Tag Archives: work capability assessment

Iain Duncan Smith In The Dock Again Over Unlawful Atos Assessments

MHRNThe DWP are back in court next week for the closing part of a successful challenge to the despised Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

This is the test run by Atos which is used to find people ‘fit for work’ and stop their sickness or disability benefits.  It is mired in chaos with a huge backlog of appeals and an ever growing number of tragic deaths linked to the process.  Even Atos themselves are pulling out of the assessments after fierce campaigning saw their carefully managed corporate identity demolished due to their involvement in the cruel and bungled system.

The WCA has also had its share of legal problems after a Judicial Review last year ruled the assessments are unlawful under the Equalities Act for those with a mental health condition.   Rather than accept this defeat and improve or scrap the tests for this group of claimants – or better still everybody –  Iain Duncan Smith appealed this decision and lost.  During the time this took many people will have seen their mental health worsen, been admitted to hospital or even taken their own life due to being forced to undergo assessments which are not suitable for their condition.

Next week’s court case will largely be about what amendments can be made to make the WCA legal.  As Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) explain:

“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.”

A vigil called by MHRN and supported by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) will be held outside the court next week on Tuesday, 8th July 2014 at 12 noon to 2 pm.  Head to the Royal Court of Justice, Strand, London WC2A 2LL.  Full details at: http://dpac.uk.net/2014/07/vigil-for-the-wca-judicial-review-tues-8th-july/

MHRN say they have been too cautious about publicising this important victory.  Sometime people have been working so hard for so long that they don’t even see when or what they’ve won.  But the Work Capability Assessment – introduced by Labour and which looked unbreakable at the time the current government weren’t elected – is beginning to look broken.  That didn’t happen by accident.  It happened because disabled people and benefit claimants have fought these vicious assessments in the courts, on the internet and in the streets.

The real opposition to this Government has not been the Labour Party, the unions , charities or even the growing range of celebrity left-wimgers.  It has been people who are disabled, sick, carers or people on their own with kids to look after.  People dealing with shit housing, homelessness, low or no wages, the bedroom tax, workfare, benefit sanctions and most of all poverty.  The people that liberal do-gooders call vulnerable and the Tory press calls benefit scum.  Yet we keep winning and those victories should be shouted from the rooftops.  As MHRN say:

“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 blogs, tweet,share and spread the word about the MHRN/DPAC vigil, and about the court case.

Don’t forget this Friday’s Independence Day Party outside the DWP and around the UK called by DPAC.

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

What Labour Said Then, What Labour Say Now And Why They Can’t Be Trusted On The Work Capability Assessment

atos_david_milibandWhat they said then …

Labour will: “increase support for claimants to return to work, replacing the old one-size-fits-all model, which writes people off as completely incapable of work, with a tailored, active system that addresses each individual’s capacity”

A new deal for welfare: Empowering people to work (PDF) – The Green Paper which proposed the Work Capability Assessment in 2006

What they say now (2014)

“We want the assessment to be part of the process of ensuring disabled people who can work get the support they need to do so, not to threaten or punish them. The test should be a gateway to identifying and assembling that support.”

How Labour would reform the Work Capability Assessment – Labour Shadow Secretary for Work and Pensions Rachel Reeves and Shadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green

Then (2006)

“We will work with health professionals, personal advisers and disability groups (including the Disability Rights Commission and the Disability Employment Advisory Committee) to ensure that the transformed assessment process is fair and equitable in application and operation.”

Now

“We would continue to produce an independent review of the WCA, and ask the Office for Disability Issues to support an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to work together with the independent reviewer to assess whether the test is being conducted in a fair and transparent way.”

Then

“It will never be reasonable to expect some people to plan for a return to work or to impose the responsibilities and conditionality associated with this on them.  These people – who have the most severe health conditions and disabilities – will receive the new benefit without any conditionality, and at a higher rate”

Now

“We also recognise not everyone can work and we’re committed to ensuring the support’s in place for those who can’t.”

The Work Capability Assessment was designed by Labour to strip sickness and disability benefits from one million claimants. There has been no announcement that this policy aim has changed. More people are placed in the Support Group now (meaning they are not expected to look for work) than they were under Labour. Whilst the Tories and Atos are currently at war, Atos have sponsored events at the Labour Party Conference in the past.

The Labour front bench have been silent about the introduction of Personal Independence Payments – designed to strip disability benefits from a fifth of disabled people. They have not spoken a word about the heartless closure of the Independent Living Fund. They voted for Iain Duncan Smith’s backdated legislation to steal hundreds of thousands of pounds from claimants by denying them compensation for illegally sanctioned benefit claims. They support unpaid work – even when the schemes are almost certainly illegal under minimum wage laws. Labour’s Job Guarantee is just workfare plus a sandwich which in practice could be more exploitative than current workfare programmes.

They have not changed. They will not change. When not pretending to give a shit about disabled people Rachel Reeves has boasted – boasted – that she would be tougher on welfare than Iain Duncan Smith. Most of the Labour front bench are chinless posh twats just like the braying toffs they pretend to oppose. They are on the side of bosses and billionaires, not us.  Do not fucking trust them.

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Iain Duncan Smith Should Be Put On Trial Over The Work Capability Assessment Deaths

atos_kills_bannerThe tragic death of severely unwell Mark Wood, who died of malnutrition just five months after he was found ‘fit for work’ by Atos and the DWP, was not just ‘wrong’ as the Government have today admitted – it was grossly negligent.  Whether this negligence was criminal must be urgently investigated.

Morally, and almost certainly legally, the DWP have a duty of care when making decisions which can potentially devastate the lives of those called  ‘vulnerable adults’ by care professionals.  The Work Capability Assessment, which led to the death of Mark Wood, has already been found unfair for people with mental health conditions in the courts.  Instead of halting the assessments based on this judgement, Iain Duncan Smith has brushed it aside – convinced he knows better than the courts, the medical establishment and the thousands of sick and disabled people themselves driven to despair by the current system.

Mark Wood’s death is far from the first linked to welfare reforms.  A recent report by the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (PDF) highlighted another suicide which they found was directly linked to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  In a damning report, the charity surveyed 56 psychiatrists who had treated patients facing one of these crude, computer based assessments.  Their findings are both horrifying and desperately sad:

“85% of the 52 respondents to this question told us about an increased frequency of appointments. 65% had at least one patient who required an increased dose of medication and 35% reported at least one patient who had changed medication. 40% had at least one patient who had self-harmed after the WCA. 13% of respondents reported that a patient had attempted suicide and 4% (two RMOs) stated that a patient had taken his/her own life. 35% said that at least one of their patients had been admitted to hospital as a consequence of the WCA and 4% told us about a patient being detained under the Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003.”

The Work Capability Assessment must be brought to an immediate halt.  Even the company in charge, the notorious Atos, finally seem to have realised this, confirming this week they will pull out of the contract early.  This is the only way to stop any more deaths, and it needs to happen now, as in this week.  Otherwise more people will die.

It is no longer enough however to call just for the Government to scrap every aspect of the bungled and brutal welfare reforms that are destroying so many lives.  People are dying in one of the richest countries in the world as a direct result of this horrifying attack on the very poorest people.  The politicians in charge know this, but are happy to let these deaths continue as part of the ideologically driven obsession with proving that people on benefits are scroungers or fakes and that unemployment is caused by unemployed people.

According to the Daily Mail, David Cameron has backed an urgent review into the Work Capability Assessment.  This review should not just look into the failures in the process but assess whether negligence has taken place and if so who is culpable and whether criminal charges can be brought.  If Iain Duncan Smith. Atos or the DWP, can be put on trial over these shameful deaths it will not bring anyone back.  But at the very least it will send a message to every politician, today and long into the future, that the UK’s legal system will not tolerate reckless cost-cutting experiments that put human lives at risk.

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DWP Lose Again: Atos Assessments Do Discriminate Says Appeal Court

atos_kills_bannerThe DWP have suffered yet another humiliating legal defeat after Appeal Court judges upheld a decision that the Atos assessments for sickness and disability benefits discriminate against people with mental health conditions.

This follows an earlier decision by the Upper Tribunal in January that the Work Capability Assessment – the notorious computer based test which has led to hundreds of thousands of claimants declared ‘fit for work’ – substantially disadvantaged those with mental health problems.

Rather than accept this judgement and attempt to make the process fair, the DWP chose to appeal this decision and carry on as normal.  As ever, this didn’t work out well for them and yet more tax payer’s money was wasted only to end in embarrassment for the department.

A press release from the Mental Health Resistance Network released today explains:

“During a four day hearing in January 2013, the Upper Tribunal heard evidence from the 2 disabled claimants, from mental health charities, Mind, Rethink Mental Illness and the National Autistic Society, as well as from the Government about the operation of the Work Capability Assessment , and the experience of people with mental health problems going through the process. In May 2013, having weighed the evidence, the tribunal concluded that the process substantially disadvantaged those with mental health problems . This was for two main reasons: first because the application process and the face to face interview can be particularly distressing and confusing for those with mental health problems; and second because of the great difficulty that many with mental health problems have in explaining their condition, which increases the risk that the benefit will be wrongly refused.

To remedy this disadvantage, the claimants, supported by the mental health charities and by the Equality and Human Rights Commission, argued that where ESA applicants have mental health problems, the DWP should consider obtaining medical evidence from the claimant’s doctor or psychiatric team at every stage of the process, and if a decision was taken by Atos or the DWP not to ask for medical evidence, this would have to be justified at each stage. This approach followed a recommendation made in November 2012 by Professor Malcolm Harrington, an independent reviewer of the process appointed by the Government.

The Government refused to implement this adjustment because it argued that the system did not discriminate against people with mental health problems. As stated above, the tribunal disagreed. It ruled that the adjustment to the process recommended by Professor Harrington might be a reasonable response to the “substantial disadvantage” it had found, and urged the Government to carry out a trial to see if obtaining further medical evidence earlier in the process would make the process better for people with mental health problems. Once the new process was trialled, the tribunal asked the Government to return to court for a hearing about whether – in light of the trial – the adjustment was reasonably necessary.

Instead of accepting the tribunal’s findings, and conducting an urgent trial, the Government appealed to the Court of Appeal against the tribunal’s finding of “substantial disadvantage”. It also argued that the two claimants did not have the right to bring the case because they themselves had not been adversely affected. Today the Court of Appeal rejected the Government’s arguments on both these points. In giving the main judgment of the court, Lord Justice Elias stated that:

“the Tribunal identified various ways in which [Further Medical Evidence] would assist [people] with a range of mental disabilities, and in my judgment there was sufficient evidence to justify the conclusion that [mental health patients] were placed, as a group, at more than a trivial disadvantage”.

The claimants solicitor, Ravi Low-Beer of the Public Law Project, stated:

“It is regrettable that the Government chose to appeal against the tribunal’s finding that people with mental health problems are disadvantaged by the current system, rather than take the steps necessary to improve it. Now that the Court of Appeal has upheld the tribunal’s finding, we sincerely hope that the Government will take immediate steps to improve the system. Disabled people, charities and many others are only asking the Government to implement the recommendation of the independent expert the Government itself appointed. This has been delayed since May 2013 while the Government appealed. It should not be delayed further.”

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The Tragic Statistic That Reveals Welfare Reform To Be A Sham

IDS-I-dont-care-whos-diedA tragic statistic hidden in the quarterly report on the performance of the Work Programme proves beyond doubt that both this and the last government’s welfare reforms have been an abject failure.

Buried in the Supplemental Tables at the end of the report are the Work Programme performance figures for ESA Ex-Incapacity Benefit claimants.   These are claimants who were previously on Incapacity Benefit and have been re-assessed by Atos as able to do some kind of work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of Employment Support Allowance (ESA).

These are the people that the right wing press have all too often smeared as frauds, who were faking or over-exaggerating their conditions.  People with cancer in some cases, or serious mental health conditions, Multiple Sclerosis or HIV.  They are the people who in some desperate incidents have been driven to suicide by the stressful and demeaning Atos assessments.  The same group who the Daily Mirror revealed were dying at a rate of 32 people a week after being placed in the Work Related Activity Group.

31,600 people from the ESA Ex-Incapacity Benefit group have started on the Work Programme so far.  Just 310 of them have achieved a sustained job outcome, which in many cases means just three months work.  Of those who had been on the Work Programme for one year in July 2013, just 0.9% had found a job lasting three months or longer.

This group of claimants is important because they have been impacted by almost every area of welfare reform, from the Labour introduced Work Capability Assessment, to the Work Programme and even workfare.  Those in the WRAG part of ESA can now be sent on full time workfare on the Work Programme or face benefits being stopped.

In many ways this group of claimants are what Welfare Reform has been all about.  Attempting to harass the not quite sick and disabled enough into work was intended to show how anyone, with a bit of a push from welfare-to-work companies, can get a job if they just try hard enough.

Work Programme providers who are able to find people in this group a job are paid thousands of pounds.  Companies like A4e and G4S have been given free rein to mandate these claimants to do whatever they deem necessary, including workfare, in a bid to try and force them back to work.  Claimants have little choice over how they look for work anymore and must do what their Work Programme provider tells them or face benefits being stopped.

And yet despite all this so-called help from ‘experts’ in the welfare to work sector,  just over 300 people have found jobs.

The figures for those assessed as ‘fit for work’ make equally grim reading.  Despite almost 18,000 people starting the Work Programme who have had Incapacity Benefits stopped after a decision by Atos and the DWP, little over a thousand (1,200) of them have found a job.

The shocking fact is that if all of those new to ESA, all of those thrown off ESA due to being ‘fit for work’ and those still on Incapacity Benefits are added together a mere 7,760 people have found a job through the Work Programme, despite 206,870 sick and disabled claimants starting on the scheme.

Astonishingly this is less than the 5.5% of Incapacity Benefit claimants it was estimated found work every year under their own steam – before all this began.

Only 4.5% of those on sickness or disability benefits who have been participating in the Work Programme for at least one year have started work.  The DWP’s minimum performance figure for this group was 16.5%.  And many of those who did get a job will be out of work again by now.  According to the DWP themselves around a third of people who found work on the Work Programme were unemployed again by the time of the latest release of statistics.

Hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent trying to bully and humiliate sick and disabled people back into work.  And yet after all the so-called expertise of the welfare-to-work sector and the ‘toughest ever’ benefit conditionality regime almost none of them have found a job.  All of that all too real suffering has been for nothing at all.  It hasn’t even saved any money.

Iain Duncan Smith boasts that Universal Credit will magically create 300,000 jobs by applying Work Programme style ‘conditionality’ to lone parents, part time workers and the precariously self-employed.  Last week’s Work Programme statistics reveal that claim to be a sham.  This conditionality has not helped sick and disabled claimants find work and it will not help anyone else.

Often Iain Duncan Smith has appeared to believe his own bullshit in his messianic zeal to blame the victims of cut-throat capitalism for their plight.  But the market has well and truly spoken and these figures prove it.  Bosses are not lining up to hire hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people – in fact the opposite is true with prejudice towards disabled people rampant amongst employers.  All these welfare reforms have really achieved is the quiet demolition of the lives of sick and disabled people who were already poor to begin with.

The latest Work Programme statistics are at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/work-programme-statistical-summary-september-2013

Above pic found at: http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/

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Doctors Told To Abandon Patients Undergoing Vicious Medical Assessments

atos_kills_bannerLocal Medical Councils (LMCs) have been warned they may face legal action over advice telling doctors to shun requests from benefit claimants asking for help with the notorious Work Capability Assessment.

The Black Triangle Campaign and Disabled People Against Cuts have said that even individual doctors themselves may be at risk of being sued should they refuse to provide this vital and sometimes life-saving support for claimants.

Two LMCs have issued advice to GPs warning them not to provide letters for claimants who face the stringent Atos run test for sickness and disability benefits.  According to Pulse Today, the LMC in Lancashire and Cumbria is even considering a ‘Just Say No’ campaign to back doctors who refuse to write letters for patients undergoing assessments and appeals.

Some GPs – who are paid on average £104,000 a year – have complained that writing these letters, which confirm or provide medical opinion on a claimant’s condition, is taking up too much time and they don’t get paid for it.  There has certainly been an increase in the number of people asking doctors for this kind of help as the current benefit slashing regime has taken hold.  But this kind of information can be the difference between someone seriously ill being given the money they need to survive or face having benefits stripped away and even sent on long term workfare.

GPs submitting evidence to the DWP is often the only time that an actual doctor has a say in what happens to their patients in the benefits system.  Without this information claimants are left in the hands of Atos assessors, whose only job requirement is a medical qualification of some sort – often meaning they are physiotherapists, midwives or paramedics.  Should a claimant be judged ‘fit for work’ they will see their meagre income slashed by around a third.  This can have real impacts on claimants who need to keep warm, have special dietary needs or other costs associated with their condition.  They will then be left at the mercy of medically unqualified Jobcentre staff and could be sent on Mandatory Work Activity or other unpaid work schemes under threat of brutal benefit sanctions.

Nobody is asking GPs to lie or do anything but offer an honest assessment of a patient’s condition.  This is something they do everyday when issuing ‘fit notes’ for workers who have had to take time off work.  In fact every single person on an out of work sickness or disability benefit has been signed off work by a GP at some point.  They cannot simply wash their hands of responsibility for these patients now the Government is challenging those decisions.

Local Medical Councils could be helping GPs to provide all the necessary information claimants need as efficiently as possible.  It’s not difficult to imagine ways they could come up with to cut down the time spent by GPs writing these letters.   Already template letters produced by Black Triangle show how the ESA Regulations 29 and 35 can be used by doctors to quickly and easily exempt vulnerable patients from the assessment procedure altogether.

But instead some LMCs are seeking to drive a wedge between patients and GPs by punishing claimants for an additional workload placed on them by the DWP.  Claimants who in an increasing number of cases have been driven to suicide by these brutal and bodged assessments and the misery they have inflicted.  At such a desperate time for so many of the UK’s poorest people it seems some GPs have decided to work to rule and abandon huge swathes of the communities they serve.  We are clearly not all in it together.

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Doctors Told To Snub Desperate Benefit Claimants

atos_kills_bannerThe Bro Taf Local Medical Committee which represents doctors in and around Cardiff has written to GPs asking them not to help claimants who need medical evidence for benefit problems.

The LMC claim that providing this vital medical evidence for people facing the notorious ATOS work capability assessments is impacting on GP’s workloads.

Most people might have thought that a GP’s workload would include helping sick or disabled people stay alive by ensuring they are not wrongly assessed and thrown off benefits where they could then face workfare on a Groundwork or Conservation Volunteer chain gang.

However the Bro Taf LMC are unrepentant and even seem to be trying to make doctors feel guilty for supporting their patients. The letter states: “GPs need to have a consistent approach to this issue and colleagues who do this work make it more difficult for others to resist and it spreads the belief with patients and local authorities that GPs are happy to take on this non contracted and unfunded work.”

It is not just those facing a Work Capability Assessment who will suffer as a result of this callous move. Patients facing the bedroom tax or benefit cap may need medical evidence to apply for Discretionary Housing Payments to help them to stay in their homes. The replacement of Disability Living Allowance with Personal Independence Payments will shortly see hundreds of thousands of disabled people re-assessed for vital benefits. GPs should not help provide evidence with this process either says the committee.

Instead GPs are advised to snub desperate patients who may be facing homelessness or dire poverty by handing them a standard letter. Astonishingly this letter seems to imply that claimants who have the cheek to ask their doctor for help are abusing NHS resources: “GPs are not contracted or resourced to provide this kind of service and making such requests to GPs represents an abuse of NHS resources. “

The DWP have repeatedly attempted to blame claimants for the huge number of appeals against Atos assessments. According to the skiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban, the reason for the shambles is that claimants do not supply enough medical evidence when they are first assessed. Now it seems some doctors are refusing to provide that evidence.

Increasing numbers of people are dying because of reforms to benefits. If GPs don’t want to write letters which help keep patients alive then they should take it up with the DWP and fight for an end to the brutal cuts to social security. In the meantime if they can’t drag themselves away from the golf course to make sure it isn’t one of their patients who is the next victim then they should hang their heads in shame.

Bro Taf Local Medical Committee are on twitter at: https://twitter.com/BroTafLMC

A copy of the guidance to GPs and the accompanying standard letter to snub patients can be downloaded from (Bro Taf LMC Newsletter No.3, 2013): http://www.brotaflmc.org.uk/newsletters.html

The Black Triangle Campaign have long been lobbying GPs to support patients: http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2013/06/28/gps-should-provide-information-for-every-fitness-for-work-assessment-urges-bma/

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid