Post by nickd (Mylegal) on Jul 5, 2014 10:55:57 GMT
Labour Has A ‘Moral Obligation’ To Defend The Sick And Disabled, Say Campaigners
Campaigners have written a damning open letter to Ed Miliband, in which they plead to Labour to “stop apologising for the welfare state” and urge the party leader to “defend the weak, the sick, the old, the poor”.
July 3rd 2014
They go on to slam the party for “adopting Conservative language” and say that sick and disabled people have nowhere else to turn to for help.
The Labour Party “has a moral obligation to act”, the author of the letter writes, and reminds theLabour leader that sick and disabled people represent a “significant group” of voters who can “make all the difference at the next general election”.
The open letter reads:
“Dear Mr. Miliband,
“We never thought we would see a Britain in which terminally ill people rely on foodbanks to eat, orcancer patients miss their treatment because they don’t have the bus fare to get to the hospital. We never thought a bedroom for a severely disabled child would be seen as an undeserved luxury, or sick and disabled people would have their incomes reduced or removed for missing an appointment at the Jobcentre. We never thought people with incurable illnesses like Parkinson’s or Motor Neurone disease would be told by the Department for Work and Pensions that they would get better, and should prepare for work.
“But we are seeing all this and more. Quite simply, the sick and disabled people of Britain are facing an unprecedented crisis which we never imagined could happen in the UK. It is a national scandal.
“We are all of us caught up in a system worthy of Kafka. We are either awaiting assessments, or reassessments, appeals, or reconsiderations. Others are living in fear of being caught up in that system, and losing the means to survive. For us, there is no longer any ‘social security’, just an ever-present anxiety that at any moment the dreaded brown envelope may arrive on the doormat and put us at the brink of destitution. Some are just too ill to keep fighting, and simply give up.
“The Employment and Support Allowance fiasco has now escalated to a DWP case load of over 6 million. Over 4 million Work Capability Assessments have been carried out as part of the relentless programme of assessments triggered by the current government, and it was clear from the outset that Atos were never going to be able to cope. The human suffering caused by this reckless implementation of the over-rigorous & target-based Work Capability Assessment has now become a national scandal which demands immediate action.
“In May 2010 just 28,300 claimants were awaiting assessment: the same figure has now spiralled out of control to over three quarters of a million. Of 1.2 million people on longer term incapacity benefits tested, at least 80% have qualified under the much stricter Work Capability Assessment, showing us very clearly how ill they really are. These are the very same people who the right wing media have labelled as fakers and scroungers, and yet no publicity has been given to the fact that of these claimants, a mere 980 have been placed in work via the DWP’s Work Programme.
“It is absurd that the government are claiming success when the evidence is that over half a million claimants have successfully had decisions overturned in their favour, over three quarters of a million have reclaimed and many have ended their claims simply because they have recovered before being offered so much as an assessment.
“The DWP is using a deliberately protracted queue of claimants awaiting assessment as a means of concealing large numbers of claimants who have simply fallen off the radar, never to be caught by the National Statistics. You will appreciate the huge significance this has upon the dubious claims of historically low unemployment, currently being used to claim success for the Government’s ‘long term economic plan’.
“On Monday in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Work & Pensions employed lie upon lie to distract from his inability to deliver. Again and again the Coalition government has used selective or distorted statistics to provide provocative headlines which helped them to win public support on the welfare argument. We are the victims of these lies; we feel the effects in our everyday lives as attitudes to sick and disabled people become harsher, and people view us with suspicion as potential scroungers or fraudsters.
“Yet the truth is available. We can give you all the facts and evidence you need to challenge the propaganda. We need you to defend us, to defend the welfare state on which we depend, and expose the lies of the Coalition.
“At the moment Labour is sympathetic to the numerous tragic individual cases, but you are failing to take on the wider argument, be the party of truth and a real Opposition. We are looking to Labour to stop apologising for the welfare state, and to defend the social security we all need if illness or disability strikes. You could, if you used the information we have available, convince the public that they cannot trust the Coalition’s claims of success on welfare.
“As the party that established the welfare state and the NHS, many of us look to Labour to defend those institutions, and defend the people who need them most. As you have said yourself, the current government is very good at defending the interests of the strong, but very bad at defending the weak. We expect better from the Labour Party. We expect you to defend the weak, the sick, the old, the poor. Instead you seem to have adopted the Conservative language and agenda which is all about ‘hardworking people’, excluding all those of us who cannot work, or who have given up paid employment to care for a sick or disabled person.
“The Labour Party, and you personally, really need to get a sense of anger and urgency about this crisis. We have reached the stage where tinkering with the system is not enough, we need urgent and radical action. At the moment, the government is paying hundreds of millions of pounds to private companies to administer a disaster, and cause incalculable harm to people who already lead difficult lives. You must do something, you are the Opposition. We have nowhere else to turn, and terminally ill people cannot wait.
“If you do not feel a moral obligation to act, consider the fact that according to the Department for Work and Pensions, there are ‘over eleven million people with a limiting long term illness, impairment or disability in Great Britain’. In addition, according to Carers UK there are six and a half million carers. Electorally, we are a significant group. Our votes could make all the difference at the nextGeneral Election.
“Something is dramatically wrong Mr Miliband, and it is your duty as leader of the Opposition and as a prospective Prime Minister to make sure we get a fair hearing and a decent level of social protection.”
We never thought we would see a Britain in which terminally ill people rely on foodbanks to eat, or cancer patients miss their treatment because they don’t have the bus fare to get to the hospital. We never thought a bedroom for a severely disabled child would be seen as an undeserved luxury, or sick and disabled people would have their incomes reduced or removed for missing an appointment at the Jobcentre. We never thought people with incurable illnesses like Parkinson’s or Motor Neurone disease would be told by the Department for Work and Pensions that they would get better, and should prepare for work.
But we are seeing all this and more. Quite simply, the sick and disabled people of Britain are facing an unprecedented crisis which we never imagined could happen in the UK. It is a national scandal.
We are all of us caught up in a system worthy of Kafka. We are either awaiting assessments, or reassessments, appeals, or reconsiderations. Others are living in fear of being caught up in that system, and losing the means to survive. For us, there is no longer any ‘social security’, just an ever-present anxiety that at any moment the dreaded brown envelope may arrive on the doormat and put us at the brink of destitution. Some are just too ill to keep fighting, and simply give up.
The Employment and Support Allowance fiasco has now escalated to a DWP case load of over 6 million. Over 4 million Work Capability Assessments have been carried out as part of the relentless programme of assessments triggered by the current government, and it was clear from the outset that Atos were never going to be able to cope. The human suffering caused by this reckless implementation of the over-rigorous & target-based Work Capability Assessment has now become a national scandal which demands immediate action.
As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions insists that all is well at the DWP, Universal Credit is on track, and attitudes towards disabled people have improved, an independent report this week delivered a damning verdict on how the DWP itself treats sick and disabled people.
published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, (CWR) drew on the experiences of 884 people who had been through a Work Capability Assessment. They described how they had been treated through the assessment process and what impact it had on their lives. 95% found the assessment damaged their health, 29% severely. 95% gave the assessment a mark of 5 out 10 or less, 43% gave it the lowest possible mark. 80% of the time the respondent felt the assessor did not listen to them.
Even more disturbing are the personal comments: "The process was terrifying, humiliating and degrading..." "Tragically, my friend has committed suicide since losing her appeal." "It was the second worst experience of my life after my severe accident."
Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the CWR, who analysed the data, wrote:
‘The report reveals a culture of contempt for disabled people within the DWP itself. Instead of trusting disabled people or their doctors to judge readiness for work, the DWP has replaced common sense with an expensive and painful bureaucratic process. What is more this 'assessment' serves only to divide disabled people into meaningless groups who are then subject to further disrespectful treatment. Instead of paying attention to research on when and how people can actually find work, its policies seem based on prejudice and discrimination’
The report was published to coincide with the launch of New Approach, an alternative system devised by disabled people with the help of Nick Dilworth, a welfare benefit specialist, who says,
‘It is abundantly clear to me that the WCA is broken and beyond repair…. I’ve seen enough of the WCA and the people it torments to realise that the only solution is to work towards persuading those in positions of power to fully understand the disastrous implications of getting this so horribly wrong.’
With 4.1 million assessments carried out, at enormous cost to the taxpayer and a huge negative impact on sick and disabled people, the numbers receiving Employment Support Allowance have barely changed. An enormous financial and human cost, with no economic benefit to the taxpayer. No army of fakers and scroungers exposed. The whole thing has been an enormous and very damaging waste of time and money.
The proposed NewApproach, ‘social protection – not exclusion’ is based on trusting people’s doctors, believing them when they say someone is unfit to work, and excluding from assessment those people with serious conditions for whom an assessment would be an unnecessary ordeal. For those who are assessed, the emphasis would be on understanding their barriers to work, and supporting them in the most appropriate way. It would be the opposite of the punitive and crass approach of the current system. And it would save money.
The flaws in the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system are so grave that simply "rebranding” the assessment used to determine eligibility for ESA (the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)) by appointing a new contractor will not solve the problems, says the Work and Pensions Committee in a report published today.
The Committee calls on the Government to undertake a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process to ensure that the main purpose of the benefit – helping claimants with health conditions and disabilities to move into employment where this is possible for them – is achieved. This will take some time, but the redesign should be completed before the new multi-provider contract is tendered, which is expected to be in 2018.
In the meantime, the Committee recommends a number of changes which should be made now, to help ensure that claimants receive an improved service, and that the outcomes for claimants are more appropriate.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:
“Many people going through the ESA claims process are unhappy with the way they are treated and the decisions which are made about their fitness for work. The current provider of the WCA, Atos, has become a lightning rod for all the negativity around the ESA process and DWP and Atos have recently agreed to terminate the contract early.
“But it is DWP that makes the decision about a claimant’s eligibility for ESA – the face-to-face assessment is only one part of the process. Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the WCA on its own.”
“We are therefore calling for a number of changes which can be made to improve ESA in the short-term, while also recommending a longer-term, fundamental redesign of the whole process.”
“We hope that the new Minister for Disabled People, who was appointed last week, will respond positively to our constructive recommendations for improving the ESA process.”
One of the key issues which the Report identifies is that ESA is not achieving its purpose of helping people who could work in the short to medium term to move back into employment.
One of the reasons for this is that the outcomes of the ESA claims process are too simplistic. Claimants can be found “fit for work” and are then ineligible to claim ESA. Claimants found to have such limited functionality that that they cannot undertake any work-related activity are placed in the Support Group, where they are subject to no work-related conditionality. This leaves a large and disparate middle group of claimants who are not yet fit for work, and may even have a deteriorating condition, but who are required nonetheless to undertake activity which is meant to help them find work in the longer term. These claimants are placed in the Work-related Activity Group (WRAG). The WRAG covers too wide a spectrum of claimants with very different prognoses and employment support needs.
Redesigning the ESA process
The Committee recommends that the ESA redesign should aim to ensure that the process properly identifies claimants’ health barriers to employment and the particular support they need, so that the conditionality that they are subject to and the employment support they receive can be tailored more closely to their circumstances. For claimants in the WRAG, proper account needs to be taken of where they are on the spectrum of readiness for work, given the wide range of conditions and disabilities which the WRAG encompasses, and the different impacts these have on an individual claimant’s functional capacity.
The descriptors used in the WCA process should also be reviewed as part of the redesign, as concerns about their effectiveness, and the way they are applied, remain, despite the recent review commissioned by DWP.
Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:
“ESA is not properly joined up with employment support because an individual’s health-related barriers to working are not being properly assessed as part of the process. We recommend that the Government reintroduces a separate assessment of these barriers, along the lines of the Work-focused Health-related Assessment – the WFHRA – which it suspended in 2010.”
Shorter term measures to improve ESA
Dame Anne Begg MP, Committee Chair, said:
“We know that the redesign can’t happen overnight, but the current system needs to be improved now, because it is clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety.
“The re-letting of the contract provides an opportunity to address some of the problems. The new contract needs to set out robust and clear service standards on the quality and timeliness of assessments and the reports produced by the contractor, and for the way claimants are dealt with.”
“DWP has acknowledged that this will cost more money, but this is justified if the service provided by the new contractor is better. To ensure this is the case, DWP needs to rigorously monitor the service standards to ensure they are being met and to take immediate action, including imposing penalties, if they are not. This has not always happened with the Atos contract.”
“The changes we recommend include ensuring that, where possible, paper-based assessments are used to place people in the Support Group, rather than requiring them to go through a WCA, where their health condition or disability clearly has a severe impact on their capability to work. Unnecessary and too frequent reassessments should also be avoided.”
“DWP should also improve the way it communicates with claimants – at the moment, the letters that are sent to claimants are too technical and complex. They need to be in plain English and avoid using jargon. The terms “limited capability for work” and “limited capability for work-related activity”, which are currently used to categorise claimants, are too confusing and DWP needs to find more meaningful alternatives.”
The Committee recommends that DWP implements a number of other changes in the shorter-term to ensure better outcomes and an improved service for claimants. These include:
DWP taking overall responsibility for the end-to-end ESA claims process, including taking decisions on whether claimants need a face-to-face assessment, rather than this decision being made by the assessment provider.
DWP proactively seeking “supporting evidence” on the impact of a claimant’s condition or disability on their functional capacity, rather than leaving this primarily to claimants, who often have to pay for it. DWP should seek this evidence from the most appropriate health and other professionals, including social workers and occupational therapists, rather than relying so heavily on GPs.
The “descriptors” used to assess functional capability in the WCA being applied more sensitively.
Placing claimants with a prognosis of being unlikely to experience a change in their functional abilities in the longer-term, particularly those with progressive conditions, in the Support Group and not the WRAG.
Mandatory reconsideration and appeals
The Report also considers the impact of the introduction of mandatory reconsideration (MR) of ESA decisions, and the appeals process. MR has the potential to be beneficial, if it leads to fewer decisions being taken to appeal, and therefore reduces both stress for claimants and the cost to public funds.
However, the Committee calls on the Government to set a reasonable timescale for completing reconsiderations, rather than leaving it open-ended, and to end the current illogical situation of claimants being unable to claim ESA during the reconsideration period.
It is also important that both DWP and the assessment provider learn lessons from the feedback which the Tribunals Service now gives in the summary reasons for its decisions, so that more initial decisions are “right first time”.
Notes to Editors:
1. Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is the benefit paid to people who are unable to work because of ill health or disability. It was introduced by the previous Government for new claimants in 2008. Existing Incapacity Benefit claimants began to be migrated to ESA in 2011.
2. Most claimants are required to undergo a face-to-face assessment of functional capability carried out by a private sector provider (currently Atos Healthcare) under a contract with DWP.
3. DWP has agreed with Atos that it will exit the contract for delivering the WCA 6 months earlier than planned. A new provider is expected to take over sole delivery of the WCA in February 2015, with a new contract involving multiple providers expected to be tendered in 2018.
Copies of all select committee reports are available from the Houses of Parliament Shop (12 Bridge St, Westminster, 020 7219 3890) or the Stationery Office (0845 7023474). Committee reports, press releases, evidence transcripts, Bills; research papers, a directory of MPs, plus Hansard (from 8am daily) and much more, can be found on www.parliament.uk
Whilst the DWP select committee's report in to the Work Capability Assessment is welcomed in so far as it touches upon many of its inherent failures, we do not feel that at this point in time that enough has been done to address the very serious concerns of thousands of claimants who continue to live in fear of this harrowing form of assessment.
We welcome the way the committee has got to grips with their factual understanding of the process and their investigative approach in to the DWP's production of statistics surrounding the assessment process. In many respects the report provides the evidence upon which it has now become all too clear that the earlier assessment results were premature, yet these were readily promoted with considerable vigour by the media in a disturbing attempt to vilify thousands of claimants as fakers, scroungers and fraudsters.
The damage cause by this vilification has been immense, it has reduced the faith which the voting public have in those who are reliant on Employment & Support Allowance and is highly likely to damage the confidence which prospective employers have in claimants who have been through the assessment process. We are of the view that this is completely counter productive to any 'disability confident' message which the DWP currently tries to portray.
We are disappointed that the committee did not place a greater value in calling before them more 'grass root' representatives from the disabled community or hear from front line welfare benefit specialists who deal with Employment & Support Allowance related enquiries on a daily basis. It is our hope that future evidence sessions take a different approach when evaluating which witnesses to call in giving evidence.
It is noted that the committee has taken on board the toxic brand which the Work Capability Assessment has become. It is this toxicity which firmly convinces us that the process is broken, beyond repair and will never provide an accurate means of assessing a claimant's limitations both in and out of the workplace.
It is with concern noted that a major review is not planned until 2018. We firmly believe that the current reduction in the number of appeals and greater numbers being placed in the Support Group cannot be read as an indicator of improvement but merely serves to mask systematic failures which exist within the DWP. It is plainly obvious that there is a massive failure to satisfactorily process thousands of cases awaiting assessment and deal with a new influx of mandatory revisions before appeal. It is our view that reduced numbers in the Work Related Activity Group are simply a sign that the DWP is reluctant to overload Work Programme providers in the certain knowledge that they are making deplorable inroads in to successfully placing severely incapacitated claimants in to genuine and sustainable work.
The report did not touch upon the real reason why the Work Capability Assessment has achieved its toxic rating; - the number of deaths which claimants and pressure groups fear have arisen as a result of being exposed to the stressful process of assessment and the substantial risk which exists when seriously ill claimants are wrongly categorised as fit for work or able to prepare for work. We view this as too serious a problem to brush aside and remain disappointed that the committee has failed to make recommendations for a proper investigation to be commissioned in to this very serious cause for concern.
Between now and 2018 is no time for complacency. People will remain ill and incapacitated and will thus continue to be exposed to this deeply flawed mode of assessment. What is required is far more than fringe tinkering with the current system, radical overhaul is required now.
We are pressing for an entirely New Approach and are pressing the case for the abolition of the Work Capability Assessment as a matter of urgency. Government could shelve the current system and revert to the safer Personal Capability Assessments until such times as a proper system is designed, implemented, trialled and legislated for.
We encourage politicians of all parties to engage with us in finding the right long term solution.
Nick Dilworth Jayne Bence Rick Burgess Wayne Blackburn
Yes Indeed. I've been saying privately that a reversion to PCA in the meantime is probably the best solution, though by no means a perfect system there was far less "fit for work" decisions in such obvious "not fit for work" cases and far less deaths from what I can recall.
I haven't managed to read the full Work and pensions committee report but from what I have read I find the terms are too vague such as on page 5 "Unnecessary reassessments should be avoided" - that sounds good but it took six years from introduction of ESA and seemingly unlimited hardship to reach that conclusion and they don't appear to define what is "unnecessary". * Surely common sense allows for starting with that premise - don't have unnecessary reassessments.
It strikes me that as long as a private company processes the claimants for a government who is committed to driving down the deficit through expedient reforms of the benefit system then the end result will always be the same. We can call it by whatever name we want and we can wear blue hats in place of green hats or have Capita instead of ATOS but if the fundamental element of a face to face assessment remains unchanged then the company will always try to make the facts fit the policy. I think that any changes will see increasingly sophisticated methods of benefit denial, after all is that not the goal? Its highly unlikely that DWP will become the Ministry of Love and Compassion.
WCA, PIP, Universal Credit - Welfare Reforms not fit for the purpose.
I'd rather see people "parked" long term on benefits than parked permanently in an graveyard. But no, we can't have "these people" getting "something for nothing" - In that case think of the savings that could have been made by not introducing any of the reforms.
*Edit: The committee's definition of unnecessary assessments seems to mean when a claimant has recently won an appeal and is called shortly afterwards for another and as Harrington claimed for degenerative diseases such as Parkinson's when an improvement is unlikely. They recommend that a minimum period before repeat assessment is implemented by the government "without further delay" as was suggested by the independent review. They also note that repeat assessments "are distressing for the claimant and a waste of public money".