Monday, 27 January 2014

Here We Go Again

Where's the Benefit has already asked What does it mean when one million people are found fit to work?, but when that story hits every press outlet, and when the DWP Press Office has been tweeting repeatedly about it today, it becomes apparent that DWP are launching yet another campaign aimed at demonising disabled people as benefits scroungers.

There is something everyone should understand about Employment and Support Allowance before going any further into dissecting the disablist bile that spews from DWP. Employment and Support Allowance was designed to cover two distinct forms of sickness and disability. In dealing with long term sickness and disability it functions as the successor to Incapacity Benefit, but unlike Incapacity Benefit it was deliberately designed to also cover short term sickness and disability, acting as a safety net for people who exhaust the provisions of Statutory Sick Pay or who fall ill while claiming JSA, but who are not expected to be disabled or sick over the longer term. Anyone who is made redundant from a job for medical reasons is also required to claim ESA rather that JSA, even if it is patently obvious that they will never pass the WCA. In other words, the design of ESA means that there will be a steady stream of people who are turned down for ESA after the Work Capability Assessment, or who withdraw their claims before getting to WCA. This is the system working as intended, it provides no evidence whatsoever of even a single case of fraud. 

In addition to these designed-in reasons for being rejected at WCA we then have to include people who are awarded ESA on appeal after initially being rejected. This runs around one claim in six, so something like 166,666 out of that million being trumpeted by DWP were actually disabled people who should have been awarded ESA if Atos and DWP were operating the WCA correctly. We then have to consider the likely existence of people with legitimate claims for ESA who withdraw their claims before WCA because of the hostile environment cultivated by DWP. It is difficult to determine how large this group is, but it certainly exists as I am in that situation myself, I passed WCA and was in receipt of ESA, but the WCA experience was so traumatic that when it came time to renew my claim I found myself facing panic attacks. If that can happen to someone with a primarily physical disability, then the likelihood is that it will affect many more people with mental health issues and that the number of people involved is significant.

Beyond that, the Work and Pensions Select Committee, in examining support provided to benefit claimants made it very clear that someone denied ESA and put onto JSA instead may still be very significantly disabled, so in fact were perfectly entitled to make a claim on ESA. This will overwhelmingly apply to people previously in receipt of Incapacity Benefit, and their being refused ESA reflects not the rooting out of some long term fraud, but the increasingly harsh and medically illogical WCA regime.

Does @DWPPressOffice address any of this? No, instead we get:

Almost a million new Employment and Support Allowance claimants found fit for work since 2008 - a third of all claims

The link in the tweet is to the DWP’s press release, which opens with:

“Almost a million people who applied for sickness benefit have instead been found fit for work, new government analysis reveals today” under a banner headline saying almost exactly the same thing. Now DWP will probably argue that at no point do they mention fraud, but the press release is clearly constructed to allow people to leap to that conclusion before providing any context that might allow them to understand that that is not in fact the case. After criticism from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, the National Audit Office, and basically everyone else but their own ministers, DWP have become very good at saying things without actually saying them, which then allows DWP ministers to claim that they are shocked, shocked I tell you that anyone could read their press release and assume it was claiming that 1 million disabled people are attempted frauds (2 million if we count those who withdrew their claims). Repetition is emphasised in communications training, if you want a particular point to get across, you make it multiple times, and here DWP have shoved that 1 million claimants were fit for work message down our throat twice before we are out of the first paragraph. I think they are trying to tell us something….

The press release also notes:

“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken by DWP decision makers based on all of the available evidence. Many claimants will be assessed by an independent health professional as part of the process. All the supporting medical evidence from GPs and specialists is taken into account.”

This is a view of the WCA process that for many disabled people will find sadly lacking in its connection to reality.

A little later @DWPPressOffice also tweeted this:

Over 121,400 people in London who tried to claim ESA were actually found fit for work after thorough assessments:

The line about ‘thorough assessments’ was met with derision by those who know the details of the WCA at first hand. The link in the tweet is to an Evening Standard article with the lovely headline ‘One in three Londoners on sickness benefits deemed 'fit to work', figures reveal’, though the article itself gives a fairer assessment of the situation by pointing out the opposing views of disabled people. That @DWPPressOffice thought it appropriate to post the link is particularly odd, essentially DWP is quoting the press quoting the DWP as though that somehow makes their case stronger. The ‘who tried to claim ESA’ is a particularly interesting way to construct a sentence as it carries a built-in implication that they had no legitimate right to make the claim.

The deepest irony about all this disability hate is that DWP have picked the 27th January to up the ante, and 27th January is Holocaust Memorial Day, which remembers not just the Jewish victims of the Holocaust, but all the other victims of the Final Solution, including the 200,000 disabled victims of Aktion T4!, the extermination campaign against German disabled people. Painting disabled people as frauds says a lot about an organisation, but doing it on Holocaust Memorial Day may have shown us that DWP is beyond redemption.

Saturday, 25 January 2014

What does it mean when one million people are found fit to work?

DWP says almost one million sick found fit to work reports The Huffington Post:
A third (32%) of all new claimants for employment and support allowance (ESA) were assessed as being fit to work and capable of employment between October 2008 and March 2013 - totalling 980,400 people, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said.
We've now had five years of reporting the numbers of people turned down for ESA as some kind of success story; they're getting disabled people back into work. A third of those who claimed ESA are being found fit to work. Welfare Reform is justified!

Those turned down for Employment and Support Allowance are not necessarily making false claims. They may be fit to work but have not understood the rules, or they may be unable to work but have struggled to fill in the form in such a way that conveys this. Some of those turned down may have had a good case for appeal (40% of appeals are successful), but couldn't face the ordeal. The fact that this complex and mixed group number a million people (or strictly speaking, a million claims) seems unremarkable.

The criteria for Employment and Support Allowance are much stricter than those of Incapacity Benefit, the process takes many more months, with many people either dying, getting better or giving up before a decision is made and some claimants' benefit is stopped after the first year if they have savings or a working partner. Despite this, there were still 2.49 million people on ESA and other incapacity-type benefits in 2013, against the 2.6 million on incapacity benefits in 2008.

Reform to this benefit, at massive cost to government, a very great deal of  personal stress, heartache and hardship for disabled people and their families, as well as a media-driven regression in social attitudes towards disabled people, has only succeeded in reducing the numbers on this kind of benefit by 110,000 people or a little over 4%.

This is what has been achieved since October 2008; there are a little over four percent fewer people on ESA and related benefits than before. It is unclear whether or not the incapacity bill - either in terms of benefits or the cost of assessing for and administering benefits -  has been reduced. A stable 40% of appeals against ESA decisions are successful. Fraud levels (around 0.3%  for incapacity benefits) remain stable.

Meanwhile, the vast majority of those found "fit to work" will have simply moved onto other kinds of benefits such as Job Seeker's Allowance. Disabled people who are fit to work remain unlikely to actually get work, largely due to discrimination.

Monday, 6 January 2014

.@George_Osborne plans another £25 billion in cuts, and wants to take around half of it from welfare

So I'd like to introduce Mr Osborne to few people:

Shaun Pilkington shot himself after his Employment and Support Allowance was stopped.

Tim Salter hanged himself after his benefits were stopped.

Victor Cuff also hanged himself after his sickness benefits were stopped.

Visually and mobility impaired Jacqueline Harris took an overdose in November after she failed the Work Capability Assessment in which she was only asked one question.

David Barr, who had mental health problems, took his life after his benefits were stopped. Posthumously the DWP admitted they were wrong and reinstated his award. Bit late...

There was the well-known case of Stephanie Bottrill who was unable to work due to Myasthenia gravis, and walked in front of a lorry because she couldn't afford the bedroom tax.

Nicholas Barker had been a farmer and was left hemiplegic after a stroke. He shot himself after his benefits were stopped.

Peter Hodgson was left unable to work after a brain haemorrhage and a stroke. He killed himself too.

Martin Rust was schizophrenic. His health had been improving until the DWP found him Fit For Work. The stress resulted in his suicide.

Craig Monk was an amputee with a history of depression and had taken overdoses in the past. He thought his benefits had been stopped and hanged himself.

Elaine Christian was so terrified of her Work Capability Assessment that the day before she slashed her wrists and took an overdose of co-codamol before drowning herself in a drain.

Paul Willcoxson was actually a JobSeeker, not someone claiming sickness benefits. He did, however, have a history of depression. He was so scared knowing benefit cuts were on the horizon that he killed himself.

Richard Sanderson was likewise a JobSeeker. He killed himself after his housing benefit was cut.

These are just the suicides, and these are just the people who've killed themselves due to benefit cuts since the coalition came to power. There were also the deaths of Paul Reekie and Leanne Chambers who killed themselves shortly before the coalition decided to expand on Labour's benefit cuts.

Then there were the people with conditions exacerbated by stress who died of natural causes because of the stress of benefit cuts.

Karen Sherlock had to spend the last months of her life using energy she didn't have fighting for the benefits she was entitled to. She was finally awarded them a few days before her heart gave out.

David Groves died of a massive heart attack the night before his Work Capability Assessment.

Brian McArdle had had several strokes. Despite this leaving him visually and mobility impaired; he was found Fit For Work. He collapsed in the street and died from a heart attack the next day.

Colin Traynor had epilepsy. He had a fatal seizure shortly after being found Fit For Work. His parents believe it was the stress that triggered the fatal seizure.

How much longer does Osborne want this list to be?