Category Archives: ESA/Atos

With Coronavirus Around The Corner It’s Time To Scrap Sanctions And Brutal Benefit Assessments

The DWP has reportedly declared business as usual for benefit claimants as the UK prepares itself for an increasingly likely Coronavirus epidemic.

DWP staff have been told that only those advised by medical staff to self isolate should be exempt from brutal benefit sanctions for failing to attend appointments at the Jobcentre*. Meanwhile there is no information on the website for those on disability benefits called in to be assessed for Personal Independences Payments – the benefit for those with additional living costs due to sickness or disability. And Work Capability Assessments, designed to strip sick and disabled people of out of work benefits by declaring them fit for work, appear to be continuing unscathed.

The DWP’s own guidance acknowledges that benefit sanctions are likely to cause a decline in health even at the best of times. There is ample evidence of the stress and ill health caused to sickness and disability benefit claimants due to regular assessments carried out by private companies like Atos and Maximus. Yet all will still be forced to attend Jobcentres and assessment centres or face desperate poverty as benefits are sanctioned or stopped for non attendance. At the very least vultures like Atos could provide some information on what those facing benefit assessments should do if they are sick or have been advised to self isolate. But as the screenshot above shows, they haven’t even bothered to do that.

If Boris Johnson truly wishes to protect the most vulnerable as he claims then removing the threat of benefit sanctions, and halting reassessments for sickness and disability claimants, should be an immediate priority. Those awaiting new claims could still be assessed on a voluntary basis, with the promise of benefits backdated should they choose not to attend – or even better interim payments until the crisis is resolved. The economic cost of such a move will be neglible and with some workplaces closing, and events being cancelled across the globe, there seems little reason not to do this now. It may not make a huge difference in slowing the spread of the virus, although it will do no harm, but it will at least send a message to those with least that should the worst happen then this Government will have their back. So don’t hold your fucking breath. The spite of the DWP knows no bounds.

Cancelling PIP and WCA re-assessments would also free up thousands of so-called medical staff who carry out the tests to go and do some proper healthcare for a change should hospitals become over-stretched. Meanwhile Jobcentre busybodies could be stationed in public toilets to harass people who don’t wash their hands or something which equally matches their skill set.

Those sanctioned or denied benefits cannot stock up on food and stay at home if advised to by medical staff. Many will find it difficult to afford heating or hot water, buy basic hygeine products, or medication for their symptoms should they become ill. Some will have no choice but to queue up at foodbanks for supplies. Hundreds of thousands of people are currently living a hand to mouth existence due meagre benefits, sanctions and the relentlessly cruel social security system. Scrapping all benefit sanctions, right now, would prevent some of this suffering immediately and allow people to build their health back up, even a little, before the worst of this virus hits.

It is understandable that authorities want to avoid panic – we don’t yet know how far Coronavirus will spread or how deadly and infectious it may yet turn out to be. But there is little more that is panic inducing then seeing a brown envelope drop through your letterbox from the DWP compelling you to attend an Atos assessment or informing you of a benefit sanction or stoppage. Removing this stress from claimant’s lives now would make a huge difference to the resiliance of the poorest and might just improve their health.

If things become as bad as they might then the sooner sanctions and disability benefit assessments are stopped or suspended then the more lives are likely to be saved. And if things don’t turn out so bad and the virus is brought under control then the only consequence will be hundreds of thousands of people having some respite from poverty and ill health casued by the brutal benefits regime. The tragedy is that to a Tory government, obsessed with punishing the poor, it seems that is too high a price to pay.

*Current advice is to contact your Jobcentre as soon as possible to avoid sanction if you are unable to attend an appointment due to being advised to self-isolate by 111 or a medical professional.

How To Get Away With Murder: DWP Hides The Evidence In Suicide Reviews

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Documents published by the DWP today hint that shocking neglect within the benefits system may have contributed to claimants’ deaths yet heavy redaction means there is little hard evidence.

The department have finally released 49 peer reviews into the deaths of claimants following a recent ruling from the Information Rights Commission.  The documents are so heavily censored however that many of them are completely blank with all relevant details redacted including dates, and even cause of death.

The DWP claim that withholding this information has been done to protect the identity of claimants – in line with the tribunal ruling.  But then they would fucking say that wouldn’t they.  This is the same DWP who want to share benefit claimants’ personal details with local authorities, landlords and charities.  It seems they only start to care about your privacy once they’ve killed you.

Despite the lack of details the documents deserve close scrutiny.  The over-riding theme seems to be a lack of processes in place to identify claimants at risk of suicide.  There are also indicators of grotesque incompetence within the system.  One report recommends that staff working on the Employment Support Allowance helpline are given refresher training to “help them better understand the claim process.”  Others call for more to be done to ensure claimants deemed vulnerable have a home visit before benefits are ‘disallowed’.  It is unclear whether this report was carried out before or after the DWP finally admitted that safeguarding visits should be carried out before any claimant with a mental health condition is sanctioned.

What is clear is that DWP policies were deemed to be a contributory factor in at least one of these deaths.  One report also raises the question of whether the death under investigation represents “a dislocation between policy intent and what actually happens to claimants who may be vulnerable”.

Police in Scotland are currently assessing whether to hold an investigation into former DWP ministers Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith over “wilful neglect of duty by a public official” following a complaint brought by the Black Triangle Campaign over suicides linked to the despised ‘fit for work’ tests.  There may be evidence of this neglect in these peer reviews.

What we know for sure is that these 49 people are dead.  And that even amongst the scant information available there is evidence of DWP failings that contributed to these deaths.  The government has failed in its duty of care to vulnerable claimants and people died as a result.  How far that failure goes must now be urgently investigated.

The documents can be downloaded at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/dwp-foi-releases-for-may-2016

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If Anyone Is Guilty Of Disability Charity Hypocrisy It Is David Cameron Himself

All smiles for the camera has he plots to cut the benefits of those with epilepsy

All smiles for the camera as he plots to cut the benefits of those with epilepsy

It must take some front to vote to slash benefits to poverty levels for sick and disabled claimants whilst also acting as a patron or trustee for charities that claims to support them.  So it is good news that Tory MP Kit Malthouse has been forced to resign as patron of his local MS Society whilst Zac Goldsmith is also facing questions about his role as patron of a Richmond AIDS charity.  But this astonishing hypocrisy goes right to the top of the Tory Party.

David Cameron himself is vice-president of two major epilepsy charities, as well as two local cancer charities.  According to the register of minister’s interests the Prime Minister is vice-president of both the Epilepsy Society and the National Centre for Young People with Epilepsy, as well as being a Trustee of Epilepsy Research UK.  He is also a patron of Versus Cancer and Cancer Research UK Relay for Life in Witney.

Cameron’s interest in epilepsy was no doubt sparked by the death of his son who suffered from the condition, and so unlike Goldsmith or Malthouse, his concerns would appear sincere.  That does not change the fact however that one of his adopted charities has been damning about his government’s welfare reforms.

In a recent submission to a Work and Pension Connittee inquiry the Epilepsy Society slammed current Jobcentre policies saying that benefit sanctions “contribute to social injustice and the removal of human dignity”.  The charity is also a member of the Disability Benefits Consortium who recently lobbied as hard as their dirt cheap wordpress blog would let them to scrap the upcoming cut to Employment Support Allowance which could see some disabled people lose almost a third of their income.

According to the most recent figures – and they are a few years old because the DWP has stopped publishing this information –  around six and a half thousand people were assessed for benefits and placed in the Work Related Activity Group due to a diagnosis of epilepsy between 2008 and 2011.  From 2017 any new claimants placed in this group – and all those who have a change of circumstances – will be forced to try and survive on just over £70 a week.  The government say this will incentivise them to find a job.  According to the Disability Consortium this cut will make it less likely disabled people will return to work.

The death of a child may be a tragedy but David Cameron can’t have it both ways.  If he genuinely supports the charity he is vice-president of then he opposes his own government.  Whether he is involved with this organisation for comfort or spin makes little difference.  So will the real David Cameron stand the fuck up and either scrap these nasty reforms or have the courage of his convictions and resign from organisations which oppose them?  Don’t hold your breath.  Ask @epilepsysociety to sack him instead.

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‘Just The Start’ Say Claimants And Disabled People As Blockade Brings Traffic Chaos To Central London

Islington Council have called the scheme Jobs on Prescription. This is an example from MHRN of what those prescriptions might look like.

Islington Council have called the scheme Jobs on Prescription. This is an example from MHRN of what those prescriptions might look like.

Disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters brought traffic chaos to Central London yesterday after blockading a major roundabout in protest at Iain Duncan Smith’s attempt to install Jobcentre funded busy-bodies in doctor’s surgeries.

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Pic from @paulapeters2

Over 100 people gathered for the demonstration which began outside City Road Medical Centre, – one of six surgeries in Islington where so-called Work Coaches are due to be based.  Iain Duncan Smith himself even made an appearance, dressed as a doctor and handing out work cures such as the prescription above.  The protest was good-natured but determined and made a mockery of the health bureacrats who decided the surgery should be closed for the day due to fears over patients safety.  In truth the people really concerned with the welfare of Islington’s poorest residents were out in the street defending them from the latest DWP attack on disabled people and those with health conditions.

After about hour the demonstrators moved off the pavement to march down the busy City Road chanting “We’ve gotta get rid of the rich” and “the NHS makes us well, the Tories make us sick”.  On arriving at Old Street roundabout, a major central London junction, the growing police presence was out-witted and campaigners managed to block traffic moving in all directions.  A banner was unfurled across the road stating that ‘Working isn’t working’ – a reference to the growing insistence from government that low paid insecure jobs are good for our health.

A large crowd of onlookers gathered with many supportive of the action taken to draw attention to the vicious regime being installed for those out of work due to sickness or disability.  A new Health and Work Programme is planned which is likely to include some forms of forced medical treatment for some of those on sickness benefits.  Already tens of thousands of sick and disabled people have had their benefits sanctioned for not meeting the endless petty requirement imposed by Jobcentres.  Others have had benefits stripped away completely after being declared ‘fit for work’ at a Work Capability Assessment in spite of often serious and even life-threatening conditions.

Appallingly the Work Coaches to be stationed in GP Surgeries will come from the same shadowy private company that runs both these assessments and the local workfare scheme in Islington.  The employment advisors, whilst largely funded by the DWP, will be employed by Remploy –  once a provider of employment for disabled people until they were sold off by the government and turned into a welfare-to-work subsidiary of the hated Maximus corporation.

Claimants in Islington could therefore be found Fit For Work by Maximus, then forced to attend the Work Programme with Maximus and now even be coerced into being harassed by a Maximus Work Coach when they go to the fucking doctors.  So claims from council leader Richard Watts, and other DWP apologists in the borough, that this scheme is officially ‘voluntary’ for participants really don’t count for shit.  There have been no public assurances from either Maximus or the DWP that Jobcentres and Work Programme advisors will not force claimants to attend a GP-based work coach under the threat of benefit sanctions.

What is really going on is that this is a pilot scheme intended to provide evidence to justify the upcoming Health and Work Programme.  But just in case the evidence doesn’t show what the DWP want campaigners have been informed that there will be no evaluation of the results of the scheme.  It is little more than a formality in advance of some of the most brutal policies to be inflicted on disabled people that have been seen in generations.  Lefty Islington Council may claim to have had good intentions when they agreed to the pilot, but in reality they have been mugged, by Maximus and the DWP.  Now they know how claimants feel.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and Boycott Workfare.  A range of other groups came out in support including grassroots trade union United Voices of the World, Class War, Winvisible and Kilburn Unemployed Worker’s Group.  Doctors, psychologists and healthcare workers were also present in support.  One message rang out loud and strong.  This is just the start of a disruptive and militant campaign to destroy Iain Duncan Smith’s Health and Work Programme.

Watch a video of the protest on facebook.

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Urgent 3pm Today 4th March Online Protest! Kick The Jobcentre Out Of The NHS #DoNoHarm

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Bit late with this, but if you can’t make the protest today against Maximus Work Coaches being stationed in GP Surgeries then join in online.

Friday 4th March 3-5pm – Online Twitterstorm – Please share the tweetlist.

Use hashtag #DoNoHarm and sign up to the Thunderclap

Please also support by using the template letter (amend as you wish) to send to your MP and your Doctor. (Click on links Template Letter to your MP and Template letter to your doctor to download).

You can tell Islington Clinical Commissioning Group what you think @IslingtonCCG or go direct to the leader of Islington Council who back the scheme @RichardWatts01

Follow @boycottworkfare and @Dis_PPL_Protest or join the Mental Health Resistance Network facebook page for the latest news.

Please spread the word!

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Is Work Really Good For Your Health? Probably Not If You’re Sick, Disabled Or Poor Says DWP Research

work-makes-meA DWP funded study published in 2006 reached a clear conclusion: “there is little direct reference or linkage to scientific evidence on the physical or mental health benefits of (early) (return to) work for sick or disabled people.”

This is quickly qualified by the researchers, who are no doubt aware that you don’t get cushy jobs writing reports for the government by telling them things they don’t want to know.  So the study claims that there is a ‘a broad consensus’ that work is good for the health of sick or disabled people “across multiple disciplines and also, importantly, among disability groups, employers, unions, insurers, and the main political parties”.  In other words if enough important people say something is true then it must be true, despite the lack of evidence.  That’s science folks.

The tragedy is that this ‘broad consensus’ has manifested in a horrifying regime for disabled people or those out of work with a long term health condition.  Every benefit sanction, work capability assessment and forced unpaid work placement that has been inflicted on sickness benefit claimants can be traced back to this invented consensus.  So far has it gone that even the recent Mental Health Taskforce report – which highlighted the shameful lack of funding for mental health treatment – called for employment to be viewed as a clinical outcome.  In some parts of the UK trials are being established to put DWP funded ‘work coaches’ in GP surgeries.  Mental health treatment ‘hubs’ are being sited in buildings alongside Jobcentres.  A new Health and Work Programme is on the way aiming to strip benefit from up to one million claimants of Employment Support Allowance – the main out of work sickness and disability benefit.   All of this is being justified by the belief that work is good for the health of sick and disabled people based on the 2006 report which says there is no scientific evidence for this claim.

The study called ‘Is Work Good For Your Health And Well-Being’ was authored by Gordon Waddell and A Kim Burton, two specialists in back pain from Cardiff University.  It features a review of over 350 scientific publications examining the relationship between health and work.  The focus of the study is largely those who are non-disabled, healthy, or have mild to moderate health conditions.  What it found is that “work is generally good for your health and well-being, provided you have ‘a good job'” (emphasis theirs).

A  discussion of the study, published in an Oxford Journal, pointed out this is a “a no-brainer”.  If you love your job, are well paid, and have a boss who is sensitive to health requirements then this might well be better for your health then the poverty and social isolation that can come from unemployment.  But even this is only a ‘general’ effect. Work can also be bad for your health the study found.  Low status and low paid jobs are a particular risk, as is work that is ‘unsatisfactory’.  The review even found that for a significant minority of people, between 5 and 10%, unemployment can lead to improved health and well-being.

Even this may not tell the full story.  Often it is assumed that because evidence shows that (generally) unemployed people are less healthy then this means that unemployment is bad for your health – rather than poor health being likely to lead to unemployment.  The researchers warn of this ‘health selection effect’ although they claim to have accounted for it. There is also an economic dimension – unemployed people are poorer, and it may be poverty that is bad for your health, not unemployment.  The researchers appear to agree and caution that in areas of high social disadvantage then a range of factors impact on health and even then “It is all very well to say that work is good for your health, but that depends on being able to get a job.”

Finally it’s worth noting that many of these studies featured in this review were carried out in the US where the loss of a job may mean an end to health insurance.  Government policies can certainly attempt to socially engineer poor health due to unemployment – already the UK has a benefit sanctions regime designed to harm the health of those who do not keep up with endless Jobcentre demands to look for work.  It may be that impacts on health due to unemployment could be mitigated by paying people more benefits and ensuring access to free healthcare.  The idle rich seem healthy enough after all.  The Queen Mother was 101 when she died and you can’t get much more workless than someone who didn’t even wipe her own arse.

The truth then, at least as far as this review is concerned, is that a good and well paid job is probably good for your health if you only have a mild to moderate health condition.  But it might not be.  You might even be one of the 5-10% who are better off being unemployed. Also there is no evidence that the health benefits of work applies to sick and disabled people, although lots of very important people think it should.  A bad job however, with low pay, low status and little prospects, could be worse for your health than unemployment.  And yet these are exactly the types of jobs that many of the claimants who face being bullied off sickness or disability benefits are likely to end up in.

According to the Mental Health Taskforce “people with mental
health problems are also often overrepresented in high-turnover, low-pay and
often part-time or temporary work”.  Current Jobcentre policies aim to get people off benefits and into work – any work – as soon as possible.  Private companies running back to work schemes are paid according to how many people they find a job, not on the quality of those jobs. Some of those jobs will make people sick, or will worsen existing health conditions.

Astonishingly, if Iain Duncan Smith gets his way, then GPs themselves will be involved in handing out these work cures, without any regard for the evidence which shows that poor quality work might harm people’s health.  The employment advisors, soon to be installed in Islington GP surgeries offering ‘jobs on prescription’, work for Maximus, the sinister US outsourcing company who also run the despised Work Capability Assessments used to stop people’s benefits by finding them ‘fit for work’.  They cannot be trusted to be aware of the complex interactions between work and health.  They will not be medical professionals but welfare-to-work busy-bodies tasked with bullying and coercing people into low quality jobs as soon as possible.

If there were loads of great jobs out there, jobs which are genuinely rewarding, well paid and enjoyable, then any coercion or conditionality within the benefits system would seem bizarre.  People are already queuing round the block in some parts of the country just to work in a coffeeshop.  Tens of thousands of people are working without pay. Despite the snide rhetoric from government ministers and the media that unemployment is caused by lazy or deficient unemployed people there is no shortage of hunger for work.  There is a shortage of jobs though, especially good ones, likely to not damage your health.

In such a cut-throat employment market, dominated by ever more demands on workers to raise productivity then patients themselves, not welfare-to-work advisors, or even doctors, are the best ones to judge whether a job is likely to be suitable for them, or whether they want to go back to work at all.  The medical ‘consensus’ that work is good for your health may apply to doctors, healthcare bureacrats and other pampered professionals but it is just not true for many of us who face long hours, low pay and insecurity.  A middle class solution to a working class problem is not acceptable.  The duty of the medical profession is to first do no harm, not parrot ideology intended to trick us into low paid work by lying about the health benefits.  And that means keeping the Jobcentre out of the NHS.

Join the protest to keep work coaches out of doctor’s surgeries outside City Road Medical Centre, 190-196 City Road , London, EC1V 2QH on Friday 4th March from 3pm.  Please spread the word, more details on the facebook page.

You can read the report at: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/is-work-good-for-your-health-and-well-being

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Keep The Jobcentre Out Of The NHS – The Fightback Against The Health And Work Programme Starts Now! #donoharm

do-no-harm

Job coaches in GP Surgeries? No!

We call on GPs to #‎DoNoHarm.

Join DPAC, Boycott Workfare, Mental Health Resistance Network on

4 March, 3pm at the City Road Surgery, 190-196 City Road, London EC1V 2QH.

Groups supporting benefit claimants and disabled people are uniting for a protest on the 4th March following the news that Employment Coaches from shadowy US outsourcing company Maximus are to be stationed in GP surgeries in Islington.

The demonstration will take place outside City Road Medical Centre, one of six GP practices in the borough who have opted to take part in the DWP funded pilot scheme.  These surgeries will now have their own Employment Coaches drawn from the welfare-to-work industry who will provide the kind of Jobcentre harassment that disabled people and those with health conditions are already all too familiar with if they are unable to work.

The scheme has been devised by Islington Clinical Commissioning Group who oversee healthcare in Islington and is backed by the local Labour Council who say on their website that this service will create ‘jobs on prescription’.  Many claimants fear the reality could be benefit sanctions on prescription, as doctors are turned into a weapon to impose labour market discipline and bully unemployed, disabled or unwell people into low paid or unsuitable work.

GP referrals to Employment Coaches will not be compulsory to attend – yet.  But this pilot scheme forms part of a national strategy by Iain Duncan Smith to bring Jobcentres into the heart of the NHS.  A new Health and Work Programme is being planned, with the aim of slashing spending on already meagre sickness and disability benefits.  Even those with the most serious conditions may soon to be forced to prove they are constantly looking for work whilst the government are examining the possibility of compulsory treatment for some health problems.

Campaigners warn that any attempt to merge healthcare with the vicious benefit cutting agenda of the DWP will demolish the trust that exists between doctors and patients.  An activist from Disabled People Against Cuts warns that “many disabled people already feel they have to watch every word they say when seeing their GP in case it is used against them at some point to stop their benefits.   Placing Jobcentre funded staff in doctor’s’ surgeries could destroy the doctor/patient relationship and may lead to some people not accessing vital healthcare when they need it most.”

Perhaps most appalling is that the Employment Coaches in Islington are set to come from Remploy – once a government run service that provided jobs for disabled people – now sold off and turned into a privatised welfare-to-work company responsible for sanctioning disabled people’s benefits.  Remploy have become a subsidiary of Maximus – the same company who run the despised Work Capability Assessment used to declare that disabled people or those with a long term health condition are ‘fit for work’.  Maximus are also providers of the Work Programme, a Jobcentre scheme which involves compulsory training or workfare with brutal benefit sanctions inflicted for ‘non-compliance’.

At a time when some claimants have been driven to suicide by the constant bullying, assessments, threats and sanctions that now form part of the UK’s benefits system, there must be no place in the NHS for Jobcentre busy-bodies.  Disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters can and will defeat this appalling attack on the fundamental principle that healthcare professionals should ‘first do no harm’.  Join campaigners from DPAC, Mental Health Resistance Network and Boycott Workfare outside City Road Medical Centre, 190-196 City Road , London, EC1V 2QH on Friday 4th March from 3pm.  Please spread the word and make this huge!

An online protest will also be held for those unable to attend in person.  Watch this space for further details and in the meantime please tweet using hashtag #DoNoHarm

See the Facebook Event Page for more details and please support the Thunderclap – timed to go off just as the protest begins

This blog has no sources of funding so here’s a quick reminder that you can help ensure it continues by making a donation.

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