Tag Archives: Kate Green

Taking The WCA Back To The Bad Old Days, Why Sick and Disabled Claimants Should Fear A Labour Government

ESA-statsShadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green has pledged to return the despised Work Capability Assessment (WCA) back to its “original purpose” raising fears that gains made by capaigners over the last few years could be lost as Labour attempt to rehabilitate the despised tests for sickness or disability benefits.

Her comments were made at a union meeting late last year and were filmed by  Kate Belgrave who has made the video available to Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC).  According to Green, Labour will: “make sure that the work capability assessment is returned to its original purpose of being the first step in the process to diagnose and identify what sort of support somebody who could work at some point would need to have in order to enable them work, and so we will give every single person who goes through the work capability assessment, at the end of their assessment, a statement of how their condition or impairment impacts on their capacity to work.”

Labour introduced the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in 2008 with the ‘original purpose’ of stripping out of work benefits from over a third of sick and disabled people.  Speaking to Parliament about the reforms in 2006, the Labour Secretary of State for the Department for Work and Pensions John Hutton said: “I believe that if we take the measures that I have outlined … we can get 1 million people off incapacity benefit within a decade. In doing so, we could ultimately save up to £7 billion a year for taxpayers. That should be the scale of our ambition.”

Whilst the tests were first introduced for new claimants only, in the 2008 budget (PDF para 4.5) Labour announced that all claimants on Incapacity Benefit would be re-assessed from April 2010.  All Iain Duncan Smith did, after the Tory Party weren’t elected in May 2010, was to continue the work begun by Labour.

The contract to carry out the shoddy tick-box style assessments was handed to the little known French IT firm Atos Origin, a company who had previously sponsored events at the Labour Party conference.  Atos were tasked with dividing claimants on sickness or disability benefits into three groups – those unable to work who were placed in the Support Group, those who might be able to do some work at some point in the future – the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) – and those who the company judged ‘fit for work’.

The results have been horrifying as people with serious health conditions have been forced off benefits after a brief computer based test ignored medical opinion to find them able to work.  Many in the WRAG group have faced benefit sanctions after being unable to carry out DWP mandated ‘Work Related Activity’ such as endless job search, compulsory training and even workfare.  The assessments have even become too much for Atos to stomach and following fierce campaigning by disabled people the company announced last year that they would be ending their contract with the government early.

The introduction of the Work Capability Assessment was based on the tabloid myth that hundreds of thousands of people were faking their health conditions  and were really able to work.  This lie took hold despite the UK not having significantly more people unable to work due to sickness or disability then other comparable economies.  Yet still the abuse persisted from politicians of all parties.  In 2011 Ed Miliband even attempted to blame benefit claimants for the financial crisis claiming many of those unable to work were “ripping off society”.

On the ground however a very different picture was emerging.  As early as March 2010 Citizens Advice published a damning report (PDF) backed by disability charities revealing the horrific suffering the WCA was causing.  It turned out that most people were not lying about their health condition after all and tragic stories began appearing in the media of poverty, homelessness, ill health and even suicides linked to the new sickness benefit regime.  Huge numbers of decisions made by Atos and the DWP to remove benefits were being over-turned at appeal.  Protests against the process began to spread throughout the UK.  And slowly, the number of people found fit for work, began to fall (as can be seen in the above graph which represents new claims, not re-assessments).

Just as significantly, the percentage of people placed in the Support Group – meaning they are not expected to look for work at all – has risen sixfold between the last period of the Labour adminstration and the most recent figures.  Of course this – combined with a huge backlog of cases as Atos struggled to find enough healthcare professionals nasty enough to carry out the assessments – has meant that the number of people entitled to sickness and disability benefits is back on the rise, and rightly so.   The job of new contractors, US based outsourcing firm Maximus, will be to reverse this trend.

Labour have promised to tinker with the WCA but have no plans to scrap it.  As DPAC rightly point out, Kate Green’s comments suggest those in the Support Group could soon be in the firing line and face pressure to look for work.  Last year Ed Miliband endorsed a think tank report which suggested the removal of the WRAG group for under 25s who would instead face workfare and their benefits being reduced to the same level as those unemployed.  Maximus, who will be taking over from Atos in March this year, have recently employed a former Labour special advisor alongside a prominent Labour blogger on a huge salary to manage ‘customer relations’.  Bill Gunnyeon, the DWP Civil Servant who oversaw the introduction of the WCA under the Labour government, has also recently been employed by the company.

Anyone who thinks that things might get better for sick and disabled claimants if the Tories are voted out this May could yet be in for a horrifying surprise.  Because if history is anything to go by, then under a Labour administration, things could get a lot worse.

Join the Day of Action against Maximus called by Disabled People Against Cuts on March 2nd.

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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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