Govt Gives Maximus Green Light To Reduce Numbers In Support Group!

Government responds to the 5th independent review of the Work Capability Assessment 

Disabled activist groups need to vigorously protest against these heartless work tests.  To date Government has shown no sign of taking any of their views seriously. One thing is for sure, no amount of window dressing will make it any better.

The government has published its response to the fifth review of the Work Capability Assessment.

It looks as though it’s there to give Maximus a green light to diminishing the large numbers of claimants currently placed in the Support Group of the DWP’s Employment & Support Allowance.

As of May 2014 DWP figures confirm there were 1,031,480 ESA claimants in the Support Group of which 480,930 were recorded as having a mental health problem.  Of the overall total 631,160 were migrated from older incapacity benefits of which 298,840 had a mental health problem.

The review response comes just after the DWP’s newly appointed replacement for the infamous Atos, a global firm called Maximus announced it will conduct a staggering one million work capability assessments by the end of 2015.  The response is accompanied by a set of exceptionally vague supporting statistics which unsurprisingly focus on Iain Duncan Smith’s number one concern; the large number of Employment & Support Allowance claimants with a mental health problem who have been placed in the Support Group – it’s breaking IDS’s budget and causing his chancellor no end of headaches given the astonishing year on year increase in expenditure on the ill – fated ESA programme which has become extremely expensive and utterly chaotic under IDS’s hopeless leadership.

ESA expenditure is up on earlier government estimates of £11 billion per annum by £2 billion a year to £13 billion a year according to the Centre for Economic Inclusion.  Employment & Support Allowance isn’t in isolation when it comes to Government’s serious problems in finding room for expenditure reduction; the overall welfare bill remains ‘more or less unchanged at £220 billion a year’ (Daily Telegraph).

It’s little wonder that leading disability activist groups DPAC will once again recommence peaceful protesting against WCA’s on the 2nd March in much the same way they did when Atos were in post, one can only hope they get the much needed media coverage they deserve in order to highlight the distinct possibility that more inhumane tests will lead to more tragic deaths of claimants shortly after being found fit for work during crude 45 minute tick box assessments.

The government’s response and the supporting statistics look only at new Employment & Support Allowance claims, completely omitting claimants subjected to repeat assessment and the longer term incapacity migration cases – it was combining these in to the programme which led to the chronic delays and up to 780,000 claimants awaiting an assessment. It’s nothing short of bizarre to exclude them from the equation.

Another key omission are the massive numbers of claimants who have claimed Employment & Support Allowance more than once, very often after being found fit for work; over 800,000 claimants have made a second or more claim in the revolving assessment process; it baffles me how neither the review or response addresses the real problems of this chaotic programme, instead it touches upon a lot of peripheral tinkering and an acknowledgement that large numbers of claimants with a mental health problem are being placed in the Support Group.  It’s hardly rocket science to work out why; the government does not want large numbers being found fit for work.  There is no gap in the labour market to swallow up large numbers of claimants who have been handed one of IDS’s highly damaging scrounger CV’s, employers won’t touch them; thank the Daily Mail et all for ruining their prospects of finding work.

Nor can government see the sense in cramming any more ‘going no where quickly’ claimants in to the now full to the brim Work Related Activity Group.  There’s a practical limit to how many CV’s claimants can be asked to write out in fruitless workshops.  It’s a problem of capacity, thousands may be referred or attached in to the Government’s Work Programme but the proof of the pudding is in the outcomes – just over 26,000 claimants have ended up with a job outcome (0.5%) after 4.8 million assessments since the ESA programme began; it’s a total waste of time and an even bigger waste of cash.

IDS is in deep trouble over the Employment & Support Programme, it’s set to cost far more than he budgeted for when putting together his ideologically focussed media forecasts appearing in Daily Mail headlines telling us that 75% of all claimants would transpire to be scroungers.  I recall the same paper telling us these reforms would whittle the number on the sick down to 600,000 claimants.  IDS is, of course, well aware that the number of claimants is stubbornly stuck on the 2.5 million figures which he ridiculously attributes to ‘parking’ under Labour over the preceding decade.  Perhaps he needs reminding that he’s been in post nearly half a decade now; when last in power it was his government which saw the sick count rocket from around three quarter of a million to the 2.5 million we’ve been stuck with ever since.

The review response fails to address the key problem with the Work Capability Assessment; it simply doesn’t work.

Measures 1 to 6 of the response are connected with the disputes process, this is only deployed once the assessment has, in the eyes of the claimant ‘gone wrong’, it’s hard to see how this can relate to an improvement in the assessment itself.

Measure 7 relates to a semi-structured interview process – it sounds almost half a job and hardly inspires confidence in it being a worthwhile solution.

9 to 11 are purely reactive to IDS’s perception that too many claimants are now languishing in the Support Group, it reads as though he thinks the DWP’s own decision – makers can’t follow the rules which he says have been improved and are now making the wretched process better.   Perversely, large numbers in Support was once heralded as the sign of improvement, now they’ve realised the cost they’ve relabelled it a failure.  Measures 12 onwards offer limited glimmers of hope, it’s just a shame it will never go beyond the obvious window dressing.

Be under no illusion, operation Maximus will be no better than Atos – the difference will be the distinct lack of publicity given to how many are cruelly subjected to the process; the media is bored of it as a topic and sadly the public no longer care.

Here’s a quick run down on the recommendations and the Government’s response, none of which will make the slightest difference to the disastrous assessment and reassessment of thousands of sick claimants in a regime which is well and truly broken beyond any hope of repair.

Recommendation 1

Material changes to the WCA should be fully considered in advance by both policy officials and operational staff to ensure that policy intent and practical considerations are harmonised.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 2

Use of 360° feedback and its impact on driving up the quality of decision making at all stages of the WCA process should be monitored over time and trends reported to the appropriate level to ensure that training needs are met and unintended behaviours are addressed. This work should be seen in parallel to feedback received from Tribunal services.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 3

The Explanation Call is removed from the mandatory reconsideration process, and that information on the points of contention are collated and included in the referral to dispute resolution teams where

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 4

Options for displaying a geographical telephone number when making a Reconsideration Call should be explored. Additionally, SMS messaging or an appropriate alternative method should be used to provide advance notice in all instances. As with face-to-face assessments, requests to have a
supporting representative on the call should be accommodated where possible.

The Government will consider the recommendation of a geographical telephone number further, will use SMS messaging where thought appropriate and accepts the recommendation on accommodating a representative.

Recommendation 5

The Department review its geographical allocation of mandatory reconsideration casework taking account of both perception issues and practical considerations for avoiding unnecessary delays.

The Government is unable to accept this recommendation.

Recommendation 6

The Department give specific consideration to how it improves the overall perceptions of the mandatory reconsideration process. This should include publishing target turnaround times and being clear on the reasons behind ceasing payment of the assessment rate of ESA.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 7

Further work to develop and implement a semi-structured interview should continue. This should be developed in conjunction with a small number of representative groups. Particular attention should be paid to interview practices for those with mental health conditions, learning disabilities and autism, and this should be reflected in the guidance and training developed.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 8

The Department investigates the substantial increase in the proportion of Support Group outcomes as a matter of urgency to determine whether the WCA is being applied correctly

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 9

The use of Regulation 35(2)(b) should be subject to close scrutiny with a particular focus on decisions made on a papers only basis.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 10

The drivers for the high rate of young people (16-24) being assigned to the Support Group should be examined not only to ensure that benefit decisions are correct but also to help provide appropriate support.

Recommendation 11

The Department bundles future necessary changes into packages delivered no more than bi-annually to provide greater stability and avoid the perception of constant change to the WCA.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 12

The Department reviews the mechanisms in place for monitoring levels of understanding amongst staff involved in the ESA process and consider appropriate means of following up this training to ensure levels of knowledge and understanding remain high.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 13

The Department works with the Provider to improve communications sent in advance of an individual attending a WCA and ensure that it explains the nature of the WCA, including a description of what they can expect when they attend.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 14

The Department review its portfolio of alternate formats with specific reference to the use of Easy Read and then prioritise provision by need to create as many forms as is reasonably practicable.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 16

The Department examines its work flow system, which appears to introduce an inevitable bias towards granting higher benefit levels, to ensure that the policy intent is being met.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 17

The Department should explore ways and options of improved information between DWP assessments, including Personal Independence Payment, Disability Living Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit, Fit for Work and the Work Capability Assessment.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 18

The Department should work with the Department of Health and other appropriate government departments to explore how DWP can make use of the WCA and the evidence gathered to ensure individuals are sign posted to appropriate support.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 19

Use of the term ‘prognosis period’ should be discouraged and documentation should be amended accordingly.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 20

The Department should review its policy and processes around applying short re-referral periods in the Support Group, particularly for young people with mental health problems, and for longer referral periods in the WRAG.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 21

The Department should work with the Department for Education and the devolved administrations to develop improved mechanisms for providing information about the world of work, including the WCA, to those with learning disabilities at the point of leaving education.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 22

The Department reviews its provision of alternate formats of communication with a view to adopting Easy Read wherever practicable.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 23

The Department reviews the training given to its own staff and those of the Provider in relation to learning disabilities to ensure that the risk of overstatement of capability is fully understood.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 24

The Department ensures that it seeks the most appropriate evidence for people with learning disabilities, including Hospital Passports and care or support plans. The Department should consider options in each case rather than defaulting to a GP report.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 25

The Department should continue its good work with the MOD to ensure that suitable and sufficient evidence can be accessed as simply and speedily for ex-Service personnel who make an application for ESA.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 26

The Department should work with the DH to ensure that suitable and sufficient evidence can be accessed as simply and speedily as possible for long stay hospital patients who make an application for ESA or require reassessment.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 27

The Department should review its practice of routinely repeating the WCA for people liberated from prison who were in receipt of ESA with a reassessment period that is still extant on release.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Recommendation 28

The Department should work with the MOJ to ensure that suitable and sufficient evidence can be accessed as simply and speedily as possible for people leaving prison who make an application for ESA or require reassessment.

The Government accepts this recommendation.

Year 2, Recommendation 8

DWP consider ways of sharing outcomes of the WCA with Work Programme providers to ensure a smoother claimant journey.

Year 2, Recommendation 7

As and when changes to the descriptors are made, DWP and other relevant experts should monitor the impact of these changes to ensure both that they are working and that they are not causing any unintended consequences.

Recommendation 1

Sharing information from the WCA on capability for work with Work Programme Providers should be addressed as a priority. [Note: this links to Year 2 Recommendation 8.]

Recommendation 32

Consideration is given to a new reassessment period extending to five years in the Support Group for people who have very severe incapacity resulting from brain disorders that are degenerative or which will not realistically improve.


Are MIND Helping Enough To Prevent Suicide?

In response to this glowing article in the Guardian, we would answer: No.

MIND fail to call for the abolition and replacement of the WCA, as such they are an impediment to people’s health not an aid. Until they side with MI survivors and not government they will be part of the problem.

Nick Dilworth: It is beyond sickening that so little is said of the plight of people in the perilous position of either going through with an act of suicide or contemplating it.

In the front line of the advice sector, as a benefit specialist who has helped hundreds of people through the DWP’s heartless Work Capability Assessment process, I have lost count of the number of cases where suicide is mentioned in the appeal papers.

Successive governments have put over 4.8 million ESA claimants through assessments. Each appeal case flags up its own different issues, common factors being stories of how people are affected by earlier trauma, sexual abuse, victims of violence, physical and mental torment are all too often cited. Those affected learn to keep it to themselves, they don’t trust people enough to share it with anyone. Contrary to the mythical association with long term welfare dependency, many throw themselves into work as a way of shutting it out. Contrary to what we are all too often told by the media, many come from perfectly ‘good’ households, quite typically working ones. It’s not unusual for the victims to turn to early age drugs and drink; it lessens the pain.

Some continue to suffer in silence for years, others maintain a job until something like redundancy brings their escape to an end. It’s unsurprising that many end up on sickness benefits, signed off work by not only doctors but also DWP appointed healthcare professionals over the course of their claim. There’s a distinct lack of care to help such people, their confidence is smashed and their ability to fight back is sadly non – existent.

This heartless regime now labels victims as fakers and scroungers. They are easy prey and fall foul of illegal tick box testing. These out of control welfare reforms now punish those who have already been punished time and time again. Sadly they form good fodder for Daily Mail headlines which effectively creates further unhealthy hatred. Our victims don’t stand a chance until society changes.

Government pretends to want to help such people back in to work. It has no such intention, it is once again piling people back on the sick just as it did back in the 80/90’s, the numbers of long term sick ‘fit for work’ has now reduced to as little as 7% – a far cry from what the right wing media told us when launching government’s reforms.

Of those 4.8 million assessed; a mere 0.5% have been helped back in to a sustainable job outcome via government’s flagship multi billion pound Work Programme. Far too many are blind to the facts, the real victims will continue to suffer; it comes as no surprise to me to learn suicides are on the up, no surprise at all.

Absolutely shameful IDS, you really are.

What has been achieved by 4.8 million Work Capability Assessments?

By Bernadette Meaden, this post first appeared on Ekklesia

Nick Dilworth is a welfare rights adviser who has seen the full impact of welfare reform on the lives of his clients. He is also skilled at analysing statistics issued by the Department for Work and Pensions, and believes that one number, which lies buried in the data tables, should be revealed and widely publicised.

The number is 4.8 million. This is the number of Work Capability Assessments that have been carried out on sick and disabled people since the test was introduced in 2008. Nick has arrived at this figure by looking at the official data tables for the period up to March 2014, the most recent we have available. By combining the numbers of initial assessments and reassessments, he has arrived at a precise total of 4,799,800 as of March 2014. Nick says, in what must be an understatement, ‘We can safely say that by February 2015 the number of assessments will be well over 4.8 million.’

It’s important to remember that these assessments are not a ‘medical’, as the public may believe. They are officially described as a ‘functional assessment’: they assess people as if they are machines, to see which bits are working and which bits aren’t. They disregard many medical symptoms such as pain and exhaustion, which is why people who are obviously seriously ill can be assessed as ‘fit to work’, why so many people appeal their decision, and why the government’s own expert adviser, Dr. Malcolm Harrington, once described the WCA as ‘mechanistic and inhumane’.

Not all the people who have been through a WCA will have been given a face-to-face assessment. Some will have received a decision based on their completion of the lengthy and complex ESA50 form, and supplementary information they have supplied. But for all who have been assessed, whether face to face or via bureaucracy, it will have been an added stress at a time when they may be coming to terms with a life-limiting diagnosis, or going through unpleasant treatment.

To have your Doctor say you are unfit to work, but to have the decision as to whether you will receive support in the hands of a medically unqualified DWP Decision Maker is not conducive to anyone’s health.

Surely the only way the entire WCA machine could be justified would be if it found that in the past, many people were wrongly claiming to be unfit to work? If this was the case, if it had performed this function, then after 4.8 million assessments we’d expect to see a significant reduction in the numbers receiving these benefits.

However, in reality, the numbers receiving Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance have barely changed,, and in fact have reduced at a slower rate than they did in the years prior to the WCA being introduced.

So, 4.8 million stress-inducing assessments, and they appear to have achieved nothing. Shouldn’t we call time on the WCA?

Nick Dilworth is part of New Approach, a group which calls for the abolition of the WCA and a new approach to Social Security for sick and disabled people. He regularly blogs on DWP statistics and other issues on the ilegal site and can be found on Twitter as @Mylegalforum.

© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Helen Sims: Living in Fear of the WCA

Sometimes I wish I wasn’t me. It’s hard to fight when you’re tired of fighting.

Living with a disability is exhausting, frustrating, crushing, painful – and endless. There are so many obstacles in my life that I would never have asked for, and sometimes I feel so angry, hurt and frustrated that I don’t know what to do with myself.

Cerebral Palsy is not a choice. I would give anything to be able to stand and walk unaided, get in and out of the bath without help, stand long enough to cook a meal for my husband and myself. Hell, I’d settle for being able to carry a cup of tea across the room!

All I have ever wanted is a ‘normal’ life – to have a job, and be a Mum. None of those options are open to me – and it’s not my fault.

I wish society and this government understood what it is like every single day. The energy (and willpower) it takes to do even the smallest thing. There are some days when I really don’t have that energy, either physically or mentally, and it’s all I can do to get out of bed.

I know I’m luckier than a lot of people – ‘there is always someone worse off than you’ is something I have always be taught. I live by it, I believe it, and I’ve always done my best to care for and help others, despite what I may be going through privately.

That’s part of why I’m writing this now – it’s why I’ve written many things. If I can make one person understand what it feels like to live with a disability in a society which still doesn’t accept, respect, and properly care for people like me, then I’ve done my job.

Before the coalition came to power in May 2010, I was coming to terms with things. I was more secure, happy, and confident in myself than I’ve ever been in my life.
I still felt bad about the fact I couldn’t manage a job, (I did work once before my mobility, pain and energy levels got worse). I did voluntary work too.

There was a place in society for me. It’s never been an equal place, but we were getting there slowly. At least disabled people were wanted in society. We weren’t viewed with suspicion, or labelled as ‘scroungers’, leaches accused of bleeding the country dry, or targeted for seemingly contributing (largely) to the country’s deficit.

I want those days back so badly. I did not realise how lucky I was – how lucky we all were. We were people then. We are not now, not in the eyes of the government.
We are living in fear of losing our vital benefits and our independence. Independence (what I am able to have of it), is a precious thing to me. I have fought to hold on to it against all the odds.

When I was 14 years old, I had major orthopaedic surgery in a hospital nearly two hundred miles from my home in Somerset. My bones were broken and reset, muscles were cut, and I had to learn to walk from scratch. My family couldn’t stay with me – they had to go to work, and my sister to school.
There were days of agonising physio, crippling loneliness, and the start of my lifelong battle with clinical depression. Now, all these years later, I realise that I had to go through it to keep myself out of a wheelchair, protect my freedom and independence for as long as I can.

I’m terrified that the government will take that from me if my Disability Living Allowance is withdrawn. I dread not qualifying for Personal Independence Payment – even though I fight the daily pain of Endometriosis and Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome on top of everything else!

It won’t count under the‘tick box’ computer programme that they use to decide our lives. I fear the Work Compatibility Assessment so much that I have nightmares about it. Waking up sweating and panicking with knots in my stomach is not conducive to a good night’s sleep, so I can’t get the rest I badly need.

I’m not alone. Thousands of disabled and ill people across the country are living with the fear everyday. I jump at the sound of the letter box, just in case it’s my turn.

I don’t trust what they say about dates, regulations and criteria for benefits anymore, because it’s been changed so often, and those changes have been allowed to slip under the radar – and so have the deaths of sick and disabled people who have wrongfully been found ‘fit for work.

A growing number of sick and disabled people are dying prematurely after being found ‘fit for work’. Either their conditions have deteriorated or they have chosen to end their own lives; simply unable to face either the assessment itself or a life of poverty and hardship without benefits.

Yes, you can appeal the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) decision, but, due to a backlog at the DWP, as well as changes to legal aid (and who can qualify for it), it will take ages, and for many, life will become even more impossible – and even if it isn’t, it will feel it.

I’m lucky to have my husband and his pension to rely on so my situation is nowhere near as dire as it will be for some who have been let down by inhumane system. Even so, I am actually considering signing of Disability Living Allowance, because I simply cannot live with the fear any longer.

I will have to close my bank account and be completely reliant on my husband financially – just like I’m reliant on him for so many other things already. I’ll hate that, because I already feel like a burden, even though he assures me I’m not.

My precious independence will be gone – but at least I’ll be able to sleep again, and I will not have to fear being judged and told I am not worth supporting.

The ‘scrounger rhetoric’ and negative media coverage has attacked what self esteem I have been able to get for myself. I used to feel proud. I was a wife, daughter, sister, writer and disability rights campaigner. My benefits were secure and I all I had to worry about was finding the energy to get through the day.

Now, my old demon of not being able to work is back, and compounded, because the ‘aspiring’ ‘achieving’ nation (and its government) hates benefit claimants – no matter how justified we are. They do not seem to care about the affect their policies are having upon vulnerable people in society. It doesn’t seem to matter as long as people like us aren’t taking ‘honest, hardworking taxpayers money’. We work hard just to get through the day!

Fighting for myself and others is now more important than ever before. We are fighting for our lives, against Bedroom Tax, the Housing Benefit cap, the closure of the Independent Living Fund, cuts in social care and so many other vital services.

Why is it that the cuts have to come down hardest on those that need the most help? How can you call this a fair society when we are struggling, largely unseen and uncared for when the rich bankers (the very people who caused this mess) get bonuses and tax breaks!

Disabled and vulnerable people should not be used as scapegoats. It makes me sick to my stomach that we are being punished simply for being too ill or disabled to work, no matter how much we might want to! Blame the people who are really at fault – the tax avoiders, the bankers and our governments for letting this happen.

I will spend everyday, for the rest of my life, fighting against this if I have to – but I shouldn’t have to. None of us should!

The Bedroom Tax will fall disproportionately upon sick and disabled people. Whilst there have been exemptions made for families with disabled children, those that need overnight carers, people with adult children serving in the forces who still need a room at home, and a few other things, disabled adults are still not exempt.

I am one of the lucky ones, because this particular punishment for being on benefits (that’s essentially what many of these policies are) will not impact on me. I am so thankful for that, because I do not think I could stand having to leave my home. I can only imagine what thousands of others like me are going through. They know they have to pay up or move out of a home they may have lived in, loved, and felt safe in for years.
Where do they go? There is a national shortage of social housing as a whole – not just the one and bedroom accommodation that many people will need to downsize. Homelessness is bound to rise as people cannot afford to stay (a claimant loses 14% of Housing Benefit for the first spare bedroom, and 25% for two or more extra bedrooms) but have nowhere to go.

Each council will offer a ‘Discretionary Housing Payment’ to try and help those they consider to be the most in need. Personally I would like to know who will make that decision and how? It is important to realise that the pot of money allocated to help those hit by Bedroom Tax, is nowhere near the amount needed. People who need help will suffer even more than they already are. I also feel that these Discretionary Housing Payments have been severely under-publicised.

I’ll say it once again. It is not fair to make the weakest and most vulnerable in society pay for the mistakes and greed of the rich.

Stripping disabled people of our rights, independence and self respect is the coldest and most callous of things any government can do and I have to pinch myself sometimes to even believe that it’s happening in a so called compassionate, caring society.

I just wish it would stop. What this government has done to us is psychological torture. We are told we are worthless, scrounging, and lazy, day in and day out. On top of that the fear of the Work Compatibility Assessment is hanging over us like the sword of Damocles!

It is not fair for anyone to live like this, and I keep thinking ‘please, somebody stop them, before anybody else feels like they cannot carry on’ – but nobody does. I just want a chance to live as normal a life as I can. I’m not asking for much, just to keep what independence I have and to get my self respect back. Haven’t I been through enough already? Haven’t all of us?! If I was face to face with you right now, I would ask you only one question – How would you feel if this was happening to you?

Helen Blogs at To Helen Back and is on Twitter @Nelsims411