Tag Archives: work capability assessment

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/

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Disagree With An Atos Decision? Then Starve Says DWP

atos-paralympic-protestThe DWP have laid a vicious benefit trap which will mean severely sick and disabled people will have no legal entitlement to benefit at all if they choose to appeal an assessment by the notorious IT company Atos.

Atos carry out the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the test for the sickness and disability benefit Employment Support Allowance.  This crude computer based test has been use to strip benefits from hundreds of thousands of people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.

From October this year claimants will not be able to appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision until they have first requested a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ by a DWP decision maker.  Only if the claimant disagrees with this decision will they be able to take an appeal to a benefit tribunal.  This process is likely to take months.

A recent response to an FOI request (PDF) confirms that claimants will not be able to claim ESA whilst waiting for this process to be completed.  The DWP say that claimants will instead have the: “option of applying for alternative benefits, such as Jobseekers Allowance, however they must meet the conditions of entitlement”.

One of the key conditions of entitlement for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA) – the benefit for those unemployed not unwell – is that the claimants is able to work.

This will mean that those appealing an ESA decision and claiming Jobseekers Allowance will be placed in a potentially fraudulent position.  They will be appealing an ESA decision based on the fact they do not believe themselves able to work, and will be claiming JSA based on a claim that they are able to work.

Already many claimants have been left in a benefit limbo, after Atos have declare them ‘fit for work’ but Jobcentre staff do not believe this to be the case.  All those on JSA must be actively seeking work, ready to start work immediately and can be sent onto four weeks workfare at any point in their claim.  For many of those who have had ESA stopped, this is an impossibility.  JSA claimants can have benefits stopped completely, for up to three years in some cases, if they fail to complete jobseeking activity or workfare.

After these changes to appeals come into effect, any claimants who disagrees with a decision made by Atos is likely to be forced to go without any benefit at all whilst ‘reconsiderations’ of their benefits take place.  These people are not just already amongst the poorest in the country, but those with cancer, MS or other life threatening conditions.

This appears to be a vindictive attempt to bring down the number of successful appeals against sickness benefit decisions which have been a continual embarrassment to both the current and the previous Labour governments.

The new message from the DWP seems to be appeal if you want, but don’t expect to eat or heat your homes whilst you are waiting.  The end of result of these changes will no doubt be less appeals.  The price of that will be more people dying at the hands of this callous process, which increasingly seems precision-engineered to drive sick and disabled people into destitution.

UPDATE  13/6/13:  Clarification, the DWP say that claimants ‘may’ be paid at the assessment rate once the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ has taken place if they pursue an appeal.  There is no time limit on how long this process can take and this depends on whether they are able to provide medical evidence to the Department.

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Doctors Warn of The Hidden Costs of Welfare Reform

bubblesA letter written by Scottish Ministers to Iain Duncan Smith reveals one of the often overlooked consequences of the savage cuts to social security.

Deputy First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and Health Secretary Alex Neil claim that the brutally flawed Work Capability Assessment used to determine eligibility for sickness and disability benefits is creating a “workload problem” for GPs.  This follows a recent letter signed by over 25 doctors and health professionals warning that the process is not only “cruel” but has also led to “significant adverse events such as self-harm and suicides which many of us have witnessed”.

It will not just be the NHS which begins to creak under the strain of welfare reforms, as millions of people are driven into destitution and a benefits regime which is increasingly designed to punish the poor.  As pointed out yesterday, when Universal Credit is fully introduced, parents of teenagers may find themselves expected to work, or attend workfare for many of the hours their children are not in school.  Leaving possibly hundreds of thousands of teenagers to wander the streets could create an explosion of anti-social behaviour, bullying and crime.  Benefit sanctions, as one leading homelessness charity has already warned, could lead to people being forced to beg and steal to survive.

The impact on policing, courts and prisons could be astronomical as parents are no longer permitted to care for their children and are sent on workfare instead.  The cost to the communities we live in, and to those children themselves, can not even begin to be measured.

Street homelessness is rising sharply, and the bedroom tax, benefit cap and housing benefit cuts can only add to that.  A think tank recently warned that one in four children will be living in poverty by 2020 as a direct result of changes to benefits.  Iain Duncan Smith’s crass attempts to redefine poverty as a personal failing rather than an economic disaster will not change the consequences of creating a society in which a quarter of young people are near destitute.

One of architects of welfare reform, Chris Grayling, once alleged that an area of Manchester was akin to the fictional representation of Baltimore in the television series The Wire.  Baltimore has a horrifically high murder rate and the show depicts a  flourishing drugs trade which all to often fills the vacuum in the absence of socialised protection for the poorest.  Grayling couldn’t have been more wrong about Manchester, yet this Government seem intent on making that absurd comparison come true.

The UK did not have an overly generous welfare system despite the claims made by all three political parties.  The main reason the social security system became so complicated is years of thinly designed cuts, bodges, anti-fraud initiatives and endless schemes aimed at trying to cure people of unemployment.  The reason the social security is so expensive is largely down to the astronomical costs involved simply in keeping a roof over your head in the UK.

The last Tory Government launched an all out assault on social housing – with the end result being soaring private sector rents and a rocketing housing benefit bill.  Iain Duncan Smith’s reckless experiment with welfare goes far beyond what even Thatcher would have dared suggest.

Those on benefits, whether in or out of work are now seeing their incomes decimated, and it’s only going to get worse.  No-one can truly know the social consequences of the changes that are taking place, which are all too often hidden under the cover of relentless propaganda claiming that the poorest people in the country are secretly living it up at the tax payers expense.

In truth this country already had poverty that should shame any nation as rich as the UK even before these changes to social security.  But even that may pail into insignificance compared to what is to come.  One thing is surely beyond doubt however.  Whatever is left of society after these reforms are fully implemented, it will be expensive for all of us.

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5000 People With Cancer Declared Fit For Work Boasts Grant Shapps

shapps_pissedInternet con-man Grant Shapps has been crawling all over the papers today as the Government used Easter Sunday to launch an all out attack on sick and disabled people.

Tory party chairman Shapps claims in the Telegraph today that he will do his job from the pub from now on and his bizarre diatribe suggests that he’s already well on the way to being pissed.  The notorious get rich quick scammer rants that sickness benefits are ‘evil’ whilst brandishing figures attempting to smear all those out of work due to illness or disability as scroungers.

Once again the Tories are suggesting that most claims for Employment Support Allowance are not genuine based simply on the fact that many people give up a claim for ESA before they are assessed.  This is the exact same trick that the DWP tried to pull last year which simply reveals that for many people sickness is temporary and when they get better they end their claims.

Digging into the numbers however reveals some tragic statistics.  Shapps’ pub bore rhetoric is based on figures which breakdown claims for ESA by condition, and provide details of the results of their assessments.

They make for depressing reading.  Almost 5000 people with cancer were found ‘fit for work’ between 2008 and 2011, including ten people with malignant brain tumours.  Over 1000 people diagnosed with schizophrenia were also deemed scroungers and had benefits stopped.

Two and a half thousand people with MS were found fit for workfare if not paid work and placed in the Work Related Activity Group.  A further 800 MS sufferers were thrown off sickness benefits altogether.

Confirming that many claims are temporary in nature, the figures include many people who had broken a limb or suffered some other short term injury or condition.  Unsurprisingly many of this group came off benefits before being assessed which can take place several months after making an initial claim.

There are many other reasons a claim might stop before an assessment takes place.  Claimants could marry someone and no longer be eligible, or in many cases reach retirement age.

In a predictable spittle-flecked outburst, the right wing press have crowed that almost 10,000 people whose primary conditions was associated with drug use ended their claim before assessment,  A similar number were found fit for work – as if employers are suddenly rushing to hire currently using heroin addicts.

Whilst some of this group may have stopped using drugs and therefore ended their claim, some may have found themselves in prison.  Others may have slipped out of the benefits system completely due to the chaotic nature of their condition.  Some will probably have died from an overdose before the assessment took place.

And it is this that reveals the truly nasty face of this Government.  Around 14,000 people with cancer ended their claim before they were assessed.  It should be hoped that this is because many of them went into long term remission.  The sad truth is that some of them will have died whilst awaiting a benefit decision.

It is these tragic deaths that the vile Tory party are only too happy to exploit in an attempt to prove that half of people on sickness benefits were faking their conditions.  They truly are beneath contempt.

The figures are available via google viewer for those without Excel or can be downloaded direct as an xls format.

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How GPs Can End the Atos Death Toll

First Do No Harm GraphicShortly before Christmas the highly recommended Black Triangle Campaign published information on two little known regulations that could bring an end to the tragic number of deaths related to the Atos benefits assessment process.

Atos carry out the Government’s Work Capability Assessment, the crude computer based test which is used to strip benefits from sick and disabled people by declaring them ‘fit for work’.  Evidence from claimant’s GPs is often ignored at these assessments and over 40% of decisions made by Atos are over-turned on appeal.

The endless re-testing, combined with the stress of the appeal process, the demeaning nature of the assessments and the very real poverty many sick and disabled people find themselves after having benefits slashed, have led to an increasing number of tragic suicides.  Health professionals have warned of claimant’s health conditions being made significantly worse due to the process.

The regulations identified by Black Triangle show a way forward for all GPs who have concerns about how their patients are treated by Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Regulation 29 states that claimants should not be found ‘fit for work’ if:  “the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement and, by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work.”

Regulation 35 states that:  “the claimant suffers from some specific disease or bodily or mental disablement; (b) and by reasons of such disease or disablement, there would be a substantial risk to the mental or physical health of any person if the claimant were found not to have limited capability for work-related activity.”

(Claimants and GPs should read the full guidance on the Black Triangle website which also contains important legal information)

Already these regulations have been successfully used in the appeals process and benefits have been re-instated.

Few claimants and even fewer GPs are aware of these regulations.  It is vital that this information is circulated as widely as possible.  GPs have a medical and moral responsibility to intervene if they believe their patients health may be made worse by being judged fit for work.  These two regulations mean that GPs can, and must intervene in the process if they truly support the long established medical tradition of ‘first do no harm’.

Black Triangle have also published draft letters which claimants can use to request support from their GP using these regulations: http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2012/11/21/important-black-triangle-dpac-regs-2935-campaign-failed-your-dwpatos-wca-intend-to-appeal-download-these-documents-for-your-gp/

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Co-op Campaign: Stop the Atos Contract!

co-op-fake-ethicalAction is being called for around the UK as fake hippy bankers, the Co-operative Bank, consider whether to continue using the service of disability deniers Atos to provide Occupational Health services the company.

Atos carry out the notorious Work Capability Assessment, the crude computer based test which is used to strip benefits from sick disabled people by finding them ‘fit for work’.

Last year it emerged that the Co-op currently use Atos to provide Occupational Health to their staff. This led to furious protests both on and offline with the Co-op attempting to weasel their way out of trouble by claiming they couldn’t do anything about it for contractual reasons.  Now the contract is up for tender and astonishingly the Co-op have refused to rule out using the services of Atos again.

Many workers of other companies have found themselves laid off for health reasons after recommendations made by Atos, only to be found fit for work as part of their benefits assessment.  The company have previously boasted on their website that they have “a team of Organisation and HR professionals who undertake the analysis, design and execution of headcount reduction.”

Atos are equal opportunities wankers, they treat workers every bit as badly as they treat people who cannot work due to sickness or disability.

Two pickets of the Co-op have already been called in Glasgow on the 17th and 19th of January calling on the company not to renew their contract with Atos: http://www.indymedia.org.uk/en/2013/01/505265.html

Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/events/488541864531259/

Pickets are currently being planned elsewhere in the UK.

A Communications Blockade has also been called for the 17th January, details at: http://www.dpac.uk.net/2013/01/co-op-campaign-stop-the-atos-contract/

Facebook link: https://www.facebook.com/events/357131177718217/

You can contact the Co-op on twitter @TheCooperative or on facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/TheCooperative

Action called by the Crutch Collective, Clydeside Industrial Workers Of The World and Glasgow Solidarity Federation

Follow me on twitter @johnnyvoid

Atos in the Dock

Patrick LynchFrom Public Interest lawyers via Disabled people Against Cuts

A disabled man who was wrongly found fit for work under the government’s disability benefit assessment scheme is launching legal action to try and stop more disabled people being wrongly kicked off the social safety net.

Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to quit work because of his impairments, is seeking a judicial review of the controversial disability benefit assessment scheme run by Atos.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people whose health or impairment stops them from working, is at present hugely unreliable, with many people wrongly found fit for work despite severely debilitating and in some cases life-threatening conditions.

The legal action is seeking a ruling that would require Atos, the private firm that runs the WCA process on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), to grant all ESA claimants the unequivocal right to have their assessment recorded and to receive their WCA report before a decision on their eligibility is made – both key safeguards against people’s health conditions being misreported or ignored altogether.

DWP research and a survey conducted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) both show widespread demand from claimants to have their WCA assessments recorded, to ensure their medical conditions are not misrepresented in order to wrongly strip them of benefits. But while the DWP granted the right to request a recording earlier this year, there are considerable bureaucratic obstacles to both securing a recording and then using it in an appeal, with Atos recently introducing a restrictive ‘consent form’ for those wanting a recording of their assessment.

The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers, and draws on research by Disabled People Against Cuts and the TUC-backed campaign group False Economy.

Mr Lynch wants the DWP and Atos to adopt the following safeguards:

a)    Universal recording to ensure that all claimants undergoing a WCA or an assessment under the new PIP benefit system will have the right to have their assessment recorded;

b)    Claimants will get a copy of the WCA report before a decision is made on their eligibility for ESA, and will have the chance to raise any concerns with the DWP decision maker;

c)    The DWP/Atos will be responsible for obtaining medical evidence from the medical professional named by the claimant;

d)    The DWP ensures that all assessment centres are fully accessible.

Taken together, these measures would address some of the inaccuracy inherent in the disability benefits system. Disability campaigners have raised repeated concerns over how the WCA process causes huge stress for ESA recipients, with many disabled people’s lives ruined after wrongly having their benefits removed.

Mr Lynch, now a campaigner with DPAC, was found fit for work following a flawed WCA report in 2010, before the DWP reconsidered and reversed the decision. His most recent WCA this year upheld his benefit entitlement, but even then Atos’ report of his assessment contained inaccuracies.

In bringing the action Mr Lynch notes

Disabled people and the poor in this Country have always struggled to get what they are duly entitled to. The fight must go on to address the injustice caused by this out of touch Government.

A DPAC spokesperson said:

The evidence is clear – more than 98 percent of those responding to our survey said they wanted their assessment recorded and that they believed it would provide a better account. However, many reported a whole host of barriers in getting a recording in place.”

Blogging will be lighter than usual probably until the New Year.