Tag: Iain Duncan Smith

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

Image result for eugenics 2 child policy UK

The prejudice and stereotypes that fuelled eugenic thinking during the last century. In the UK, the Conservatives’ policies reflect this regressive and authoritarian approach to a class-based ‘population control’. 

In 2015 I wrote an article that expressed my grave concerns about the Conservatives’ welfare cuts. I discussed the Conservatives’ announced plans to cut welfare payments for larger families, in what amounts to a two-child policy. Welfare rules with such a clearly defined eugenic basis, purposefully aimed at reducing the family size of some social groups – in this case the poorest citizens – rarely come without serious repercussions.

Iain Duncan Smith said in 2014 that limiting child benefit to the first two children in a family is “well worth considering” and “could save a significant amount of money.” The idea was being examined by the Conservatives, despite previously being vetoed by Downing Street because of fears that it could alienate parents.

Asked about the idea on the BBC’s Sunday Politics programme, Duncan Smith said:

“I think it’s well worth looking at,” he said. “It’s something if we decide to do it we’ll announce out. But it does save significant money and also it helps behavioural change.”

Firstly, this is a clear indication of the government’s underpinning eugenicist designs – exercising control over the reproduction of the poor, albeit by stealth. It also reflects the erroneous underpinning belief that poverty somehow arises because of faulty individual choices, rather than faulty political decision-making, labour market conditions, ideologically driven socioeconomic policies and politically imposed structural constraints.

Such policies are not only very regressive, they are offensive, undermining human dignity by treating children as a commodity – something that people can be incentivised to do without.

Moreover, a policy aimed at restricting support available for families where parents are either unemployed or in low paid work is effectively a class contingent policy.

I also wrote: Limiting financial support to two children may also have consequences regarding the number of abortions. Abortion should never be an outcome of reductive state policy. By limiting choices available to people already in situations of limited choice – either an increase of poverty for existing children or an abortion – then women may feel they have no choice but to opt for the latter.

That is not a free choice, because the state is inflicting a punishment by withdrawing support for those citizens who have more than two children, which will have negative repercussions for all family members. Furthermore, abortion as an outcome of state policy rather than personal choice is a deeply traumatic experience, as accounts from those who have experienced such coercion have testified. Although dressed up in the terminology of  behavioural economics, if the state limits choices for some social groups, that is a discriminatory, coercive form of behaviourism. Removing support for a third child is also discriminatory.

UK poverty charity Turn2Us recently submitted written evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee, regarding the ongoing inquiry into the impact of the Benefit Cap.

The charity’s report discusses worrying trends reported by their helpline over the last year: “The most worrying trend that is emerging is pregnant women asking the call handler to undertake a benefit check to ascertain what they would be entitled to if they continue with the pregnancy, citing that the outcome will help them to decide whether they continue with the pregnancy or terminate it.” 

Those women who have abortions from choice are very often not prepared emotionally to deal with the aftermath, finding themselves experiencing unexpected grief, anger and depression. 

Post-Abortion Syndrome (PAS) is a group of psychological symptoms that include guilt, anxiety, depression, thoughts of suicide, drug or alcohol abuse, eating disorders, a desire to avoid children or pregnant women, and traumatic flashbacks to the abortion itself.

Women considering abortion and those who feel they have no other choice have a right to know about the possible emotional and psychological risks of their choice. One of the biggest risk factors for the development of PAS arises when the abortion is forced, or chosen under pressure. Research suggests women commonly feel pressured into abortion, either by other people or by circumstances. And sometimes, by the state.

Many people choose to have children when they are in favorable circumstances. However, employment has become increasingly precarious over the last decade, and wages have been depressed and stagnated. The cost of living has also risen, leaving many in hardship. A large number of citizens move in and out of work, as opportunity permits. The Conservatives say that “work is the route out of poverty”, and claim employment is at an “all time high”, yet this has not helped people out of poverty at all. The ‘gig economy’ has simply made opportunities to secure, well paid employment much scarcer.

The two-child policy treats some children as somehow less deserving of support intended to meet their basic needs, purely because of the order of their birth. 

Abortion should be freely chosen, it should never be an outcome of state policy in a so-called civilised democracy.

Yesterday I read about ‘Sally’ (not her real name) and the heartbreaking choice she was forced to make. She says she could not bear for family and friends to know what she has been through, so she wished to remain anonymous. Sally and her partner discovered, almost halfway through her pregnancy, that the government no longer pays child tax credit and the child element of universal credit for more than two children. The rule applies to babies born after April 6, 2017 and it’s been widely condemned by human rights and women’s rights organisations, religious leaders and child poverty campaigners.

Last month the charity mentioned earlier – Turn2us – which helps people to navigate access to social security benefits, tweeted that they have seen a “worrying trend” of pregnant women contacting them with questions about the social security benefits they are entitled to and saying they may have to terminate their pregnancies as a result of the savage cuts.

Sally’s extremely distressing experience adds evidence to this account. She and her partner already have two children; sons aged 4 and 5. She’s currently receiving universal credit after being found fit for work following 12 years of claiming employment and support allowance, as she suffers from PTSD.

She explains that she doesn’t live with her partner as they can’t afford to live together. She goes on to say: “[The pregnancy] wasn’t planned as such but it wasn’t avoided.

“We were happy to have another child if it happened and we had discussed after the last one was born that we would be very happy to have another child.”

Sally explained her partner is looking for work, but is finding it very difficult to find suitable employment.

“He is currently studying to be a personal trainer so he can earn money to support us.”

Knowing that money would be tight but trusting in her partner’s future earning potential and the safety net of the social security safety net, Sally began to buy items for the baby and booked herself in for a scan.

It was her third successful pregnancy so she knew what to expect and was delighted when she began to feel kicks and movement.

Then she says that she heard news that changed everything. “I was four months along and planning what other things we would need to buy for this baby, and then my friend said any child born after 2017, you will not be able to get any extra money for.

Sally replied “that cannot possibly be true.”

But sadly it is. Sally and her partner were then forced to make a decision they would never have contemplated otherwise. “We are barely surviving now,” says Sally.

“I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter” – [because of] the callous policy that forces women across the country to choose between their unborn child and being able to look after their existing ones.” 

Many people in work rely on tax credits or Universal Credit to support their families because their earnings are too low to meet the cost of living. Even if Sally’s partner found employment, they would still be unable to claim additional support for another child.

Sally told the Mirror that following her termination, she came around from the anaesthetic crying.

She had been fully sedated while the doctors terminated her four-month pregnancy, a pregnancy she says she had desperately wanted to continue. Sally says “It wasn’t planned, but it was very wanted.”

“I was crying when wheeled me in. They kept asking ‘are you sure you want to do this?’ and I couldn’t even answer, I just had to nod my head.” She goes on to say “I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for.”

“I knew we couldn’t do it to the children already born and we couldn’t do it to the unborn child.” Sally added.

“We thought we could make it work somehow but, honestly, even if we both got a job and 85% of our childcare paid for we still could not afford childcare let alone food.”

Cancelling a scan and midwife appointments, Sally instead booked herself in for a termination. At four months gone that could no longer be a swift appointment, she needed a general anaesthetic and an operation.

I cried at every appointment regarding the termination and I woke up crying from the operation as well,” she said.

I think it’s something I will never forgive myself for. I know I should have prevented it from happening in the first place. My partner was devastated but he tried not to show any emotion because I was so upset.

“He also couldn’t come with me as he had to look after our children so I went alone.”

As the couple prepared to end the pregnancy they tried to find a way to make it work.

“Even on the day he kept saying: ‘Are we sure we should do this? There must be some way that we can keep it.’”

In desperation, they even discussed whether her partner should earn money in less legitimate ways. “He was ready to turn back to crime to support us,” admitted Sally. “But I said if he is in jail how can I cope alone with 3 kids and no money?”

It’s left Sally questioning whether politicians have any regard or respect for her children, and what kind of system leaves her with no choice but to abort a wanted pregnancy or rely on crime to get by.

I feel guilty, ashamed, angry. The Government does not value my right to a family at all or my family, I’m being penalised for being born poor.

I have two sons but I’ve been denied the chance to have a daughter unless we live in complete and utter poverty. I’m disgusted by the Government; I think a two-child limit is sick and disgusting.”

No-one should ever be placed in such a terrible and distressing situation in a wealthy, so-called civilised society. 

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has described the two-child limit as “ensur[ing] that the benefits system is fair to those who pay for it, as well as those who benefit from it, ensuring those on benefits face the same financial choices around the number of children they can afford as those supporting themselves through work”.

Everyone pays for the welfare system. People move in and out of work and contribute when they earn. Many people affected by the two-child policy are actually in work. Wages have been depressed and have stagnated, while the cost of living has risen. It’s a myth that there is a discrete class of people that pays tax and another that does not. People who need lifeline welfare support also pay taxes. Many in work are not paid enough to support themselves and therefore rely on support. The problems that needs to be addressed are insecure employment and low pay, but instead the government is punishing citizens for the hardships caused by their own policies

It is grossly inhumane and unfair to punish those citizens and their children affected by circumstances that are constrained because of political and socioeconomic conditions. 

This is a point that completely disregards the fact that 70% of those claiming tax credits are in work, according to the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG). And it ignores the desperation of women like Sally, forced to abort pregnancies they want to keep.

Clare Murphy, director of external affairs at abortion provider thBritish Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS), says: “Financial pressures, job or housing insecurity are often among key reasons for women deciding to end an unwanted pregnancy.

“But the third child benefit cap is more than that because it penalises those already in the most challenging financial circumstances – and as anti-poverty campaigners have noted, it breaks what has been a fundamental link between need and the provision of support, and also discriminates against children simply because of the order they were born in.

“As a charity that has spent the last five decades counselling pregnant women, we know that women don’t decide to continue with pregnancies because they think they could make a bit of money doing so – £7.60 per day to be precise, when it comes to child tax credit for poorer families,” Clare said.

“They do so because that child is wanted and would be a much-loved addition to their family.”  

Moreover, this rule implies that women can always control their fertility when in fact they don’t even have an automatic right to abortion if their contraception lets them down.

“Contraception frequently fails women,” said Clare. “More than half of women we see for advice about unplanned pregnancy were using contraception when they conceived, including many women using the effective hormonal methods.

“We have seen cuts to contraceptive services and one reason BPAS campaigned so hard last year to bring the price of emergency contraception down was because we feared some women were simply being priced out of protection when their regular method failed.

“Ministers speak about people having to make ‘choices’ about the number of children in their families. It is important to note that women in the UK still do not have the right to choose abortion – it can only be provided if two doctors agree that she meets certain criteria and the abortion takes places in specific licensed premises, unlike any other medical procedure.”

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications at Turn2us, said: “A third child is worth no more or no less than a first or second born.

“No parent can see into the future. Parents may be able to comfortably support a third child today but may be a bereavement, divorce or redundancy away from needing state help. We need to see children protected from growing up in poverty in the UK and that means scrapping this limit.”

Parents may become ill or have an accident that leaves them disabled and unable to work, too. It is immoral to punish people and their children for circumstances that are very often outside of their control. 

The policy also been roundly criticised by religious leaders: 60 Church of England bishops joined the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Muslim Council of Britain to call for the policy to be scrapped. Many childrens’ charities, human rights and equality campaigners have also condemned the policy.

The Government has removed benefits from children who simply have no say in being born or in the number of existing children in their families and the results are already showing.

CPAG estimates that more than 250,000 children will be pushed into poverty as a result of this measure by the end of the decade, representing a 10% increase in child poverty. Meanwhile a similar number of children already living in poverty will fall deeper into poverty.

A Government spokesperson said: “This policy ensures fairness between claimants and those who support themselves solely through work. We’ve always been clear the right exceptions are in place and consulted widely on them.” 

Note the word “solely”. This policy applies to low paid families, too. Yet no family would choose to be poorly paid for their work. This is a punishment for the sins and profit incentive of exploitative employers, and as such, it is profoundly unfair and unjust.

Clare Murphy goes on to say “We see abortion as a fundamental part of women’s healthcare and something which should be a genuine matter of choice – no woman should be left in the position of undergoing abortion because she simply would not be able to put food on the plate or clothes on the back of a new baby. 

As I wrote in 2015, many households now consist of step-parents, forming reconstituted or blended families. The welfare system recognises this as assessment of household income rather than people’s marital status is used to inform benefit decisions. The imposition of a two child policy has implications for the future of such types of reconstituted family arrangements. 

If one or both adults have two children already, how can it be decided which two children would be eligible for child tax credits?  It’s unfair and cruel to punish families and children by withholding support just because those children have been born or because of when they were born. 

And how will residency be decided in the event of parental separation or divorce – by financial considerations rather than the best interests of the child? That flies in the face of our legal framework which is founded on the principle of paramountcy of the needs of the child. I have a background in social work, and I know from experience that it’s often the case that children are not better off residing with the wealthier parent, nor do they always wish to. 

Restriction on welfare support for children will directly or indirectly restrict women’s autonomy over their reproduction. It allows the wealthiest minority freedom to continue having children as they wish, while aiming to curtail the poorest citizens by ‘disincentivising’ them from having larger families, by using financial punishment. It also imposes a particular model of family life on the rest of the population. Ultimately, this will distort the structure and composition of the population, and it openly discriminates against the children of large families. 

People who are in favour of eugenics believe that the quality of a race can be improved by reducing the fertility of “undesirable” groups, or by discouraging reproduction and encouraging the birth rate of “desirable” groups. The government’s notion of “behavioural change” is clearly aimed at limiting the population of working class citizens. 

Eugenics arose from the social Darwinism and laissez-faire economics of the late 19th century, which emphasised competitive individualism, a “survival of the fittest” philosophy and sociopolitical rationalisations of inequality.

Eugenics is now considered to be extremely unethical and it was criticised and condemned widely when its role in justification narratives of the Holocaust was revealed. 

But that doesn’t mean it has gone away. It’s hardly likely that a government of a so-called first world liberal democracy – and fully signed up member of the European Convention on Human Rights and a signatory also to the United Nations Universal Declaration – will publicly declare their support of eugenics, or their authoritarian tendencies, for that matter, any time soon.

Any government that regards some social groups as “undesirable” and formulates policies to undermine or restrict that group’s reproduction rights is expressing eugenicist values, whether those values are overtly expressed as “eugenics” or not.

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 signatory, states:

  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 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.

The commissioners, representing each of the constituent nations of the UK, conducted their review of the state of children’s policies as part of evidence they will present to the United Nations.

Many of the government’s policy decisions are questioned in the report as being in breach of the convention, which has been ratified by the UK.

England’s children’s commissioner, Anne Longfield, said:

“We are finding and highlighting that much of the country’s laws and policies defaults away from the view of the child. That’s in breach of the treaty. What we found again and again was that the best interest of the child is not taken into account.”

Another worry is the impact of changes to welfare, and ministers’ decision to cut  £12bn more from the benefits budget. As of 2015, there were 4.1m children living in absolute poverty – 500,000 more than there were when David Cameron came to power. Earlier this year, the government’s own figures showed that the number of children in poverty across the UK had surged by 100,000 in just one a year, prompting calls for ministers to urgently review cuts to child welfare. Government statistics published on in January  show 4.1 million children are now living in relative poverty after household costs, compared with four million the previous year, accounting for more than 30 per cent of children in the country. The Government’s statistics are likely to understate the problem, too.

It’s noted in the commissioner’s report that ministers ignored the UK supreme court when it found the “benefit cap” – the £25,000 limit on welfare that disproportionately affects families with children, and particularly those with a larger number of children – to be in breach of Article 3 of the convention – the best interests of the child are paramount:

“In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.”

The United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) applies to all children and young people aged 17 and under. The convention is separated into 54 articles: most give children social, economic, cultural or civil and political rights, while others set out how governments must publicise or implement the convention.

The UK ratified the Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) on 16 December 1991. That means the State Party (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland) now has to make sure that every child benefits from all of the rights in the treaty. The treaty means that every child in the UK has been entitled to over 40 specific rights. These include:

Article 1

For the purposes of the present Convention, a child means every human being below the age of eighteen years unless under the law applicable to the child, majority is attained earlier.

Article 2

1. States Parties shall respect and ensure the rights set forth in the present Convention to each child within their jurisdiction without discrimination of any kind, irrespective of the child’s or his or her parent’s or legal guardian’s race, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national, ethnic or social origin, property, disability, birth or other status.

2. States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to ensure that the child is protected against all forms of discrimination or punishment on the basis of the status, activities, expressed opinions, or beliefs of the child’s parents, legal guardians, or family members.

Article 3

1. In all actions concerning children, whether undertaken by public or private social welfare institutions, courts of law, administrative authorities or legislative bodies, the best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration.

2. States Parties undertake to ensure the child such protection and care as is necessary for his or her well-being, taking into account the rights and duties of his or her parents, legal guardians, or other individuals legally responsible for him or her, and, to this end, shall take all appropriate legislative and administrative measures.

3. States Parties shall ensure that the institutions, services and facilities responsible for the care or protection of children shall conform with the standards established by competent authorities, particularly in the areas of safety, health, in the number and suitability of their staff, as well as competent supervision.

Article 4

States Parties shall undertake all appropriate legislative, administrative, and other measures for the implementation of the rights recognized in the present Convention. With regard to economic, social and cultural rights, States Parties shall undertake such measures to the maximum extent of their available resources and, where needed, within the framework of international co-operation.

Article 5

States Parties shall respect the responsibilities, rights and duties of parents or, where applicable, the members of the extended family or community as provided for by local custom, legal guardians or other persons legally responsible for the child, to provide, in a manner consistent with the evolving capacities of the child, appropriate direction and guidance in the exercise by the child of the rights recognized in the present Convention.

Article 6

1. States Parties recognize that every child has the inherent right to life.

2. States Parties shall ensure to the maximum extent possible the survival and development of the child.

Article 26

1. States Parties shall recognize for every child the right to benefit from social security, including social insurance, and shall take the necessary measures to achieve the full realization of this right in accordance with their national law.

2. The benefits should, where appropriate, be granted, taking into account the resources and the circumstances of the child and persons having responsibility for the maintenance of the child, as well as any other consideration relevant to an application for benefits made by or on behalf of the child.

Here are the rest of the Convention Articles.

 

If you have been affected by the issues raised in this article then you can contact Turn2us for benefits advice and support, or BPAS for pregnancy advice and support, including help to end a pregnancy if that’s what you decide.

 


 

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The DWP are being Conservative with the truth, yet again

Sarah's story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact

Sarah’s story: Turned out to be fiction rather than fact


In 2015, Welfare Weekly exposed the Department for Work and Pensions for using fake testimonies from fake characters via a well-placed freedom of information (FoI) request, revealing that the lengths that the government is prepared to go to justify extremely punitive policies. Remarkably, even the 
Chartered Institute of Public Relations (CIPR)  were alarmed at the level of deception, and said it had written to all of its members who work at the Department to find out whether they had played any part in putting the leaflet together. 

Sarah Pinch, the CIPR’s president, said: “Falsely creating the impression of independent, popular support is a naive and opaque technique which blatantly disregards the CIPR’s standards of ethical conduct. It is deeply disappointing if public relations professionals allowed it to be published.” 

This happened during the same month that the it was only this month that the UK statistics watchdog censured the DWP for understating the scale” of its sanctions regime – essentially failing to release adequate data to give jobseekers or the public a genuine picture of the way it’s imposing sanctions, and of monitoring the real impact of this draconian policy. The revelation that the DWP has faked information to distort the reality that so many citizens face is reflective of how deep the rot is in the entire system. 

Then there are the fictional statistics. Iain Duncan Smith was rebuked by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for the ‘misuse’ of benefit statistics  his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap is “unsupported by the official statistics”, says the UK Statistics Authority. 

In letter to Duncan Smith, Andrew Dilnot writes: “In the manner and form published, the statistics do not comply fully with the principles of the Code of Practice, particularly in respect of accessibility to the sources of data, information about the methodology and quality of the statistics, and the suggestion that the statistics were shared with the media in advance of their publication.”

Another claim by Duncan Smith later in the same month also drew criticism and a reprimand. The (then) minister said around 1 million people have been stuck on benefits for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”.

However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting testing. Grant Shapps was also rebuked by UK Statistics Authority for misrepresenting benefit figures the Tory chairman claimed that “nearly a million people” (878,300) on incapacity benefit had dropped their claims, rather than face a new medical assessment for its successor, the employment and support allowance.

The figures, he claimed, “demonstrate how the welfare system was broken under Labour and why our reforms are so important”. The claim was faithfully reported by the Sunday Telegraph  but as the UK Statistics Authority confirmed in its response to Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, it was entirely fabricated.

In his letter to Shapps and Duncan Smith, UKSA chair Andrew Dilnot wrote that the figure conflated “official statistics relating to new claimants of the ESA with official statistics on recipients of the incapacity benefit (IB) who are being migrated across to the ESA”. Of the 603,600 incapacity benefit claimants referred for reassessment as part of the introduction of the ESA between March 2011 and May 2012, just 19,700 (somewhat short of Shapps’s “nearly a million) abandoned their claims prior to a work capability assessment in the period to May 2012. 

The figure of 878,300 refers to the total of new claims for the ESA closed before medical assessment from October 2008 to May 2012. Thus, Shapps’s suggestion that the 878,300 were pre-existing claimants, who would rather lose their benefits than be exposed as “scroungers”, was entirely wrong. Significantly, there is no evidence that those who abandoned their claims did so for the reasons ascribed by Shapps.

Now the DWP have been found out submitting fake claims to the Work and Pensions Committee. The DWP claimed the Institute for Fiscal Stdies (IFS) had reviewed its data which asserts that UC will help more than 250,000 people into employment, once the flagship welfare reform is fully implemented across the UK. However the IFS have contradicted the claim, leading to heavy criticism regarding the DWP’s statement and ‘evidence’ regarding Universal Credit’s ‘causal relatonship’ with employment. 

The Committee says:

“A central part of the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) case for the benefit of Universal Credit (UC) is their assertion of its effect on employment. In to a request for an estimate of the magnitude of that effect, DWP stated it has “determined” that UC will result in 250,000 more people in employment once it is fully implemented.

How the Department ‘arrived’ at these figures

In a follow up letter to Employment Minister Alok Sharma (PDF PDF 1.38 MB)Opens in a new window the Chair asked a set of specific questions about how the Department had arrived at each of the stated constituent parts of that figure:

  • 150,000 more due to “increased financial incentives to work” 
  • 50,000 more due to “increased conditionality”
  • 60,000 due to “simplification of the benefit system”

(That’s basically euphemisms for cuts, sanctions, and more cuts and sanctions)

The Department’s response (PDF PDF 800 KB)Opens in a new window did not answer any of the Chair’s specific questions, although it did supply an account of academic research papers that have informed the Department’s work on UC, and restated the principles underlying those three ostensible benefits of the reform.

DWP concluded by stating: “The approach to our analysis underpinning these estimates was reviewed by the Institute for Fiscal Studies.”

Accordingly, the Committee wrote to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) (PDF PDF 141 KB)Opens in a new window asking if, in that review, it had found those three estimates reasonable, and what the margin of statistical error might be on the numbers.

The IFS’ reply (PDF PDF 197 KB)Opens in a new window starts out “clarifying the role we had in reviewing DWP’s approach” in coming up with the numbers:

Note that at no stage did we review their approach to estimating the impact of increased conditionality or simplification, to which they attribute 50,000 and 60,000 respectively of the overall 250,000 forecast effect on employment”.

The employment impact of Universal Credit is highly uncertain

The IFS goes on to say: “Neil Couling’s letter to Baroness Hollis on 16 November states that the 250,000 figure is based on the same methodology we reviewed in 2012. For the reasons given above, that can only be true of the element (150,000) which is a result of changes to financial incentives. And we are not in a position to confirm whether and to what extent DWP took on board our comments and implemented our recommended improvements before applying the methodology….”

The employment impact of UC is highly uncertain. The move to UC involves a number of changes for which it is hard to find comparable precedents (especially UK precedents)” — casting doubt on DWP’s use of academic evidence to substantiate its estimates — “It is not even possible to produce statistical margins of error for estimates of the employment impact, as the nature of the uncertainty is not conducive to standard statistical analysis…”

Sadly, it will be difficult even after the event to produce convincing estimates of the overall employment impact of UC. The early impact estimates that DWP have published – cited in the Minister’s letter of 12 March – apply only to a small group of claimants who are not affected by UC in the same way as most other claimants […]” and;

“We emphasise that the overall employment impact of UC will conceal very different effects for different groups in the population, with employment rates likely to rise for some and fall for others.”

The last point contradicts what DWP have previously told the Committee when asked about the impact on other groups:

“We remain committed to producing robust comparative analysis of the employment impacts of Universal Credit. As we informed the Committee we are planning to expand the analysis for single cases in the Live Service to couples and families in both services.

This analysis will estimate a labout market impact for these broader claimant groups. In this instance it is misleading to draw a distinction between two services. The underlying policy for both is the same so any comparative analysis will hold true for both systems”.

Lack of evidence

Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The ongoing lack of evidence to back up the much-vaunted employment impact of Universal Credit was already extremely disappointing. But to have our specific queries about basis of this claim answered with airy, irrelevant and, it appears, plainly inaccurate assertions adds insult to injury.

The IFS’ letter shows that Old Mother Hubbard hasn’t got much in the cupboard, despite the bragging of the Department. This clumsy and ill-judged attempt to piggyback on one of the most trusted, unimpugnable authorities on public policy and finance would be farcical if it was not so deeply worrying.”

Call it what it is, Frank. It’s just more glib, ideologically driven lies

Image result for Universal credit criticism


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Government quietly scraps plans to introduce softer approach to benefit sanctions

Image result for welfare sanctions

Last October, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) agreed to trial a less aggressive approach to sanctions, which included the issuing of warnings instead of immediate benefit sanctions when a claimant breaches the conditions imposed on them for the first time. Iain Duncan Smith had proposed the idea in response to sustained criticism that sanctions are often applied unfairly, that they ultimately cause severe hardship, they are a barrier to employment rather than providing an incentive for work, and are costing more to administer than they actually save. 

Last year, David Gauke admitted at the Conservative’s annual conference that the system of benefit sanctions often fails to work and can cause harm. He said he would to try to find a way to make the sanctions system less damaging to people, particularly those with mental health conditions. The announcement of the trial soon afterwards seemed to demonstrate the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) commitment to learning from feedback and using evidence to make positive changes. 

However, the Department’s commitment to the trial is now being called into question, following Esther McVey’s appointment as Gauke’s successor.

Some of the widely criticised sanction decisions include people being sanctioned for missing jobcentre appointments because they are ill, or had to attend a job interview, or people sanctioned for not looking for work because they had already secured a job due to start in a week’s time. In one case, a man with heart problems was sanctioned because he had a heart attack during a disability benefits assessment and so failed to complete the assessment.

Welfare was originally designed to safeguard people experiencing hardship from absolute poverty. Now the Government uses sanctions to create hardship as a punishment for non-compliance with rigid conditionality criteria that doesn’t permit mitigation for someone experiencing a heart attack, or for someone being late for a meeting with a job coach.

Last March, the Work and Pensions Committee called for an independent inquiry into the way that sanctions operated, for the second time in a year. The committee report at the time had warned that the sanctions regime appeared to be “purely punitive”.

In August 2015, the DWP was caught making up quotes from supposed “benefit claimants” saying that sanctions had actually helped them. The Department later admitted the quotes were fabricated and withdrew the leaflet, claiming they were for “illustrative purposes only”.

This deceit came to light because of a response to a Freedom of Information (FoI) request from Welfare Weekly which led the DWP to withdraw the leaflet featuring fictional case studies. It’s particularly damning that the Department can present no real cases studies that support the use of sanctions and their claims that they are effective and necessary. 

Sanctioning a claimant who is single and without dependants can often have implications for other family members, causing hardship for others – for example younger siblings of JSA claimants who are living in their parental home. It is under-acknowledged that when a claimant is sanctioned, the loss of benefits may affect low-income families rather than individuals alone. 

It was hoped that the change proposed by Duncan Smith and Gauke would soften some of the severe hardship caused by sanctions. Although Conservative ministers have claimed that sanctions ensure that people are compliant in their commitment to look for work, in practice a very high proportion of benefit sanctions challenged at independent appeal are overturned, because they have been unfairly or unreasonably applied. In 2014 the DWP released figures which showed that 58 per cent of people seeking to overturn sanctions were successful – up from 20 per cent before 2010.

The introduction of less aggressive sanctions – which involves a system of warnings and a period of dialogue between claimant and the DWP to ascertain reasons for possible breaches to the claimant commitment, exploring possible mitigating circumstances – was also one of five recommendations made in last February’s report by the public accounts committee (PAC) on benefits sanctions, all of which have been accepted by ministers, according to a document sent by the Treasury to the committee earlier this month.

Concerns expressed in the report are that benefit sanctions affect a large number of people, leading to hardship and undermining efforts to find work. Around a quarter of people on Jobseeker’s Allowance between 2010 and 2015 had at least one sanction imposed on them. Suspending people’s benefit payments can lead to rent arrears and homelessness. The consequences of sanctions on people can be serious so they should be used “very carefully”. However, sanctions are imposed for “honest mistakes”. Citizens Advice (CAB) highlighted the need for flexibility for people who are trying their best.

Other concerns stated in the report are that sanctions are imposed inconsistently on claimants by different jobcentres and providers, the Department does not understand the wider effects of sanctions and the Department’s data systems are not good enough to provide routine understanding of what effect sanctions have on claimants’ employment prospects.  In other words, it’s a policy applied without adequate justification or evidence of its efficacy. 

This echoes much of what the National Audit Office (NAO) said in their report on benefit sanctions in 2016. Their report, which has also been cited as a source by the PAC, said the DWP is not doing enough to find out how sanctions affect people on benefits, and concluded that it is likely that management focus and local work coach discretion have had a substantial influence on whether or not people are sanctioned.

The NAO report recommended that the DWP carries out a wide-ranging review of benefit sanctions, particularly as it introduces further changes to labour market support such as Universal Credit. The NAO found that the previous government increased the scope and severity of sanctions in 2012 and recognised that these changes would affect claimants’ behaviour in ways that were “difficult to predict.”

Benefits ensure that people are able to meet their basic needs. Welfare covers the costs of food, fuel and shelter. It’s a safeguard to prevent absolute poverty. That was its original purpose when it was introduced. It is difficult to imagine how removing the means that people have of meeting their basic survival needs can possibly motivate them to find work. Comprehensive historical research shows that when people cannot meet their basic biological needs, their pressing cognitive priority is simply survival. In other words, when people are hungry and facing destitution, addressing those fundamental needs becomes a significant barrier to addressing their psychosocial needs such as seeking employment.

Welfare rights advisers on the rightsnet online forum, and from Buckinghamshire Disability Service have voiced their concerns that the DWP has decided not to carry out the less aggressive sanctions warning trial after all, because of “competing priorities in the Parliamentary timetable”. This government decision was included on page 139 of the latest Treasury Minutes Progress Report, published last month, which describes progress on implementing those PAC recommendations that have been accepted by the government. There was no public announcement of the governments’ intentions.

The progress report is dated 25 January, nonetheless, a DWP spokeswoman has insisted that the decision to abandon the sanctions trial had been taken before the appointment of Esther McVey as the new work and pensions secretary on 8 January.

She said: “The decision not to undertake a trial was taken at the end of 2017 – before Esther McVey took up her position as secretary of state.

“As you have read, introducing the trial through legislative change cannot be secured within a reasonable timescale.

But we are keeping the spirit of the recommendation in mind in our thinking around future sanctions policy.

“To keep the sanctions system clear, fair and effective we keep the policies and processes under continuous review.”

The decision last October to trial handing out warnings prior to implementing sanctions was welcomed by many campaigners, disabled activists, academics and anti-austerity protesters. 

It had come only weeks after the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (UNCRPD) published their inquiry report, which found that the UK government’s welfare reforms “systematically” violate the rights of disabled persons..

The UN committee recommeded that the government reviewed “the conditionality and sanction regimes” linked to employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work disability benefit, and “tackle the negative consequences on the mental health and situation” of disabled people.

Gauke had previously acknowledged that sanctions cause harm, and had voiced a commitment to amend the severity of welfare sanctions. The change in direction by the Government is thought by some campaigners to be directly linked to the return of Esther McVey as a Department for Work and Pensions minister.

A PAC spokesperson said: “The committee has not yet considered its course of action.”

However, sanctions are not compatible with our human rights framework or democracy: “A legal right to a basic income necessary to live with dignity is rooted in inalienable human rights. These rights should be properly enshrined in UK constitutional laws and systems of governance. Currently the poorest 10% of families (about 6 million people) live on £40 per week after tax. It is utterly unacceptable to further reduce this tiny income to zero for any reason. As it stands [welfare] conditionality has opened the door to injustice and cruelty (Dr Simon Duffy, Centre for Welfare Reform, 2010).

 

Related

Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

Benefit Sanctions Lead To Hunger, Debt And Destitution, Report Says

This post was written for Welfare Weekly, which is a socially responsible and ethical news provider, specialising in social welfare related news and opinion.


 

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George Osborne has always been something of an editor: he’s very conservative with the truth

Chancellor George OsborneGeorge Osborne, the financial adviser, after-dinner speaker, author, Kissinger Fellow, chairman of the Northern Powerhouse project, newspaper editor and MP.

Here in the UK, a sitting MP, and a member of the party in office, is the editor of London’s only newspaper. It becomes an almost farcical situation when one considers that London, one of the most cosmopolitan cities in the world, is the most Labour supporting region in the UK. It’s about to have its only local newspaper read like pages from ConservativeHome. The plot sickens.

I seriously doubt that the Standard’s political editor will be pitching a story about the Crown Prosecution Service currently reviewing the Conservatives’ electoral spending, amid the growing evidence of serious electoral fraud, any time soon.

Oh hang on, wasn’t Baronet Osborne one of the key strategic masterminds behind the general election? The same Osborne who regarded the UK social security budget – in particular, the financial safety net that supports disabled people – as disposable income for his equally privileged millionaire peers? He was only forced to climb down over his proposed 4.4 billion of spending cuts to disability benefits after the surprising resignation of the hard faced Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who also likes to abandon sinking ships.

Osborne is so hated in London and elsewhere that he was booed by crowds at the Paralympics when handing out medals

Any suggestion that Britain is still a great bastion of first world liberalism and democracy makes me laugh until I cry these days.

Osborne was widely criticised for his decision not to quit his Tatton seat in north-west England since it was announced that he would take up the position as editor of the Evening Standard. He has already rattled the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (ACOBA) – which is an ethics committee that aims to decide whether job roles for former ministers present a conflict of interest – by announcing the appointment before they were given any time at all to review any potential conflict with his duties as MP and his former role as chancellor. Ex-ministers are supposed to submit their requests and then wait for the committee’s guidance before accepting something and announcing it to the public.

The committee assessing Osborne’s post-ministerial roles is usually given at least a month to carry out research into what contacts a former minister had in his or her department that could constitute a conflict of interest in any new role, but it is understood that some members of the committee were informed less than an hour before Osborne’s appointment was made public. They are now expected to give advice within two weeks.

It’s understood that the committee will be actively considering a call for the former chancellor to delay or decline the role.

Osborne defended his new job on Monday, telling the House of Commons that parliament benefited from members bringing in experience of different sectors alongside their constituency work. He was responding to an urgent question from Labour’s election co-ordinator, Andrew Gwynne, over a potential conflict of interest.

Osborne facetiously remarked “I thought it was important to be here, though unfortunately we have missed the deadline of the Evening Standard

In my view, Mr Speaker, this parliament is enhanced when we have people from all walks of life and different experience in the debate and when people who have held senior ministerial office continue to contribute to the debate.

He’s not exactly a man that cares much for integrity. He seems to think we have forgotten that it was under his chancellorship that the UK lost the Moody’s Investors Service triple A grade, despite Osborne’s key pledge to keep it secure. Moody’s credit ratings represent a rank-ordering of creditworthiness, or expected loss.

The Fitch credit rating was also downgraded due to increased borrowing by the Tories. In fact they borrowed more in 4 years than Labour did in 13. Now they have borrowed more than every single Labour government ever, combined. 

Osborne was rebuked by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) for telling outrageous lies that Labour left the country “close to bankruptcy” following the global recession. However, the economy was officially recovered and growing following the crash, by the last quarter of 2009. Baronet Osborne, the high priest of austerity, put the UK back into recession within months of the Coalition taking office.

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Baronet Osborne is not deemed a member of the nobility, but rather, entitled gentry. The rank of a Baronet is a hereditary title awarded by the British Crown. One’s position in an order of precedence is not necessarily an indication of functional importance.

It’s remarkable that despite Osborne’s solid five-year track record of failure, the Tories still mechanically repeat the “always cleaning up Labour’s mess” lie, as if Labour increasing the national debt by 11% of GDP in 13 years, mitigated by a global recession, (caused by bankers and the finance class), is somehow significantly worse than Osborne’s unmitigated record of increasing the national debt by at least £555 billion.

Osborne has ironically demonstrated that it is possible to dramatically cut spending and massively increase debt. At least Labour invested money in decent public service provision, the Conservatives have simply ransacked every public service, handed out our money to their private sector buddies and steadily dismantled the gains we made as a society from the post-war settlement.

Who could forget in September 2007, ahead of the publication of the 2007 Comprehensive Spending Review, Osborne pledged that the Conservative Party would match Labour’s public spending plans for the next three years. He promised increases in public spending of 2% a year,calling Labour charges that the Conservatives would cut public spending “a pack of lies”. He also ruled out any “upfront, unfunded tax cuts.” 

Then there were the expenses scandals, he even had the cheek to claim £47 for two copies of a DVD of his own speech on “value for taxpayers’ money.

Gosh, what, with Osborne being so conservative with the truth, I can really see the Evening Standard taking a credible objective turn.

Sorry, that was a sarcasm typo, I meant authoritarian turn.

However, it has to be said that it’s not as if  Osborne will be editor of a left leaning paper. Who could forget the Evening Standard‘s headlines during the London Mayoral campaigns: Exposed: Sadiq Khan’s family links to extremist organisation – the front page story about Khan’s former brother-in-law once coincidently attending the same rally as a hate preacher – and Why Sadiq Khan cannot escape questions about extremists, a hit and sneer piece that only just stopped just short of accusing Khan of being a terrorist. But I seriously doubt Osborne will have a liberalising impact on the screaming headlined nonsense of this tabloid.

Among the Tory MPs defending Osborne in the Commons was his former cabinet colleague and Times columnist Michael Gove, a former journalist who himself has been tipped as a potential future newspaper editor. He said: “Is it not the case that we believe in a free press and that proprietors should have the right to appoint who they like to be editor, without the executive or anyone else interfering with that decision?

And isn’t it also the case that who represents a constituency should be up to its voters, not the opposition or anyone else?”

Osborne’s appointment will be subjected to wider scrutiny. On Tuesday, the economy committee of the London Assembly will be considering whether the appointment could “affect the neutrality and objectivity of news coverage in London”.

In addition, Osborne will face questioning by his constituents in Tatton, Cheshire, on Friday, when he is expected to attend his local Conservative Association’s annual general meeting. A petition signed by more than 175,000 people was delivered to his constituency office on Monday, calling on the MP to “pick one job and stick to it”.

Andrew Gwynne amongst others in the Labour party, have called for an inquiry. Gwynne wrote to John Manzoni, the permanent secretary to the Cabinet Office, urging him to examine whether there was a breach of the Ministerial Code of Conduct (which was amended yet again last year by Theresa May, following the previous editing in 2015.)

In his letter, he said former ministers must refer any new jobs to the Advisory Committee on Business Appointments (Acoba) to “counter suspicion” and ensure ministers are not “influenced” by private firms while in government. 

Gwynne, Labour’s national elections and campaign coordinator, added: “Disregarding these rules deeply undermines public trust in the democratic processes and does a disservice to those Members that ensure they follow the rules laid out on these matters.”

 shooting-party

 

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It’s time to stop the revolving door reflecting political/corporate interests that spins the news.

Politics and Insights is proud to join other independent media journalists, writers, collectives and organisations across the UK to condemn the appointment of George Osborne as the new editor of the Evening Standard.

Independent media includes any form of autonomous media project that is free from institutional dependencies, and in particular, from the influence of government and corporate interests.

We are not constrained by the interests of society’s major power-brokers.

“For an effective democratic system, we need a vibrant public sphere fuelled by varied independent broadcast and print media. We do not need the ex-Chancellor benefitting from the editorial control of a free London daily which benefits from city-wide circulation to publicise the divisive rhetoric of a right-wing government. When a crisis of representation, fed by a culture of nepotism already plagues so many establishments, Osborne’s appointment is a step in completely the wrong direction.

We write this as independent journalists, committed to holding the powerful to account. We will continue to fight for better representation and healthier political analysis in our media channels, and we will continue to produce the journalism that is missing from the corporate-owned outlets which dominate our newspapers and televisions today.”

Politics and Insights condemns George Osborne’s appointment to the Evening Standard in joint independent media statement


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. Successive Conservative chancellors have left me in increasing poverty. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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Government rebuked again for misusing statisics – this time on homelessness

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Liberal Democrat peer, Baroness Rosalind Grender, has submitted a formal complaint to the UK Statistics Authority about the government’s misuse of homelessness statistics in press notices and parliamentary debates.

In a letter responding to her concerns, Ed Humpherson, the Authority’s director general, said he agreed with her complaint. He described the Department’s use of the figures as “disappointing” and that it was “potentially misleading” to the public.

It’s not the first time the government has been reprimanded officially, for trying to mislead the public. Who could forget David Cameron being rebuked by the statistics watchdog over national debt claims – The PM said the government was “paying down Britain’s debts” in a political broadcast, even though the debt was rising (and continues to increase).

Then there was Iain Duncan Smith’s unforgettable misuse of benefit statistics – he was rebuked by Office for National Statistics (ONS) for his claim that 8,000 people moved into work as a result of the benefit cap which was found to be “unsupported by the official statistics.” 

Later in that same month, Duncan Smith also drew criticism and a reprimand for claiming around 1 million people have been “stuck on benefits” for at least three of the last four years “despite being judged capable of preparing or looking for work”. However, the figures cited also included single mothers, people who were seriously ill, and people awaiting assessment.

Anyone would think that the Conservatives are trying to hide the damaging consequences of their draconian policies. (See: The DWP mortality statistics: facts, values and Conservative concept control.) 

The UK Statistics Authority disputed figures announced by the Department for Communities and Local Government, which claimed last year that homelessness had been more than halved since 2003.

However, the government’s claim was based on a very narrow statutory definition of homelessness which included only those who authorities are obliged to help. The number did not take into account homeless people who were given assistance under other schemes.The overall number of people facing homelessness has not dropped. The government also did not explicitly include the statutory homelessness definition in parliamentary debates in the House of commons and Lords, or in press releases.

A spokesperson for the Department for Communities and Local Government said: “We’re aware of the issue raised and have taken steps to make sure this does not arise in future.”

Baroness Grender welcomed the finding saying that the Government “has been caught out playing a numbers game, rather than accepting there is a problem, and getting on with the important work of finding solutions”.  

“It is time to stop spinning the statistics and start solving the problem,” she said.

 

Looks like my list from 2014  – A list of official rebukes for Tory lies – needs updating.

 

Related

Government backs new law to prevent people made homeless through government laws from becoming homeless

Labour Party To Refer Groundless Iain Duncan Smith Claim To Statistics Watchdog Again

 


 

I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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‘Reforming’ ESA: the final frontier and the last moral boundary

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Context

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) is a benefit for people who are assessed as being unable to work because of a health condition and/or disability. Despite this, ESA has also been politically defined as financial support for people having difficulty finding a job because of a long-term illness or disability, to “help them back to work” despite their illness or disability. This presents a problematic tension because in order to qualify for ESA at all, people must be found to be unable to work, by their own doctor, and by the “independent” Work Capability Assessment.

There’s a significant difference between being unable to work, and facing significant additional barriers to work. People who are assessed are most commonly described as having “limited capability for work” – a phrase which is not precise in its meaning, and which does not include or prompt any consideration of social, cultural, political and economic contexts that also present disabled people with significant barriers to employment. 

The name of the allowance (“employment and support”) is also purposefully misleading, and betrays the original controversial political cost-cutting aims that prompted its inception. This re-branding of what was previously called “incapacity benefit” has been problematic. It implies that even those people placed in the Employment and Support Allowance Support Group, who are considered “unlikely” to be able to work in the foreseeable future, are nonetheless being “supported” into employment.

This blurring of definitions, categories and purposes has provided scope and political opportunity for discussion of introducing the mandatory requirement for pre-employment preparation, conditionality and sanctions to be applied to claimants with the most severe health conditions, in the Support Group. This has been casually suggested in the recent work, health and disability government consultation and green paper. Currently, anyone in the Support Group can voluntarily ask for pre-employment support, it isn’t compulsory.

A major assumption throughout the green paper is that disabled people claiming ESA are somehow mistaken in assuming they cannot work: “how can we improve a welfare system that leaves 1.5 million people – over 60% of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance – with the impression they cannot work and without any regular access to employment support, even when many others with the same conditions are flourishing in the labour market?   

This group were assessed by doctors and the state (via the Work Capability Assessment) as being unable to work. 

The aim behind the introduction of ESA was to actively reduce those previously eligible for Incapacity Benefit to a small group of people with severe disabilities (Support Group) and another moderately sized group who were to undergo fixed term pre-employment preparation and training (Work-Related Activity Group.)  The latter group are deemed unable to work, but expected to recover sufficiently to work within two years of the assessment. 

However, the controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been widely criticised, not least for its insensitivity and lack of capacity in differentiating between those people who “may” work, and those who cannot. Furthermore, the  WCA does not identify the social, cultural, political and economic barriers that disabled people face in finding suitable employment, and so the focus is on individuals without a context and their perceived personal “deficits” caused through illness and disability. This means that any pre-employment “support” for those who may or who wish to work is by its design unlikely to address the structural barriers to suitable employment that disabled people face.

The architects

Much of the politics of welfare in the 1980s revolved around “cuts” and restrictions in public spending designed to allow tax cuts, particularly reductions in the rates of income tax. Blair’s new programme, the New Deal, was all about moving people from social security benefits into work, as were many of the measures in the 1998 Budget.

David Freud, a former vice-chairman of bulge bracket investment banking at UBS, was an advisor on out-of-work benefit reform in December 2006. Freud’s 2007 report – dubbed “the Freud report” but officially titled Reducing dependency, increasing opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work – called for the greater use of private sector companies who would be paid by results, for substantial “resources” to be made available to help people on Incapacity Benefit back into work, and for a single working-age benefit payment to replace individual benefits such as Housing Benefit and Jobseeker’s Allowance (the forerunner of Universal Credit). His central idea was that spending on “delivery” – such as schemes to get people back to work, like the work programme – would save money in the long run because there would be fewer people being paid money in the form of benefits. 

Other contributions to the body of ideas behind ESA came from Frank Field, who was made Minister for Welfare Reform following the 1997 election, with Labour in power. Field felt that the state should have only a small role to play in the provision of welfare, and he viewed his task as “thinking the unthinkable” in terms of social security reform, but others report that Prime Minister Blair wanted some simpler vote-winning policy ideas. Blair writes that: “the problem was not so much that his thoughts were unthinkable as unfathomable”.

In January 2006, John Hutton published a White Paper outlining the government’s latest plans for welfare reform: the benefit that would replace Incapacity Benefit would be called Employment and Support Allowance and its “gateway” assessment would be transformed. Over the course of a decade, Hutton expected the number of people on Incapacity Benefit to fall by one million, saving £7billion a year.

In July 2008 a Green Paper was published, which James Purnell said was “inspired by the reforms proposed by David Freud”. The author announced that “between 2009 and 2013, all Incapacity Benefit claimants will be reassessed using a medical assessment called the Work Capability Assessment” that would divide them into three groups: fit for work; unfit for work but fit for work-related activity; or fit for neither. At the same time, Professor Paul Gregg was asked by the Department for work and Pensions (DWP) to conduct a feasibility study of conditionality and how it might be applied to people claiming sickness benefits. When responding to the Gregg Review, the DWP said that the study had recommended that conditionality be applied to “the vast majority of people in receipt of Employment and Support Allowance.”

In early 2011, under the Coalition government, the Incapacity Benefit reassessment programme was underway using a much more stringent version of the WCA. Atos were recontracted to carry out the work. Targets were written into Atos’s new contracts to reduce successful claims. Dr Steven Bick, a GP with 20 years’ experience, applied for a job as an assessor with Atos to carry out the WCA, and secretly filmed his training for Channel 4’s Dispatches programme, which was broadcasted on Monday 30 July. Undercover filming shows Bick being told by his trainer that he will be watched carefully over the number of applicants he “found eligible for the highest rate of disability payments.”

The documentary also highlighted the unease about the radically heightened eligibility criteria felt by some trainers employed by Atos to teach new recruits how to carry out the tests. It had become much more difficult for very severely disabled claimants to qualify for support. No matter how serious claimants problems are with their arms, for example, “as long as you’ve got one finger, and you can press a button,” they would be found fit for work, one trainer said. Bick said that assessors testing Incapacity Benefit claimants were told they should rate only about one in eight as needing to be placed in the Support Group. That’s regardless of the level of illness and disability they would be presented with, case by case.

In January 2016, the Conservative Welfare Secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, announced that ESA was “fundamentally flawed” and declared that a brand new policy, which would get nearly all ESA recipients back to work, would be unveiled within weeks. A hint of what that policy might be was given in a detailed report on ESA published the following month by Reform, the right-of-centre neoliberal think tank:

  • Effectively, ESA would be abolished: the amount of money paid each week to the claimant would be reduced to the level of Jobseekers Allowance
  • The WCA may be replaced by another assessment that set out to identify any barriers to work faced by the claimant, but which would play no role in determining eligibility to benefits
  • As a way to nudge claimants towards overcoming those barriers, extra money might be made available to fund a tailored programme of rehabilitation – although participation in this could be made a requirement of continued receipt of the benefit.

State diagnosis and treatment – a blunt instrument

The government say that according to previous research undertaken by the DWP, musculoskeletal conditions were the most common main condition of people claiming ESA. Mental health conditions have more recently overtaken this category of illnesses as the main condition that “triggers” an ESA claim.

In the recent work, health and disability green paper, the government also say: ““[..] how can we improve a welfare system that leaves 1.5 million people – over 60% of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance – with the impression they cannot work and without any regular access to employment support, even when many others with the same conditions are flourishing in the labour market?”

The research paper also says: “The belief that work improves health also positively influenced work entry rates; as such, encouraging people in this belief may also play a role in promoting return to work.”

The belief. Not evidenced fact.

That is a very dangerous idea. Many conditions are complex, unpredictable and difficult to diagnose. Some conditions have multiple symptoms affecting many different parts of the body. Musculoskeletal conditions, for example, are a category that includes conditions ranging from injuries to systemic and serious diseases. So “musculoskeletal conditions” include low back pain, injuries such as broken bones, torn or pulled ligaments and tendons, and slipped discs, wear and tear on joints, osteoarthritis, osteoporosis, and connective tissue diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and scleroderma.

Connective tissue diseases are systemic illnesses that usually affect other parts of the body, such as major organs, as well as the widespread pain and damage in the musculoskeletal system. Most people with these illnesses don’t just contend with pain in their joints, tendons, ligaments and nerves; they usually feel very unwell, suffering from weight loss, profound fatigue, susceptibility to infections and general malaise. They may have serious lung, heart, kidney or blood disorders, neurological disorders, eye and ear problems, vascular problems and a wide range of other serious symptoms that can be caused through widespread inflammation throughout the body. Physiotherapy, splinting damaged joints, and other traditional measures for helping injury doesn’t help in the long term with connective tissue disease, because the damage is caused by a disease process: through autoimmune mediated widespread inflammation.

This is precisely why I see my doctor and not the government when I am ill. I want an objective and precise medical opinion, diagnosis and specialist treatment when needed, not an ideological diagnosis, dogma in soundbites and a prescription for hard labour, to “set me free.” 

“[…]with the impression they cannot work and without any regular access to employment support, even when many others with the same conditions are flourishing in the labour market?”  

Not all of the “same category” of conditions are the same. To assume they are is very dangerous. Furthermore, as previously stated, rehabilitation is unlikely to be helpful, since damage to the joints, tendons and ligaments isn’t caused through injury and it won’t heal. Medication is the only way to slow the damage that is caused by autoimmune complexes and inflammation. Connective tissue diseases are incurable. 

However, many of the treatments for connective tissue disease are also very risky and experimental. They include methotrexate, which is a chemotherapy, and immune suppressants such as enbrel and rituximab, which leave people at risk of dying from overwhelming infection, as well as other serious side effects, which may also kill.  

Having people believe that work is good for their health in order to reduce the numbers of people claiming ESA is authoritarian, disgracefully irresponsible and very dangerous.

On 22 December 2014 a bin lorry collided with pedestrians in the city centre of Glasgow, Scotland, killing six and injuring fifteen others. The driver of the council-owned vehicle, Harry Clarke, said he had passed out at the wheel. A similar blackout had happened to him in the driving seat of a bus, although he had not disclosed the incident on his heavy goods vehicle licence renewal application, despite such self-reporting being mandatory. 

Having been admitted to the Western Infirmary after the crash, Clarke was discharged on 7 January 2015 He was eventually diagnosed as having suffered neurocardiogenic syncope, a fainting episode caused by drop in blood pressure. The inquiry also revealed that Clarke’s medical history contained episodes of dizziness and fainting dating from the 1970s and that he had previously suffered a blackout while at the wheel of a First Glasgow bus, which was in service but stationary at a bus stop. 

It was stated that Clarke had been passed fit to return to work as a bus driver owing to failures by both the bus company’s doctor and Clarke’s own GP to spot that Clarke had changed his account of events, telling his GP that the episode had occurred in the canteen, which the GP then attributed to the hot conditions and deemed to be unlikely to be repeated. Clarke had a four-year history of episode-free driving after the 2010 incident, and First Glasgow’s occupational-health specialist had cleared him to drive after the 2010 incident and told him he need not notify the DVLA. 

A good question to ask is this. In the event of injury or death to either the person coerced by the state into work, assured that work is good for health, or to their work colleagues, as a consequence of that person not being fit for work, who is ultimately responsible? Bearing in mind that to qualify for ESA, a person has already been assessed as unfit for work. 

The shrinking category of illness and disability 

ESA was originally calculated to include the acknowledged additional every day costs that disabled people face in their day to day living. There was also a recognition that disabled people who can’t work face the cumulative effects of poverty because of a low income over time, too. The ESA Support Group have the higher rate because they are anticipated to be highly unlikely to work in the longer term. That outcome is assessed via the state WCA. So the state has already acknowledged that those in the Support Group are unlikely to be able to work. Those in the Work-Related Activity Group (WRAG) are deemed unable to work, but “may” be capable of work in the future, more specifically, “within two years”.

Although PIP covers some additional costs that disabled people face, it’s designed to cover highly specific needs, with “components” for mobility, and a daily living component which is paid if you need personal care. Both the mobility and daily living allowance are narrowly task related, not cost related. There is no component, for example, that would cover extra heating, special diet and additional laundry requirements. Many special adaptations that people may need are not included, too. 

Many people who were previously eligible for mobility support through the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) assessment are no longer eligible because of the much harsher eligibility criteria for PIP. This has meant many thousands of people have lost their specially adapted motability vehicles or motorised wheelchairs. This includes people who relied on their vehicles to get to and from work, since PIP and DLA are not means tested, it can be claimed by people in or out of work.

Earlier this year I wrote that a government advisor, who is a specialist in labour economics and econometrics, has proposed scrapping all ESA sickness and disability benefits. Matthew Oakley, a senior researcher at the Social Market Foundation, recently published a report entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, in which he proposes abolishing the ESA Support Group. To meet extra living costs because of disability, Oakley says that existing spending on PIP and the Support Group element of ESA should be brought together to finance a new extra costs benefit. Eligibility for this benefit should be determined on the basis of need, with an assessment replacing the WCA and PIP assessment.

Both ESA and PIP were introduced with the same claim: that eligibility should be determined on the basis of need. The category of disabled people that the government regard as “most in need” is shrinking as the political goalposts constantly shift. I think the word “need” is being conflated with politically defined neoliberal outcomes.

Oakley also suggests considering a “role that a form of privately run social insurance could play in both increasing benefit generosity and improving the support that individuals get to manage their conditions and move back to work.”

A toxic article from the Conservative and neoliberal Reform think tank suggests that “treatments” for some ESA claimants are made mandatory, subject to sanctions and so on.

And I can see that coming down the pipeline to the tune of an insane political mantra: “work is a health outcome.” 

In Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits, Reform have this to say:

“Those with mild or moderate health conditions that, with support, could be managed should be expected to take reasonable rehabilitative steps – some level of conditionality should therefore be applied. Employment advisers must be appropriately trained to support those claimants, and given a high degree of discretion in how they apply that conditionality.”

“Could be managed” by work coaches and state sponsored occupational therapists? That comment implies that sick and disabled people and our health service are somehow “failing” to “manage” sickness and disability. Seriously? The inference we are supposed to make is that people are sick and disabled because they can’t be bothered helping themselves. I think that tells you all you need to know about the attitude that informs what kind of “rehabilitation” will be on offer. It won’t be tailored to your medical condition, it will be tailored to you simply getting a job. 

Another Reform articleReforming ESA: the final frontier? says: “There is a risk, though, with making health support mandatory and asking health professionals to police this.”

Compulsory medical treatment is against the law. There are also human rights implications. That’s regardless of the government’s narrow aim of coercing people into work by using “health” interventions as a prop. A medical intervention without valid informed consent is a criminal offence and the offending health care professional can be charged with assault or battery. Examples of such situations include treatment against the patient’s will, different treatment than the one consented for and treatment after consenting when a person has been deliberately provided with wrong information.

There are very few exceptions, which include: patients with acute or permanent incapacity (i.e loss of consciousness after an accident or patients on mechanical ventilation) or chronic illness (i.e dementia), patients suffering from severe mental illness, (but if a patient has clearly given an advance directive while still competent, the treating physician is legally bound to respect this) and patients suffering from communicable diseases, such as tuberculosis (TB).

The four main principles of medical ethics are justice, non-malificence, autonomy and beneficence. Autonomy is the main ethical consideration underlying informed consent. The patients’ right to determine what investigations and treatment to undergo must be respected by all doctors.

For consent to be valid it must be informed consent. For this to be the case it must be:

  • Given voluntarily with no coercion or deceit. Sanctioning and the threat of sanctioning would constitute coercion.
  • Given by an individual who has capacity
  • Given by an individual who has been fully informed about the issue.

There are further implications regarding job coaches accessing medical records for patient confidentiality:

  • Breaching confidentiality fails to respect patient autonomy.
  • Violation of patient confidentiality is a form of betrayal.
  • Patients have a right to confidentiality that has frequently been demonstrated in common law and in some specific areas outlined in statute law.

The Reform think tank has also recently proposed entirely scrapping what is left of the disability benefit support system, in their report Working welfare: a radically new approach to sickness and disability benefits and has called for the government to set a single rate for all out of work benefits and reform the way sick and disabled people are assessed.

You see dangerous, circular and irrational justifications such as: “Nonetheless, international evidence does show that the rate at which sickness benefits are set can have behavioural effects – particularly on claim duration. ”  

Well no. Those on the higher rates are assessed as unlikely to be able to work in the long term and thus the “behavioural effects” are simply that this group are too ill to work. That means they will be claiming for long periods. Yet this blunt, dangerous and backwards logic is being used to claim that higher disability rates serve as a “disincentive”for work. 

The Reform think tank proposes that the government should cut the weekly support paid to 1.3 million sick and disabled people in the ESA Support Group from £131 to £73. This is the same amount that Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants receive. However, those people placed in the Support Group after assessment have been deemed by the state as unlikely to be able to work again. It would therefore be very difficult to justify this proposed cut, given the additional needs that disabled people have, which is historically recognised, and empirically verified by research.

Reform had also promoted the idea that the ESA WRAG should be paid the same as those claiming job seeker’s allowance. That happened of course. Now they are arguing that there should be NO disability premium at all for the Support Group, on the grounds that it serves as a “disincentive” to work. The government’s recent green paper clearly shows the idea has been taken on board in principle, given the discussion for introducing conditionality, work related activity and sanctions for the previously exempt group of very ill and disabled people, placed in that group originally because doctors and government contracted “independent” assessors deemed them too ill to work.

Yet the authors of the report doggedly insist that having a higher rate of weekly benefit for extremely sick and disabled people encourages them“to stay on sickness benefits rather than move into work.” People on sickness benefits don’t move into work because they are sick. Forcing them to work is outrageous. “Too ill to work” is simply that. It has nothing to do with “incentives”, and that patronising and dangerous claim is simply a politically expedient reinterpretation.

The government’s aim is to manage sickness and disability in the short term sufficiently enough to meet narrow neoliberal outcomes including fueling the supply side of the “labour market”.

But it’s a well known historical fact that a large reserve army of labour drives wages down. The other trend, over this last decade, has been the unprecedented growth of “flexible” or insecure contracts, which are considerably attractive to employers, who dispute many of the downsides that unions, workers and analysts have highlighted. (See: More than 7m Britons now in precarious employment). In this highly competitive context, it is highly unlikely that employers who have increasingly come to regard their employees as a disposable means of making profit are going to be “disability confident.” The fact that the government are proposing offering temporary financial “incentives” to employers that recruit disabled people tells us there is a major barrier there. 

Further comment from Reform: “Reform call for a single rate of ‘income replacement’ for out of work claimants, whether disabled or not. This would mean a reduction for many ESA claimants. However, Reform ask why ESA is paid at a higher rate. If it is because there are extra costs associated with disability, then isn’t this what Personal Independence Payment (PIP) is for? If it is because ESA claimants are expected to take longer to find work, then doesn’t this also apply to some Jobseeker’s Allowance claimants and other groups?” From Reforming ESA: the final frontier?

PIP covers very only highly specific additional costs: those related to mobility and personal assistance, as I outlined earlier, and it is very difficult to fulfil the eligibility criteria, since this was another re-branded benefit designed to cut cost. Being sick and disabled does mean that at the very least, people may need recovery time, and meanwhile cannot meet even basic signing on conditionality, such as being available for work seven days a week. However, many in both ESA groups cannot work because they are chronically ill, or have degenerative conditions. Some people in the Support Group are terminally ill. This is very worryingly something that Reform have chosen to ignore. 

The title of Reform’s paper – Reforming ESA: the final frontier? provides a glimpse of a wider political intention – ESA is the “last unexplored area” for welfare “reform.”  “Thinking the unthinkable” is one of those trite things that ministers say when they expect something of a public backlash, but have nonetheless already made up their minds about cutting some public service or essential social support provision. Beforehand, think tanks and ministers periodically “kite fly” their proposals to test out public responses, using justification narratives: techniques of persuasion, usually reserved for the dodgy end of the advertising industry, and techniques of neutralisation to soothe and to sell their ideas about how things ought to be. And where our money should not be spent. The “public purse” is being “protected” from more and more of the public – ordinary citizens – and is now regarded as disposable income for the very wealthy and powerful. Austerity for us, tax gifts for the 1%

Six years ago it would have been unthinkable for a government to take away financial support from sick and disabled people, and to coerce them into work. It would have been unthinkable for a government to propose making any kind of medical treatment mandatory for a protected social group – sick and disabled people who need support to meet their basic needs. It would have been unthinkable that a UK government would systematically violate the human rights of disabled people. Yet they have. 

That we have progressed to become a society that permits a so-called democratic government to do this indicates that the public’s moral and rational boundaries have been pushed, this has been an incremental process, permeated by a wide variety of deliberative practices which have added to the problem of recognising it for what it is.

There has been a process of gradual habituation of the public, to being governed by shock and surprise; to receiving decisions and policies deliberated and passed in secret; to being persuaded that the justification for such deeds and controversial policy was based on real evidence that the government parades as slogans propped up by glittering generalities and techniques of persuasion. It happens in stages. Many don’t notice the calculated step-by-step changes, but those that do  – usually those affected – are often overwhelmed with the sheer volume of them.

 “The final frontier” is the political garnering of sufficient levels of public indifference and complicity with state cruelty, coercion and the uncivilised systematic sanctioning and removal of support for those sick and disabled citizens that doctors and state assessors have already said are not able to work. This is a government that likes to get its own way. 

Once the public’s rational and moral boundaries have been pushed sufficiently to accommodate this atrocity, it won’t be very difficult at all to argue a case for the complete dismantling of the welfare state.

That has always been the ultimate aim of the Conservatives.

If you think that’s okay, then perhaps it’s worth contemplating that illness can happen to anyone, and so can an accident. We have all paid into our social security system, as have our parents. It is ours; it’s there for if or when we need support. It reflects the collective best of us as a society, yet somehow this government have managed to attach shame and stigma to it. And as a society, we’ve allowed them to do that.

Disability can happen to any of us at any time. And when it does, you soon realise that it isn’t a “lifestyle choice” that you would ever have chosen to make.

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 Related

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The power of positive thinking is really political gaslighting

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions: a state experiment in behaviour modification

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide


 

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Thanks Mr Green, but we want more than token gestures and political opportunism

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The work and pensions secretary, Damian Green, is expected to announce at the Conservative conference that those people with severe, lifelong conditions will no longer face six-monthly reassessments.

Employment and support allowance (a misleading title for sickness and disability support for those people whose doctors say are too unwell to work) will now continue automatically for people who have lifelong, severe health conditions, with no prospect of improvement, according to Green.

However, the retesting of chronically ill or disabled people for another key disability benefit – personal independence payments – is to remain, and thousands with unchanging or degenerative conditions are preparing to be put through that pointless assessment again.

I can’t help wondering how “chronic” and “degenerative” will be defined and how exemption from reassessment will be decided. It’s unclear which medical conditions will be considered grounds for a reprieve from further WCAs, but apparently the criteria will be drawn up by “health professionals. There were no details provided about who these “health professionals” will be. Many people have no faith whatsoever in the medical judgments of the assessors themselves – especially when they have previously been known to ask woefully ignorant questions like “how long are you likely to have Parkinson’s disease?”

It may be the case that those claiming Employment and Support Allowance, placed in the support group will be exempt from the reassessments. However, as Samuel Miller, a human rights specialist and campaigner for disabled people, points out: 

“The Department for Work and Pensions says that it is scraping retesting for people with severe, lifelong conditions at the same time that there has been a sharp drop in Support Group awards and a sharp increase in people placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG). Charities report that 45% of people who put in a claim for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and had Parkinson’s, Cystic Fibrosis, Multiple Sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the WRAG.

Disability rights campaigners are concerned that the figures show the government is cutting spending on disability benefits “below the radar”, after being forced to abandon its attempts to reduce expenditure on personal independence payment (PIP) in April.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics, released last month, show the proportion of disabled people applying for ESA who were placed in the support group – for those assessed with “the highest barriers to work” – plunged by 42 per cent in just three months. There are concerns that the Work Capability Assessment has been made even more harsh by stealth.

For assessments completed during November 2015, 57 per cent of claimants were placed in the support group; but by February 2016 that had dropped by 24 percentage points to just 33 per cent. 

Far too little far too late

This small change will not undo the suffering of sick and disabled people who have already been caught in the revolving door of the assessment and reassessment process. It’s not uncommon for people fighting a wrong “fit for work” decision to wait for many months before they win at tribunal, only to find that within three months of their successful appeal, they have another appointment for reassessment.

You would think that if someone has just won an appeal, common sense would prevail – that someone at the DWP would acknowledge that it’s highly unlikely these people have suddenly got better in such a short space of time. The strain of being put through this callous revolving door process has an adverse impact on people with chronic conditions, exacerbating their symptoms. It is profoundly stressful and anxiety-provoking. 

This political token gesture will not undo the profound physical and psychological damage that the WCA has caused some of our most vulnerable citizens. And for many who did not feel vulnerable – those who felt they coped pretty well with their illness ordinarily – the constant strain of having to prove themselves ill and the loss of lifeline income whilst they await mandatory review and appeal, has led to increased vulnerability.

It’s also tragic and painful that it’s far too late to help the people who have died as a consequence of  being told they are fit for work when they are not, and being forced to fight for lifeline social security to meet their basic needs.

I am happy to see the announced decision to stop reassessing chronically sick people every six months, because it’s unlikely they will get better. (The clue was always in the word “chronic,” curiously enough). If that brings about a reduction in the widespread suffering caused by the callous cost-cutting WCA , it’s a small step towards much needed positive change. This move would have been more credible as a signal of good intentions had Green also intended to announce the reversal of the cuts planned for those in the work related activity group, claiming ESA.

That a UK government feels it’s acceptable to financially penalise and punish a previously protected social group – comprised of people judged as too ill to work by doctors – shows how far our society has regressed in terms of equality and human rights. And democracy. 

Labour have already pledged to abolish the Work Capability Assessment

Call me a cynic, but didn’t the Labour party pledge to completely scrap the Work Capability Assessment at their conference? Debbie Abrahams, shadow work and pensions secretary, spoke of strong ethical and empirically evidenced reasons for doing so.

She says: “As ever with this government though, the devil is in the detail. While the end to repeated assessments will be a relief to those that have been affected, this announcement falls far short of the fundamental shift to a more holistic, person-centred approach we so desperately need.

“Too many sick and disabled people will remain subject to this harmful, ineffective assessment. We will continue to push the Tories for a better deal for disabled people.”

After years of people suffering and evidenced feedback from victims of their policies, campaigners and academic researchers, the government decide NOW that chronic actually means “chronic”?

Duncan Smith, whose resignation from the role of work and pensions secretary was seen as an attack on the then leadership of David Cameron and George Osborne, told the Today programme he “completely agreed with the changes.”

“We worked to change this process, it was one we inherited and it just functioned badly on this area,” he said.

That isn’t true.

Some historical context

The Work Capability Assessment was piloted under the last Labour government, but Duncan Smith passed it into law after disregarding the concerns that the Labour party had raised following their review, regarding the assessment process being insensitive to fluctuating conditions and mental health status. In fact Duncan Smith modified the assessment process, making it even less sensitive. In early 2011, the Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government initiated the planned expansion of the programme to reassess 1.5 million people whom previous governments had judged to be entitled to Incapacity Benefit.

At the same time the DWP introduced long-planned revisions to the test’s eligibility criteria, which became more stringent overall: most notably, the 03/11 version awarded no points when a claimant who had difficulty walking could overcome the disability by using a wheelchair, if reasonably practicable. When Atos were recontracted in 2010, targets to remove the higher rate benefits from seven out of eight claimants were built into the new contract. Dr Steven Bick reported that “experts” testing Incapacity Benefit claimants were told they should rate only about one in eight as so disabled they will never work. The “quota” was enforced by French firm Atos, paid £100 million a year for the testing, and was revealed by undercover GP Bick on Channel 4’s Dispatches.

In February 2011, Professor Paul Gregg, an economist and one of the original architects of ESA, warned that the WCA was “badly malfunctioning” and urged further pilot studies before the more stringent 03/11 version was used as the default assessment. Nevertheless, the mammoth Incapacity Benefit reassessment programme got under way in the spring of 2011, using the new version of the test.

In January 2016, the National Audit Office (NAO) published its evaluation of the DWP’s health and disability assessment contracts. It said the cost of each WCA had risen from £115 under Atos to £190 under Maximus.

The report went on to say that Maximus was facing “significant challenges with staff failing to complete training requirements” and revealed that in July 2015 – less than six months into the new contract – the DWP had been obliged to draw up a “performance improvement plan” with Maximus because “volume targets were not being met”.

Perhaps the real reasons for stopping the six-monthly assessments are entirely financial – merely cost-cutting measures. As well as the heavy cost of each assessment to the public purse, there is also the considerable cost of many tribunals, because of the many “wrong decisions”. 

Green told the Press Association: “We are building a country that works for everyone – not just the privileged few. A key part of that is making sure that all those who are able to work are given the support and the opportunity to do so. But it also means ensuring that we give full and proper support to those who can’t.”

(You can laugh now. I’m just wondering when an assessment for tax-dodging millionaires who were awarded at least £107,000 each per year in the form of a “tax break” will happen. This was at the same time the first round of welfare cuts were announced. It would be refreshing to see the minority of privileged citizens shouldering some of the burden of austerity and “paying down the the deficit” for a change. It would be fair to expect those who have gained the most from society to put something back, after all.)

He went on to say: “That includes sweeping away any unnecessary stress and bureaucracy – particularly for the most vulnerable in society.

“If someone has a disease which can only get worse then it doesn’t make sense to ask them to turn up for repeated appointments. If their condition is not going to improve, it is not right to ask them to be tested time after time. So we will stop it.”

I find it incredible that it’s taken six years for this “revelation” to hit home. Overwhelming empirical evidence that the assessment process is harming sick and disabled people has been presented to the government on many occasions, only to prompt what is, after all, a very small and inadequate policy change.

Green has almost always voted for a reduction in spending on welfare benefits, generally voted against raising welfare benefits at least in line with prices, almost always voted against paying higher benefits over longer periods for those unable to work due to illness or disability, and almost always voted for reducing housing benefit for social tenants deemed to have excess bedrooms (the “Bedroom Tax”), which has disproportionately affected sick and disabled people and their carers.

Earlier this year, a report for the Social Market Foundation thinktank recommended that the government entirely scrap the work capability assessment. The report also said the government should introduce a properly funded system – making use of trial projects and extensive consultation with benefit claimants – which would identify those disabled people closest to being able to get a job, while those too ill or disabled to work should have a “level of benefit provided … sufficient to allow them to live comfortably and engage fully in society.”

It also recommended that the government abandon the failing benefit sanction system for people with chronic illness or a disability – instead putting an emphasis on support meetings and financial incentives through a “steps to work wage” on top of their unemployment benefit. 

Remarkably, the report was written by Matthew Oakley – a former Treasury adviser who until 2013 was head of economics at the right-of-centre Policy Exchange thinktank. He was also on Iain Duncan Smith’s own social security advisory committee.

What Green has offered falls far short of Oakley’s recommendations.

Let’s not accept politically opportunistic sops and scraps of small comfort.

Sick and disabled people deserve so much better than this. The Work Capability Assessment is not only consistently empirically demonstrated as being unfit for purpose, arbitrary and cruel, but it is also one of the most shocking political betrayals of those most in need that has ever been allowed to go unchecked.

 

Related

Man leaves coroner letter as he fears Work Capability Assessment will kill him

The Tories are epistemological tyrants: about the DWP’s Mortality Statistics release

Labour pledge to scrap punitive Tory sanctions and the Work Capability Assessment

The Government’s brutal cuts to disability support isn’t ‘increasing spending’, Chancellor, but handing out tax cuts to the rich is

Government Finally Reveals That More Than 4,000 Died Within Six Weeks Of Being Deemed ‘Fit For Work’

Research finds strong correlation between Work Capability Assessment and suicide

What you need to know about the Work Capability Assessment

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can help me by making a donation and support me to continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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