Humiliating and demoralising face-to-face ‘fit for work’ assessment interviews, known as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), could be scrapped following a report by experts which blamed the controversial tests for delays in processing benefit claims.Posted: April 8, 2014
It is understood that the Department for Work and Pensions is exploring the possibility of replacing the WCA with a streamlined system, based upon written medical evidence acquired from claimants, their GP’s and consultants.
Critics of the face-to-face interviews argue that scrapping the WCA would lead to a speeding up of the process, fairer outcomes for sick and disabled people and savings for taxpayers, due to less appeals being lodged against negative decisions.
At long last, it now appears as if the DWP may agree. A spokesperson for the department told the Daily Record:
The move comes after private firm Atos withdrew from a £500 million contract with the DWP, forcing the government to seek a new provider. The DWP continue to insist that the contract was terminated by the government.
Labour MP Tom Greatrex said:
“The WCA process hasn’t worked for years and the Government have failed to address it.
“The experience is demeaning, causes anxiety and 40 per cent of the tests are overturned on appeal which demonstrates it’s not fair or accurate.”
Today Iain Duncan Smith is being questioned by the Commons work and pensions committee on universal credit, after finally admitting last week that the scheme’s targets had been “reset”. Last week, the petition calling for a cumulative impact assessment of the way welfare reform affects sick and disabled people, known as the WOW petition, passed 100,000 signatures, triggering its consideration for debate by the backbench business committee. To add to Duncan Smith’s woes, the well-respected Centre for Welfare Reform has released details of its report, How Norms Become Targets, which exposes the myth that Atos, the private company responsible for assessing the needs of people unable to work, does not do so on the basis of targets.
Today also sees the publication of the stunning People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment (pdf). It has been compiled by the anonymous organisation, We Are Spartacus, whose activism in this area has been hugely empowering. The report is a collection of statistics surrounding welfare reform and reactions of MPs, charities and professional groups to the way in which it has been administered. An almanac of condemnation, if you will. Most importantly, the report compiles statements from sick and disabled people actually going through the system.
These are most encouraging developments and point to a sea-change in the way our democracy works in this internet age. There is no doubt that without extensive use of the internet and social media, the compilation of such a detailed report would have been impossible and its publication unnoticed. For too long, this group of most vulnerable people, many of them with serious health and mobility problems, have been too easy a target for cost-cutting governments of all hues to demonise, recalibrate and victimise. This is no longer the case. Vulnerable people have grabbed the issue by the scruff of the neck and are taking the fight to the government. It is inspirational and points the way to a level of democratisation hitherto unseen.
I encourage you to read the report. It is packed with striking statistics and heartrending stories, in the words of people being put through this inhuman and degrading assessment. It contains the stories of those who can no longer speak, having taken their own lives or succumbed to their illness, while being hounded by the very department which is meant to protect them, people like Peter whose leg fused as a result of injury and, having suffered a stroke which meant he couldn’t grip with one hand, received a text telling him to attend the Jobcentre. He sent his partner a text which read “I give up”. He was found hanging at his home.
It contains incredibly powerful quotes which show that dissatisfaction with Atos is spread across MPs of all parties. Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative MP, said of the assessment procedure: “Not surprisingly, it adds to their [claimants] sense of worthlessness – already stoked by a longstanding political narrative from both sides of the political divide that they are ‘shirkers, not workers’ or a drain on Britain’s ‘hardworking people’. They are neither.”
It contains tragic and often simultaneously humorous stories of ridiculous assessment reports, like the one on a 59-year-old woman who had had a hysterectomy following cervical cancer, which observed: “There is no evidence that the client is currently pregnant.” Or the one which concluded that someone who took an overdose of medication the previous night had “no current thoughts of self harm”.
This programme of welfare reform was always doomed to fail for a very simple reason. The purpose of welfare is to provide a safety net for the most vulnerable; its reform must have their interests at heart, rather than cost-cutting targets. Proper reform costs money. Duncan Smith himself recognised this simple fact before he came into power. In 2009, explaining his proposed reforms, he recognised that they would lead to a rise in the welfare bill in the short-term.
Iain Duncan Smith’s fall from grace, because of a botched IT system which has already caused £140m to be written off, is properly a cause of both frustration and comedy – like Al Capone being arrested for tax evasion. But I must ask, we all must ask: how many of the vulnerable people mentioned in the Spartacus report would still be alive today if that money has been properly spent?
Local Medical Committee (LMC) leaders from Lancashire and Cumbria have drafted a letter to help GPs turn down patient requests for support when appealing against their benefits being withdrawn.
The template letter sent to practices advises patients to contact Jobcentre Plus or the appeals service if they need further medical evidence, and allow them to contact their GP if they think more information is needed.
It says –
“It is not necessary therefore for you to request any extra medical evidence from your GP. Indeed it may slow down or complicate the process.
Your GP is very busy seeing patients and unfortunately does not have the time available to complete such reports. Your GP is entitled to charge you for such a report and would not want to burden you with extra costs when they are not necessary.
This follows a similar letter disseminated to practices by Bro Taf LMC in Wales, which said GPs providing these reports was an “abuse of NHS resources”.
Lancashire Coastal LMC chair Dr Stephen Hardwick, who helped write the letter, said:
“GPs are increasingly pressurised, their daily job is harder. We’re monitored more closely through Qualities and Outcomes Framework, our prescribing more closely followed. We’re also having to mop up from other NHS and social care problems.
It’s hard for individual GPs to say no, because they want to do what’s best for their patients. The problem is as that it becomes more frequent, as they bring in the bedroom tax, you don’t have time for anything else.”
The LMC action comes at a time when the DWP is actively encouraging disabled people to send in addtional medical evidennce in relation to ESA and PIP claims in order that more decisions can be correctly made first time.
More than 600,000 of the 1.8 million assessments carried out by Atos since 2009 have been the subject of an appeal, at a cost of £60 million.
Latest figures show that 42% of ESA appeals are successful.
For more information see LMC leaders plan campaign to encourage GPs to ‘just say no’ to benefit requests @ http://www.pulsetoday.co.uk
The LMC Letter to Patients Requesting Reports in Support of Disability Claims is available here.
Action for M.E. has produced a template letter for patients with M.E/CFS living in those areas who wish to protest against this move.
The Action for ME template letter is available @http://www.actionforme.org.uk/get-informed/news/our-news/gps-refusing-to-support-welfare-benefit-claims
Others living in the Lancashire and Cumbria LMC area who wish to protest against the LMC action can contact the have the Consortium of Local Medical Committees Chief Executive Peter Higgins by:
- email firstname.lastname@example.org;
- post to: Peter Higgins, Consortium of Local Medical Committees, Ambulance Headquarters, 449-451 Garstang Road, Preston PR3 5LN
Note: Citizens Advice reported today that, as well as some surgeries refusing to provide medical evidence, some GPs are charging up to £115 to assist disabled people in their appeals against WCA decisions.
It warns that the practice of charging for independent evidence is widespread and is a “catch-22” for disabled people, many of whom face the prospect of an incorrect assessment by ATOS followed by an expensive appeals process.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said –
“Lots of people entitled to ESA are being denied it unfairly. Wrong assessments prevent people from getting the financial support they’re entitled to and being charged up to £115 for medical evidence to help appeal a bad decision puts sick and disabled people in a catch-22 situation.
Without independent medical evidence in appeals against assessments by the notoriously unreliable ATOS, sick and disabled people are being left to fight against bad decisions with one hand tied behind their back.
She added –
“No one doubts the pressure on the NHS at the moment but by charging for a medical assessment, some GPs are adding unnecessary extra anxiety. In some cases, sick and disabled people are facing the double blow of a wrong assessment followed by a demand for money to get the evidence they need to overturn that decision.
Work Capability Assessments are stressful experiences and going through the appeals process makes things even worse. Without the support of medical evidence, many people’s legitimate appeals against wrong decisions are significantly weakened, leaving them unable to get a fair outcome.”
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s department was told to act because of deep concerns about Atos at No10
Ministers have been ordered to revamp their “appalling” benefits testing system after they found 41% of claimants may have been wrongly passed fit to work.
The Government admitted many tests carried out by private firm Atos between October 2012 and March 2013 were “C grade”.
The French company said that did not mean its reports were wrong but it has been told to create an action plan.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban said new firms will also help carry out work capability assessments – the controversial tests which decide if someone on incapacity benefit is fit to work.
Meanwhile in a further blow for the DWP, the Coalition’s youth contract scheme has helped 4,600 18 to 24-year-olds in the past year – missing its target by more than 90%.
Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s department was told to act because of deep concerns about Atos at No10.
And Labour’s Liam Byrne said Mr Duncan Smith needed to “get a grip”.
He said: “This is a direct consequence of three years appalling contract management by Iain Duncan Smith.
“He has quite simply let Atos spin out of control and the taxpayer and vulnerable people are picking up the pieces.
“There are now profound questions about Atos’ role going forward. We will study this statement in detail, but it is now vital the Government rebuilds a system that’s fit for purpose.
In a statement Atos Healthcare said: “We continue to provide Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions and continue to support the need to increase the number of health professionals on the ground to minimise waiting times and improve the system for those going through it.
“We are sorry when we do not meet our own high standards but can reassure that a ‘C’ grade report does not mean the assessment was wrong and there are checks and balances throughout the system so that the correct decision on benefit is made by the Department.”
In a further blow to Mr Duncan Smith, figures showed the Government’s flagship youth contract scheme had helped just 4,600 18-24-year-olds between June 2012 and May 2013.
The scheme offers firms a subsidy of up to £2,275 for taking on someone who has been out of work for at least six months and was supposed to have helped 160,000 young people.
But DWP figures showed it had missed its target by more than 90%.
Mr Byrne added: “The Youth Contract has utterly failed to get our young people back to work. This flagship scheme is on course to miss its target by more than 92% – no wonder there are still almost a million young people out of work.
“The welfare revolution we were promised has fallen apart. The Work Programme doesn’t work, Universal Credit is disappearing into the sunset, and now we know that the Youth Contract has been a disaster.”
#RT via Welfare News Service via www.mirror.co.uk
I’ve seen myself how those with mental disorders are at a huge disadvantage in passing this test, which has to be changed
As a 76-year-old archdeacon and former vicar, I never imagined that in retirement I’d end up starting a fight with the government. But that’s exactly what happened this week, when I launched the I Agree With Dick petition, in conjunction with the charity Rethink Mental Illness. We’re demanding that the government stops using the work capability assessment to judge whether people with mental illness should receive benefits, until the test is improved.
This matters so much to me because I’ve been through the test with others, and have seen just how unfair it is. My son has bipolar disorder. Over the years he’s been in and out of hospital, and sectioned three times. He cannot live on his own, and when he’s tried to go back to work it’s only served to made his condition even worse. The benefits he receives help him get by from day-to-day.
But when he went for the government’s fit-for-work test, it felt like the odds were stacked against him against him from the start. We found that people like my son have to answer incredibly complex questionnaires about their physical health, but hardly get asked anything about mental illness. They are also expected to gather extensive medical evidence from their GP, psychiatrist and other health professionals, explaining why they are unfit to work.
Without this evidence, your benefits could be cut immediately. But if you’re hearing voices or going through a psychotic episode, gathering those kinds of documents is an almost impossible task. It means that people with mental illness are at a huge disadvantage and it’s simply not fair.
My son was lucky to have our help to fill in forms and gather medical documents. But despite all the evidence we presented on his behalf, he was found fit to work, meaning he had to start job-hunting or face losing his benefits. Thankfully we managed to appeal against that decision, but it was a long and stressful ordeal that took more than six months. I dread to think what would have happened to our son if we hadn’t been there.
There are thousands of other people going through the exact same thing right now who have no one to help them. I fear that they’ll end up in a terrible situation because they’re too unwell to fight their case.
And don’t have to just take my word that the benefits test is unfair. In May, judges came to the conclusion that the test puts people with severe mental illness at a substantial disadvantage, and that it should not continue in its current form. The government is now appealing that decision, but in the meantime it’s still using the test to assess about6,000 people with mental health problems each week.
That’s why I can’t just sit by and do nothing, we have to keep pushing until the test is fixed. The lives of some of the most vulnerable and unwell people in our society could depend on it.
If you agree with me, please sign my petition, and help us keep up the pressure. Now is the time to stand up.
#RT via http://www.guardian.co.uk
New figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) indicate the Work Programme is failing to help people with disabilities, including mental health problems, back into work. Work Programme providers found work for just 5.3 per cent of people claiming Employment Support Allowance, instead of the expected 16.5 per cent.
Of over 150,000 people with a disability or an illness placed on the Work Programme, fewer than 5,000 have been helped into work, which is just over 3 per cent.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive at Mind, commented:
The Work Programme continues to show disappointing results for people with mental health problems. There are hundreds of thousands of people who are not able to work at this time because of the barriers they face due to their mental health problems. They need time and appropriate support to help them get closer to the workplace but this does not seem to be happening.
At present, there is too little specialist support; too much focus on mandating people to undertake activities rather than addressing the real barriers they face; and the whole system is undermined by the flawed Work Capability Assessment, which is meant to help decide how much support people get. That’s why we urgently need an overhaul of the system.
#RT via Matthew via http://www.mind.org.uk
Former soldiers with severe injuries are losing their benefits and being told they are fit to work
When former Lance-Corporal Mark Dryden walked in to be assessed for the new incapacity benefit, the doctor asked him if he was right-handed. If it was a joke, it was lost on the soldier, whose right arm was blown off in Iraq by a roadside bomb that killed a close friend. Eight years after being promised that Britain would honour its duty to him as an amputee war veteran, Mr Dryden, 35, who has severely limited use of his other arm and post-traumatic stress disorder, was told his benefit was being withdrawn because he was considered fit for work.
“If I am fit for work, why can’t I join the Army again?” said the former non-commissioned officer in the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. “When they said I had to go back to work, I had an anxiety attack, the depression sank back in. When it [the injury] happened I felt let down by the Army, not my unit or my mates, but the military and now I feel let down by the Government.
“It is not that I am idle. I would love to work – be a plumber or a joiner – but I physically can’t.”
Those once entitled to incapacity benefit must now be reassessed for employment and support allowance (ESA) and severely injured veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan are being told they have to undergo tests. Injured soldiers insist it makes a mockery of David Cameron’s promise to “respect and revere” veterans with special treatment.
“People in the military don’t get an easier ride than anybody else,” said Michael Ivatt, of the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association, who suggested that servicemen and women were pushing themselves through the pain barrier to complete tasks, only to find it meant they were “fit for work” and no longer eligible for benefits.
This month, Greg Wood, a former Royal Navy doctor, resigned from Atos, saying the system was “unfair and skewed against the claimant”. Atos, which carries out the assessments for the Department for Work and Pensions, has been criticised by campaigners but insists it operates a professional and compassionate service.
For Mr Dryden, who has no index finger, being told to pick up a £1 coin by the Atos healthcare practitioner was humiliating. He said having to go cap in hand for benefits made him feel like “scum”, adding: “It was utterly degrading. He asked if I was right handed and when I said, ‘Do you see a right hand on my body?” he said, ‘I’ll take that as a no’.”
“Once we are no use to them, they just turn their backs. They don’t want to know,” agreed former Sgt Jean Reno, 39, who has also been told his benefit is being withdrawn as he is fit for work despite severe brain injuries that have left him with no short-term memory, double vision, anxiety attacks, pain, an inability to focus for long periods and depression.
After 16 years in the Royal Artillery and tours of Northern Ireland, Bosnia and Afghanistan, Sgt Reno returned from Iraq in 2005 with depression and alcohol problems. He crashed his car and suffered multiple fractures and brain damage. “I served Queen and country and was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice fighting all their conflicts. Now in my time of need they have just turned their back. If it hadn’t been for the military charities I would probably be on the street,” he said. “We just want recognition for what we have done, serving our country.”
Mr Dryden applied for incapacity benefit after being advised by a social worker that he would need it to make national insurance payments towards a pension. Along with Mr Reno, he is taking his case to tribunal but it could take months. A spokesman for the DWP said more severely disabled people were being given long-term support, adding: “We owe the men and women who have served their country a huge debt of gratitude. We will do everything to help them to find work or make sure they get benefits.”
Atos rejected criticsm of its work capability assessments, saying: “We have a large team of fully trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists who provide a professional and compassionate service.”
#RT via http://www.independent.co.uk/via Matthew