Tag: Mike Sivier

Research finds damaging mental health discrimination ‘built into’ Work Capability Assessment. Again.

Research conducted by academics at Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt and Napier universities confirms what many of us already knew: that the government’s “fit for work” assessment is causing permanent damage to some people’s mental health, from which they are not recovering. 

The researchers say in their report that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) experience “for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from”.

The study comes at the same time as John Pring, journalist from the Disability News Service (DNS) has exposed private provider Maximus in their use of “brutal and dangerous” questions about suicide intention directed at people with mental health problems during their assessments. 

Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic, told DNS that people should only be asked about suicidal ideation by a trained mental health professional who can offer help, or someone in an “existing trusting relationship with the individual”.

Watts said that WCAs were “degrading and humiliating experiences for most if not all claimants” and were carried out in a space which was “not a trustworthy one”.

She said: “Individuals are required to parade their distress and feel compelled to answer intrusive questions (for the means to live relies on this).”

She went on to say: “To ask about suicide or self-harm in this context brings huge risks.”

She added that such questioning “can be suggestive if the environment is unsafe.”

She said that claimants were “battered with multiple questions about that which is most personal” in disability assessments and questioned about suicide while the assessors are “typing away” on their keyboards.

Watts concluded: “I have no doubt that questions on suicidal ideation, and the degrading manner in which they are asked, are one reason behind the suicide spike associated with the WCA process.”

The tragic case of Michael O’Sullivan, who killed himself after being found fit for work by the government’s disability assessors, has also cast a spotlight on the harmful consequences of the work capability assessment, particularly in relation to people with mental health problems. 

Though O’Sullivan’s suicide is the first to have been judged a direct consequence of being found fit for work, the DWP has conducted 49 internal reviews into benefit-related deaths since 2012, according to data released following freedom of information requests by the Disability News Service.

Of these, no fewer than 40 were conducted following the suicide, or apparent suicide, of a person claiming benefit. This is both profoundly shocking and entirely unsurprising. It is the wholly predictable result of a system designed and operated by people who appear to lack even the most basic understanding of the realities of living with mental illness.

Despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, stating that he had long-term depression and agoraphobia, and was unable to work, O’Sullivan was taken off employment support allowance (ESA) and placed on jobseeker’s allowance. The decision to find him fit for work was made after an assessment by a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) doctor, a former orthopaedic surgeon, who did not factor in the views of any of the three doctors treating O’Sullivan.

Work capability assessments discriminate against people with mental health problems and should be “redesigned entirely”, according to Professor Abigail Marks from Heriot-Watt University’s Centre for Research on Work and Wellbeing. This recent study also established, through dozens of in-depth interviews of people who had been through the tests, that “in the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide”. Mental health charities said the contents of the interviews “reflect what we hear from people every day”.

The researchers interviewed 30 people with existing mental health conditions who had taken the tests throughout 2016. The majority of subjects suffered from depression or anxiety, whilst a smaller number had more complex issues like bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder. In addition, the team interviewed individuals from advocacy organisations, Citizens Advice Bureau and a former employee of Ingeus, one of the private Work Programme providers.

Marks said: “It is unacceptable that healthcare professionals who act as assessors for the WCA, for example, physiotherapists, nurses, occupational therapists are not fully qualified or trained to assess mental health conditions, yet they seem to be able to override participants’ own GPs, community psychiatric nurses, and therapists.

The WCA must be entirely redesigned, and focus on the potential barriers to work for both physical and mental health problems.”    

The report also highlighted that WCAs make non-Work Programme work experience, or other voluntary work, almost ‘impossible’ for people with mental health conditions. 

Dr Gavin Maclean, research assistant at Edinburgh Napier University, said: “Many of the participants in the study found the experience of the WCA so damaging that they stopped engaging in work-based activity and did not return to it.

This could further reduce their long-term employability and potentially increase their dependency on benefits.”

Dr Sue Cowan, assistant professor of psychology in the School of Social Sciences, said: “For people with severe and enduring mental health conditions, voluntary work may be as ‘good as it gets’, as one of our participants stated.

This does not mean a failure to obtain more. Rather, it is a recognition that an individual is making a choice, and the current system does not recognise or support that in any way.

The assumption that engaging in voluntary work means an individual is fit for employment should be scrapped; there has to be much greater flexibility about undertaking training while on ESA and much greater value must be placed on voluntary work and work-preparation activity.”

The qualitative study highlights in particular a lack of expertise in mental health problems among WCA assessors and advice from the WCA that was not consistent with what people going through the assessment had been told by their own GPs. In one case recorded in the study, a participant recounted a doctor “actually physically gasping” during an appeal because of the poor quality of evidence recorded by a WCA assessor. 

Some participants reported being in tears or having panic attacks during the tests, and others told the researchers that the assessments were “making me feel worse”.

The researchers said that the extreme stress having to deal with multiple stigmas of being unemployed and having a mental health condition became “self-reinforcing and self-perpetuating”, leading to the deterioration of peoples’ condition.

It says in the report: “Our research has reinforced the fact that people with mental health problems face more stigma and discrimination than those with physical health conditions and that this discrimination is built into the WCA.” 

Professor Marks, the lead author of the study, who is based at Heriot-Watt University, told the Independent that people who worked closely with such cases reported that deterioration in mental health conditions was an “almost universal” response to the tests.

Key causes of extreme stress were said to be a claimant’s fear of losing their lifeline income, the prolonged nature of tests, a lack of specialist mental health training amongst assessors, and the fact the test was “clearly geared towards people with physical disabilities.”

This said, many people with physical disabilities have also stated that the WCA experience has had an adverse effect on their mental health. 

Marks says: “A lot of the people we spoke to were in a position where they are preparing to go back to work before their assessment – they were doing training courses, community initiatives, or volunteering.” 

“They said that after the assessment, because the assessment had caused them so much stress, they were unable to go back and take part in those activities because their mental health had had such a deterioration.

“Talking to the advocacy workers, as well, they said it was almost universal that after people had gone through an assessment there was a significant decrease in their mental health.” 

In October last year the Government announced that it would stop repeat Work Capability Assessments for people with chronic conditions, characterising the repeat assessments it was scrapping as “unnecessary stress and bureaucracy”.

Mental health charity Mind said the WCA was clearly “not fit for purpose” and that its lengthy and costly appeals processes could well make matters worse.

“The findings of this report are concerning but sadly not surprising, as they reflect what we hear from people every day,” Ayaz Manji, the charity’s policy and campaigns officer, said.

“People with mental health problems tell us that the current fit-for-work test causes a great deal of additional anxiety. We know the assessors rarely have sufficient knowledge or expertise in mental health, meaning many people don’t get the right outcome and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. 

“The current approach is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced by an open and honest conversation based on each person’s individual needs.”

Debbie Abrahams, the shadow work and pensions minister, said the study was more proof that the WCA “is not only unfit for purpose, but is causing harm to some disabled people”.

She added: “That’s why I have committed Labour to scrapping these assessments completely and replacing them with a holistic, person-centred approach.”

As usual, a Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson dismissed the interviewees’ experiences as not “statistically significant”.

Apparently, qualitative data doesn’t count as “empirical evidence”, or contribute to it. Or put another way, if the government don’t want to count it, it doesn’t count.

The spokesperson said: “Only thirty people were interviewed for this report, which fails to acknowledge any of the significant improvements we have made to our assessments – particularly for people with mental health conditions.” 

“Last year alone at least 35,000 work capability assessments took place in Scotland to help ensure people get the right level of support that they need.”

In fact, 37 interviews were conducted for the study. Furthermore, there is much evidence outside of this study that supports the findings. Qualitative evidence often provides richer, more in-depth, detailed evidence than quantitative studies tend to permit. Yet the government insist that citizens’ own accounts are not important, regularly dismissing them as “anecdotal”.

The government have also failed to conduct a quantitative investigation into the established correlation between WCAs and a deterioration in mental health conditions.

In 2015, the “fit for work” tests, introduced to assess eligibility for disability benefit ESA, were again found to have caused relapses in patients with serious mental health conditions, Dr Jed Boarman, consultant with the Royal College of Psychiatrists, called for an  overhaul of the process.

Boardman, a consultant psychiatrist at the South London and Maudsley NHS trust, also said the WCA discriminates against those with mental health issues. 

Boardman, who treats patients with serious and long-term mental health problems, said: “People with severe long-term problems get very distressed about being assessed, probably because mistakes are made, because the process isn’t perfect, because they don’t feel they are being listened to in their interviews.

“You do see people relapsing as a consequence of getting distressed.”

His comments followed a study, published the previous month, that linked the WCA tests with an additional 590 suicides, increased mental health problems and hundreds of thousands of antidepressant prescriptions.

The study, published by the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, showed a correlation between worsening mental health and assessments under the WCA.

The Department for Work and Pensions described the study as “misleading.”

The study’s main author, Benjamin Barr, said it was crucial the DWP takes seriously concerns that WCAs are “severely damaging” mental health. He called on the department to release data it holds to researchers to allow further analysis of the health impact of the controversial test.

Boardman added: “Their primary criticism of our study is that we don’t have data specifically on people going through the WCA and consequent mental health problems,” said Barr, from the University of Liverpool. “They have data on who has died following the WCA and they could facilitate linkage of that data with health causes.”

Thousands of claimants have died after being found fit for work, according to statistics released in August 2015 by the DWP, following a freedom of information request and a determined and successful court appeal by Mike Sivier of Vox Political. Ministers insisted that the figures they have released could not be used to link claimant deaths to welfare reforms, but the government has refused to release figures that would make it possible to assess whether the death rate for people found fit for work is higher than normal.

Boardman and Mark’s concerns are echoed by psychologists and benefit advisers working with claimants, who say they have gathered a lot of qualitative evidence that WCAs cause much additional psychological distress for those with mental health issues.

Related

Maximus ‘admits’ using brutal and dangerous suicide questions – John Pring

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

Doctors bribed with 70-90k salaries to join Maximus and “endorse a political agenda regardless of how it affects patients.”

What you need to know about Atos

The importance of citizen’s qualitative accounts in democratic inclusion and political participation

Dying from inequality: socioeconomic disadvantage and suicidal behaviour – report from Samaritans


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. The budget didn’t do me any favours at all.

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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Independent Commission on Freedom of Information call for evidence. You have until November 20th

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The matter of Government transparency and accountability is so important to David Cameron that the Conservatives would like to end our right to ask questions via the Freedom of Information Act (FoI).

The Act gives us the right to ask for information from public bodies, rather than depending on what the government is prepared to let us see. Such information allows us to make informed decisions and to challenge the government with evidence when policies have adverse outcomes. Any attempt to curtail public access to information will have profound implications for government openess, transparency, accountability and for democracy.

Many campaigners have voiced fears that government proposals could make it more difficult, and costly, for the media and public to use the Act to access information held by public bodies.

Chris Grayling, Tory tyrant extraordinaire, along with others in his party, has a history of altering and editing laws that he regards an inconvenience. He claims that it is wrong that the Freedom of Information Act was being used as a research tool to generate stories for the media and that is not acceptable.” 

But surely research, investigation, providing evidence and sharing information and news with the public is what we ought to expect from the media, it’s precisely those criteria that establish high quality journalism.

Grayling’s outrageous remarks were condemned by Tom Watson, the deputy leader of the Labour party, who believes the FoI Act should be strengthened, not undermined. I agree.

Watson said: “Chris Grayling’s assertion that the Freedom of Information Act is ‘misused’ to generate stories for the media betrays a greater truth about this government’s thinking. 

“What they’d really like to see is less open government. It is the job of journalists to hold the government to account on behalf of the public. The Freedom of Information Act is a vital tool in their armoury which should not and must not be removed or weakened.”

Grayling said it should be used for “those who want to understand why and how government is taking decisions”. It is, and that includes by journalists who inform the public about those decisions and the likes of bloggers such as me – a lot of my work wouldn’t be possible without the FoI Act, I use it frequently so I can share crucial information, as do many other bloggers.

Many of us submitted a FOI regarding the mortality rates of sick and disabled people undergoing the controversial work capability assessment, after the government refused to publish the information after 2011, and fellow blogger Mike Sivier from Vox Political fought in court to ensure that this important information was finally released.

And who can forget Steven Preece’s request from Welfare Weekly, that revealed the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had lied about the “success” of the punitive sanction regime, using fake characters giving fake testimonies, which the DWP published in a leaflet and were subsequently forced to retract it. Steven’s FoI, details of which were widely shared by the mainstream media, (as were the details of Mike Sivier’s FoI) highlighted that the government is not above shameful lying to get its own way.

There’s a strong element of cooperative work amongst bloggers. I submitted a subsequent request for further detailed information about sanctions recently, which has yielded a lot of information that I’m researching around, so I can also share information and analysis, too. Writers frequently draw on other people’s FoIs to analyse, cross reference and to share important information.

I was memorably refused information about the government risk register regarding the Health and Social Care Bill back in 2012, and despite being ordered by the Information Commissioner and a tribunal to release that information, we have yet to see it. The claim behind the refusal was that it isn’t “in public interests”that the information is released. I beg to differ.

We clearly have a government that doesn’t like democratic processes, dialogue and public engagement regarding its policies and impacts and any kind of critical appraisal and challenge.

The very short timescale of the public consultation regarding the future of the Freedom of Information Act also indicates an utter lack of respect for democratic process and the public’s right to access information that they feel is in their best interests to know. The call for information was published on the November 9, and the closing date for submissions is November 20. That’s scandalous.

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information’s terms of reference require it to consider the implications for the Freedom of Information Act 2000 of the uncertainty around the Cabinet veto and the practical operation of the Act as it has developed over the last 10 years in respect of the deliberative space afforded to public authorities. The Commission is also interested in “the balance between transparency and the burden of the Act on public authorities more generally.”

The Independent Commission on Freedom of Information invites anyone to submit evidence on the questions raised in the call for evidence paper. See: Independent Commission on Freedom of Information: call for evidence

Ways to respond:

GPs bribed to send FEWER cancer patients for vital hospital tests – Mike Sivier

An important article from Vox Political (and the Mirror.) It needs to be shared.

Visit Vox Political for the full article

GPs are being offered cash to send fewer patients with suspected cancer to hospital for vital tests.Surgeries can claim thousands of pounds worth of “incentives” for not sending patients to hospitals for tests, scans and operations, according to an investigation by doctors’ magazine Pulse.

First appointments for cancer – which should happen within two weeks of a GP suspecting the disease – are included in some of the targets to cut referrals, the probe found.

The rewards are being offered by Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs), local NHS bodies responsible for commissioning of healthcare across the country.

The move comes as the NHS is trying to slash £22billion in costs before 2020.

Source: GPs ‘bribed’ to send FEWER cancer patients for vital hospital tests – Mirror Online

The Mirror blasted the policy, run by CCGs that were created as part of the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 which began the mass-privatisation of the NHS, in its editorial:

Bribing family doctors not to send patients to hospitals for cancer tests is sacrificing lives by turning the NHS into a cut-price market place.

GPs should never be awarded bonuses at the cost of the public’s health. Those incentives are indefensible, because the likelihood is that cancers will go undetected.

Early detection is vital and when England’s cancer survival rates are already among the lowest in Europe, Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt should be demanding that more people are tested sooner.

Doctors must be free to make objective decisions on medical grounds rather than receiving dangerous instructions that reduce patients to financial statistics.

But don’t blame your doctor. Blame the Government. A Tory Government. The NHS wasn’t perfect under Labour but the Tories don’t appear to care at all.

This wasteful party is handing down a death sentence for unsuspecting patients. And that’s unforgiveable.

 

Related

The Coalition has deliberately financially trashed the NHS to justify its privatisation

Selling off NHS for profit: Tories’ and Liberal Democrats’ links with private healthcare firms revealed

The commercialisation and undemocratising of the NHS: the commodification of patients

252299_486936058042594_609527550_nPicture courtesy of Robert Livingstone

A tale of two suicides and a very undemocratic, inconsistent government

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“No, we have not carried out a review […] you cannot make allegations about individual cases, in tragic cases where obviously things go badly wrong, you can’t suddenly say this is directly as a result of government policy”– Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, 5 May 2015.

Back in July, the Information Commissioner’s Office opened an investigation into four of the UK’s largest charities, following allegations that their fundraisers contacted people registered with the government’s opt-out nuisance call database.

David Cameron led the calls for fundraising regulators to investigate whether a 92-year-old poppy-seller, found dead in Avon Gorge after committing suicide, had been under pressure from charities asking for donations.

A spokesperson for the Information Commissioner’s Office, the watchdog responsible for enforcing data protection laws, said: “We’re aware of allegations raised against several charities, and will be investigating whether there have been any breaches of the Data Protection Act or privacy and electronic communication regulations.” 

It was the workers at a London call centre, fundraising on behalf of the charities, who were accused of calling, and being prepared to take money from, vulnerable people, including the elderly and those living with dementia, the Daily Mail reported.

Those with dementia and Alzheimer’s were allegedly being treated as legitimate targets – as long as they agree to the call and are able to answer a few basic questions over the phone.

Cameron said: “I know there is a code that is meant to protect people from feeling pressured by charities and I hope the Fundraising Standards Board will look at whether any more could have been done to prevent this.” 

However, although Olive Cooke did tragically kill herself, it has since been established by her family and at an inquest that her suicide wasn’t related to charity fundraising requests at all.

So, Mr Cameron didn’t hesitate to make a connection between a tragic suicide and the policy of “charities, who were accused of calling, and being prepared to take money from, vulnerable people.” As it happens, he drew the wrong inference from remarkably little empirical evidence. I say remarkably little, because in similar circumstances involving suicides and deaths in other social groups, David Cameron demands that people don’t make any inferences at all and from much more reliable evidence than he had to draw on in order to conclude that an investigation was warranted into the impact of charities’ fundraising requests.

This said, one tragic death really ought to trigger an inquiry into policy. That is the right thing to do.

The Stark Contrast.

In 2013, a disabled man committed suicide as a direct result of being found “fit to work” by the government’s work capability assessment. In a report to the Department of Work and Pensions, the coroner for Inner North London demanded that the Government department take action to prevent further deaths.

The coroner’s report on the death of Michael O’Sullivan warns of the risk of more such deaths. Michael, a 60-year-old father of two from north London, killed himself at his home after being moved from employment support onto jobseekers allowance, despite providing reports from three doctors, including his GP, that he was suffering from serious long-term depression and agoraphobia and had been certified as unable to work.

The coroner said that Michael’s anxiety and depression were long-term problems, but the intense anxiety that triggered his suicide was caused by his (then) recent assessment by the DWP as being fit for work.

Surprisingly, David Cameron did not lead any calls for an investigation into the policies that caused this tragic suicide, despite the coroner’s report and widely shared, well-documented, (and evidenced) concerns that the Department of Work and Pensions is placing sick and disabled people under enormous strain which is unacceptably harmful and distressing. The Conservative welfare reforms included an increase in benefit “conditionality” which involves punitive sanctions and rigid assessments that are not designed to provide support, but rather, to save money and remove people’s eligibility for lifeline social security benefit, causing them severe hardship, harm, and sometimes, causing their death.

In other words, the Department of Work and Pensions “are prepared to take money from vulnerable people.”  This is the only income that people claiming benefits have to meet their basic survival needs.

Furthermore, Mr Cameron has persistently refused to carry out even basic monitoring of the impact of his government’s policies despite longstanding public concerns about the fact that they are causing sick and disabled people harm. This government have doggedly refused to release information regarding the mortality rates of people who face the negative impact of Conservative policies every day.

David Clapson, 59, was a former soldier and had type-one diabetes, he died in last year after he was sanctioned – his benefit was stopped as a punishment – because he missed an appointment at the jobcentre. The coroner reported that Mr Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity meter card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin, which has to be kept refrigerated. He died of diabetic ketoacidosis because he couldn’t take his insulin.

In addition to tragic cases like those of Michael and David that are reported in the media, there are many others raised in parliament by MPs and through the work of select committees, which are evidenced on the parliamentary Hansard record of course. Additionally, some of us also keep a record of the growing number of people who have died prematurely because of the welfare “reforms”. 

Furthermore, the United Nations believe there is sufficient evidence to warrant an investigation into the impact of Tory policies, the UK has  become the first developed country to be the subject of an inquiry into “grave and systematic” violations of the rights of disabled people. Wouldn’t you think that this would prompt some concern and scrutiny of policies and impacts from the Government? But it hasn’t.

The government persistently deny there is any correlation between suffering, hardship, an increase in suicide and deaths amongst disabled people and their punitive policies. Yet there is substantial evidence to demonstrate a very clear correlation, and certainly more than enough to warrant an inquiry into the harmful impact of the policies on sick and disabled people. After all, one unrelated death was sufficient to warrant an inquiry into the fundraising policy of charities.

Yet we are told by David Cameron that “it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim” when evidence strongly suggests such a link. An inquiry is the only way that the correlation could possibly be refuted, but the Government realise that a refutation is an unlikely outcome, hence their refusal to allow an inquiry in the first place.

Campaigners have fought to ensure that information about the harmful impact of government reforms was open to public scrutiny. The truth, however, still remains hidden beneath the excessively and purposeful bureaucratic management of this information and political denials of culpability. Mike Sivier, a fellow campaigner and writer at Vox Political, requested a tribunal after he made a Freedom of Information request for access to the information – and it was refused. Over the last three years, many of us submitted FOI requests for the same information and all were refused.

This is not an accountable, transparent or democratic Government. Let’s not forget the political fabrication of case studies of people “helped” by having their lifeline benefits stopped, presumably because they couldn’t find any real people who would attest to such absurd, ideologically driven, class contingent political acts of targeted cruelty. What real person would ever claim that starvation, being cold and facing destitution “helped” them in any way?

After suppressing information for years, the Department of Work and Pensions finally released data about the deaths of sick and disabled people, but the release was partial, and was not responsive to the detailed request made for detailed and specific information. In fact the data was presented in such an intentionally contextless and incomplete way that there wasn’t even scope for analytical cross comparisons to be made. The release was deliberately limited and impenetrable, as the department of Work and Pensions acknowledged when the report was published with this proviso:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

(From the Department of Work and Pensions report Mortality Statistics, 2015.)

I will leave you to draw your own inferences regarding the startling disparity and incoherence apparent in the two distinct government  responses to suicides and deaths in two separate and differentially valued social groups – one that is politically marginalised, one that is not – and the government suppression of information regarding the impact of their targeted, draconian austerity policies.

All lives have equal worth. But I think it’s safe to say that we’re not “all in it together” as Cameron claimed. He believes that some lives are more important and some suicides are more worthy of investigation than others. It is very clear that this government does not care about the lives and welfare of sick and disabled people.

Call me cynical but I wonder which social group are more likely to vote Conservative?

Related

Suicides reach a ten year high and are linked with welfare “reforms”

292533_330073053728896_1536469241_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Techniques of neutralisation: David Cameron’s excuses for Iain Duncan Smith

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I wrote earlier about the way the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) heavily micro-managed the recent Mortality Statistics release, and how the Government are using an excessively bureaucratic approach to ensure that no inferences are drawn from the data published, insisting that it’s “wrong” to link the mortality rates of sick and disabled people with punitive, Conservative austerity policies.

However, the accounts and experiences of sick and disabled people and their families (recorded in the media, in parliamentary inquiries, Commons debates – all preserved on the Hansard record) inform us that there is a clear correlation between the Tory “reforms” and increased distress, a loss of dignity and autonomy, financial insecurity and insolvency, increasing ill health, and sometimes, the death, of disabled people.

When confronted in the Commons, Iain Duncan Smith and other ministers dispensed with civilised debate, and simply blocked any discussion regarding concerns raised by the opposition about the negative impact of the Tory welfare cuts on sick and disabled people.  Values of decency and legitimate concerns about the welfare of sick and disabled citizens were depreciated as mere matters of “subjective interpretation” and not as worthy subjects of political, rational or objective discussion.

The Mortality Statistics release from Department of Work and Pension “provides further commentary on the appropriate use of this information” – in other words, it informs us what we may and may not do with the “data”, and carries this pre-emptive caution:

“Any causal effect between benefits and mortality cannot be assumed from these statistics. Additionally, these isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgement as to the effects or impacts of the Work Capability Assessment.”

Bearing in mind that the information in the release came about because of many Freedom of Information (FOI) requests from many of us, and the rulings of the Information Commissioner and a tribunal (Mike Sivier from Vox Political appealed against the original decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse the Freedom of Information requests), it’s difficult to see why the Government have been so determined, firstly, to withhold the information requested, secondly, when forced to make the release, to present the information in a decontextualized way that renders it virtually meaningless, thirdly, to go to such extraordinary lengths to instruct us how we may and may not analyse the data and fourthly, to respond to any interpretive reference to the data as “wrong”, refusing to engage in any further discussion.

Unless of course it’s a Government that doesn’t want open and democratic accountability and public scrutiny of the often devastating impact of its policies.

Debbie Abrahams, the new shadow minister for disabled people, has long been an outstanding campaigner and spokesperson for disabled people. Earlier this month, she asked David Cameron:

“Two weeks ago, the Work and Pensions Secretary’s Department not only admitted to falsifying testimonies in leaflets, but published data on the deaths of people on sickness benefit, which showed that they are four times more likely to die than the general population. That was after the Secretary of State told the House that these data did not exist. Given that, and his offensive remarks earlier this week—referring to people without disabilities as “normal”—when will the Prime Minister take control and respond to my call for the Work and Pensions Secretary to be investigated for breaching the ministerial code?”

Here is the Ministerial code. Ministers are also expected to observe the seven Nolan Principles, which are the basis of the ethical standards of conduct that is expected of all holders of public office. 

Last year, I sent David Cameron a reminder of the established standards and ethics of Public Office, as the Coalition had exempted themselves, but he didn’t respond and it didn’t make any difference.

It’s true that the Department of Work Pensions (DWP) has admitted falsifying testimonies in leaflets. The DWP’s own data does indicate that people on incapacity benefits are four times more likely to die than other people in the general population. Iain Duncan Smith did tell MPs that this data did not even exist. Then he told them it did.

Let’s be frank here, Iain Duncan Smith has established a culture where it’s acceptable to lie, even his Curriculum Vitae is comprised of  Machiavellian, narcissistic-inspired confabulations – he’s qualified only in absolute and utter tosh, he graduated without Honour. Or a degree.

And it’s truly priceless that Iain Duncan Smith or David Cameron can accuse anyone of misrepresenting statistics with a straight face, given the large number of official rebukes the Tories have had from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) for manipulating or  misrepresenting statistics and telling lies.

Today, Debbie received the following written response to her question from the Prime sinister Minister:

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

Cameron letter on claimant deaths

I’ve already addressed a lot of the content above, however I couldn’t help but note the apparent “policing” of Debbie’s tweets. The response isn’t a rational or reasonable one, and certainly not of a standard that is expected of a prime minister.

How can the use of fake statements from fake characters about fictitious “benefits” of harsh sanctions – the arbitrary and punitive removal of lifeline income to support people in meeting basic survival needs – ever “help claimants and advisers to understand the benefit system”?

How is telling lies about the impact of policy and constructing fake positive testimonies ever “illustrative”? That was no “error”: it was an intentional, deceitful act designed solely to mislead the public and to justify the Conservative’s crass and primitive behaviourist approach to what was once our social security.

As is the insistence that “the statistics showed it is quite wrong to suggest any causal link between the death of an individual and their benefit claim.” Tosh. The statistics showed no such thing,  they did not demonstrate that there is no existing causal link – but the data was presented in a way that intentionally obscures such a link. That does not mean we can conclude there’s no connection between increased mortality and the Conservative “reforms” at all.

Whilst we are warned not to draw inferences of causal links from the statistics, the prime minister thinks that it’s perfectly appropriate to do just that himself. Yet there is no empirical evidence whatsoever to support his denial of a causal link.  The statistical data does not falsify or refute the proposition that such a link exists. We have plenty of recorded evidence, however, to support our proposition that Tory policies are actually harming people.

Tory policies do. Margaret Thatcher’s policies caused premature deaths, too, and her Cabinet were far less harsh towards sick and disabled people than Cameron’s government. A research report which looked at over 70 existing research papers, concludes that as a result of unnecessary unemployment, welfare cuts and damaging housing policies, the former prime minister’s legacy includes the unnecessary and unjust premature death of many British citizens, together with a substantial and continuing burden of suffering and loss of well-being.

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that if you inflict stress and harm on people who are already ill, by withholding their lifeline support, by constantly reassessing them and telling them they are fit for work when they clearly are not, by invalidating their experiences, by forcing them to fight for the means of survival – without the means of survival, it will probably exacerbate any illness and quite possibly this will kill them.

As I discussed earlier today, Cameron and his government have consistently displayed an absolute lack of concern for sick and disabled people, who have borne the brunt of Tory austerity cuts. Yet it’s inconceivable that Conservatives don’t grasp the fact that their policies are at least potentially very harmful, and certainly very punitive in nature.

I’ve discussed many times before that Tory ideology is founded on toxic subterranean values and principles, which are anachronistic and incompatible with a society that has evolved to value democracy, human rights and the socio-economic gains from our post-war settlement.

Conservatives have always seen inequality as a necessary and beneficial element to a market driven economy, for example, and their policies tend to assemble a steeply hierarchical society, especially given their small state fetishism, which involves removing socio-economic support services and civilising mechanisms such as welfare, free healthcare and access to legal aid.

Beneath the familiar minarchist, class contingent Conservative policies and neoliberal schema is a tacit acceptance of socioeconomic Darwinism, and a leaning towards eugenicist principles, expressed most clearly recently in the withdrawal of tax credit support for low paid families with more than two children, in order to “change behaviours” as Iain Duncan Smith put it. The reasoning behind this is the government believe they can “nudge” poor people into “breeding” less. Such a class contingent policy reflects a deep prejudice and also demonstrates an authoritarianism that is certainly incompatible with democracy and human rights.

(See also David Freud was made to apologise for being a true Tory in public, Paternalistic Libertarianism and Freud’s comments in context and What will the Tories suggest next. “Compassionate” eugenics?)

The Tories employ techniques of neutralization which are used to rationalise or justify acts that contravene social norms or that are illegal.  There are five basic techniques of neutralization; denial of responsibility, denial of injury, denial of victims, condemnation of the condemners, and an appeal to higher loyalties.

The recognition of techniques of neutralisation by David Matza and Gresham Sykes happened during their work on Edwin Sutherland’s Differential Association in the 1950s. Matza and Sykes were working on juvenile delinquency at the time, and they theorised that the same techniques could be found throughout society and published their ideas in Delinquency and Drift, 1964.

It was Alexander Alverez who identified that these techniques were used more broadly at a socio-political level in Nazi Germany to “justify” the Holocaust. He added a sixth technique – Disengagement and Dehumanisation.

Such techniques allow people to neutralise and temporarily suspend their commitment to societal and moral values, and to switch off their own “inner protests”, providing them with the freedom to commit deviant acts. Some people don’t have such inner protests – psychopaths, for example – but they may employ techniques of neutralization to manipulate, and switch off the conscience protests of others.

It’s clear that this is a method frequently employed by the government. The Tories systematically attempt to to distort meanings, to withhold,  or deny any evidence that may expose the impact of their draconian policies on targeted social groups.

For example, when they habitually use the word “reform”, when   referring to is cutting funding or support. and “help” and “support” is Tory-speak that means to coerce and punish. The claim that the bedroom tax ishelping” people into workorhelping child poverty– when empirical research shows that 96% of those affected by the bedroom tax can NOT downsize due to a lack of available homes in their area – is a completely outrageous lie. People can’t move as there is a housing crisis, which is due to a lack of affordable homes and appropriately sized accommodation.

How can policies that further impoverish the poorest ever “help them to into work” or alleviate poverty? It’s glib, irrational tosh from a Government that can’t do coherent, joined up thinking, and even worse, thinks that we can’t either.

Forms of social prejudice are normalised gradually, almost inscrutably and incrementally – in stages. Allport describes the political, social and psychological processes, and how techniques of persuasion – propaganda – are used to facilitate stigmatising and dehumanisation of targeted groups to justify discrimination, until the unthinkable becomes acceptable, because of a steady erosion of our moral and rational boundaries.

The prejudice happens on a symbolic level first – via language – and it starts with subtlety, such as the use of divisive and stigmatising phrases like “scroungers and strivers” in the media and political rhetoric, referring to people who need support and social security as “stock”, suggesting that disabled people are not worth a minimum wage and so on.

These comments and strategies are not “mistakes”, this is how Conservatives really think. People who are prejudiced very seldom own up, and nor do bullies. They employ linguistic strategies, deceitful, diversionary and irrational responses that makes challenging them very difficult.

But as history has taught us, we really must challenge them.

36626_217452248405831_532419169_nPictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

Related reading:

This is an excellent, substantial collection of evidenced lies, deceits and more lies from Ian Duncan Smith, collated by Bob Ellard, researcher for DPAC The IDS Files: the truth is out there 

Full Fact’s ‘fit for work’ coverage is unfit for use as toilet paper – Vox Political

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I had my own issues with Full Fact last year, when the site supported Tom Chivers of the Telegraph in denying that sick and disabled people had died after their lifeline benefits had been stopped by the Department of Work and Pensions, despite the fact that the Hansard Parliamentary record and the media have recorded many examples of this being the case. The row I had with Tom Chivers last year about the mortality statistics can be seen here – Black Propaganda.

This article is from Mike Sivier at Vox Political:

Here’s a slimy little article for you: Sam Ashworth-Hayes’ piece on the benefit deaths at Full Fact.

The fact-checking website set him to respond to reporting of the DWP’s statistical release on incapacity benefit-related deaths, and he’s done a proper little cover-up job.

“It was widely reported that thousands of people died within weeks of being found ‘fit for work’ and losing their benefits,” he scribbled.

“This is wrong.

“Within weeks of ending a claim, not within weeks of an assessment.”

Not true – unless Sam is saying the DWP has failed to answer my Freedom of Information request properly.

If Sam had bothered to check the FoI request to which the DWP was responding, he would have seen that it demanded the number of ESA claimants who had died since November 2011, broken down into categories including those who had been found fit for work and those who had had an appeal completed after a ‘fit for work’ decision.

The date the claim ended is irrelevant; the fact that they were found fit for work and then died is the important part.

If the DWP finds someone fit for work, then it ends the claim anyway, you see. Obviously.

But Sam continues: “If someone is found fit for work, they can appeal the decision, and continue to receive ESA during the appeal process. There is no way of telling how long after the start of the appeal process those claims ended.”

Not true.

The statistical release covers those who had had such an appeal completed and then died – 1,360 of them. The release does not state that they should be considered separately from those who had a fit for work decision, meaning that this is one of several areas in which the release is not clear. In order to err on the side of caution, This Writer has chosen not to add them to the 2,650 total of those found fit for work. Any who were still deemed to be fit for work after their appeal ended, I have deemed to be among the 2,650.

The release most emphatically does not mention those who had appealed against a fit for work decision, but the appeal was continuing when they died, as Sam implies. The DWP asked me to alter my request to exclude them, and I agreed to do so. Therefore Sam’s claim is false. Nobody included in these figures died mid-appeal. Some died after being found fit for work again. Some died after winning their appeal and while they were continuing to receive their benefit – but they do not skew the figures because they aren’t added onto the number we already had (we don’t know how many of them succeeded because the DWP has chosen to follow the letter of the FoI request and has not provided that information). The outcome of the appeal is, therefore, irrelevant.

The point is, the decision that they were fit for work was wrong, because they died.

Let’s move on. Under a section entitled Mortality rates matter, Sam burbles:

“If 2,380 people were found fit for work from late 2011 to early 2014, and all 2,380 subsequently died in the process of challenging that decision, that would indicate that something was almost certainly going wrong in the assessment process.”

2,380? He means 2,650! For a person supposedly checking the facts, this was an elemental mistake to make.

“But if 2 million people were found to be fit for work, there would be less concern that the assessment process was going wrong; one in 1,000 dying could just be the result of the ‘normal’ level of accident, misfortune and sudden illness.

“If we want to know if people found fit for work are more likely to die than the general population, then age-standardised mortality rates would let us make that comparison while adjusting for differences in age and gender.

“Unfortunately, the DWP has not published an age-standardised mortality rate for those found ‘fit for work’.”

Fortunately, This Writer has been directed to a site whose author has attempted just that. This person states that the problem is that we don’t know how many people were found fit for work in total – only that there were 742,000 such decisions during the period in question. This would suggest that the number of people dying within the two-week period used by the DWP is 0.35 per cent of the total. We know that there were 74,600 deaths among the general working-age population in 2013 – a population totalling around 39 million – meaning the chance of dying within any two-week period was 0.007 per cent. So, using these crude figures, the probability of an incapacity benefits claimant dying after being found fit for work is no less than 50 times higher than for the working-age population as a whole, and probably much higher.

So sure, if Sam thinks mortality rates matter, let him look at that.

His article isn’t fit to be toilet paper, though.

Read the original article at the Vox Political Facebook page.

UN officials to visit UK over coming months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s “reforms” to disability benefits are compatible with Human Rights

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I reported last year that the UK has become the first country to face a United Nations inquiry into disability rights violations. A formal investigation was launched by the United Nation’s Committee regarding the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Officials from the United Nation’s Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities are to visit Britain after the Tories announced a wave of new austerity measures, including slashing disability benefits by a further £30 a week.

Thousands of sick and disabled people claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are to have their weekly payment cut from £102.15 to £73.10, which is the same amount as jobseekers’ allowance, if they are assessed as being able to undertake “work-related activity”. Bearing in mind that in order to claim ESA in the first place, prior to assessment, a doctor has already deemed this group of people unfit for work, the move to cut lifeline benefits further is especially cruel and inhumane.

We signed up to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities under the last Labour government. On 8 June 2009, the UK government ratified the Convention, signaling its commitment to take concrete action to comply with the legal rights and obligations contained in the Convention. The Government also ratified the Convention’s Optional Protocol.

The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities is a side-agreement to the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. It was adopted on 13 December 2006, and entered into force at the same time as its parent Convention on 3 May 2008. As of July 2015, it has 92 signatories and 87 state parties.

The Optional Protocol establishes an individual complaints mechanism for the Convention similar to that of other Conventions. But this Protocol also accepts individual rights on economic, social and cultural rights. Parties agree to recognise the competence of the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities to consider complaints from individuals or groups who claim their rights under the Convention have been violated. The Committee can request information from and make recommendations to a party.

In addition, parties may also permit the Committee to investigate, report on and make recommendations on “grave or systematic violations” of the Convention.

In December 2014, the UN Human Rights Council created the role of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities. Part of the Special Rapporteur’s broad mandate is to report annually to the Human Rights Council and General Assembly with recommendations on how to better promote and protect the rights of persons with disabilities.

The Special Rapporteur chose to focus her first report on a thematic inquiry into the right to social security, globally. The report will be published in October 2015.

The Commission’s response focuses on three areas from the UK that are highly relevant to the Special Rapporteur’s inquiry:

  • The impact of reforms to the UK’s social security system on disabled people’s rights to independence and to an adequate standard of living;
  • Whether the design and delivery of health and social care services in England is consistent with the rights to physical and mental health, independent living and freedom from cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; and
  • The impact of reforms affecting access to civil law justice in England and Wales on disabled people’s right to effective access to justice.

The Commission’s response to the UN Special Rapporteur’s inquiry into persons with disabilities right to social security can be found here.

The Disability Convention requires governments to designate one or more independent mechanisms to “promote, protect and monitor implementation” of the Convention.

The Commission, which is Britain’s National Human Rights Institution, has been designated alongside the Scottish Human Rights Commission, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Northern Ireland Equality Commission to fulfill this role in UK.

The Sunday Herald has more recently reported that UN officials will visit the UK in the next few months to investigate whether Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare “reforms” have led to “grave or systematic violations” of disabled people’s human rights.  According to the Scottish Herald, a leading Scottish disability charity has been advised that a visit by the Special Rapporteur and members of the Committee on the rights of persons with disabilities is expected in the “near future”.

United Nations (UN) investigations are conducted confidentially, I’ve already submitted reports and evidence regarding the impact of the welfare “reforms” on sick and disabled people. I’ve mostly focussed on the withdrawal of the Independent Living Fund (ILF), the adverse consequences of the Work Capability Assessment, workfare and sanctions.

Anyone wishing to make a submission may contact the UN here:

Catalina Devandas Aguilar
Special rapporteur on the rights of persons with disabilities
Address: OHCHR-UNOG; CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland
Email: sr.disability@ohchr.org

The Department of Work and Pensions have refused to comment regarding the inquiry.

Shocking statistics published by the Department of Work and Pensions last week showed thousands of people have died after being declared “fit for work”. The figures, which did not detail the cause of the deaths, revealed that at least 2,380 people died between December 2011 and February 2014 within six weeks of a work capability assessment (WCA), which found them found them fit for work.

Bill Scott, director of policy at Inclusion Scotland, a consortium of disability organisations, said: “The UN have notified us they will be visiting Britain to investigate … and want to meet with us when they come, sometime in the next few months.”

Inclusion Scotland has also made a submission to the study being prepared by the Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, Catalina Devandas-Aguilar, which is examining the right of disabled people to social protection.

In the submission, Inclusion Scotland warned that the UK Government’s welfare reforms are “jeopardising disabled people’s right to life” by increasing the risk of suicide after loss of benefits. Last week, the Sunday Herald revealed that DWP staff had been given official guidance on how to deal with suicidal claimants left penniless after suffering benefit sanctions.

The Inclusion Scotland submission also highlights a series of shocking findings, including that disabled people in some areas of Scotland are waiting for up to ten months to access Personal Independent Payment (PIP) disability benefits, due to delays in assessments taking place.

Dr Simon Duffy, director of think tank The Centre for Welfare Reform, said independent research carried out since 2010 had shown the UK Government has targeted cuts mostly at people in poverty and people with disabilities. Disabled people have been targeted by cuts nine times more than other citizens. It also found that people with disabilities, who make up one in 13 of the population, bore almost a third (29%) of the cuts.

He added:

In fact the people with the most severe disabilities have faced cuts several times greater than those faced by cuts to the average citizen. This policy has been made even worse by processes of assessment and sanctions that are experienced as stigmatising and bullying.

The government has utterly failed to find jobs for the people they target – people who are often very sick, who have disabilities or who have mental health problems.

Instead we are seeing worrying signs that they are increasing rates of illness, suicide and poverty.

Many disabled people’s rights campaigners, such as Samuel Miller, Robert LivingstoneMike Sivier and myself, amongst others, welcome this development. Many  campaigners and organisations have made submissions to the UN, using the Optional Protocol mechanism. As I’ve said elsewhere, our political freedoms and human rights must not be subservient to Tory notions of economic success. Democracy is not about the private accumulation of wealth. It is about the wise use of the collective wealth for the common good of the public – that must extend to include ALL of our citizens. And a decent, civilised, democratic society supports its vulnerable members and upholds universal human rights.

Disabled people have been stigmatised, scapegoated and subjected to cuts in their lifeline support because of the financial mistakes and poor decision-making of government.

We need to ask why our Government has so far refused to instigate or agree an inquiry into the substantial rise in deaths amongst sick and disabled people, as these deaths are so clearly correlated with policy changes.  Or why a cumulative impact assessment has not been carried out regarding the consequences of these extremely draconian policies.

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Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone, used with thanks