do not consider such issues as:

·  Is the claimant able to work for suitable number of hours a week

·  Is the claimant able to travel a reasonable distance to and from  a job, consistently, every day.

·  Is the claimant robust enough to hold down a job, without taking an unreasonable amount of sick leave

·  The cumulative effects of physical stress on claimants with physical health conditions which induce fatigue symptons

·  The cumulative effects of mental/emotional stress on claimants with mental health conditions

·  The physical/emotional/mental stress of seeking a job

8.   Nor does it consider what physical discomfort or pain, or emotional or mental pain the claimant may encounter while employed.

9.    The WCA does not represent a finding on whether or not the claimant is employable or whether the claimant will be able to find work.

 

The ‘Gap’ between ESA and JSA Criteria

 

10.               While the WCA is commonly called a “fit for work” test, it does not actually test whether a claimant is fit for (ie capable of doing) work.

11.               The WCA tests whether claimants have the ability to perform certain limited work related functions as defined by the WCA Descriptors

12.              Whereas the criteria  for eligibility for the alternative benefit Jobseekers Allowance include the clauses that a claimant must be:

·                        be able and available for work

·                        be actively seeking work

13.              Thus is stands to reason that there are many who will be found ineligible for ESA but not able to meet the practical requirements being able to find and hold down a job and are thus ineligible for both benefits.

14.We do not know how many claimants have found themselves in this position, as the government do not monitor this, and provide no statistics from which we can exptrapolate or estimate a number, but we believe that there will be a significant number of Disabled claimants who fall into this trap and are denied income from either ESA or JSA .

 

Health Care Professionals performing the WCA

 

15.              The majority of Healthcare Professionals that perform Work Capability Assessments on claimants are Nurses, Physiotherapists and Occupational Therapists, with a lesser number of Doctors and “Mental Function Champions”

16.              While we do not dispute that these Health Care Professionals are qualified and have experience as Nurses, Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, etc, we do dispute that this is sufficent to judge a persons’ capability to work, given the panopoly of condition types that any Healthcare professional will be required to assess.

17.              The range of condition types that an HCP will be presented with include:

·                        Stable Physical Conditions

·                        Fluctuating Physical Conditions

·                        Mental Health Conditions (ranging from mild to extremely severe)

·                        Behavioral Conditions

·                        Cognitive Conditions

·                        Learning Conditions

·                        Autism Spectrum Disorders

·                        Degenerative Conditions

·                        Physical Conditions where the claimant is expected to return to full health

·                        Terminal Conditions

18.              In addition it is not uncommon for claimants to simultaneously have multiple condition types such as a mental and physical health condition.

 

WCA and mental health

 

19.              From the start, the descriptors were recognised as inadequate at capturing the level and the complexity of mental illnesses, and the problems faced by claimants in making a claim or an appeal were already recognised by Judge Martin in his 2008-2009 Report:

20.              ‘Mental health issues are a continuing source of problems in terms of making claims and assessing the impact of mental health issues on disability. In some cases mental health issues were not fully addressed or given due weight’.

21.              Following Professor Harrington’s recommendations, DWP accepted to amend the descriptors to better capture mental health issues and to introduce Atos Mental Function Champions in each assessment Centre to ‘spread best practice amongst Atos healthcare professionals in mental, intellectual and cognitive.  Although it has led to an increase of claimants with mental health issues being awarded ESA, and especially being placed in the Support Group, the statistics tell a different story. 

22.              Official DWP figures confirm that in the 2008 quarter from June to August, two months before Employment & Support Allowance was introduced, 153,050 claimants took up a claim for incapacity benefits, around a third of them (56,730) on the grounds of mental and behavioural problems. 

23.              By the end of the November 2012 quarter, the number of claimants taking up or being transferred on to Employment & Support Allowance had spiralled to 316,950 claims with nearly 140,000 of them (135,990) making a claim on the grounds of mental and behavioural problems – nearly 3 times as many as four years previously, but also representing a higher proportion in the total number of claims (44% against 37%). 

24.In the November 2012 quarter, 25,950 of the claimants who took up a claim ESA on mental health grounds had been on the allowance on one or more previous occasions. These figures show a perpetual cycle of claimants and reclaiming, those with mental health problems being by far the most susceptible to making a re-claim.

ESA claimants with mental illness are disproportionally sanctioned

25.              The latest DWP statistics on Employment and Support Allowance published in January 2014 show in Table 7 the Outcomes at initial functional assessment split into International Classification of Diseases.

26.              The total number of ESA claimants is 834,500 (WRAG 467,400 + SG 367,100), of which 339,200 (WRAG 193,100 + SG 146,100) of them fall under the Category ‘Mental and behavioural disorders’. It means that this group of claimants accounts for 40% of all illnesses, but because 193,100 (57%) have been placed in the WRAG, proportionally, this group is already more exposed to sanctions than any other groups. 

27.              A recent response to a FOI request confirms that claimants with mental health issues are not only sanctioned disproportionally, but also exposed twice to more sanctions and hit harder than any other groups.

28.Even before the introduction of the stricter sanction regime, there were already a higher number of claimants with mental health issues being sanctioned. But the latest figures disclosed show that 5,940 claimants with mental health issues were sanctioned out of 10,210 ESA sanctioned claimants (58%) in 2013. 

29.              The figure in 2012 was 54% when these claimants only account for 40% of all illnesses.  Since October 2011, on average the rate of sanctions for claimants with mental and behavioural conditions has been exactly one third (33%) higher than for other claimants, as the graph shows[1].

index

 

30.              This is a trend, for which the Citizens Advice Bureau had already provided anecdoctal evidence,

31.              ‘Bureau experience is that vulnerable clients (e.g. those with mental health problems or minor learning difficulties) are disproportionately sanctioned.’ (http://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/citizens_advice_bureaux_foodbank_survey) but which is now confirmed by DWP statistics.

32.              This has to be seen in the context of the number of people with mental health issues placed onto the Work Programme. The latest Work Programme statistics (20th March 2014) show that this group constitutes the majority of ESA claimants on the Work Programme (65%), although as noted previously they account for only 40% of illnesses.

33.              Not only are a disproportionate number being placed in the WRAG, but an additional disproportionate number are being put onto the Work Programme, compared with ESA claimants with other illnesses or disabilities. The job outcomes for this group, as shown by the latest statistics, are very poor: only 4,2% of the 131,480 claimants referred to the programme in this group have a job outcome.

34.              Not only is the WCA failing people with mental health issues by putting a disproportionate number of them in the WRAG on a shorter prognosis, and a disproportionate number of them onto the Work Programme, resulting in very poor job outcomes, but it also seems that because of the nature of their illnesses, they are the claimants having most difficulty adhering to the conditionality regime, or that they are seen by Job Centre staff as easy targets for sanctions as documented by the CAB, leading to a disproportionate number of them being sanctioned when compared to other ESA claimants.

35.              Ultimately, they would be the very people whose health is likely to worsen as a result of the failings of the WCA and of the consequences of having been put into the WRAG. 

 

WCA Appeals

36.              The latest figures published by Her Majesties’ Courts & Tribunals Service in March 2014 show a dramatic reduction in the number of Social Security & Child Support appeals lodged directly with Tribunals. This is the result of the introduction of ‘Mandatory Reconsiderations’ which is a DWP internal dispute resolution process, aimed at reducing the number of appeals directly lodged with Tribunals.

37.              These Mandatory Reconsiderations have had a substantial effect on the number of appeals lodged against an ESA decision. Only 32,969 ESA appeals were received between October and December 2013 compared with 111,817 in the first quarter of 2013/2014 and 76,456 in the second quarter.

38.              The number of ESA appeals ‘cleared at hearings’ in the third quarter of 2013/14 has significantly increased with 83,202 being heard, of which 45% were in the claimant’s favour. This is the highest success rate for claimants ever recorded. This compares with 58,276 in the same quarter of 2012/2013 when the success rate was 42%.  The overall number of cleared ESA Tribunal hearings in 2012/2013 was 224,375 with an average success rate of 43%.  

39.              The drastic reduction in the number of appeals lodged directly with Tribunals makes it even more urgent for the government to publish statistics on the number of ESA decisions which have been overturned in claimants’favour through mandatory reconsiderations.

40.Benefit claimants are the only group to be denied direct access to a Tribunal and therefore to Justice, although the fees introduced for Employment Tribunals also had the effect of substantially reducing the number of claims
 

WCA and Legal Aid

 

41.              On 1 April 2013, the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act(‘LASPO’) came into effect.

42.              Clause 15 of Part 2 of Schedule 1 of this Act excludes all welfare benefit issues.

43.              Welfare benefit cases no longer qualify for advice or assistance under the Legal Help scheme, not even for initial advice to identify justiciable issues under social security law, or to provide a triage role to steer cases away from tribunal and ensure that benefit claims are processed correctly.

44.              The Government’s view is that as these are matters of ‘administrative justice’ issues in which decision making, adjudication and dispute resolution systems are accessible to claimants acting on their own, and that given the underlying issues are financial, they should be of minimal priority for public funding.

45.              The government also says that legal aid is:

46.              “still available for civil legal services provided in relation to an appeal on a point of law to the Upper Tribunal, the Court of Appeal or the Supreme Court relating to a benefit, allowance, payment, credit or pension” (Point 157)

47.              But as Judge Robert Martin points out in his response to the Ministry of Justice Consultation Paper on Legal Aid (page 8, paragraph 40):

48.              ‘An appeal against the tribunal’s decision in a welfare benefits case lies to the Upper Tribunal but only for error of law ….. These limitations of further “appeal” are often not appreciated by parties without Legal Help, who may fruitlessly seek to appeal further simply because dissatisfied with the outcome’

49.              Although the government says that claimants can represent themselves, at a time when the UK’s social security system faces arguably the biggest upheaval since the introduction of the Welfare State, the Government should have recognised that the need for advice on welfare benefits has never been greater.

50.              It should also have recognised the complexity of the benefit changes affecting disabled people.

51.              Disabled people make up a disproportionate proportion of 58 per cent of those who receive legal aid for welfare benefits cases.

52.              The Government’s own Equalities Impact Assessment (page 64, paragraph 7.36) notes that:

53.              the proposals have the potential to disproportionately affect female clients, BAME clients, and ill or disabled people, when compared with the population. This is as a result of those groups being overrepresented as users of civil legal aid services’. 

54.              The removal of Legal Aid for benefit claimants needs to be seen in the context of cuts to legal aid funding with £320m cut from the annual £2bn legal aid budget and the closures of 100 of Citizen Advice Bureau offices which used to support the most people with access to legal advice and representation. 

55.According to the government’s own assessment, around 600,000 people will lose access to advice and legal representation, when CAB advisers estimate the success rate at ESA appeal where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented is around 80 per cent.

WCA Mandatory Reconsideration

 

56.              In October 2013, DWP has introduced changes to the appeals system; a claimant wishing to appeal a fit for work decision will no longer be able to submit their appeal to DWP, which would lodge the appeal with HMCTS (tribunals) on behalf of the claimant. 

57.              There will now be a first step known as Mandatory Reconsiderationwhich is an internal DWP process.

58.              This has serious implications for claimants:

59.              As admitted in the government response, there are no timescale for completion of the Mandatory Reconsideration process, as shown in the response to this Freedom of Information Request

60.              If someone’s claim has been disallowed completely, they will not receive payment pending Mandatory Reconsideration as was the case previously when somebody was allowed to appeal the same decision. DWP is suggesting that claimants should claim other benefits, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, but there is evidence that some people are being refused JSA on the basis that they cannot, because of health issues fulfill all the conditions attached to this benefit.  

61.              If DWP refuses to Reconsider the case, the claimant will not be allowed to proceed to appeal

62.              There is absolutely no indication or evidence that the UK government has taken any steps whatsover to reduce the stress or anxiety inherent in the Work Capability Assessment for benefit claimants.

63.              The WCA is inherently stressful for claimants, because of the uncertainty of such a notoriously unreliable system where there are frequent media reports of incorrect decisions. Claimants are forced to wait long durations trapped in a bureaucracy that shows no compassion, not knowing if they will be judged “fit for work” and required to seek work, whether or not their medical condition makes that possible.

64.              Claimants are understandably fearful that their benefits will be stopped, at the end of a process that they have no control over.

65.              This is particularly harmful to claimants with Mental Health Conditions, especially those in the class of anxiety disorders as described in DSM-IV   .

66.The following media articles give anecdotal evidence of the stress and anxiey caused by undergoing the Work Capability Assessment, in addition, video testimony is given in this evidence session to the Scottish Parliament on the WCA

 

21 March 2014

 

 


[1]                            This graph was compiled by Dr David Webster, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, Urban Studies, University of Glasgow, based on the figures released by DWP.

Also please note that DPAC has over 20,000 members and supporters and an outreach of over 45,000 disabled people

 

Apr 022014
 

It strikes me that not enough mention is being made of the important victory in the Court of Appeal in the case of [2013] EWCA Civ 1565 Case No: C3/2013/1626/SSTRF IN THE COURT OF APPEAL (CIVIL DIVISION) ON APPEAL FROM THE UPPER TRIBUNAL ADMINISTRATIVE APPEALS CHAMBER) Mr Justice Charles sitting with Upper Tribunal Judges Jacobs and Lane Case Nos. JR/2638 & 2639/2012 CO/2385/2012.

You can download the judgement here and read about what it means here. I also consider that an important investigation called ‘Who benefits?’ in to the ‘The benefits assessment and death of Ms DE’ by Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland which you can refer to here has a relevance to the tragic consequences of what can go wrong if the right decision is not made for lack of obtaining the right evidence.

It is of paramount importance that anyone with mental health problems who is facing having to complete an ESA50 or who has had a decision which the DWP say does not qualify them for Employment & Support Allowance (particularly if it involves a transfer from older incapacity benefits) seeks specialist help from an experienced welfare benefit specialist.

Regrettably we cannot deal with cases on an individual basis on this forum, but if you have a question about the procedure then by all means ask one on this thread and I’ll do my best to answer it in due course.

An important part of the Court’s finding is the recognition of the following:

“Decision-makers should actively consider the need to seek further documentary evidence in every claimant’s case. The final decision must be justified where this is not sought.”

“41. Given the unique circumstances of their condition, particular care should be taken when the claimant has a mental, intellectual or cognitive condition as these individuals may lack insight into the effects of their condition on their day-to-day functioning.”

The drastic consequences of not seeking further medical evidence are clearly outlined in the report in to the death of a claimant allegedly affected by the Work Capability Assessment.

Fundamentally the Court of Appeal recognised the many instances where claimants may not disclose details of a mental health problem to the DWP or their contracted healthcare professional of their own accord.  The difficulties are summarised in the judgement as follows:

31. From that detailed evidence, the Upper Tribunal identified the following particular problems which MHPs as a group face, whilst recognising that the extent to which any particular MHP will suffer from these problems will vary.

“(i) In terms of filling out a form, seeking additional evidence and answering questions, claimants with [mental
health problems] as a class have the following problems and difficulties because of their [mental health problems],
some of which overlap:

a) insufficient appreciation of their condition to answer questions on the ESA50 correctly without help,

b) failure to self-report because of lack of insight into their condition,

c) inability to self-report because of difficulties with social interaction and expression,

d) inability to self-report because they are confused by their symptoms,

e) inability because of their condition to describe its effects properly,

f) difficulty in concentrating and in understanding the questions asked,

g) unwillingness to self-report because of shame or fear of discrimination,

h) failure to understand the need for additional evidence because of cognitive difficulties,

i) problems with self-motivation because of anxiety and depression which may prevent them approaching professionals for help and assistance,

j) false expectation that conditions will be understood without them needing additional help, and

k) lack of understanding that professionals named in the form will not automatically be contacted in the assessment process.

ii) in terms of further aspects of the process for the determination of their entitlement to ESA, claimants with
MHPs as a class have or have to face the following problems and difficulties because of their MHPs:

a) particular conditions (e.g. agoraphobia and panic attacks and autism spectrum disorder) make attending and/or travelling to a face-to-face assessment difficult,

b) finding the process itself intimidating and stressful, and, in some cases, that having a long-lasting negative effect on their condition,

c) a desire to understate conditions,

d) the masking of health problems as physical problems,

e) dealing with assessors who have little or no experience of mental health problems,

f) the difficulties of identifying many symptoms of a condition and its impact on what a person needs without proper training and knowledge,

g) the lack of time during a short assessment to identify a person’s needs,

h) fluctuation in condition, and

i) scepticism about the condition.”

32. It is important to note that these problems fall into two categories, although they overlap. Some of these difficulties go to the adverse experience which might be felt because of what, from the vantage point of some MHPs, will be perceived to be stressful, embarrassing or confusing features of the process, in particular the completion of the questionnaire and the face to face interview. Other difficulties lead to the decision maker having inadequate or even false information about the nature and extent of the illness thereby increasing the risk that a false functional assessment will be made which in turn may jeopardise the right to an ESA. I will call these “adverse experiences” and “outcome effects” respectively.

My note

Whilst the judgement places an emphasis on the DWP seeking further medical evidence in mental health cases, the reality is that in many cases the DWP fails to do so.  In the investigative report in to the death to which I have referred it appears for instance that the claimant’s doctor was not contacted and asked to complete what is called an ESA 113 report.

There is nothing to prevent a claimant when completing the ESA 50, especially when assisted by someone, to point out that they specifically want the DWP to obtain further medical evidence from their own doctor or clinicians.  A claimant could for instance write something along the following lines:

“I have severe mental health problems and find it impossible to describe them in this form.  Please ensure that you contact my doctor (or other named clinician) and ask them for full details of my mental health problems.  I believe this is necessary to make a proper decision on my claim.”

In long term claims it may also be relevant to state:

“You already hold details of my long term mental health problems and I am asking you to make sure these are made fully available to the decision – maker who is looking at my claim.  I believe these details to be very relevant to getting the full picture and vital to a correct decision being made.”

In Incapacity Benefit cases where you have been asked to undergo an assessment for Employment & Support Allowance, the following may be relevant (most claims have now now been ‘migrated’ according to the DWP).
 

When you receive the ESA 50, make an appointment to speak with your doctor either by phone or at the surgery.  This is particularly important where you have not seen your doctor for some time.  Tell your doctor you are being reassessed and ask for a review of the time since you were last seen by the doctor.  This allows you to update your doctor and tell him or her of any problems you have faced since you were last seen, it also means the doctor is better equipped to comment if the DWP contacts them.  It also makes it possible for you to bring matters to the attention of your doctor over which they may be unaware.  You could for instance talk to them about declining levels of social confidence and any fears you have about meeting people or facing certain situations.

The reason this is important is because in incapacity benefit to ESA cases, no medical certificate is required at the commencement of the ‘conversion phase’.  You only need a medical certificate if the DWP assesses you and finds you fit for work and you want to appeal.   The rules are different to new claims for ESA where medical certificates are required at the very start of your claim in the ‘assessment phase’.  In migration cases the ‘prompt’ to speak with your doctor about a certificate only arises once you have already been assessed.

Claimants who have been refused ESA in cases where mental health was relevant (even if the DWP did not know of this) and no attempt was made to obtain further medical evidence by the DWP should consider an appeal.

There will be more on this in subsequent posts.

With thanks to the brilliant nick at http://ilegal.org.uk

Please follow on twitter: @Mylegalforum

Mar 282014
 

DPAC supports the organisers of phase 2 of demos against ATOS and DWP.

Please see national Face book page for those organising in your area

https://www.facebook.com/ATOSNationalDemo?fref=ts

ATOS may have run away from the WCA contract, but they have plenty more contracts funded by public money from this unelected Government, including the disastrous PIP contract, in which people have been waiting for up to 10-12 months to obtain support. The DWP continue to oversee the round of cuts impacting on disabled people leaving them destitute or dead, sanctions are at an all time high.

Show them we’ve had enough-see you there…..

 

Mar 272014
 

This article is reproduced from our allies Black Triangle Campaign blog “The leadership of the British Medical Association is ‘complicit in the suicides of Britain’s disabled people’”
BMA

 

Edinburgh, Thursday 27th March 2014

By Alan Wylie

Arguably the most hated company in Britain, Atos Healthcare is the multinational corporation that carries out the Tory Government’s ‘Work Capability Assessments’ (WCA) on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. This computer-based, tick-box ‘functional assessment’ is supposed to determine if a sick and disabled person is ‘fit for work’ or if they meet the criteria for any sickness benefit.

The assessments are so inadequate that, according to the mental health charity Mind, in Oxford 90% of those who have been found ‘fit for work’ have had their decisions overturned when they have appealed with the help of an advocate. This figure is replicated throughout the UK. Even when unrepresented decisions are overturned in 40% of cases.

 

Protesters demonstrate in London yesterday against Atos's role in benefit assessments

Protesters demonstrate in London in June 2012 against Atos’ role in benefit assessments

The DWP’s own statistics reveal that in 2011 alone 10,600 people died within six weeks of being found fit for work by Atos and another 2,200 died before their assessment was complete. 1300 of these were classified as having had limited capability for work and had been placed in the ‘Work Related Activity Group’ (WRAG).

The Government has since refused to publish statistics for 2012/13 having rejected a Freedom of Information request submitted by Mike Sivier of the Vox Political blog on the grounds that is was ‘vexatious‘.

Mr. Sivier has since lodged an appeal with the Information Commissioner with the help of a solicitor specialising in human rights: What we should be clear on is that this Government has a lot to hide.

Atos Healthcare’s reputation now stands in ruins. The company is completely discredited and it’s name now so toxic that earlier this month they rebranded themselves under the new name of “OHAssist”.

This reminds me of a phrase my mother used to say: “You can polish a turd but it will always be a turd.”

The company is now attempting to run away with its tail between its legs, confirming in February that it is seeking to end its contract to assess whether benefits claimants are fit to work, citing unsubstantiated ‘death threats‘ to its staff. They can run, they may rebrand – but their infamy will plague them for as long as our collective memories last in this country.

Cartoon by Martin Rowson for The Black Triangle Campaign

Cartoon by Martin Rowson for The Black Triangle Campaign

 

Perversely, the company was awarded the tender to act as assessors for the new Personal Independence Payment (the replacement of the now abolished Disability Living Allowance) under the OHAssist name and only last week they were directly accused by members of the Commons public accounts committee of lying in their bid to secure the contract.

Already it has been widely reported that terminally ill people are now going for months without the benefit they are entitled to owing to ‘delays’ in getting an assessment and the charity Scope estimates that up to 600,000 disabled people are set to lose their entitlement to disability living allowance, owing to the new, much harsher criteria.

The word “henchmen” is the word which immediately comes to mind when thinking about Atos, If you’ve ever wondered where Osborne’s “savings” are coming from, look no further: Atos cuts – disabled people bleed.

In June 2012 Britain’s Doctors overwhelmingly backed a motion at the BMA’s annual conference submitted by the Scottish-based Black Triangle Campaign through their Medical Advisor Dr Stephen Carty stating that Atos’s assessments were “inadequate” and had “little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons”. The motion went on to demand that the tests be ‘scrapped with immediate effect to be replaced by a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm’ to sick and/or disabled people.

The vote was a huge victory for the Black Triangle Campaign’s activists and gave hope to hundreds of thousands of people at the brutal receiving end of this fascist-like disability assessment regime.

Regrettably since then, sick and/or disabled people have felt badly let down by the inaction of the BMA’s leadership who they say have in reality done little to give effect to the wishes of the union’s membership.

Granted, they have tussled with intransigent DWP ministers and officials who clearly have no intention of doing anything that might jeopardise their primary aim of kicking as many people off benefit and into destitution as necessary in order to “pay down the deficit” as sacrificial lambs on the altar of austerity, but nothing more.

BMA HouseWorse still, many Local Medical Committees (LMCs) – local associations of GPs – have appallingly mounted a ‘Just Say No‘ campaign instructing GP surgeries all over the UK to refuse patients further medical evidence in support of their benefit applications and appeals to the Tribunal Service.

The two main reasons given justify their unconscionable stance is that such work is outwith the duties doctors are required to perform as part of their contract with the DWP and that they are swamped with so many requests that they interfere with the core work of doctoring.

One of the functions of the doctors’ regulatory and disciplinary body, the General Medical Council (GMC), is to set the standards of professional and ethical conduct that all practising doctors in the UK must abide by. The chief guidance is contained in a document entitled ‘Good Medical Practice‘ which clearly states that :

‘… a doctor must (overriding duty or principle) take prompt action if he feels that patient safety is or may be seriously compromised by inadequate … policies or systems.’

Consistent with this and the fact that the WCA incontrovertibly compromises patient safety Black Triangle argues that doctors have an overriding duty in these cases to intervene to prevent catastrophic harm to their patients and to do so independently of any government interference or agreement, if required.

They have furthermore pioneered a simple and effective way for doctors to fulfil their duty of care which has been adopted by dozens of practices belonging to the Deprivation Interest Group in Scotland, the Lothian Area Health Board and the Glasgow Local Medical Committee district.

Dr Carty, who practises in Leith on the north side of Edinburgh has helped over thirty of his patients to gain exemption under the “exceptional circumstances” rule ESA regulations 29 and 35. In these cases, he has effectively informed the DWP that in his clinical judgment he believes that were his patient to be found ‘fit for work’ or to have ‘limited capability for work’ (i.e. placed in the WRAG) there would be a ‘substantial risk of harm to the physical or mental health of either the patient or to others around them’. He does this using one side of an A4 sheet of paper justifiying his declaration by stating clearly his clinical reasoning based on his patients’ diagnoses. He has said that in almost every case the DWP have not resisted his evidence and a great deal of suffering and tragedy has thereby been avoided.

The Black Triangle Campaign has one simple demand.

It isn’t the world that they are asking for.

They are not asking GPs to act as gatekeepers to the benefits system.

They stress that the judgment call as to whether or not to invoke these regulations must be left entirely at the professional discretion of the clinical practitioner.

BMA caring for patients and supporting the actionThey fully recognise that a GP may not feel qualified in every case to decide upon a person’s suitability for work as they are not trained Occupational Health experts.

Their simple demand is that the BMA issues an advisory to their members informing them of the existence of these regulations and how to apply them in cases where a GP has a grave concern for the safety and well-being of their patient facing the Atos assessment regime in order to prevent avoidable harm from the outset. They argue that in most cases where the regulations are invoked the clinical condition of the patient in question will be so severe that the judgment call will be an absolute ‘no-brainer’.

The method they have pioneered for making it takes up little more time for the doctor than it would to write out a prescription and in the end will result in fewer acute admissions to hospital and generally dealing with the adverse impact on the patient’s health with the fallout that inevitably follows as the knock-on effect of a wrongful decision by DWP-Atos.

wowv2g-300x272On the 10th December last year, after two solid years of lobbying, Black Triangle led a meeting with Dr John Canning of the BMA’s General Practice Committee who travelled up from London and Dr. Dean Marshall of BMA Scotland at BMA House in Edinburgh. Also in attendance was Bill Scott, Manager of Inclusion Scotland and representatives of the PCS Union from London and Glasgow who are desperate to find a moral and ethical solution to prevent the catastrophic consequences of wrongful decisions their members witness every day as administrators of the system.

They say that at that meeting it was agreed that the campaign would submit their materials to the BMA delegation which would then be discussed at BMA Council with a view to issuing a cascading advisory to all 55,000 GPs in the UK.

That was nearly four months ago and Black Triangle now believes that they have been stonewalled and strongly suspect that they have met with stubborn resistance within the ranks of the BMA’s hierarchy in London.

McArdle says:

“In advance of the historic Commons debate – the first one in history ever to be secured by disabled people themselves after raising over 104,000 signatures on the War on Welfare Petition (The ‘WoWpetition’) on 27th February, the BMA put out a briefing document that merely recognised what we all know and stated that they look forward to working with the DWP to address the issues giving better feedback to the department at the outset of the process on the ESA113 (the so-called ‘fit note’ – actually the old sick note). This does not adequately address the issue of flagging up substantial risk because the ESA113 is only rarely requested by the DWP and is returned on time in less than 37% of cases.”

An article in GP Online published the day before the WoWpetition debate reports the BMA as warning that ‘GPs are not occupational health specialists and are unable to make the judgments required’ to provide appropriate medical evidence.

The article reported that ‘Although GPs are not under a contractual obligation to provide this evidence directly to patients, these requests (for evidence) place GPs in a difficult position that can potentially compromise the doctor-patient relationship,’ warning that the requests were taking up limited GP appointment time ‘inappropriately’.

McArdle continues:

Mark Wood R.I.P.

Mark Wood R.I.P.

“Recently we witnessed the case of Mark Wood, a man with severe and enduring psychiatric illness starve himself to death following a fit for work decision by DWP-Atos in Oxford. We have no doubt in our minds whatsoever that had Mark’s GP been given the necessary information and tools with which to effectively flag up risk in this case by the BMA this appalling tragedy could have been averted. We are now in close contact with Mark’s sister who has joined together with us in campaigning to see to it this this never happens again.”

“We are sincerely grateful to the grassroots support of the BMA’s membership who have supported us from the outset in demanding an immediate end to this cruel and barbaric disability assessment regime with immediate effect.

DPAC LOGO“However, the members and steering group of the Black Triangle Campaign and allies in our sister organisation Disabled People Against Cuts together with Mark’s sister stand united in protest and condemnation of the unacceptable quiescence on the part of BMA Council in continuing to fail to address this issue robustly.

“We have done all we can as disabled people. We have mobilised and galvanised opinion among grassroots GPs, Consultants, trade unions and campaigners from across civil society.

“It is now time for the BMA to stand up and show true leadership in defence of sick and/or disabled people. In our view the leadership is acting completely out of step with the clearly stated wishes of their membership who support us in bringing down this whole putrid edifice.

“As sure as night follows day, many more tragedies such as that of Mark Wood will continue to occur as a result of this inaction.

“We call upon them now to issue, with immediate effect, a substantial risk advisory to all their members to equip them with the tools to ensure that such barbarity is stopped and that there will be no more deaths such as Mark’s on their watch.

“Not to do so is in our view to be complicit in the deaths of innocent people whose only crime is to have the misfortune to be sick and/or disabled.

“History will not hold them guiltless.”

McArdle finishes by quoting the holocaust scholar, Yehuda Bauer who said:

Professor Yehuda Bauer

Professor Yehuda Bauer

“I come from a people who gave the Ten Commandments to the world. Time has come to strengthen them by three additional ones, which we ought to adopt and commit ourselves to: thou shall not be a perpetrator; thou shall not be a victim; and thou shall never, but never, be a bystander.”

“The BMA cannot wash its hands and abdicate from their moral responsibilities. It must act now without any further delay.”

Of all the professions, British society places the medical profession upon the commanding heights of moral authority. Standing by and allowing patients’ health to be damaged risks a severe fracturing the public’s high esteem for our Doctors.

They must take action now. 

Dr Eugene (Eugeniusz) Lazowski, Poland's Schindler

Dr Eugene (Eugeniusz) Lazowski, Poland’s Schindler

Their position as passive bystanders witnessing this carnage at the hands of an inhumane and outright nasty Government is no longer tenable. 

Black Triangle’s demand is not only a simple one and easy to achieve: It is an astoundingly reasonable one.

For the sake of us all, I hope and pray along with Black Triangle that just for this once, power listens to reason in this case and that the BMA leadership’s inaction does not translate to infamy when in future people ask “what did the British medical profession do to put a stop to it?”

 

Alan Wyllie is the Creator of PoliticsUK, a founding member of the No2BedroomTax Campaign and is an ’Ambassador’ for the Labour for Independence Campaign

Woman killed herself over benefits cut, says mental health watchdog: Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland finds that woman took her own life after assessor docked benefits by 30%  26 March 2014

The Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland has recently conducted an investigation around the new benefits system. 

‘We investigated the case of a woman who tragically took her own life in December 2011. She had recently had a work capability assessment following which the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decided her benefits were going to be reduced. She was on incapacity benefit and was told she would not be able to be transferred to Employment and Support Allowance so would receive Jobseekers allowance …’

http://www.mwcscot.org.uk/about-us/latest-news/our-latest-investigation-is-now-available/

Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland Investigation Report: Who benefits? The benefits assessment and death of Ms DE

We have received a response from the DWP in relation to our recommendations and we have made comments on their response:

Social security: a cap designed to confuse ~ Policy lazily lumps all benefit costs together, irrespective of whether they reflect mismanagement or answer genuine need

Mar 242014
 

This is an account we received of the continuous damage the regimes of Government do, on an individual basis and on a family basis-while the private companies lap up millions in public money. The impacts of failed systems are more and more destructive, making no sense at all. 

My son is 23 years old and lives with us. He has a serotonin deficiency which makes it difficult for him to sleep normally like other people. So he will go for days without sleep and then crash without warning and then nothing we can do to rouse him.

It’s always been a problem but it got worse when he was 15 due to severe depression and the fact that he had a number of traumatic incidents including saving sister from being kicked & hit by a rock at school, being hit with a half brick on way home from school and  punched in the face by someone he only knew vaguely. Then there were 2 muggings, one of which involved him going to police station and identifying assailants etc but he didn’t go to court as assailants pleaded guilty. Left him with traumatic stress syndrome.

So where previously he struggled to college he gave up and now spends months at a time in his room. Sometimes I don’t speak to him for weeks. Just leave messages on his computer. Some of his behaviour is quite odd but can’t get him psychiatrically evaluated as they say he is not in crisis and he won’t go there. They did manage an assessment over 18 months and found he was depressed and suffering from depression plus his neurologist has written letter to DWP about my son’s physical problems. 

Progress until Atos and back to work scheme

Things were beginning to go well. Under the neurologist they had worked out a strategy of treatment including a light box and drug treatment. That’s when ATOS struck. They had to try twice to find my son actually awake. We told ‘assessor’ all his problems but they moved him onto a back to work scheme. I wrote a letter to DWP and said there is no way that my son could guarantee to make any appointment. His treatment had just started and involved him adjusting gradually to a more normal sleep pattern which could take over a year to do. Forcing him to go to set appointment would destroy the treatment strategy. 

We went to CAB and we appealed against the decision. We had to wait a year before they even replied. Meanwhile the appointment letters kept coming. He made the first one at Job Centre. Seemed very positive and hope of training on some online course. Son was handed over to this other group SERCO but was told that they would take into account his sleeping difficulty. After several missed appointments he made a Serco appointment. The added problem of him going, as well as sleeping problems, meant that he wouldn’t travel on his own to the appointment, as he had panic attacks. The stress of whole thing was beginning to tell on all of us too. 

Treatment abandoned, appeal abandoned 

My son’s treatment regime had to be abandoned due to all these appointment letters phone calls coming. He missed the appointment. I would have to phone and explain why. They would send another appointment and the whole cycle went on for months. It was making me ill as well as my son.  Then we were sent a piece of paper to sign to say Richard had seen them. I took it to CAB and asked should he sign it as he had only seen them once in six months. I was told he had seen them even if it was only once so my son signed it and they moved him to new group and new building. All the stress and failure of never making a meeting made my son sink back into the depression. 

So he moved onto next group. There has been no help for him getting online courses. They wouldn’t talk to him online. He won’t use phone as it often brings on panic attacks. So he goes for several months and this time doesn’t make any appointments.

He is more withdrawn than ever and even misses seeing Neurologist.

Finally the DWP reply about appeal and say there will be meeting within six weeks. I go to CAB to prepare case but Son takes off in panic to Friend. I didn’t know exactly where although I knew he was safe and got messages from him re emails. CAB says we can’t continue without Son so we withdraw appeal and son comes back home.

 

Increasing problems, but Serco still drawing the cash 

His behaviour is now more and more erratic. He talks of laundry baskets attacking him and pinning him in corner. I set up appointment with GP but last minute he is asleep. SERCO then say he has passed through 2nd stage and is on 3rd stage. They set up an appointment for him to go to workshops. He hasn’t made one yet. The pressure of letters and phone calls start again but I have stopped answering them or phoning to cancel as my own health means frequent doctor appointments and clinic appointments and can’t keep up with SERCO too. I went to ATOS and actually passed as too sick to work. I do have chronic ME, a cataract and severe chest problems and was nearing 60 but hasn’t stopped ATOS re friends of mine. Probably the stress re my son helped as I was pretty shattered with it all and all my own hospital tests.

                                                     

Son has taken off once again to the friend. The letters are piling up. I suppose I should tell SERCO he is gone as he has been away for over a month. I think whole thing is a scam as no way has he progressed and he hasn’t had any useful help. If they were legit they would have referred him back to DWP and he probably would have had his money stopped. However if I go to DWP or police they could argue that sons flight off to friend means he isn’t meeting terms re benefit and possibly even accusing him of fraud. CAB says we need psychiatric evaluation of son. GP is unwilling to send someone to our home when Son is there & Mental Health people say he is not a danger to himself or others. If he has to talk to authorities he will probably leave forever and I will lose all contact with him. So at moment I know even SERCO will have to claim he has finished course eventually and then we will have to challenge them. We will be asked why we didn’t challenge before and Son will go into hiding.

It’s just a case of waiting for axe to fall…..       

 

 

 

Mar 232014
 

Fit for Work or Survival of the Fittest? We need to Act Now to make our Voices Heard!

How can we restore dignity to disabled Welfare Benefits?

Market Hall, Assembly Rooms, Chesterfield Sat 29th 11am-4pm

Speakers

Richard Exell-TUC

Kate Green -MP Shadow minister of State for Equalities

Debbie Jolly -DPAC

Sue Marsh- Spartacus

Plus Dead Earnest Theatre Company

Food available

Ring or text Colin on 0787 387999

For info/access requirements

Unite Community membership

Welfare poster 2014

Mar 122014
 

1. Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) has not been claimed during Mandatory Reconsideration (MR) period:-

 

You receive a letter from Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) to inform you that the MR has not been found in your favour, this letter will give details of how to proceed to formal appeal, ie submitting the appeal form to HM Courts and Tribunal Services (HMCTS) When this appeal form is received by DWP from HMCTS, your ESA will automatically be reinstated; you do not have to do anything else.  When the form is received by the Dispute Resolution Teams, they will inform the appropriate Benefit Centre immediately that ESA should be reinstated.  The BC will probably contact you to ask for evidence/Fit Notes etc.

 

 

-2. JSA has been claimed during Mandatory Reconsideration period:-

 

You receive a letter from DWP to inform that the MR has not been found in your favour, this letter will give details of how to proceed to formal appeal, ie submitting the appeal form to HMCTS.  For those who have claimed JSA, they must make it clear on the appeal form that they wish to have ESA reinstated.  This information should be put in Section 5 of the form, ‘About Your Appeal’.  When HMCTS have notified DWP that you wish to progress to formal appeal, ie the form is received, ESA will be reinstated.  DWP will contact the appropriate Benefit Centre immediately.  You will be contacted for Fit Notes/medical evidence to support the claim & it’s important that throughout their JSA claim, you adhere to the conditionality of that benefit, even after DWP has been informed that they would like ESA to be reinstated & until ESA has been reinstated.

 

This infomation is doing the rounds of Disabled Peoples’ Organisations. It has come direct from the DWP. DPAC are just passing the information on, and cannot be held responsible for any errors – but if your route doesn’t progress as laid out here please let us know….

 

 

 

Mar 042014
 

In April George Osborne’s mass workfare scheme will begin.  Unemployed people will be sentenced to 780 hours community work simply for being unable to find a job. Not even lone parents with young children are to be exempt from the scheme which will see so-called charities like Groundwork UK and the Salvation Army paid by the tax payer to force people to work for free.  Part time workers and those currently genuinely volunteering will also face being sent on unpaid work.

Collective action can halt this forced labour scheme in its tracks.  A week of action against workfare has been called beginning on the 29th March.  An escalation in the campaign against unpaid work is vital and there is no better chance than this.  It only takes a few people to get the ball rolling, and protests against organisations using workfare have proved to be effective.  Boycott Workfare can offer support with publicity, leaflets and advice. Please help spread the word about the week of action and let’s make this the strongest stand against people being forced to work for free that has been seen so far.

From Boycott Workfare:

Tens of organisations have already quit workfare. The government will not reveal which organisations are still using it for fear the schemes will collapse. Its contractors complain that they have lost hundreds of placements due to public pressure.

But they’re trying it again with a new scheme – “Community Work Placements” – launching on 1 April 2014 which will force claimants to work for six months without pay. Six months – 780 hours – is more than twice the maximum community service sentence. Workfare does not help people find jobs and being unemployed is not a crime.

This new workfare scheme is part of a raft of draconian measures, misleadingly called “Help to Work”, which are designed to increase sanctions (benefit stoppages) and undermine wages still further.

For the workfare schemes to happen, they need places to send people, but tens of large charities have already quit. Oxfam stated that the schemes were incompatible with its goal of reducing poverty in the UK. Liverpool CVS has condemned the scheme in the strongest possible terms.

Our action can stop companies, charities and councils from exploiting forced unpaid work and make sure this new scheme falls flat on its face. Wherever you are, however you can contribute, take action on 29 March-6 April.

Target the charities:

  • Friendly local charity or Volunteer Service? Invite them to commit not to use forced unpaid work by signing our pledge.
  • Big workfare user like RSPCA, YMCA, Salvation Army, The Conservation Volunteers, British Heart Foundation, Barnardos or Cancer Research? Write to them, organise a demo or encourage people you know not to donate until they stop using workfare!
  • Approach workers in the voluntary sector to ask them to pressure their employer not to participate in the scheme. There are often Union branches for voluntary sector workers you could contact.
  • Visit boycottworkfare.org daily during the week to take part in online action!

Target the councils:

  • Find out if we know about workfare in your local council on this spreadsheet.
  • If so, adapt our press release and expose them in your local paper.
  • Contact local Unison, GMB or Unite branches for council workers and encourage them to pass the motion to challenge workfare and to take it up with the council.
  • Find out if any sympathetic local councillors would take a motion to the council for it to boycott workfare. It has been done!

Support each other to get our rights:

  • Order know your rights leaflets to give out at the job centre or around your local community – email info[at]boycottworkfare.org with how many you would like!
  • Thinking about starting a mutual support group? Invite an existing group to help get it going with a workshop or talk.

Want to target the companies involved in workfare as well?
There are currently call outs to target Peacocks, and Grosvenor Casinos. Or there’s our crowd-sourced list of workfare exploiters to whom you may also like to pay a visit.

For more info visit: http://www.boycottworkfare.org/?p=3353 and follow @boycottworkfare for the latest news.

Please join and share the facebook page for the event: https://www.facebook.com/events/1548766378680842/

Read about the recent inspiring action by Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty against workfare exploiters The Salvation Army.

Reposted with thanks from the Void http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

 Follow on twitter @johnnyvoid

 

Mar 042014
 

We’ve stopped asking for basic humanity from you. We’ve stopped asking for fairness -it all falls by the wayside. You don’t care. Now we ask for logic …………well John does, but he is not alone, he is supported by DPAC and thousands of disabled people and those with long-term health issues. We hear that you ATOS/OH Assist want to pull out of the WCA, but want to keep the PIP contract despite a serious backlog and people being left for up to a year without any cash to support them. We all look forward to the day when these barbaric tests are scrapped, if you want to blame the DWP, fine, but several millions in public money paid to you suggests you also have something to do with it all too. By the way this message must not be construed as a death threat to your staff in any way- It’s a plea for logic, any kind of bloody logic, as feelings are clearly not your strong point or those of the DWP.

Below is the email DPAC received from John. John also emailed other disability charities, so I am sure they will be publishing something too unless they’re too tied up in Government funds to say a word, of course.

Below the copy of the email is a piece on the illogical questionnaire that is sent out to everyone having to endure this abuse by ATOS/OH Assist/DWP , or any future private company out to make a few million at the expense of peoples’ lives.

Hi,

Please do not think that this is an attempt to influence my own case in any way or enlist support – although the latter would certainly be welcome (head gets sore from banging against Atos’ brick walled- ignorance). As I am sure you are aware, there is a tendency for those of us unfortunate enough to be disabled – seriously or otherwise – to become isolated. I believe that it is important that we raise awareness and share information even on individual cases – hence this e-mail. 

I am aware of many people who have suffered and still are suffering at the hands of Atos & the DWP, but I thought that you might like to hear of my experiences – and I have yet to even have a Work Capability Assessment! 

I was first called to attend an assessment on 17th June 2013 and could not believe the asinine ‘questionnaire’! For Pete’s sake: “Do you have trouble remaining conscious while awake?’!!!; Picking up and moving things: What ‘things’? How heavy? What shape? If cardboard, is it standard or thick cardboard? Move them from where to where?. How large is a ‘large’ cardboard box? Does the claimant move by hand, or does s/he use aids? Is there anything in the damn box? Those are just two examples.

In addition to other disabilities, I cannot write for more than a minute or two without my hand painfully ‘cramping up’ and my writing  becoming illegible. Therefore, I intended to make notes in the only way open to me – using a voice recorder. Atos – despite agreeing to record the assessment, denied this and refused to proceed with the assessment. Given that anything I dictated would also be recorded on their equipment, this is not only illogical, but blatantly discriminatory. Also, at the risk of sounding like a conspiracy theorist, it suggests that the equipment will – shock! horror! fail, particularly should it show Atos in a bad light (see e.g. http://www.internaldpac.org.uk/DPACClone/2012/07/having-your-wca-recorded/ and http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/dec/13/disabled-man-government-court-benefit-test).

Neither Atos or the DWP could legally prevent a more able-bodied person or their escort/carer from making notes by hand, so the decision is, therefore, discriminatory and unlawful. It should not be necessary – as with the recent court decision on Mental health & WCA – to resort to litigation in order to obtain that which one has a right to in any case.

Despite being advised from the outset that my disabilities result in fatigue and the need to sleep by early afternoon, I was sent appointments that disregarded this and it was necessary each time to write to them demanding a new, more suitable appointment.

I have another appointment for 21st March 2014, although I expect the same things to occur and that Atos will again unlawfully refuse to proceed with the assessment. I have since been met with nothing but malice, discrimination, general illegality and just plain incompetence by the Atos parasites, whose default position seems to be: if in doubt – lie (more on this below) having, apparently, learned their craft at the knee of Josef Goebbels. 

When I addressed their ‘response’ to my complaints, the person who supposedly ‘investigated’ them was conveniently (for them) absent and I was passed to another individual whose further investigation was so thorough that it took less than two weeks and not only re-stated Atos/DWP’s unlawful discrimination vis-à-vis my note-taking, but also completely failed to mention at all the lies told by:

a)      The Atos receptionist who reported that I stated that I would take the case to the European Court of Human Rights. This was yet another case of Atos shooting itself in the foot as I am a former law lecturer, assisting in a research capacity on a couple of human rights cases and am quite aware that a claimant must first exhaust domestic remedies. In fact, I stated that I was prepared to make a formal complaint to the Commission for Equality & Human Rights.

b)      The lies told by the person who (supposedly) first investigated my complaints. Namely that disabled parking was available on the street immediately outside the assessment centre. This was a blatant lie and I provided photographic proof of this. In fact, not only does there not appear to be any disabled parking available in the building’s car park that I could see, but there is no disabled parking available within at least a hundred yards of the building! This person had also related – in respect to my complaint “when you entered the assessment room” when I never left the reception area until I left the building!

I have provided Jobcentre Plus/DWP with copies of correspondence at every stage and yet they have not even had the common courtesy to acknowledge the correspondence, let alone respond. I have also made a formal complaint to the Equalities Office – who have also failed to acknowledge or respond. 

I am in the process of submitting evidence to the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee. Will they listen? Doubtful, but we live in hope. My MP has also been completely useless on this – in fact that isn’t surprising given that he’s a Lib-Dem and therefore part of this odious coalition. 

I have attached for your information my response to Atos’ ‘investigation’ of my complaints and my initial assessment of the questionnaire. I apologise for the occasionally facetious tone of the latter, but I simply could not believe that they were prepared to use such a blatantly incompetent document as the basis from which to destroy so many lives.

 Regards,

John Lockett

Questionnaire

Page 1

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Title of the form

Poorly chosen – or perhaps deliberately chosen? By definition, except for the minority of frauds –Incapacity Payment Benefit claimants are incapable of work.

 

About you

Personal details: Unnecessary. After all, they sent me the damn form and, therefore, already have this information

 They knew I was male and that I could not, therefore, be pregnant!

 

Face-to-face assessment

The idiocy of asking anyone, let alone someone extremely poor health to nominate dates in the next THREE MONTHS when they are unavailable is plain.

 

Help needed for face-to-face assessment: How is a claimant to answer this adequately –even if sufficient space were provided on the form – without knowing where the assessment is to take place?

 

Apart from the fact that it is NONE of their damn business, how, exactly, does the date of a claimant’s last GP visit relate to or affect in any way, their capability – or otherwise –for work?

 

The names and details of any specialist care professionals are relevant only if they are prepared to call the claimant a liar or a fraud, which would possibly create liability for both the decision-maker and Atos/the DWP in defamation.

 

The date of the claimant’s last visit to such a professional is also none of their damn business and may be irrelevant in any case. A claimant may not have seen a particular consultant in more than a year. This does not mean, however, that their condition has miraculously disappeared. Other specialists/consultants may have only been visited once after referral from other professionals and in order to either aid diagnosis or to eliminate possible causative factors.

 

About your illness or disabilities

This is such an openly-worded question as to be largely useless. The space provided for response is also inadequate for those with multiple and/or variable conditions to respond adequately.

 

About your medication

Eavesdropping in any pharmacy will reveal that a great many people do not even know the names of the drugs they take – merely the quantity and the time they are to be taken. I continue to take a different ant-histamine, which frequently causes drowsiness/tiredness over and above that caused by my various conditions.


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Drugs, alcohol or other substances

This could be seen as an attempt to re-write the Disability Discrimination Act by stealth, given that some relevant conditions under this heading can be considered disabilities. It may also be seen as a deceptive attempt to induce a claimant to inadvertently admit that their inability to work is of their own making and thereby deny their claim. Either case is despicable.

 

Part 1: Physical functions

Part of this may be seen as a ‘trick’ question. As many claimants for Incapacity Benefit also claim Disability Living Allowance, this can be seen as a deliberately deceptive attempt to induce the claimant to give different answers to claims for each benefit.

 

3. Reaching: Inadequate space to answer the question properly. This criteria is variable and will depend on the state of variable conditions at any given time.

 

4. Picking up and moving things: This question is worded, apparently, by a six-year-old. What ‘things’? How heavy? What shape? Is it standard or thick cardboard? Move them from where to where?. How ‘large’ is a ‘large’ cardboard box? Does the claimant move by hand, or does s/he use aids?

 

5. Manual dexterity: Another poorly-worded question with proposed tasks apparently selected (!) at random from an episode of Mr. Bean. Most people rarely read a traditional book now, preferring an electronic version. As regards picking up a £1 coin, I would probably not attempt do so, but scoop it from the surface with one hand into the other.

 

6. Communicating with people: Communicate how? Semaphore, Morse code? Martian?

 

7. Other people communicating with you: Yet another poorly-worded question. What if the person attempting communication with the claimant has an unfamiliar accent? What if the other person is a poor communicator? The same applies to simple (printed) messages from other people.

 

8. Getting around safely: Define ‘safely’. What road? A dual carriageway? A single track road? A one-way street? How does a claimant know whether they can get around an unfamiliar place without knowing what the place is?

 

9. Controlling your bowels and bladder and using a collecting device: A piggy bank could be classified as a ‘collecting device’!

 

10. Staying conscious when awake: Another idiotic question! By definition, if one is conscious, one is awake.

 

11. Learning how to do tasks: How can a claimant truthfully and reliably answer this question without knowing what task? One may have no difficulty in learning how to remove an engine’s cylinder head, although physically doing so may be impossible. However, learning to programme  computer code may be beyond them. The form asks about setting an alarm clock, but what sort?


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The mechanical sort with two bells on top, or that contained on my mobile ‘phone? What if one had a different mobile ‘phone on which key operation was more difficult?

 

13. Starting and finishing tasks: What tasks? Under what conditions? For example, someone who possesses a dishwasher would find it far easier to complete the washing up than someone with only a bowl and sink. Starting and finishing any task may be dependent on the effect various and variable medical conditions on a given day.

 

14. Coping with changes: What changes? What constitutes a ‘small’ change? A claimant may be able to cope with a small change in one aspect of their life but not another. For example, a claimant with a hospital appointment may have re-organised their schedule and arranged transport to cope with the appointment but should the taxi not arrive or the appointment be changed at short notice, some may be stoic, regarding it as a small change while others may react extremely angrily, regarding it as a major disruption in their routine. The same applies equally to the second part of this question (unexpected changes). A ‘small’ change – whether expected or not – can be a major disruption in the life of a disabled person.

 

15. Going out: This is essentially the same question as question 8 ‘Getting around safely’.

 

16. Coping with social situations: This question is completely asinine. What constitutes a ‘social situation’? The qualification of the question is inadequate. To some, this may be visiting family, while to others it may be a family wedding/christening/funeral or an evening at the pub!

 

17. Behaving appropriately: Yet another extremely poorly-worded question. Firstly, how would it affect a claimant’s capability for work? And what work? In what situation? What is appropriate to one person may be extremely objectionable to another. Furthermore, unless someone speaks out, how would the claimant know that their behaviour upsets other people? The same applies to the second part of the question.

 

18. Eating and drinking: How on earth does this question – in ANY way – relate to a claimant’s ability to work. I doubt there are many vacancies for wine-tasters, or cookery competition judges

 

 

 

Feb 242014
 

This article draws unashamedly on David Webster’s excellent briefing following the release in February 2014 of sanction statistics for JSA and ESA claimants by DWP. David Webster, who is Honorary Senior Research Fellow at Glasgow University, also presented very strong and documented evidence to inform the enquiry of the Work and Pension Committee into sanctions in March and November 2013. http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2013/11/david-webster-evidence-to-hc-work-and-pensions-committee-20-nov.pdf

The briefing on which this article is based can be found here: http://paulspicker.files.wordpress.com/2014/02/sanctions-stats-briefing-d-webster-19-feb-2014-1.pdf

It explains in great detail the trends in sanctions, in reasons for sanctions, in appeals etc. since 1997 which, for David Webster, is evidence that Iain Duncan Smith is behaving unlawfully on a large scale.

Number of sanctions: The latest figures released by DWP through its new software (Stat-Xplore) show that the number of sanctions for JSA and ESA claimants has reached unprecedented levels.  Between 22/10/2012 and 30/09/2013 (49 weeks) 527,574 JSA claimants received a sanction. The figure for ESA claimants over a complete year is 22,840, also a record number. Although the rate of sanctions for ESA claimants is much lower, it is rising and stands almost at 0.,5% per month (compared to 6% for JSA claimants in the 3 months to 30/09/2013). 

Length of sanctions: What has also changed is the length of sanctions. Although ministers claimed that hardly anyone would be subject to the new 3-year sanctions, the number of JSA claimants who had received a 3-year sanction rose to 962 by 30 September 2013, up from 700 by 30 June 2013.  Claimants’ ‘failures’ such as not attending or being late for advisory interviews,  non-availability for employment, which used to attract  1 or 2 week sanction, are now penalised with a 4 week sanction 

Reasons for sanctions: The main reasons for JSA sanctions are failure to participate in training/employment schemes and not ‘actively seeking work’ while the majority of ESA claimants are being sanctioned for not participating in work-related activity (75%), and the remainder for missing or being late for an interview.

Work Programme: The Work Programme continues to fail JSA claimants, as contractors have been responsible for twice as many sanctions on the people referred to them as they have produced job outcomes:  394,759 sanctions and 198,750 job outcomes. There is also evidence of maladministration of referral forms which has lead to a huge increase of cancelled referrals. What it means is Work Programme contractors are making mistakes in their paperwork on a big scale.

Appeals and reconsiderations:  The success rate of appeals taken to an independent tribunal is quoted as being 58%, even by the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary. This figure represents an average over 12 months, which fails to reflect the strong and clear upward trend of successful appeals. Tribunals are now upholding almost 9 out of 10 of appeals against DWP. This confirms the evidence that sanctions are applied unreasonably.

Unfortunately, only about one in 50 sanctioned claimants appeals to a Tribunal – 2.44% in the latest 3 months. The vast majority of claimants find the process too difficult.

To conclude, a note added by David Webster to his briefing regarding the role of sanctions in creating destitution:

‘There is clearly a lot of confusion about the role of sanctions in creating destitution. The current regime under which sanctioned claimants lose all their benefits and, unless in an arbitrarily defined ‘vulnerable’ group, are not allowed even to apply for discretionary ‘hardship payments’ for the first two weeks, has been in force since October 1996. What has changed dramatically in recent years is the number and length of sanctions. Prior to the Jobseekers Act 1995, sanctioned claimants were entitled to a reduced rate of Income Support or Supplementary Benefit as of right from the start, assessed on the normal rules’.

 

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