Category: Social Policy

Opposition parties call for emergency legislation to protect Universal Credit claimants from impacts of Covid-19

RU Ready UC

Both Labour and the SNP have called on the Prime Minister to provide emergency legislation to protect workers’ rights and ensure people receiving Universal Credit do not face sanctions if they are unable to make an appointment due to the coronavirus outbreak.

In Prime Minister’s Questions, Ian Blackford MP asked that while the Governor of the Bank of England suggested a ‘financial bridge’ may be available to assist markets through any economic volatility, would there will also be a ‘financial bridge’ for ordinary workers and those on social security.

He said statutory pay must be in line with the Living Wage, and Universal Credit claimants must not face sanctions if they need to self isolate through becoming ill.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn also urged the Prime Minister to ensure that workers and benefit claimants are protected from hardship, should they need to self-isolate and are unable to work or attend Jobcentre appointments.

Boris Johnson announced during PMQ’s that rules on statutory sick pay will be changed to allow Coronavirus patients to claim from the first day of their sickness.

But with many workers such as freelancers and the self-employed ineligible for sick-pay, opposition parties warned that those affected may be forced to choose between their health and financial security.

Commenting, SNP Westminster Leader Ian Blackford MP said: “All of us must provide clear, calm and practical leadership in the days ahead.

“In the past few days Scotland’s First Minister, the Scottish Government and the Westminster government have been working closely to put plans in place to protect all of our people. 

“Of course, people are worried about their health, but there are also millions of workers who are worried about the consequences for their incomes, their job security and their families. 

“What they require from this Prime Minister is specific guarantees.

“While the Prime Minister confirmed that statutory sick pay will be available from day 1, millions of workers are not eligible because they do not meet the earnings threshold and it is not available for the self employed or those on zero-hours contracts.

“The payments must also be in line with the Living Wage. Small businesses must also be supported”.

Meanwhile, Labour MP and shadow Chancellor John McDonnell accused the Chancellor Rishi Sunak of failing to act over the threat the Coronavirus poses to the economy.

“There is no sense of urgency from the Chancellor in his response to the potential economic impacts of coronavirus,” said Labour’s Shadow Chancellor.

“We cannot wait another week until the budget to have a plan published. People, businesses and the markets need clarity now that the government has a comprehensive economic plan in place.”

We awaited a detailed economic plan but the sum total of economic thinking in the Government’s coronavirus action plan is a restatement of existing HMRC policy.”

“The Chancellor has failed to outline how he will respond to potential consequences for production, consumption, and GDP, or provide support for vulnerable workers.”

He continued: “The public will be disappointed that the Chancellor does not seem to appreciate the seriousness of the situation facing the economy, and he must urgently issue a plan from a Treasury perspective of the kind that Labour published on Monday.”

Many self employed people who don’t qualify for sick pay have been told to claim Universal Credit if they become ill and need to self isolate. There has been little assurance from the Government regarding how it will mitigate the five week waiting period for those people, at a time when they are vulnerable, and can hardly visit food banks under the circumstances. 

People may also be expected to meet job centre staff in person, with ID documents in order to activate their Universal Credit claim, which is problematic if you are ill or self-isolating. 

Universal Credit isn’t fit for purpose at the best of times, how on earth can people trust the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure people aren’t left without money for food and essentials for their families for weeks on end?

Because lets face it, that has become the established norm over the last eight years.

UC-graphic-1

 


 

 

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COVID-19 reveals the unacceptably indifferent political attitude towards 20% of the population

 

 

 

Thirteen new patients were diagnosed with the coronavirus on yesterday.

The latest cases included 12 more in England and the first patient in Scotland, meaning the virus has now reached all four parts of the UK. A health worker at an NHS cancer centre in Middlesex is also among the new cases. Another is a staff member at Wimbledon College in south-west London, which has closed for deep cleaning. 

Three of the new cases in England were linked to a man from Surrey, who was the first patient to not have been abroad recently and was instead infected within the UK. This indicates that the virus has been under the radar within the UK, possibly for a matter of weeks.

Boris Johnson has warned today that the spread of coronavirus in the UK “looks likely” to become more significant in the coming days, after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting to discuss the government’s response to the outbreak, earlier. Health secretary Matt Hancock has warned it is now “inevitable” the deadly virus would “become endemic” in the UK.

Meanwhile, the global death toll from the disease has passed 3,000, with more than 80,000 cases worldwide. Several countries in Europe, the Middle East and the Americas have banned large gatherings and imposed stricter travel restrictions in an attempt to limit infections.

The first death from coronavirus (COVID-19) in the US was an eyeopener. Apparently, no-one is sure if it happened to a man or a woman. Donald Trump says a woman died who was “at risk anyway”. Other sources say it was a man. It shows the profound lack of sympathy, and a fundamental lack of concern and respect for people who have a medical condition and vulnerability to infection in neoliberal economies. Many people in the UK have known for some time that the UK government regards disabled and ill people as a ‘disposable’ reserve army of labor.

This virus has thrown the political indifference to ill, disabled and ‘economically inactive’ citizens into sharp relief.

The indifference is embedded within public attitudes in our society, too. I’ve seen many other people comment that ‘most people only get mild symptoms’ and ‘it’s not worth worrying about’. It’s just ‘scaremongering’ and ‘panic’ over nothing. 

It isn’t, unless you happen to have a co-morbid condition. And those with only ‘mild’ symptoms unfortunately pass the virus to people who are ‘at risk’. Those who are lucky enough to be unconcerned about the virus should at least care about those who have reason to be very worried. 

The government have so far refused to consider closing schools, because children seem to be at low risk of getting very ill with COVID-19 infection. However, they do get the infection and they pass it on to others – teachers, parents and grandparents. This means the virus won’t be effectively contained once it becomes transmitted within communities – and it will. In fact it has already happened. One man in Surrey has become ill, and has not travelled. No-one knows how he got the virus. 

In China, it became apparent that many people had been infected before it came to the attention of the health authorities. It had already spread widely within communities. Because this is a virus that frequently causes symptoms very similar to mild flu or a common cold in healthy, young people, it’s very easily transmitted from person to person. This means it can easily go under the radar for a while. Italian scientists believe the virus was circulating there unnoticed for weeks, too.

There are also concerns about the impact of the virus on the economy. We have a work culture that encourages people to turn up to work with colds and other conditions, which is then shared around the workforce. It’s a culture that doesn’t facilitate consideration that some people are more vulnerable to serious complications from viral infections. The government are currently considering “the balance between public safety and economic and social impacts”, weighing it against the possible benefit of closing schools, stopping public transport, and activities involving large gatherings of people.

For the government so far, it’s business as usual.

However, the World Health Organisation (WHO) are now advising elderly people and those with chronic health conditions to ‘avoid crowded areas’ to reduce their risk.

So who is at risk of serious complications from the coronavirus?

How many people in the UK and US have asthma? All of those people are ‘at risk’. How many people have diabetes, autoimmune illnesses, lung disease, heart disease or other underlying health conditions? Those people are all at risk.

How many are people taking immune suppressants, steroids or chemotherapy for illnesses or cancer? Those people are at risk.

How many people need an annual ‘flu shot? All of those people are at risk.

That’s a lot of people.

And among those are people in your own families, or your friends  neighbours.

The virus kills susceptible people because it causes pneumonia, respiratory distress and sometimes, sepsis. 

In 2017 I caught ‘flu. Within four days I developed pneumonia and sepsis and almost died. I was so unwell with the ‘flu that I hadn’t recognised how seriously ill I had become, until I tried to get out of bed for a glass of water. By the time the paramedics arrived, I was already in septic shock. The prognosis following tess and an X ray were not good.

I survived and recovered only because I got a prompt diagnosis and prompt treatment, which included intensive care, IV antibiotics and fluids, anticoagulant injections and oxygen support until my lungs recovered. The reason I got so ill with ‘flu, doctors told me, is primarily because I have an autoimmune condition – lupus. I also have asthma, which is also considered a co-morbid condition.

I am certainly ‘at high risk’ from the coronavirus.

The NHS is overstretched. It has already been said that in the event of an epidemic, the NHS would need to “prioritise access to some services in an ethically appropriate way”. That basically means that NHS staff  will have to make difficult choices as to who has access to treatment and who is left to die.

High Alert Coronavirus Prevention In Bali

Getty Images.

At the moment, people are being told to avoid turning up at hospitals and GP surgeries, in efforts to contain the virus. Nonetheless, a man who recently returned from Italy feeling unwell with a fever waited four days for a call back from NHS 111 clinicians. Dean Hall works on IT projects involving the British Army and he told the BBC he is concerned should he have the coronavirus he might have spread it to military personnel about to deploy.

Others said the advice line gave them confusing, conflicting guidance.

The NHS said that despite high demand, all calls were being answered and the service was hiring extra call handlers. If the demand is high at this stage, imagine how strained things will become if the rates of infection rise and begin to affect whole communities.

“Anyone with concerns about coronavirus should call NHS 111 and – while the service is understandably busy and people may have to wait longer than usual – all calls are being responded to thanks to hard-working NHS staff,” a spokeswoman said.

BBC health editor Hugh Pym said that some calls are coming from people who have visited places outside the list of countries at risk from the virus, adding to the pressures.

However, that we don’t know how many people within the UK have been infected. In the countries currently badly affected, the virus had spread quite widely under the radar for weeks before health authorities were alerted to individual cases who needed medical support.

Carole Timms, a nurse from Shropshire who works in care homes, told the BBC that she and a friend were given contradictory advice when they returned from Venice on 20 February. Although they had no symptoms, Timms told NHS 111 she was concerned about the risk to her patients and was told to self-isolate.

But her friend, who works in a college with adults with disabilities, was told it was not necessary. That advice was changed when Timms pointed out the discrepancy.

“If she had just phoned on her own, she would happily have gone back to work when possibly she shouldn’t. Or maybe I’d have got that other advice,” Timms said.

Iwona Dunsford from Milton Keynes said she contacted NHS 111 for testing after she returned from Dusseldorf feeling unwell with a cough and cold – although the city is not considered on the list of high-risk areas for the virus.

She was advised to go to Milton Keynes hospital, but the hospital referred her back to the 111 advice service. Then she was sent to a chemist instead, but the chemist referred her to the hospital.

“I’m OK, but what about the people who are in a worse condition than me? On the TV we’re told that the UK is well prepared for this,” Dunford said. 

Clearly we are not all singing from the same hymn sheet.

In Scotland, Alan Kelly said public health authorities initially told him to get tested after he developed flu symptoms following a trip to Milan on 14 February.

But they changed their mind when the government advice for travellers to Italy was updated, because it said only those coming back after 19 February were a concern.

“Surely the prudent thing to do would be to test people with symptoms who have been in the high risk area?” he said.

Yet the government claims that the UK is prepared for all eventualities and is working on containing any outbreaks. That involves spotting cases quickly, isolating them and identifying contacts people have had to stop any spread. This is being done by Public Health England’s (PHE) nine regional teams. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have their own arrangements.

Clearly this isn’t being well co-ordinated on the front line.

It gets worse

The NHS is not prepared for a serious epidemic of COVID-19 in the UK.

Ministers have recently revealed in a parliamentary answers session that there are just 15 available beds for adult extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) treatment at five centres across England. The government said this could be increased in an emergency. There were 30 such beds in total available during the 2018-19 winter flu season. That’s not anywhere near enough to cope with a pandemic. 

It was also revealed that since the beginning of February there have been just eight “high-consequence infectious disease” beds and around 500 “infectious disease” beds.

For most of last week, there were roughly 3,700 adult critical care beds in England, of which about 80% were occupied. This left 670 such beds free at the peak of occupancy.

However, a NHS England document prepared in November 2017 reveals the system will struggle to cope if more than 28 patients need the treatment, describing that situation as black/critical. That isn’t anywhere near the 20% of the population who may need medical care.

It suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries. However, other countries will also be under strain and are unlikely to have ‘spare’ machines.

The government have also discussed bringing retired medical staff back into service to deal with the virus. 

So we have to question the readiness of the NHS to deal with a sharp escalation of coronavirus cases following years of cutbacks and increasing health care rationing.


Answering a Labour MP’s question on Thursday about coronavirus preparedness, Jo Churchill, a health minister, said: “Since April 2013, NHS England has commissioned a total of 15 adult respiratory extra corporeal membrane oxygenation beds from five providers in England, with further provision in Scotland. In periods of high demand, capacity can be increased.”

ECMO treatment is used in the most severe cases of respiratory failure when other treatments are not working. It uses an artificial lung located outside the body to put oxygen into a patient’s blood and continuously pump this blood into and around their body. It has been used to treat COVID-19 cases in China, which is ordering more machines from Germany, according to state media. 

The document suggests that if no beds are available “within the designated and surge capacity” in the UK, they might have to be sourced from other countries, for example, from the Karolinska Institute in Sweden. But as I stated, many other countries are either dealing with or preparing for the epidemic. It’s unlikely that there will be a surplus of medical equipment anywhere.

While making no assessment of numbers, Professor Chris Whitty, who is Chief Medical Officer for England, Chief Medical Adviser to the UK Government, Chief Scientific Adviser at the Department of Health and Social Care and head of the National Institute for Health Research, said that if there was a global pandemic it would be impossible for the UK to escape. If that happened, it could mean that the NHS would have to “prioritise access to some services in an ethically appropriate way”, according to the government’s 2011 plan. This could involve postponing non-emergency operations and ultimately, if the outbreak was unremitting, “treating only emergency patients.”

He also said: “Delay is the next stage of what we need to do because if we are going to get an outbreak in the UK – this is an if, not a when – but if we do, putting it back in time into the summer period, away from winter pressures on the NHS, buying us a bit more time to understand the virus better, possibly having some seasonal advantage, is a big advantage.”

When asked how many people in the UK could die, Prof Whitty refused to answer, saying it was difficult to put a true figure on the death rate in China, which “could be less than the 1 per cent reported”. However, it is highly unlikely that China would overstate the mortality rate from the virus. 

Over recent years it has become very clear that privately financed health systems fail far too many citizens. Market failures lead to exploitation of ‘healthcare consumers’, an under-investment in public health services and where poorer members of society are systematically excluded from the health care system.

I’ve had severe pneumonia and sepsis once, and that makes it rather more likely I will have both again, though of course, it’s not inevitably because of this particular coronavirus. However, one of the biggest causes of death in people with lupus is pneumonia and sepsis.

The government and NHS simply do not have the facilities to contain many more than a few hundred people. In the event of mass transmissions, responses, according to the government, will be co-ordinated by the government’s Cobra committee and 43 local “resilience forums” in England and Wales. These include Public Health England officials, the NHS, local councils and the emergency services.

Resilience? The power of positive thinking isn’t going to prevent the virus spreading, or some people getting seriously ill.

What we need is an honest government, access to speedy, responsive healthcare, sufficient hospital beds, sufficient numbers of medical staff, ventilators, oxygen cylinders and medications.

I think I will be staying home voluntarily for a while, as much as I possibly can. I will also be investing in some basic medical provisions to try and address any serious symptoms myself, to buy a little time in the event of getting the infection, because I think it’s highly likely that I will have to wait quite a while for access to medical support, should I really need it.

And probably, so will many others, if the worst happens.

Further information

Symptoms:

The infection seems to typically start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.

After a week, it leads to shortness of breath and some patients will require hospital treatment. Some people who have chronic medical conditions may develop pneumonia and some may also develop an abnormally aggressive immune response to the virus (sepsis), which is a medical emergency. Septic shock – caused by plummeting blood pressure – can rapidly lead to multiple organ failure and death.

corona symptoms


Source: The World Health Organisation (WHO)

cov19

Reducing risk

Because it’s a new illness, health specialists do not yet know exactly how coronavirus spreads from person to person. However, similar viruses are spread in cough and sneeze droplets, shaking hands, touching a person who is infected or by touching a hard surface that is contaminated with the virus. Corona viruses generally can survive on surfaces for up to nine days, depending on temperature and humidity. 

At temperatures of around 4°C or 39.2oF, certain versions of the coronavirus could remain viable for up to 28 days. At temperatures of 30–40°C (86–104°F), coronaviruses tended to persist for a shorter time. They also tend to survive significantly longer in an environment with 50% humidity than 30% humidity, according to some studies. However, others have contradicted these findings and demonstrated that the viruses thrive best in low humidity.

Disinfect kitchen work surfaces, door handles and other areas that are touched a lot by family members, including taps and the toilet.

cough_etiquette_short_640_3x-nc
Source: NHS


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DWP destroyed reports linking benefit sanctions and cuts with suicide

errol

Errol Graham, who starved to death in 2018, following his social security support being cancelled by the Department for Work and Pensions. He left a heartbreaking letter which described his circumstances leading up to his death. His family found the letter after he died, weighing less than five stone.

Department for Work and pensions (DWP) officials have admitted that up to 50 reviews into deaths following harsh social security cuts and sanctions have been destroyed.

The government has been accused of a ‘cover-up’ after destroying the reports which link suicides to sanctions and peoples’ benefits being stopped. Around 50 reviews into deaths following the loss of social security payments before 2015 have been shredded, officials have blamed data protection laws. 

However, the data watchdog has said there was absolutely no requirement to destroy the reports by any particular date and that a “public interest” exemption could have been used.

The Department would have known that. 

Labour MP Stephen Timms, the chairman of the Commons work and pensions committee, agreed it was a possible cover-up, saying: “I’m very sympathetic with that”

Timms, who said his committee would demand answers about the shredded reports, pointed out a scathing National Audit Office report (NAO) had warned the DWP was unable to show it was learning lessons.

Having been “very secretive”, it was now “very reluctantly” becoming more open, he said – but “trying to keep things as hush-hush as possible – and it’s not good enough”.

“It all underlines a lack of seriousness by the department about putting things right when they go wrong.”

The NAO investigation into the information DWP collects on deaths by suicide of social security claimants found that the department has internally reviewed 69 cases in which “alleged department activity” may have been among the reasons for such death. However, it said ‘gaps in reporting’ meant the actual figure was likely to be higher. The report said  said the department did not seek to draw trends from the findings of internal reviews, meaning that “systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed.”

Timms added: “The law does not specify five years or six years and this kind of information should be held for longer,” in response to the DWP’s claim that data rules required the destruction of old investigations.

“In any case, the lessons learned from these reviews, there’s no reason why they should be destroyed. They should be kept and progress on implementing improvements monitored.”

A freedom of information (FoI) response to a campaigner revealed that up to 49 secret reviews carried out before 2015 were destroyed.

More than 100 have taken place over the last decade, amid growing concern over deaths linked to harsh benefit cuts and sanctions introduced by the Conservatives.

Labour MP Debbie Abrahams fought back tears in the Commons as she read out a list of 24 people who died after problems with their benefits, this week.

Regarding the 69 reviews since 2015, she told ministers: “This is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not even know the actual number of people who have taken their own life as a result of what they went through.”

In a statement, the DWP said: “We take these reviews extremely seriously and ensure cases are investigated and concluded and any lessons learned.”

However, that is clearly untrue. In fact the department and government ministers have consistently denied a ‘causal link’ between their policies and an increasing mortality rate, while also refusing to allow an independent investigation into the deaths.

The NAO criticised the DWP for lacking clear guidance on when a case should be investigated and for not having any “robust record” of contact from coroners about suicide cases, which it said meant some cases flagged up by coroners may not have resulted in an internal review being initiated.

It’s worse than disgraceful that people are dying because of  draconian policies and the actions of a system that should be supporting them. 

Many of us have called for the DWP to be held accountable through robust independent inquiry and regulation. The department has shown a consistent lack of transparency when reporting on systematic problems that have put people at risk, and has refused to open itself up to meaningful independent scrutiny.

Earlier this month, I reported that the DWP has been accused of altering disability assessment reports, to reduce or end peoples’ lifeline support. It was alleged that officials within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have edited or entirely removed thousands of work capability assessment reports submitted by privately contracted ‘independent’ healthcare professionals. This is another indication of the complete lack of transparency around DWP decision making.

The consequences of this government’s draconian social security policies

Many people have died since the welfare ‘reforms’ were hammered through parliament, despite wide opposition. 

Relatives of a man who starved to death after his social security was cut are taking legal action against the DWP.

Errol Graham’s family said they hoped the case would overhaul the system “to better protect vulnerable claimants”.

Errol’s daughter-in-law Alison Turner has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DWP, arguing the termination of benefits for someone in Mr Graham’s circumstances were unlawful.

She also argues secretive investigations and reviews being conducted by the DWP into benefit-related deaths are unlawful and must be reformed.

Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him. He had just a couple of out-of-date tins of fish left in his flat, because the DWP had wrongly stopped his ESA. He starved to death, and his rent support had been stopped as a consequence of his ESA claim being ended. The DWP failed to follow safeguarding rules in their haste to end his claim. He was also denied PIP, which left him without any income whatsoever. 

DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other tragic cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions and failings of the DWP. The government have consistently refused to acknowledge a correlation between their actions and the death of disabled people, so have no intention of investigating the evidence. 

Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock, who heard the inquest, was told that the DWP stopped Graham’s ESA entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA) on 31 August 2017. The inquest heard that it was standard DWP procedure to go ahead with stopping the benefits of a claimant marked on the system as vulnerable after two failed safeguarding visits.

However, the DWP (somehow) managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on 17 October, the same day officials made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

DWP’s own rules state that it should make both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Because Errol lost his ESA entitlement, his housing benefit was also stopped. His family says he had also been found ineligible for PIP. Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57. His body was discovered on 20 June 2018 when bailiffs arrived at his Nottingham council flat to evict him for non-payment of rent. 

His benefits had been stopped even though he had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental illness and distress that had led to him being sectioned. Errol was clearly extremely vulnerable.

He had also told the DWP on an ESA form three years earlier that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”

He added: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”

The assistant coroner said: “There simply is not sufficient evidence as to how he was functioning, however, it is likely that his mental health was poor at this time – he does not appear to be having contact with other people, and he did not seek help from his GP or support agencies as he had done previously.”

She concluded in the narrative verdict, delivered last June, that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.

Those ‘holes’ are a consequence of deliberate, ideologically driven anti-welfare policies. They have intended consequences. The government assumes that people treated unfairly will appeal wrong decisions. Firstly, many people are far too ill to cope with the stress of that process. Secondly, it should never be primarily the role of courts to allocate social security fairly. That is the official role and purpose of the DWP.  However, the government department is clearly failing to fulfil its role. This is because the neoliberal ideology that drives austerity policies is incompatible with the central principles of social security. 

She continued: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence [from his GP] at the time his ESA was stopped, to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits.”

She said that a consultant psychiatrist had told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”.

But she decided not to write a regulation 28 report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the department insisted that it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.

The DWP had promised her it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”.

Dr Didcock insisted that this commitment “must be converted into robust policy and guidance for DWP staff” and that the DWP must ensure that “all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”.

Disability News Service also highlights that the death of Errol Graham closely mirrors other tragedies caused by the DWP’s repeated refusal to make significant improvements to its safeguarding policies and practices.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the network was “absolutely devastated and saddened beyond words to hear of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Graham”.

She said: “We are enraged that the DWP continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable.

“This level of cruelty is outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society.

“The fact that Mr Graham had not responded to attempts to contact him following his failure to attend the work capability assessment (WCA) should have raised alarm bells over his safety, but instead the DWP took the opportunity to stop his social security entitlements.”

And there’s the truth: the government have created a hostile environment for disabled people that is heavily weighted towards preventing successful claims, taking its lessons from rogue multinational insurance companies such as Unum, who have systematically employed strategies to pay out insurance only as the last resort, rather than on the basis of need. 

Furthermore, the DWP and Conservative ministers have consistently demonstrated a refusal to acknowledge the widespread distress, harm and death that their policies are causing, despite many challenges to their narrative of denial. Nor is it likely the government will address the complete lack of honesty, transparency and accountability operating at the centre of the DWP, of their own volition.

The government’s indifference and lack of remorse related to the clear correlation between policy and increased mortality is extremely worrying.

That is why we must continue to campaign, raise awareness and stand up for ill, disabled and vulnerable citizens in the UK. 

Errol's letter

Errol Graham’s letter, which was released through his daughter-in-law’s lawyers, Leigh Day , is a moving window into the world of someone with severe mental illness trying to cope with the hostile environment imposed on vulnerable citizens because of government policies. (Picture from the Mirror).

 


 

More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – from the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies and growing, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart.

My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account. 

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader’s contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going.  Thanks.

DonatenowButton

 

DWP accused of altering disability assessment reports to cut or end successful claims

gail

Pictured: Gail Ward, who was told that she did not qualify for Personal Independence Payment, despite living with a rare and potentially life-threatening heart condition – Prinzmetal’s angina – attacks can occur even when she is resting. She also had other health problems. Remarkably, Gail was told by the DWP that she doesn’t qualify for PIP. She won her appeal after waiting 15 months for her case to be heard at a social security tribunal.

It has been claimed that officials within the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) have edited or removed thousands of work capability assessment reports submitted by privately contracted healthcare professionals.

It’s alleged that officials reduced qualifying points awarded during face-to-face assessments, delivered by ‘independent’ private firms, and in some cases disposed of the reports entirely.  

The Daily Record reports that during the last year paperwork was altered or amended in around 1,840 cases, while a further 460 applications were branded ‘unacceptable’ and simply binned.

In 2018, I raised concerns that the DWP were quietly editing people’s assessment reports for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), to reduce or end claims for disability support. I reported that a man with multiple sclerosis and mental ill health lost his PIP award after his original assessment report was dishonestly edited during a DWP ‘audit.’

Officials had clearly tampered with the assessor’s original report. The man only discovered the ‘audited’ version of his health assessment report when he asked for copies to make an appeal. He had been in receipt of the basic level of support for two years when he was summoned to be re-assessed for PIP, which is non-means tested and designed to help with the extra cost of living with debilitating conditions.

The original assessment document said the man, has “regular specialist input”. The ‘audited’ version says he does not. The report outlines the patient’s MS, depression and anxiety and tells of his difficulties with tasks including cooking, dressing and washing. The nurse noted his clothes were dirty and his top inside-out. The ‘auditor’ had removed the second point.

The ‘auditor’ changed a part which said the man needed supervision or prompting to wash or bathe, and a section on preparing food. The original said he “needs prompting” but the ‘audited’ version said he could prepare and cook a simple meal himself. In every section of the report where the man scored points towards his PIP award, the ‘auditor’ had reduced his score to zero, without contacting him to ask for information. This tampering with the original report was done without informing the claimant, and therefore without giving him an opportunity to clarify the original report or challenge the altered version of his account. 

He was accidentally sent ‘before and after’ audit copies of his assessment, highlighting the DWP editing designed to trivialise the impact of his medical conditions on his day to day living circumstances, and to remove points for his award eligibility. 

The Daily Record reports than an estimated 11,760 assessment reports were secretly graded by DWP officials as acceptable, unacceptable, or amended.

DWP officials graded around 980 health assessments per month, with up to 200 of these being amended every month, while 20 to 50 were deemed “unacceptable” and rejected outright.

However, the number of amended reports is likely to be much higher because the DWP only publishes data from Independent Assessment Service forms (formerly known as Atos).

The Daily Record also says that 33,670 assessments in total were audited from two private companies contracted by the DWP to carry of disability assessments for PIP. 

SNP MP Marion Fellows commented: “It is concerning that thousands of health reports are being tampered with each year by people who weren’t even present for the assessment.

“There must be a complete halt to audits and an inquiry into the UK Government’s rigged health assessments.

“DWP auditors, who aren’t present during assessments, should not be able to mandate changes which could bear heavily on peoples’ lives.

“Changes should not be made by so-called health professionals who didn’t even carry out the original assessment. This is a clear injustice that must be corrected.

“People have spoken to me about how they feel they are degraded in their assessments.

“For the whole process to be a sham and for the assessment to be undermined by auditors is infuriating.”

The DWP said: “We are absolutely committed to ensuring people receive the support they are entitled to.

“That is why assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals and we continue to work with them to ensure quality is continuously improving.

“Sometimes assessment reports are returned to providers to ensure we have as much information as possible to reach an accurate decision.”

That’s clearly untrue. Information is most often actually removed at ‘audit’ by the DWP.  And inaccurate decisions are unacceptably high. The high success rate of claimant appeals indicates that clearly, something is seriously wrong with the system.

Last year, around two thirds of cases heard at tribunal in Great Britain found in favour of the claimant. In Northern Ireland, the figure was around 54% in 2018-19. The rise in the percentage of successful appeals came despite a drop in the overall number of cases being heard at court.

This raises concerns about the overall quality of decision-making in the DWP – both on PIP and ESA, in the apparent push to remove support unlawfully from as many disabled people as possible in the name of austerity.

The hostile environment

The introduction of mandatory reconsiderations in 2013 and cuts to legal aid have deterred many people from appealing. Mandatory Reconsideration don’t seem to function as a genuine check to ensure the original decision is fair and accurate, instead it is an administrative hurdle for claimants to clear, leaving them without any support while the DWP review the original decision. Furthermore, there were targets in place for DWP decision-makers to uphold around 80% of the original DWP decisions.

The DWP have claimed that the largest single reason for the high success rate of those claimants appealing DWP disability benefit adverse decisions. However, the Department has failed to explain why it takes until the appeal stage for evidence to come to light. In almost half of cases the “new evidence” presented was oral (not medical) evidence from claimants, which arose most often during the appeal process. It is difficult to understand why this information was not, or could not have been elicited and reported by the assessor.

The DWP’s attempt at explanation does not absolve the Department of responsibility. It certainly fails to address or explain how a target for upholding original decisions is compatible with ensuring that questionable reports are thoroughly investigated, and clearly flawed, inaccurate decisions identified and corrected.

Government guidelines for assessments are aimed at invalidating disabled peoples’  accounts of their experiences of illness and disability

The government produced guidelines that says assessors must look for ‘inconsistencies’ in disabled people’s accounts. Assessors are told: “All evidence must be interpreted and evaluated using medical reasoning, considering the circumstances of the case and the expected impact on the claimant’s daily living and/or mobility. When weighing up the evidence, it is important to highlight any contradictions and any evidence that does not sufficiently reflect the claimant’s health condition or impairment or the effect on their daily life.”.

This means that rather than focusing on written medical evidence and verbal evidence provided by the claimant, the assessor is looking for any evidence that may be used to discredit the claimant’s account of their disability from the start. 

Disabled peoples’ benefits assessments are carried out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions by the private contractors Capita, the Independent Assessment Services (formerly called Atos) and Maximus. However, it is the DWP that makes the decisions regarding a person’s eligibility for social security support.

The government guidance document for PIP assessments (section 3.4 onwards) says that “audit processes are in place for auditing the quality of assessments through:

• DWP Lot-wide audit (random sample); and
The provider – Approval-related audit (for trainees).

And: “Audit has a central role in ensuring that decisions on benefit entitlement, taken by DWP, are correct. It supports this by confirming that independent Health Professional advice complies with the required standards and that it is clear and medically reasonable. It also provides assurance that any approach to assessment and opinion given is consistent so that, irrespective of where or by whom the assessment is carried out, claimants with conditions that have the same functional effect will ultimately receive the same benefit outcome.”

It goes on to say: “The DWP Independent Audit Team carries out lot-wide audit, which is an audit of a controlled random sample from across each contract Lot, feeding in to routine performance reporting for DWP.”

Where a report is deemed ‘unacceptable’: “Any changes made to forms should be justified, signed and dated. It should be made clear that any changes are made as a result of audit activity. Where necessary a new report form should be completed.”

The government guidelines also say that: “Any challenge to the reason DWP has returned a case to the Provider for rework must be made via the nominated rework Single Point of Contact (SPOC).”

In the event of a dispute regarding a request for an assessment report to be changed, “the final decision on whether the case requires rework rests with DWP and not the assessor.” 

So ultimately, an official at the DWP who was not present when a person was assessed, may decide that the assessment report is ‘reworked’, and use non-transparent criteria to change the facts established and recorded during the assessment.

This means that the person making the claim has no opportunity to challenge the changes made to ‘reworked’ reports before the decision is made regarding the claim. 

Over the last few years, evidence has mounted that disability benefits are being reduced or removed from people on fabricated grounds. Disability News Service (DNS) has  carried out an investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty in the disability benefit system. The research found more than 250 PIP claimants who have alleged assessors repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations. It’s a regular occurrence for disabled readers to read the reports of their benefit assessment, and find a statement of their circumstances, an event or comment that never happened.

For example, one person with a serious spinal injury who is wheelchair-bound was baffled by the comment on her assessment report which said she could bend to feed her dog and could take it out for a walk. She said she doesn’t have a dog, and has never had one. 

The government produced guidelines that says assessors must look for ‘inconsistencies’ in disabled people’s accounts. For example, if a person says they lack dexterity in their hands, but they are wearing jewellery, it will simply be assumed that they can open and close the clasp. They won’t be offered an opportunity to clarify that this is the case. 

In my own PIP assessment report in 2017, it said that the HP had to prompt me several times because of my lack of concentration. She also acknowledged that I needed aids to remember to take my medication. Yet the report is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. It was concluded that there is no evidence that I have any ‘cognitive difficulties’ because I have a degree (from 1996), and worked as a professional – social work (before I became too ill to work in 2010.) 

It was also mentioned that I had a driving licence as further justification for removing a point, but the report failed to mention I have not been able to drive since 2005 because of flicker-induced seizures, even though I made that clear. I therefore lost one point – which meant I was not awarded the enhanced rate. The reasons provided were not justified, since the assessor referred to events and periods of my life when I was not ill and disabled.

As well as widespread allegations of fabricated reports, secret filming has produced claims of a culture of targets, in which assessors are allegedly monitored to ensure they don’t find excessive numbers of disabled people eligible for benefits, and mounting evidence of toxic punitive measures. As one former jobcentre adviser put it when describing her role with benefit claimants, there were “brownie points for cruelty”.

Consequences of the DWP’s hostile environment

The Conservative’s welfare reforms have led to “grave and systematic violations” of disabled people’s rights, a United Nations (UN) inquiry has concludedChanges to social security “disproportionately affected” disabled people, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of Disabled Persons (CRPD) found.

The UK was the first country to be investigated under a UN convention it has been signed up to since 2007.

However, the government said it “strongly refuted” the committee’s findings and its “offensive” view of disability. Many disabled people, charities and campaigners submitted evidence to the United Nations for the inquiry. The government’s response was offensive.

The committee launched an investigation in 2012 after receiving evidence from individuals (I submitted evidence) and disability organisations about an the adverse impact and harm of government reforms on disabled people. The government have refused to act upon the findings and recommendations of the UN report.

Last year, the DWP disclosed that over 21,000 ill and disabled people died waiting for their PIP assessment to be completed, between April 2013 and 30 April 2018.

Sarah Newton, then Minister of State for Disabled People, published the figures on 11 January following a question raised in parliament by Labour MP Madeleine Moon in December: “How many people have died while waiting for their personal independence payment assessment to be completed; and what were the conditions those people died from?”

Newton responded: “All benefit claims can be made under the special rules for people who are terminally ill which will mean that they are fast tracked. These are currently being cleared within 6 working days for new claimants to PIP. The Department would encourage all claimants with a terminal illness to let the department know and to apply using the special rules.

The cause of death of PIP claimants is not collated centrally by the Department.”

Over 3.6 million applications to PIP were made between April 2013 and 30th April 2018. Of these:

  • 4,760 claimants died between their case being referred to, and returned from, an assessment provider;
  • 73,800 claimants died within 6 months of their claim being registered; and
  • 17,070 claimants died after registering but prior to the DWP making a decision on their claim. Details of the claimant’s primary medical condition, where recorded, are in the accompanying spreadsheet.”

The total number of PIP claimants who died was 95,000. But Newton’s response does not indicate at what stage of their claim the 73,800 people, who died within six months of it being registered, were at. Nor does it indicate what those people who did not have terminal or degenerative illnesses died of – including those with mental illness. For example, 270 of those mortalities are listed as having had anxiety and/or depressive disorders as their primary disorder.

Of those who did have terminal illnesses, we need to ask why these people were  cruelly left waiting so long for their assessment, if, as Newton claims, they are ‘fast tracked’ through the claim and assessment process.

Prior to the introduction of PIP, Esther McVey stated that of the initial 560,000 claimants to be reassessed by October 2015, 330,000 of these are targeted to either lose their benefit altogether or see their payments reduced. Of course the ever-shrinking category of “those with the greatest need” simply reflects a government that has made a partisan political decision to cut disabled people’s essential income to fund a financial gift to the wealthiest citizens. There is no justification for this decision, nor is it remotely “fair”, as the government claims. 

We also need to ask how and why McVey had those figures in advance of the assessments taking place.

It’s become very evident since that ‘those in the greatest need’ are not being served by social security.  Disabled people are suffering distress, harm and some are dying as a consequence of government policy. The DWP end disabled people’s support any way they can, it seems. And when they can’t find a reason, they edit the evidence to attempt to justify their brutal and incoherent decision making.

In August 2013, Mark Wood starved to death at his home in Oxfordshire after his ESA was stopped.

David Barr, from Glenrothes, Fife, also died that month, having taken his own life following an assessment that deemed him “fit for work”, resulting in the withdrawal of his ESA. He had a long history of serious mental health problems. 

On 23 September 2013, a father-of-two, Michael O’Sullivan, took his own life at his flat in north London. He had a long history of significant mental ill-health.

In November 2015, Paul Donnachie killed himself at his home in Glasgow. His ESA was stopped in error, but the letter informing him of the DWP’s mistake arrived too late. His body was found when the council came to evict him.

All of these people had significant mental health problems, and there are countless others, many whose names are never likely to be known, other than by grieving family and friends. These deaths are inextricably linked to decisions and actions taken by Conservative ministers and senior civil servants from the early days of the 2010 coalition government.

Every one of their deaths could and should have been avoided.

The Disability News Service (DNS) reported more recently that Errol Graham weighed just four-and-a-half stone when his body was found by bailiffs who had knocked down his front door to evict him. He had just a couple of out-of-date tins of fish left in his flat, because the DWP had wrongly stopped his ESA. He starved to death, and his rent support had been stopped as a consequence of his ESA claim being ended. The DWP failed to follow safeguarding rules in their haste to end his claim. He was also denied PIP, which left him without any income whatsoever. 

DWP civil servants had failed to seek further medical evidence from his GP, just as in many other tragic cases that have sparked repeated calls for an independent inquiry into links between the deaths of claimants and the actions and failings of the DWP. The government have consistently refused to acknowledge a correlation between their actions and the death of disabled people, so have no intention of investigating the evidence. 

Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock, who heard the inquest, was told that the DWP stopped Graham’s ESA entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face work capability assessment (WCA) on 31 August 2017. The inquest heard that it was standard DWP procedure to go ahead with stopping the benefits of a claimant marked on the system as vulnerable after two failed safeguarding visits.

However, the DWP (somehow) managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on 17 October, the same day officials made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.

DWP’s own rules state that it should make both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.

Because Errol lost his ESA entitlement, his housing benefit was also stopped. His family says he had also been found ineligible for PIP. Deprived of all financial support, experiencing significant mental distress and unable or unwilling to seek help, he slowly starved to death. He was 57. His body was discovered on 20 June 2018 when bailiffs arrived at his Nottingham council flat to evict him for non-payment of rent. 

His benefits had been stopped even though he had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental illness and distress that had led to him being sectioned. Errol was clearly extremely vulnerable.

He had also told the DWP on an ESA form three years earlier that he could not cope with “unexpected changes”, adding: “Upsets my life completely. Feel under threat and upset…”

He added: “Cannot deal with social situations. Keep myself to myself. Do not engage with strangers. Have no social life. Feel anxiety and panic in new situations.”

The assistant coroner said: “There simply is not sufficient evidence as to how he was functioning, however, it is likely that his mental health was poor at this time – he does not appear to be having contact with other people, and he did not seek help from his GP or support agencies as he had done previously.”

She concluded in the narrative verdict, delivered last June, that the “safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.

Those ‘holes’ are a consequence of deliberate, ideologically driven anti-welfare policies. They have intended consequences. The government assumes that people treated unfairly will appeal wrong decisions. Firstly, many people are far too ill to cope with the stress of that process. Secondly, it should never be primarily the role of courts to allocate social security fairly. That is the official role and purpose of the DWP.  However, the government department is clearly failing to fulfil its role. This is because the neoliberal ideology that drives austerity policies is incompatible with the central principles of social security. 

She continued: “He needed the DWP to obtain more evidence [from his GP] at the time his ESA was stopped, to make a more informed decision about him, particularly following the failed safeguarding visits.”

She said that a consultant psychiatrist had told the inquest “that Errol was vulnerable to life stressors” and that it was “likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health”.

But she decided not to write a regulation 28 report demanding changes to DWP’s safeguarding procedures to “prevent future deaths” because the department insisted that it was already completing a review of its safeguarding, which was supposed to finish last autumn.

The DWP had promised her it would “listen to clients and to those representing them, and… ensure that the DWP was focused on support and safety for vulnerable people”.

Dr Didcock insisted that this commitment “must be converted into robust policy and guidance for DWP staff” and that the DWP must ensure that “all evidence that can reasonably be gathered is put together about a client, before a benefit is ceased”.

Disability News Service also highlights that the death of Errol Graham closely mirrors other tragedies caused by the DWP’s repeated refusal to make significant improvements to its safeguarding policies and practices.

Denise McKenna, co-founder of the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), said the network was “absolutely devastated and saddened beyond words to hear of the circumstances surrounding the death of Mr Graham”.

She said: “We are enraged that the DWP continues to treat the lives of people who live with mental distress as disposable.

“This level of cruelty is outside of anything that would happen in a civilised society.

“The fact that Mr Graham had not responded to attempts to contact him following his failure to attend the work capability assessment (WCA) should have raised alarm bells over his safety, but instead the DWP took the opportunity to stop his social security entitlements.”

And there’s the truth: the government have created a hostile environment for disabled people that is heavily weighted towards preventing successful claims, taking its lessons from rogue multinational insurance companies such as Unum, who have systematically employed strategies to pay out insurance only as the last resort, rather than on the basis of need. 

And if the evidence doesn’t suit the politically desired outcome – as outlined by the likes of Esther McVey –  it can always be edited or disposed of by the DWP.

Hostile environment McDonnell

 


More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – from the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies and growing, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart.

My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account. 

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader’s contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going.  Thanks.

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Call for research evidence: would UBI mitigate the social & economic disadvantages experienced by disabled people?

download (3)

Jane Mathieson is conducting research for her dissertation, which aims at reflecting on current experiences of those of us with invisible disabilities claiming disability benefits. She is exploring how Universal Basic Income (UBI) may improve our quality of life, potentially addressing social and political prejudice, removing barriers from disabled peoples’ socioeconomic inclusion and participation. 

Universal Basic Income is a regular payment made to every individual, which is not means tested, non-withdrawable and is paid without work conditions.

It would:

  • Guarantee everyone a secure base  
  • Replace the draconian, complex benefits system with a scheme fit for the 21st century 
  • Provide us all, including people who need extra income related to illness, disability and housing, with the freedom to develop our potential, to be included in society, to contribute our talents and to have the dignity we all deserve.

UBI would greatly reduce the ghastly punitive bureaucracy of the welfare system and give people more choice about which kind of work they take. It would also promote the idea of universality more generally, since it is an unconditional form of income. In non-universal welfare states, the state is primarily concerned with directing resources to “the people most in need”.

This requires a tight bureaucratic control in order to politically determine who is eligible for support and who is not. Furthermore, “those most in need” is a somewhat vague category of people, and as we have observed over the past decade, it comes with a bureaucracy that constantly re-defines ‘need’ and perpetually shifts the goal posts to suit the neoliberal austerity agenda.

People have been refused Employment and Support Allowance, on the grounds they are “fit for work”, for example, and therefore, not among those in the greatest need of support. However, many have died within weeks of being deemed fit for work by the state, indicating clearly they were not capable of working, and that they were in fact among those most in need of support. 

Beverage’s idea of the welfare state was universal and comprehensive one. He saw the role of the state as one of protection, which promotes the economic and social well-being of citizens, based upon the principles of  democracy, equal opportunity, equitable distribution of wealth, and public responsibility for citizens unable to avail themselves of the minimal provisions for an adequate standard of living. Social insurance is a system where people pay towards their own social security, should they need it. The vast majority of ill and disabled people have worked and therefore contributed to their own support. However, that support provision has become increasingly conditional and precarious.

I’m distributing this questionnaire to support Jane’s work.

It’s useful to explore in particular how UBI may work for those who need more support, such as those with caring responsibilities, as well as disabled people.

Here is an introduction to Jane’s research. You can click on the hyperlink highlighted in blue at the bottom of the page to participate in the survey: 

Taken for Granted: the implications of Universal Basic Income on those with Invisible Disability and a cost-benefit analysis for the State

You have been invited to be part of research to consider the experiences of those with invisible disabilities claiming benefits under the current system and how the implementation of Universal Basic Income may affect them. 

Please read this information sheet to find out more about the research and why I am doing it. 

My name is Jane Mathieson and I am currently in my final year of a BSc (Hons) Degree in Applied Social Science. One aspect of the course involves conducting academic research for which I have chosen to focus on Universal Basic Income and how its implementation may affect those with invisible disability in terms of well-being, social inclusion and work-related activities. 

The concept of true Universal Basic Income is that it is a benefit given to a large proportion of the population, regardless of household or family structure, age, employment status or disability. It is defined as a financial support which is sufficient enough to meet a family’s basic needs without earnings or additional sources of income. It would be seen to replace all income related benefits in their entirety, but not additional financial support such as Personal Independence Payment which is paid to compensate for the additional costs of being disabled. 

An online questionnaire will be distributed among members of Disability and Welfare Rights organisations through their online forums and social media. Hard copies will be made available on request. Participants may be invited to volunteer to take part in semi-structured interviews via Skype or another face-to-face communication platform. Please note there is an open comments box at the end of the questionnaire for you to share any additional comments or personal experiences. 

Confidentiality and anonymity: If you are happy to take part, please complete the consent form. I may write about what I find out in reports, conference papers, journals and books. I will also share any findings with other people who arrange similar activities, as well as other researchers.

It will not be possible to know who said what in anything made public. You can ask for feedback about our findings if you would like. If you choose to proceed, please complete the following questionnaire. On submission all data will be anonymised. All data collected will be stored on a password protected, private laptop, hard copies will be stored in a locked filing cabinet. 

Right to withdraw: You have the right to stop taking part in the research at any time during the questionnaire up to the point of submission when your details will be automatically be anonymised. Should there be a face-to-face interview, you also have a right not to answer specific questions or to ask for any audio and video ­recording to stop. 

Thank you in advance for your time and participation. Should you have any further questions regarding this research please contact me by email at jm158340@truro-penwith.ac.uk 

You can access the information sheet and questionnaire here.

Related

 


This is the 1,000th article I have published, according to WordPress.
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More people, like you, are reading and supporting independent, investigative and in particular, public interest journalism, than ever before.

I don’t make any money from my research and writing, and want to ensure my work remains accessible to all.

I have engaged with the most critical issues of our time – from the often devastating impact of almost a decade of Conservative policies and growing, widespread inequality to the influence of big tech on our lives. At a time when factual information is a necessity, I believe that each of us, around the world, deserves access to accurate reporting with integrity and the norms of democracy at its heart.

My work is absolutely free from commercial and political interference and not influenced one iota by billionaire media barons.  I have worked hard to give a voice to those less heard, I have explored where others turn away, and always rigorously challenge those in power, holding them to account. 

I hope you will consider supporting me today, or whenever you can. As independent writers, we will all need your support to keep delivering quality research and journalism that’s open and independent.

Every reader contribution, however big or small, is so valuable and helps keep me going.  Thanks.


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Luciana Berger is an utterly bewildering, incoherent neoliberal hypocrite

Luciana Berger is being reminded of her past insincerities and current hypocrisy by her Liverpool Wavertree constituents following her controversial and undemocratic move to join the neolib dems.

She was elected as a Labour Co-op MP.  Despite saying she had no intention of joining the Neoliberal Democrats back in June,  and strongly denying the media reports of her intentions, Berger has joined the party.

Her dizzying inconsistency is very worrying.

On 21 March, 2015, she said:

“You can’t trust the Lib Dems, no matter what they say.”

And: “Lib Dem attempts to differentiate themselves from the Tories aren’t worth the paper they’re written on. Even the Lib Dem’s man in the Treasury Danny Alexander admits the Tories’ record is their own.

“The Lib Dems broke their central election promises and cannot be trusted. Rather than delivering fair taxes they hiked VAT, and rather than abolishing tuition fees they trebled them. The Lib Dems have been part of a government which imposed the bedroom tax while cutting taxes for millionaires.

The election remains a choice between a Tory plan which is failing working families and Labour’s better plan which will put working families first and save our NHS.”

Just 6.5% of Wavertree constituents voted for the Liberal Democrats. Around 12% voted  Conservative. Almost 80% voted Labour. The vast majority voted for a Labour MP and Labour policies.

Furthermore, there is already a neolib dem candidate for Wavertree – Richard Kemp.

Yet Berger has the cheek to call the Tories “undemocratic”. They are.

But so are the Neolib Dems. And so is Berger. She was elected as a Labour MP.  Now she’s not. But she believes she’s entitled to remain the MP for Wavertree, elected on a manifesto she no longer endorses and supports. A mere 6.5% of her constituents would possibly support her policy approach now. Whatever that is, Berger seems to bend like a blade of grass in the wind.

She seems to have conveniently forgotten her previous blogs and social media posts. She has also seemingly forgotten that the Neolib Dems propped up the Tory austerity programme, endorsed the referendum (agreed in the Coalition’s document of governance), tripled university fees, endorsed the health and social care bill, endorsed the welfare ‘reforms’ and violated the human rights of ill and disabled people, among the many draconian measures drawn up in the coalition.

clegg
It’s thought that this referendum pledge poster is from 2008. 

I remember when people commonly called Tony Blair’s New Labour “two cheeks of the same Tory a*se”

The remnants of that ideological school demonstrate the basic truth of that so well.

Neoliberalism has failed the majority of people. It’s hurt those citizens who have the very least and hugely profited those who already had the most. Austerity is a central plank of neoliberal economic policy, along with privatisation of public services. It is clear that policies that are prompted by neoliberal ideology are incompatible with democracy and human rights. General Pinochet demonstrated that only too well.

The public would not choose neoliberal policies if those wealthy and powerful groups promoting and imposing them were frank about what they entail.

Administering neoliberal policies requires an authoritarian government.

Berger has demonstrated that she already knows this.

Berger

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But if you like, you can contribute by making a donation which helps me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability  assessment and appeals. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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BPS sign consensus statement asking for end of welfare sanctions

Image result for welfare sanctions

The British Psychological Society (BPS) has joined eight other leading mental health organisations in calling for the removal of social security sanctions for people with mental health conditions. The statement launched yesterday at the 12th New Savoy Annual Conference in London.

It calls for everyone living with a mental health condition to be supported in gaining financial security, whether through the social security system or appropriate help in returning to or gaining paid work. However, the statement makes clear that no one with a mental ill health should ever be forced to look for work, or face the threat of having their lifeline support reduced because of welfare conditionality and sanctions.

In the statement signed by mental health experts and charities, such as the Centre for Mental Health, Mental Health Foundation and Rethink Mental Illness among others, the BPS say: “We believe that everyone living with a mental health condition should be supported to attain financial security. Whether they need the support of the social security system or help when they would like to return to or gain paid employment, no one should have to struggle to make ends meet as a result of their mental health problem.

“Yet too many people lose their jobs or are denied opportunities in the labour market because of a mental health condition. And too often our social security system treats people with insufficient dignity and humanity.

“Combined, these issues can exacerbate or contribute to mental health problems.

“We believe that anyone living with a mental health condition has a right to be supported to work if they want to, and to live out of poverty.”

“No one with a mental health condition, however, should ever be mandated to look for work, or to face the threat of having their benefit payments reduced. Neither conditions nor sanctions have been shown to work or to be safe for people with mental health difficulties, and as a result we believe they should be stopped. 

“No one should be left in poverty because they have a mental health condition. We pledge to work together to achieve an end to the harm we have seen that sanctions can cause, and a start towards a meaningful entitlement to effective support, based  genuinely around the needs of each person.” 

Sanctions, under which people lose benefit payments for between four weeks and three years for “non-compliance”, have come under fire for being unfairpunitive, failing to increase job prospects, and causing hunger, debt and ill-health among jobseekers. And sometimes, sanctions have been correlated with deaths.

It’s not the first time the BPS and allied organisations have called on the government to make changes to controversial social security policies. In 2015, Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, then President of the BPS, said:

“The Society has repeatedly asked for a meeting with ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions so that we can express our concerns over the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – so far without success. We are particularly concerned that the government’s benefits policy may misuse psychological tools and techniques. We want to ensure policies are informed by appropriate psychological, theoretical and practical evidence.”

The Society published a briefing paper 2016, and an official Call to Action asking the government to commission an end-to-end redesign of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process – including its outcomes and periods for reassessment.

Last year, a collective of the UK’s leading professional associations for psychological therapies reaffirmed their opposition to welfare sanctionsThe British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies, British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy, British Psychoanalytic Council, British Psychological Society and UK Council for Psychotherapy between them represent more than 110,000 psychologists, counsellors, psychotherapists, psychoanalysts and psychiatrists who practise psychotherapy and counselling.

In a joint response to last year’s report of the Welfare Conditionality project, the organisations say:

“Our key concerns remain that not only is there no clear evidence that welfare sanctions are effective, but that they can have negative effects on a range of outcomes including mental health.

“We continue to call on the Government to address these concerns, investigate how the jobcentre systems and requirements may themselves be exacerbating mental health problems and consider suspending the use of sanctions subject to the outcomes of an independent review.”

The organisations reaffirmed the clear position against welfare sanctions that they previously took in a 2016 joint response

Dr Lisa Morrison Coulthard the British Psychological Society’s then acting director of policy said:

“We are delighted to sign this joint statement. The Society has seen increasing evidence that benefit sanctions undermine people’s health and wellbeing, and that people with multiple and complex needs are disproportionately subject to them.”

Last year, the UK’s most extensive study of welfare conditionality concluded that  sanctions are ineffective at ‘helping’ people into work and are more likely to reduce those affected to absolute poverty, ill-health and even survival crime.

The five-year longitudinal research tracked hundreds of claimants, finding that the controversial policy of withdrawing social security support as punishment for alleged failures to comply with jobcentre rules has been little short of disastrous. The report says: “Benefit sanctions do little to enhance people’s motivation to prepare for, seek or enter paid work. They routinely trigger profoundly negative personal, financial, health and behavioural outcomes.”

It was found that sanctions impacted negatively on people’s mental health, frequently triggering high levels of stress, anxiety and depression. 

The report authors called for a review of the use of sanctions, including an immediate moratorium on benefit sanctions for disabled people who are disproportionately affected, together with an urgent “rebalancing” of the social security system to focus less on compliance and more on helping claimants into work.

Labour’s shadow secretary for work and pensions Margaret Greenwood said: “The current sanctions system is immoral and ineffective. It is not helping people into employment and at the same time is leaving vulnerable people on the brink of destitution, without any source of income for long periods.”

Sanctions are justified and imposed by the government, who claim they promote ‘behavioural change’. Ministers tend to present narratives where individuals are held responsible for social and economic problems.

However, many of us believe we need a  fundamental change in the UKs’ socioeconomic organisation, because neoliberalism systematically excludes the poorest citizens, while generously rewarding the wealthiest. Power relationships within our society also need to  change, because the government is inflicting structural violence – socioeconomic oppression – on marginalised social groups, based entirely upon the government’s own traditional class prejudices.

If any ‘behavioural change’ (a euphemism for state coercion) is needed, it is most certainly on the part of Conservative policy-makers, not from those who are being systematically oppressed. Sanctions reflect the actions of a more broadly abusive and authoritarian regime. Sanctions mean that the poorest citizens’ only means of meeting their most fundamental survival needs – food, fuel and shelter – is removed from them as a punishment for simply being poor.

Yet we know the government’s misuse of psychology, embedded in their crib sheet justification of sanctions, is dangerous, cruel and boardroom psychobabbling utter nonsense. 

It’s time the public stopped being bystanders in the face of targeted state abuse.

Priti Patel uses techniques of neutralisation to discredit the concerns raised and the evidence presented that sanctions harm people’s mental health. She even disgracefully called this cruel and punitive state action “support” ,”help” and “fair”.

It is never acceptable to endorse an oppressive, abusive regime that deliberately removes people’s means of basic survival, to meet “labour market requirements”.

 

Related

New research shows welfare sanctions are punitive, create perverse incentives and are potentially life-threatening

Pointlessly cruel’ sanctions regime must be reassessed, says Commons Select Committee

The Minnesota Starvation Experiment provided empirical evidence that demonstrates clearly why welfare sanctions can’t possibly work as an “incentive” to “make work pay”

Short Version: 


 

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Labour party plans to end privatisation of public services

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Carillion was a British multinational facilities management and construction services company which liquidated in January 2018 | Daniel Sorabji/AFP via Getty Images

The current government has consistently failed to fix the serious problems created by its’ privatisation of public services, which has directly impacted on the lives of many citizens. Those needing the support of services have found them less accessible, conditional and often, rather than alleviating hardship and socioeconomic exclusion, the private sector, contracted in tandem with government policies, has contributed to actually increasing the vulnerability of marginalised social groups, exploiting them for profit.

Poorly conceived contracts have created cost increases that surpass the costs of in-house services, and the oversight of the contracts is poor, the government is vulnerable to corruption and profiteering. The scandal of G4S and Serco charging the Ministry of Justice for tagging offenders who were dead shows just the visible surface of how bad things can get.

G4S, for example, has left a wake of human rights abuses on a global scale, and we have to question how on earth such highly controversial companies manage to secure successive government contracts involving working with vulnerable populations. The Ministry of Justice is still spending millions on tagging offenders with G4S and Capita despite the tagging scandal because, despite all of the chatter about ‘market competition’, it has not actively welcomed in or competently procured new entrants in the market.

In the wake of the collapse of Carillion, a succession of scandals involving large British companies like G4S, Serco and others, and the zig-zagging share price of outsourcing giant Capita, now is the right time to rethink the UK government’s approach to the private provision of public services. 

Any government that claims it wants to ‘take on vested interests’ wherever they may be must look first at how it itself has created – and become dependent -on a select number of vested, incumbent private suppliers. In practice, when the government claim ‘efficiency’, that generally means lower wages and substantially reduced services. When they mention ‘economies of scale’, that generally translates as constructing the contracts in such a way as to leave only the largest companies eligible to bid for them.

When the government use the word ‘incentives’, for the profiteering companies, those are perverse incentives. And when they say ‘competition’,  the government is refering to a handful of companies barely compete with one another at all but instead operate as an unelected oligarchy – a shadow state.

A Labour government would end the outsourcing of public service contracts that involve close contact with vulnerable groups, because of ongoing, grave concerns that people are being put at risk by private contractors such as Atos and Capita. The party has drawn up the plan in response to what is described as a series of outsourcing disasters. 

This would mean addressing the controversial assessments for disability and illness related social security, NHS care, the treatment of people in detention centres and prisons, and failures over recruitment and substandard housing for Armed Forces personnel, bringing those services back ‘in house’. 

Under the Labour’s party’s plans, when an outsourced contract expires or is terminated, central or local government will be required to assess whether a service involves significant contact with ‘at risk’ groups, poses a threat to people’s human rights, or entails the use of ‘coercive powers’. People ‘at risk’ are defined as those who rely on state protection, be they prisoners, hospital patients or social security recipients. 

If the answer to these criteria is “yes”, then new statutory guidance would be used,  which will lessen the grip of the private sector over our public services. After years of privatisation, it’s become clear that perverse incentives – the profit motive and ‘efficiency’in particular – have led to very poor service delivery and caused distress and harm to many citizens who have needed to access support, such as social security or healthcare. Private firms have performed notoriously badly, most often prioritising private profit over meeting human needs, while costing the British public billions of pounds.

However, there may be exemptions to the Labour party’s new rule, where:

  • The contract does not fall under a statutory definition of ‘relevant contract’.
  • The value of the contract is below a certain threshold.
  • The contract is between local authorities (or between a local authority and another public authority).
  • The public authority can demonstrate that it has ‘good reason’ to override statutory guidance.

The Labour party has repeatedly criticised the outsourcing of assessments for Personal Independent Payments and for Employment and Support Allowance, saying that this has led to a complete breakdown in trust between disabled people, the assessors and DWP decision-makers. The Ministry of Justice was forced to take control of Birmingham prison from the contractor G4S, after inspections found that prisoners were regularly using drink, drugs and violence, and corridors were littered with cockroaches, blood and vomit last year. The plan comes after a series of high-profile outsourcing controversies.

Andrew Gwynne MP, Labour’s Shadow Communities and Local Government Secretary, said: “For too long the British public have paid the price for outsourcing.

“The Tories’ dogmatic commitment to markets at all costs has delivered sub-standard services at inflated prices. And when they fail, as they often do, it’s the taxpayer that picks up the bill.

“Labour is proposing a radical new settlement that gives people the power to end outsourcing and decide for themselves how best to deliver the services they need.

“For too long this county has been run by and in the interests of a small few who are all in it together.

“It’s time to shift the scales and bring democracy and accountability back to government, and put power in the hands of the many”.

The plan is most likely to be backed by unions, but may cause concern for some councils  under severe financial pressure after years of cuts to their funding.

The pledge is also part of a wider Labour strategy to return public services to public ownership. It reflects that Labour is serious about implementing major democratic changes to the economy, to make it more inclusive.

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The threats to public health care in the UK.

Outsourcing in the NHS is officially said to be about cutting costs and improving efficiency, but such reforms, have really helped create healthcare markets that simply promote inequality among patients and healthcare workers and erode the public nature of healthcare provision.

There is also a very obvious limiting factor to a ‘market’ in healthcare: those in most need of healthcare are least able to pay the ‘market price’ for it – the elderly, very young, people with mental illness and those who are chronicically il , many of whom are poor. So, for private healthcare to be profitable for more than just the wealthiest minority, it still requires public funding.  The government, however, have systematically refused to accept this, despite the empirical evidence that verifies the damage being done to the poorest and most vulnerable citizens.

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of an illness called lupus. If you want to, you can help me by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through disability assessment, mandatory review and appeal.

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Misleading DWP letter to GPs is depriving disabled people of lifeline support

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Credit: PA Images

Last month I reported about the issues raised by the Department for Work and Pensions’ ESA65B GP’s letter template, which was only recently placed on the government site, following a series of Parliamentary Written Questions.

Campaigners and MPs have called for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) standard letter to GPs to be scrapped after it emerged that ill and disabled appealing against unfair work capability assessment (WCA) decisions were left in near destitution after their GPs refused to provide further ‘fit notes’, because they were advised they did not need to by DWP officials.

It emerged that ministers ordered changes to the standard-issue letter to remove references that made it clear to GPs they may have to issue a medical statement if their patient wished to appeal against a WCA decision. The DWP claims this was not intended to dissuade GPs from issuing fit notes. 

Those people who challenge WCA decisions are entitled to continue to receive employment and support allowance (ESA) at basic rate, worth £73.10 a week while they await their appeal hearing, but to do so they must obtain fit notes from their GPs to prove they are too ill to work.

They must also await the outcome of a mandatory review.  Before a claimant may lodge an appeal, the must first ask the DWP to ‘reconsider’ their original decision. However, the DWP has a stated target of upholding 80% of their original decisions, so the majority of people then have to appeal following the review outcome. The law says that the claimant may claim basic rate ESA following mandatory review if they wish to proceed with an appeal.

So the misleading change to the template letter routinely sent from the DWP to GPs has led to people who have lodged an appeal against an unfair decision being blocked from claiming ESA while awaiting the appeal hearing. This prevents many low-income disabled people from accessing financial support while they wait for months on end to go to tribunal. Furthermore, we know that catastrophically inaccurate assessments within the DWP are pretty much the norm. Nationally, 72% of people who appeal against their work capability assessment decision are successful.

Entitlement to ESA pending appeal is enshrined in the ESA Regulations to cover the whole of the period leading up the hearing. It is also possible to have the payment backdated to cover the Mandatory Review waiting period too – it can take over six weeks for the DWP to review their original decision, over which time people are left without welfare support.

ESA pending appeal is not paid automatically – people usually have to ask for it, and must provide fit notes from their GP, presenting these along with their appeal acknowledgment letter from the Tribunal Courts to their local Job Centre. The Job Centre should report back to the DWP who will arrange for ESA pending appeal to be paid.

From last year, then minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008. 

“Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

The decision to change the letter template was made without any scrutiny from or consultation with parliament or the public.

The standard letter, titled “Help us support your patient to return to or start work.” says: “We assessed [Title] [First name] [Surname] on and decided that [select] is capable of doing some work, but this might not be the same type of work [select] may have done before.

“We know most people are better off in work, so we are encouraging [Title] [First name] [Surname] to find out what type of work [select] may be able to do with [select] health condition or disability through focused support at [select] local Jobcentre Plus.

“In the course of any further consultations with [Title] [First name] [Surname] we hope you will also encourage [select] in [select] efforts to return to, or start, work

“Please do not give [Title] [First name] [Surname] any more fit notes relating to [select] disability/health condition for ESA purposes.

Minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, responded to one of several Written Questions from Emma Dent Coad, saying: “The ESA65B letter is issued to GPs in every case where an ESA claimant has been found ‘fit for work’. This process was built into the IT system as part of the introduction of ESA in October 2008. 

“Following a Ministerial requirement by the Cabinet Secretary, which was endorsed by the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, the content of the ESA65B letter has been improved in order to explain to GPs the type of support customers can expect to receive from their local Jobcentre, and to ask GPs to encourage customers in their efforts to return to work.” [My emphasis]. 

Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, the chair of the Royal College of GPs (RCGP), said the lack of clarity over when GPs should issue fit notes could put patients’ finances and health at risk. “No GP wants that, and it only serves to threaten the long-standing trust that patients have in their family doctor.”

Until 2017 the standard letter advised GPs that if their patient appealed against the WCA decision they must continue to provide fit notes.

However, on (undisclosed) ministerial orders, the letter now states that GPs “do not need to provide any more fit notes for ESA purposes”. It does not mention the possibility that the patient may appeal, or that a fit note is needed for the patient to obtain ESA payments until the appeal is heard.

Frank Field, the chair of the work and pensions select committee, has also raised the issue with the then disability minister Sarah Newton back in January. Newton replied that the wording was amended “to make the letter simpler and clearer”, adding that DWP communications were intended to be “clear, understandable and fit for purpose”.

Field replied that the wording was “not having the desired effect”, and urged her to revise it to make clear ESA claimants on appeal were entitled to fit notes. “This simple step could greatly ease the stress and worry that people who are awaiting an appeal experience.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “These letters simply inform GPs when a claimant has been found fit for work and are not intended to dissuade them from issuing fit notes for ESA appeal purposes, to claim otherwise is inaccurate.”

However, there is a hint the letter may be changed. Newton told Field: “We are committed to ensuring our communication is clear, which is why the wording of this letter was cleared by both the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP). However, we will of course consider feedback when revising the letter.”  Newton tends to stick to a script in her responses, though. She told Emma Coad Dent exactly the same thing, almost word for word last year, in her response to a Written Question.

It remains very unclear on what basis the RCGP agreed to the new wording as the change was agreed at a DWP stakeholder meeting for which, according to Newton, there are no formal minutes. Newton confirmed this in the correspondence between herself and Field, as well as in her responses to Emma Coad Dent’s long series of Written Questions on this issue.

Firstly, on 16 May, last year, Newton says: “The Cabinet Secretary first issued the requirement to revise the ESA65B letter in November 2014.

“The wording of the ESA65B was changed to emphasise the benefits of work and to ask GPs to encourage their patients in their efforts to return to some form of work.”

Then, according to Newton: “The British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners agreed to the revised wording of the ESA65B on 4 August 2016.” 

However, in June last year, she also said, in response to a Written Question from Emma Dent Coad: “DWP’s Legal Service cleared the revised wording on 29 July 2016 and the then Secretary of State for Work and Pensions subsequently authorised the changes.”

Yet when asked in November last year what written evidence her Department holds on the British Medical Association and Royal College of General Practitioners agreement to the revised wording of the ESA65B letters sent to claimants’ GPs when they fail the work capability assessment, she replied: “There is no written evidence relating to the agreement obtained from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B letter.

“In accordance with the Answer of 30 May 2018 to Question 146987, agreement on the final wording of the ESA65B was obtained via the regular meetings DWP holds with both organisations.” 

Newton had previously also said: “In accordance with the Answer of 3 July 2018 to Question 155402, the information is not available as there is no written minute of the meeting between officials from this Department and representatives from the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B letter.” 

In June last year, Dent Coad asked Newton who attended the meetings between officials in her Department and the (a) British Medical Association and (b) Royal College of General Practitioners on the revised wording of the ESA65B; and if she would place in the Library a copy of the minutes of those meetings. Newton responded on 03 July 2018:  

“The names of the participants representing the British Medical Association and the Royal College of General Practitioners who attended the meetings referred to constitute their personal data and in accordance with data protection principles, they will not be disclosed without informed consent. DWP officials did not take minutes of these meetings.”

And: “No other external stakeholders were consulted on the development of the revised ESA65B letter.”

Newton has also said in response to Written Questions: “The Department is committed to ensuring all of its communications are clear, accurate and understandable and we continuously improve our letters. We engage regularly with the welfare benefits advice sector and disability charities and take into account all of the feedback we receive.”

“We have received comments from a number of sources including MPs, stakeholder organisations and GPs on the current version of the ESA65B letter and will take all of their feedback into account when revising it.”

I should hope so. The idea of the state persuading doctors and other professionals to “sing from the same [political] hymn sheet”, by promoting work outcomes in social and health care settings is more than a little Orwellian. Co-opting professionals to police the welfare system is very dangerous. 

In linking receipt of welfare with health services and “state therapy,” with the single intended outcome explicitly expressed as employment, the government is purposefully conflating citizen’s widely varied needs with economic outcomes and diktats, isolating people from traditionally non-partisan networks of relatively unconditional support, such as the health service, social services, community services and mental health services.

Public services “speaking with one voice” as the government are urging, will invariably make accessing support conditional, and further isolate already marginalised social groups. Citizens’ safe spaces for genuine and objective support is shrinking as the state encroaches with strategies to micromanage those using public services. This encroachment will damage trust between people needing support and professionals who are meant to deliver essential public services, rather than simply extending government dogma, prejudices and discrimination.

 

Related

Jobcentre tells GP to stop issuing sick notes to patient assessed as ‘fit for work’ and he died.

GPs told to consider making fit notes conditional on patients having appointment with work coach

Let’s keep the job centre out of GP surgeries and the DWP out of our confidential medical records

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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UN calls on UK government to scrap ‘pernicious’ two-child benefit cap and rape clause

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The UK Government has been urged to abandon its “pernicious” two child policy and rape clause, following the publication of a United Nations Human Rights report.

The new report published today by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), made a number of recommendations including that the two child tax credit limit be repealed. The report authors also warn that Universal Credit risks trapping domestic abuse victims in situations of poverty and violence. 

Last year, leader of the Labour party, Jeremy Corbyn, wrote to the Prime Minister, calling on the Government to bring forward policies to reverse the “shocking trends of rising poverty, rising homelessness and rising destitution”, promising to “expedite” a range of measures through Parliament with Labour support, including: ending the two child limit and scrapping the ‘rape clause.’ 

The two child limit, and the ‘non-consensual sex exemption’ – commonly known as the ‘rape clause’ – has been the subject of significant opposition since it was challenged in the 2015 Budget, including by the SNP’s Alison Thewliss, among others. 


SNP MP Alison Thewliss has stepped call for an end to the two child limit
Alison Thewliss. Courtesy of The Scotsman


The report says: “The Committee recalls its previous concluding observations and remains concerned that the payment of Universal Credit, which consolidates six separate income-related benefits, into a single bank account under the Universal Credit system risks depriving women in abusive relationships access to necessary funds and trapping them in situations of poverty and violence.

“It also expresses deep concern at the introduction of a two-child tax credit limit except in certain circumstances such as rape, which has a perverse and disproportionate impact on women.

“The Committee also expresses its concern that the increase in the state pension age for women from 60 to 66, following several legislative changes, has affected the pension entitlements of women born in the 1950s, and is contributing to poverty, homelessness and financial hardships among the affected women.”

The Committee calls on the UK Government to:

(a) Ensure that women in abusive situations are able to independently access payments under the Universal Credit system;

(b) Repeal the two-child tax credit limit;

(c) Take effective measures to ensure that the increase in the State pension age from 60 to 66 does not have a discriminatory impact on women born in the 1950s.

The policy limits child tax credit to the first two children. A number of exceptions were set out, including for a child born as a result of “non-consensual conception”. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd announced a rollback in January, but faced claims that she was creating “two classes of family” by scrapping it for some claimants but not others. 

Human rights and the implications of the Conservatives’ two-child policy 

Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, of which the UK is a signatorystates:

  1. Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing and medical care and necessary social services, and the right to security in the event of unemployment, sickness, disability, widowhood, old age or other lack of livelihood in circumstances beyond his control.
  2.  Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and assistance. All children, whether born in or out of wedlock, shall enjoy the same social protection.

An assessment report last year, by the four children’s commissioners of the UK called on the government to reconsider imposing the deep welfare cuts, voiced “serious concerns” about children being denied access to justice in the courts, and called on ministers to rethink plans at the time to repeal the Human Rights Act.

More than 70,000 low-income families lost up to £2,800 each last year after having their entitlement to benefits taken away as a result of the government’s “two-child policy”, official figures showed. The statistics revealed that during the first year of operation, 59% of the 73,500 families who lost financial support for a third child were in work. Nine per cent of UK claimant households with three or more children were affected.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said: “These figures are truly shocking. The two-child limit is an attack on low-income families, is morally wrong and risks pushing children into poverty.

“It cannot be right that the government is making children a target for austerity, treating one child as if they matter less than another. Labour will make tackling child poverty the priority it should be.”

Margaret-Greenwood-

 

Margaret Greenwood, shadow Work and Pensions Secretary

Alison Garnham, the chief executive of Child Poverty Action Group, said: “An estimated one in six UK children will be living in a family affected by the two-child limit once the policy has had its full impact. It’s a pernicious, poverty-producing policy.”

Jamie Grier, the development director at the welfare advice charity Turn2us, said: “We are still contacted by parents, the majority of whom are in work, fretting over whether this policy means they might consider terminating their pregnancy.”

The policy was introduced by the former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who described it as a “brilliant idea”, despite it being criticised as a “Chinese-style clampdown on the poor”. Duncan Smith said it would force claimants to make the same life choices as families not on benefits, and incentivise them to seek work or increase their hours.

Commenting on the report, Alison Thewliss MP said: “This most recent condemnation is a damning confirmation of what is a truly cruel and pernicious policy by this heartless UK Tory Government.

“Having ceased rollout of the policy to third and subsequent children born before April 2017, the DWP Secretary of State Amber Rudd must now recognise that the two child policy is unfair for everyone who is affected by it.

“No one can plan for the whole course of their family life, and social security should be a safety net for all of us when we need it.

“Only today, I met with a host of organisations, representing a number of sections of society – including women’s and religious groups – and all were unequivocal in their opposition to the two child policy.

“It is tantamount to social engineering, and it is pushing increasing numbers of families into poverty.

“I will be writing to the UK Government to ask for immediate action on CEDAW’s findings. Amber Rudd must do the right thing and end the two child limit for good.”

Related

The government’s eugenic policy is forcing some women to abort wanted pregnancies


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I’m disabled through illness and on a very low income. But you can make a donation to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others going through Universal Credit, PIP and ESA assessment, mandatory review and appeal. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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