Category Archives: ESA/Atos

Welfare Reform Has Failed – And These Latest Statistics Prove It

ids-slug1Welfare reforms have barely made a dent in the number of long term benefit claimants figures quietly released last week revealed.  There are just 91,000 fewer people who have been on an out of work benefit for at least three of the last four years compared to 2010 despite grandiose claims that a million new jobs have been created during the period.

The figures are one of the Government’s ‘social justice outcome indicators’ and include everybody on sickness benefits, the dole and unemployed lone parents.  2.381 million of these groups had been on one, or a combination of, these benefits for three out of four years in 2014 compared to 2.472 million in the period following the recession in 2010.

Perhaps most significantly the slight fall in the figures coincides with a huge rise in benefit sanctions suggesting that people are just being stripped of  benefits, not finding jobs.  The statistics do also not include people hounded into low (or no) earning self-employment by their Work Programme provider and now claiming Working Tax Credits – a practice which has been well documented.  The most recent year’s figures do not even include people who had benefts stopped temporarily following a sickness benefit assessment but have since appealed and are now claiming again.  The truth is that when these factors are taken into account then welfare reforms may have had no impact at all on the number of long term claimants.

Billions of pounds has been squandered by Iain Duncan Smith to bully these 91,000 people out of the benefits system.  Longer term claimants are exactly the group that all of his reforms were aimed at and the dire results show beyond doubt that he has failed.  Economic growth may have returned, but the very poorest are poorer than ever and there are just as many of them.  The cost of these reforms to the tax payer has been astronomical – far more than if these 91,000 people had just kept claiming.  The impact on the lives of those affected by endless assessments, sanctions and benefit cuts has been devastating.

One million people were forced to depend on a foodbank in the last year.  The number of suicides linked to withdrawal of benefits grows ever higher.  Every measure of homelessness has risen steeply.  And it has all been for fuck all.  Billions of pounds spent on brutalising people for no reason and with no results should be the only remembered legacy of Iain Duncan Smith’s nasty little experiment at the Department of Work and Pensions.

Join Disabled People Against Cuts on April 25th when they will visit Iain Duncan Smith Chingford constituency.

You can view the latest statistics at: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/duration-on-working-age-benefits-april-2010-to-march-2014

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RIP Julia Kelly: Another Tragic Suicide After DWP Threats

julie-kelly1A woman who founded a charity to help people suffering with chronic pain committed suicide after a battle to claim disability benefits ended with the DWP demanding that she repay £4000 in backdated payments.

Julia Kelly was just 39 when she took ker own life at the end of last year.  In an  inquest into her death the Northampton Chronicle reported that the coronor believed the “upset caused by the potential withdrawal of her benefits had been the trigger for her to end her life.”

According to a statement made by her father at the inquest, Ms Kelly had attended three tribunals in her attempts to gain disability benefits.  Mr Kelly said he “firmly believed” correspondance from the DWP triggered her death adding:

“Not to be believed by the DWP that she was suffering chronic back pain and also to be accused of wrongdoing and be told her payments might be stopped – we believe she snapped and could not take it any more.”

Despite this the DWP made a nasty statement which attempts to suggest she had thousands of pounds and was therefore not eligible for out of work disability benefits.  According to a spokesperson for the department “If a claimant exceeds the threshold with thousands of pounds in savings, they may no longer be entitled to the benefit.”  It would not take three tribunals to establish how much someone had in savings.   There is far more to this than the DWP are suggesting.

The news of the inquest into her death comes on the same day that Iain Duncan Smith said that stopping people’s benefit is ‘compassionate’.

The charity founded by Julia Kelly, which her father has said he will continue, can be found at: http://www.awaywithpain.co.uk/  Please support them if you can, they are also on twitter @awaywithpain

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Are The DWP Following Their Own Safeguarding Rules When They Sanction Sick and Disabled Claimant’s Benefits?

sanction-sabs1People with a mental health condition claiming out of work sickness benefits may have had their benefits wrongly sanctioned due to the DWP not carrying out correct ‘safeguarding’ procedures.

Over 100,000 sick and disabled people claiming Employment Support Allowance have had their benefits stopped or reduced for not carrying some form of ‘work related activity’.  A report released recently by the Methodist Church found that around 100 people a day with a mental health problems are currently having their benefits sanctioned in this way.  There is growing concern however that many of these sanctions could have been incorrectly applied due to the DWP failing to carry out home visits to assess the impact on the claimant of stopping their only source of income.

The Jobcentre guidelines are clear“If a claimant has a condition that could affect their ability to understand and comply with conditionality, a Core Visit to their home must be arranged before any sanction decision is considered. “

According to the DWP these visits should be carried out before sanctioning anybody with a “mental health condition or learning difficulties, or conditions affecting cognition such as stroke, autistic spectrum disorder or attention deficit disorder that might affect their understanding of mandatory interview requirements and the consequences of failing to comply.”

The guidelines state that two attempts must be made to visit the claimant at home and if contact is not made then “every attempt must be made to ensure the claimant’s welfare … the HEO must attempt to contact the following sources to establish the claimant’s welfare: Claimant’s Appointee/POA/next of kin, 
Claimant’s Community Psychiatric Nurse, Social Services, Police.”

These rules only apply to people on Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and there is reams of anecdotal evidence that they are being flagrantly ignored.  One reason for this could be because the guidance is only published in internal Jobcentre documents and not routinely made available to the general public or their advocates.  Were it not for a Freedom of Information request then this information would probably have never seen the light of day.

If you are an ESA claimant with a mental health problem and you were sanctioned without these guidelines being followed then this may be a legitimate reason to have the sanction overturned. According to Disability Rights UK, who have called for the little known rules to be extended to people on Jobseeker’s Allowance, “If the DWP stop benefit for a customer without applying Mental Health Safeguards then, according to the guidance, they must reinstate benefit.  If the DWP do not have information about the customer’s mental health at the time that they stop benefit but later receive this information then they must reinstate benefit.”

Let’s make sure everyone knows about this, the safeguarding guidelines start from paragraph 95 in this document (pdf).

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Huge Success For Campaigners As Rage Against Maximus Explodes Onto The Streets Across The UK

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Disabled protesters block Victoria Street bringing traffic chaos.

Over 30 towns and cities held protests yesterday against the involvement of sinister US based outsourcing company Maximus in the despised Work Capability Assessments.

Maximus take over from Atos this week carrying out the tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by finding them ‘fit for work’.  Atos were chased out of their lucrative contract with the DWP after a string of protests destroyed their carefully crafted corporate identity and campaigners have vowed to do the same to Maximus.

In London up to a hundred disabled people and supporters descended on their non-descript London offices where a noisy and determined protest took place outside their front door.  Protesters then took to the streets and occupied a roundabout where a Work Capability Assessment circus was held with events including a jumping through hoops display and a box lifting competition – a reference to one of the criteria in the assessments used to find people fit for work.  The circus ended with a rousing chorus of David Cameron Is A Wanker from the Kilburn Unemployed Workker’s Group.

Protesters then marched towards Parliament Square, stopping briefly outside the locked down and fenced off Department of Work and Pensions before blocking the busy Victoria Street.  Whilst a low key police presence looked on protesters held the road for almost an hour, bringing traffic to a standstill.

The protest was organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), alongside Black Triangle, Mental Health Resistence Network, UK Uncut, #newapproach and many more.  Protests also took place across England, Scotland and Wales, with even a solidarity protest outside Maximus’ offices in Toronto, Canada.  For a round up of tweets, pics, video and reports so far visit DPAC’s website.

The hashtag for the day #maximarse also briefly trended on twitter as thousands of people vented their outrage about the company online.  This proved so popular that a panicking Maximus quickly bought the domain name marximarse.com as spotted by @refuted.

The day was a huge success for campaigners and showed that simply changing the bastards carrying out these assessments has done nothing to dampen the rage against these nasty and vindictive tests.  Yesterday was just the start.    The best thing Maximus could do now is cut their losses and scuttle off back under a rock because all this contract is going to do is cost them lots and lots of money.

For a video of the Victoria Street blockade and report visit: http://www.katebelgrave.com/2015/03/maximus-protest-videos-pictures-how-people-can-and-will-destroy-big-corporates/

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Sell, Sell, Sell! Maximus Share Prices Could Tumble After Welfare To Work Scandal Rocks Australia

share-collapse1A damning documentary exposing the shoddy behaviour of Maximus and the welfare-to-work sector in Australia could lead to a drop in the company’s share price according to one stockmarlet analyst.

The programme, produced by ABC (and still viewable here), tells a story which will be familiar to all those in the UK forced to attend outsourced schemes such as Iain Duncan Smith’s Work Programme.  Claimants had their benefits stopped for no reason, signatures on paperwork were faked and the most marginalised claimants were parked – meaning abandoned completely by the companies who saw no profit in helping them.  Maximus dominate the welfare-to-work sector in Australia, and have several contracts running similar schemes in the UK.

According to an analyst on finance website Seeking Alpha, Maximus earn 10% of their revenue in Australia and that could now be under threat due to a ‘short term negative news cycle’.  They haven’t fucking seen anything yet.

Tomorrow (2nd March 2015) over 30 towns and cities in the UK will hold protests against the company due to their upcoming involvement in the despised Work Capability Assessment (WCA).  These are the shoddy tests used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.  Previous contractor Atos were chased out of the assessments after their corporate reputation was destroyed by five years of ferocious campaigning by claimants.  Maximus take over this week.

The DWP think the main problem with the WCA is how it is perceived.  Amusingly new contractors Maximus boasted they would not face protests like their predecessors because they were going to carry out the assessments in a ‘timely manner’.  Speaking to the BBC  a representative of the company said: “There is a need to better explain to people that they’re not coming to an exam, they’re coming to an interview.”

They must think we are fucking idiots.  The stated intention of the WCA, when it was first launched by Labour in 2008, was to strip out of work sickness benefits from one million people.  No amount of scatter cushions in assessment centres or nicely worded letters will change that.  Just like Atos, Maximus have been  employed to stop people’s benefits and everybody knows it.  And just like Atos, that process will lead to suicides, deterioration in people’s health and desperate poverty.

The Work Capability Assessment is based on three flawed assumptions.  The first is the ludicrous medical consensus which claims that work is good for you in almost any circumstances despite evidence which shows poor quality jobs can be worse for your health than unemployment.  The second is that there is plenty of work to go round if people just try hard enough, yet there are only 700,000 vacancies currently available and just short of two million unemployed people desperate for a job – a figure which does not include and additional two and a half million sickness benefit claimants.  And the third and perhaps most toxic is that large numbers of people on out of work sickness or disability benefits are scroungers, workshy, fraudulent or faking their health condition.

The UK does not have significantly more people on out of work sickness or disability benefits than countries with comparable economies.  Every single claimant has already been signed off as unable to work by their own GP – a pre-condition of claiming sickness benefits.  Most sickness benefit claims are temporary, when people get better they leave benefits and go back to work.  The amount of fraud in the system is tiny because it’s just not worth the risk of faking an illness and risking increasingly severe criminal penalties for the sake of an extra £30 odd quid a week compared to Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Because the entire process is based on lies, these assessments cannot be reformed, improved, or made fair.  The WCA is driving people to despair and even their deaths in some tragic cases, all to save trivial amounts of money.  It needs to be scrapped, immediately.  Since neither of the main politial parties are prepared to do that it needs to be made unprofitable.  That is all that sinister corporate bastards like Maximus understand.  And it can be made unprofitable, as Atos recently found out to their cost.  So let’s do it again. Relentlessly and starting tomorrow.

h/t @Hephaestus7

Please help spread the word about the Day of Action Against Maximus, full details at: http://dpac.uk.net/2015/02/your-all-in-one-guide-to-the-maximus-national-day-of-action-2nd-march-scrapwca-maximarse/

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The Work Capability Assessment Is About To Get Worse, Less People To Be Placed In Support Group Say DWP

wca-review5

Recommendations made by Paul Litchfield in the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment

More sick and disabled people will face sanctions and workfare when Maximus take over running running the despised assessments for sickness benefits say the DWP who have promised the number of people placed in the Support Group is expected to fall.

The department’s comments come in their response to the latest review into the Work Capability Assessment, the shoddy computer based test used to find sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’ and stop their benefits.  Sinister US based outsourcing firm Maximus will take over the assessments from next week after ferocious campaigning by disabled people and benefit claimants led to the notorious Atos ending their involvement with the tests early.

The most recent review was carried out by Paul Litchfield, presumably in his spare time as he is also Chief Medical Officer at BT.  Cutting sick and disabled people’s benefits and driving them into poverty is more of a hobby for this bastard.  Litchfield is very concerned that the number of people placed in the Support Group after an assessment has been on the rise and says this should be urgently examined.  Claimants in this group are those even the DWP agree are too unwell to work and who do not have to jump through endless hoops to prove they are looking for or preparing for work.  It is the only group of claimants who cannot be sent on mandated workfare or have their benefits sanctioned for missing a meeting at the Jobcentre.  Litchfield thinks there are too many of them, and is particularly worried about the number of young people languishing about in homes and hospitals with serious health conditions when they could be stacking shelves in ASDA for no pay on workfare schemes – or work related activity as he calls it.

As Litchfield will know however, young people, or those of any age in the Support Group, are able to access the Work Programme if they choose.  If many of them do not then that says more about the bungled scheme than it does about sick and disabled claimants.  The Work Programme is shit. That’s why no-one volunteers for it.

Another of Litchfield’s worries is the use of regulation 35 (2) (b).  This rule means that people can be placed in the Support Group automatically if there is “substantial risk” to their mental or physical health if they are found fit for work.  This can be done without a face to face assessment and is frequently used – often on the advice of a GP or medical specialist – when a claimant demonstrates suicidal behavior or is at risk of self-harm.  Litchfield seems appalled that this group are not being harassed stringently enough by the DWP.  Nowhere does he mention the growing number of suicides linked to the Work Capability Assessment .  Perhaps he thinks there aren’t enough.

The DWP agree with Litchfield that the numbers in the Support Group are too high and in a frank admission say this is down to more paper based assessments being carried out due to chronic delays that have built up in the system.  According to the department: “Following transition to the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (Maximus) and restoration of the usual proportion of face-to-face assessments it is expected that the level of Support Group outcomes will decline.”

Litchfield must be so relieved to hear that even more sick and disabled claimants will soon be dependent on food banks after having their benefits sanctioned.  He won’t be the only one happy at the news.  Maximus would like to see as many people on the Work Programme as possible, because they fucking run huge chunks of that as well.  No wonder their greedy boss can afford to pay himself $5 million a year.

The Work Capability Assessment is set to get worse.  It is more vital than ever that it is scrapped completely.  Help make that happen this Monday 2nd March with the first national day of action against new contractors Maximus.  Protests, demonstrations and actions are planned in 30 locations throughout the UK and even one in Toronto!  Full details of the nearest protest to you are available in this handy post from Disabled People Against Cuts.  Please help spread the word and let’s make Maximus feel uncomfortable for a change.

maximus-circus

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Middle Class Solutions To Working Class Problems Is Why Charities Like MIND Keep Getting It So Wrong

didnt-go-to-work-todayIain Duncan Smith must be pissing himself.  A report released at the end of last year by mental health charity MIND could not have gone further in endorsing the core ideas that lie behind his bungled and brutal welfare reforms.

The report is titled “We’ve Got Work To Do” and claims to demand ‘fundamental reform’ of the workplace and social security system to better support people with a mental health condition.  Sadly it is calling for nothing of the sort and is underpinned by the exact same lies and toxic assumptions that have driven both Tory and Labour welfare reforms.

Just like the DWP, MIND have adopted the flawed medical consensus that work is good for your health. The charity does acknowledge that this isn’t actually always true, but falls short of saying that work can be bad for your health, instead arguing that “inappropriate or poor quality work can have as negative an effect on people’s mental health as not being in work”.  They base this opinion on research carried out in Australia that found that “the mental health of those who were unemployed was comparable or more often superior to those in jobs of the poorest psychosocial quality.”  In other words work can be worse for your mental health than being unemployed, rather than just equally bad as MIND claim.

It is not nit-picking to point out the discrepency between what this research found and what MIND say it found because it reveals the charity’s opinions to be based on ideology, not facts.  This same factual slippage occurs elsewhere in the report when MIND begin by saying that most people with mental health conditions want to work, which later becomes everyone with a mental health condition wants to work. The truth, as revealed in the footnotes to the report, are that only around 58% of people out of work due to a mental health condition strongly agreed they wanted to return to work whilst 20% did not feel they were well enough.

These two distortions – or let’s call them lies – have allowed the despised Work Capability Assessment, benefit sanctions and workfare all to be misrepresented as ‘support’ or ‘help’.  In truth these measures destroy lives.  The medical consensus that work is good for you does often not apply to those on the lower end of the income scale who face being forced by Jobcentres into the kind of work likely to make them ill.

MIND’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer claims at the beginning of the report that there have been “improvements in how people with mental health problems are supported”, although it is unclear what they are. There then follows an emotive story about someone’s journey through the benefit system after leaving work due to depression.  This is actually where their journey would stop, because unless they could provide reems of medical evidence to the Jobcentre they would be disallowed benefits for giving up work.  That this reports begins by misrepresenting the benefit system as it currently functions just shows how removed these giant disability charities have become from the lives of those they claim to support.

Instead the ‘fundamental reform’ they call for is actually more of the same or worse – such as the dangerous idea that sensitive health information from the Work Capability Assessment should be passed over to Work Programme providers like A4e and G4S.  This is like your boss having access to your medical history and appallingly MIND seem pretty relaxed about this as well.

Much of the early part of the report is taken up by calling for improvements in the working environment for people suffering mental ill-health.  Which is fine, everyone wants that, except greedy employers who worry it might cost them money or who harbour nasty little prejudices about mental health.  According to MIND themselves this is about 40% of them.  Yet one of MIND’s recommendations is that the Maximus run ‘Fit To Work’ service – the new telephone helpline which will be used to certify time off instead of GPs – should more effectively engage with employers.  About the only decent thing about Fit To Work, which is designed to bully people back into the workplace before they are better, is that currently you have the right to keep your boss out of any discussions.

The final part of the report discusses what future welfare-to-work schemes should look like for those with a mental health condition.  The charity are calling for “new specialist scheme for people with mental health problems on
ESA”.  A scheme which should be run by those who “have expertise and experience of working with people with mental health problems”.  And here lies the real reason for this report.  It’s a fucking advert to any incoming Labour Government to give MIND a lucrative contract to run a new welfare-to-work service.

There is no longer any doubt that endless Atos assessments, workfare and benefit sanctions are creating a crisis in the lives of those with a mental health condition.  The tragic death toll rises ever higher.  Yet nowhere in this report does MIND call for these brutal policies to be scrapped.  Even if MIND were handed a contract to be nicer to people on ESA this would still leave those who have been found fit for work abandoned and dumped onto mainstream unemployment benefits alongside those whose condition is at yet undiagnosed.  On twitter yesterday MIND claimed they couldn’t call for sanctions to be scrapped for people who are unemployed because it wasn’t a key issue.  If your mental health condition isn’t bad enough to be able to claim ESA then tough shit seems to be the charity’s response if you get sanctioned.

The thing is, naked profiteering aside, MIND are not bastards.  They have dedicated front line workers who don’t get paid anywhere near enough and are sincere committed people.  Workers who would probably agree that benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment should be scrapped immediately.  They see the carnage that is being caused everyday.

The problem is that reports like these are overseen and commissioned by highly paid charity executives who live lifestyles that their service users and lowest paid staff can only dream of.  These lifestyles lead them to make assumptions based on their own distorted experience of the world.  Over time they become unable to avoid inflicting solutions to the problems faced by working class people based on their own middle class values because that is all they know.  Often these solutions are utterly bizarre, like the boss of homelessness charity Thamesreach Jeremy Swain’s obsessive belief that the biggest problem facing homeless people is that beer is too cheap.  You read that right.  Too cheap.

It is near impossible for someone on a huge salary who does a job they love to understand why someone may not feel up to working at present.  That, to someone like MIND Chief Executive Paul Farmer, really does seem like madness. Likewise charity bosses have no real understanding of why it might be dangerous to allow other bosses to snoop around your health records.  Bosses think bosses are lovely people who would never abuse their powers – or at least not without a damn good reason.  And bosses know best, they tell each other that all the time.

Charity bosses in particular have their own view of themselves as benevolent experts confirmed everyday by politicians and journalists who would far rather talk to them than someone on the dole.  Their whopping salaries provide further proof of their own ability.  As do arse-licking middle managers who continually tell them how wonderful and clever they are, to their faces at least.  So Paul Farmer must be is right because he’s Paul Farmer and MIND are right because they are MIND and anyone criticising them just doesn’t understand.  Because they are not experts.

That’s how MIND alongside other disability and anti-poverty charities can so easily dismiss the demands of grassroots campaigns comprising of disabled people and benefit claimants.  Groups which are more or less united in calling for benefit sanctions and the WCA to be scrapped completely.  These people are not experts.  At worst they might even be service users.  And you don’t want them getting too uppity.  Before you know where you are you’ll have working class people running organisations together to address working class problems.  Then there’d be nothing at all for poor Paul Farmer to do.    He might even have to get a real job.

Please sign/share/tweet the petition Benefit Sanctions Must Be Stopped Without Exceptions.

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