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The Reality of Welfare Reform

When I first started on disability research, I just saw the numbers. I saw that 40% of ESA claimants told they are fit to work then appeal that decision, and most of them win. I saw that nurses under-award points for people with physical health conditions, and physiotherapists under-award points for people with mental health conditions. I saw that most assessments are carried out by either nurses or physiotherapists. I saw that decision makers are not consistent in the accuracy or quality of the decisions they make.

In all of this I saw the fear and the stress for ill people going through an assessment process that they knew to be inaccurate. I saw people calling for, and suggesting, improvements to the assessment process that could make it more accurate. I saw the government say that it accepts recommendations from the independent review, and then either not carry them out or carry them out so poorly that they brought little, if any, improvement.

With my head concentrating on figures I started to become numb to the reality. I forgot how shocking the statistics – the real ones – and the stories are. I told a friend that fraud in the disability benefits is less than half of a per cent, and was amazed at how surprised she was.

So then I started to read some stories. I read about people who cannot afford to put glass back into their broken windows and whose houses are falling into disrepair. I read about people being evicted from their homes. I read about people having cooked meals once every other day, eating bread in between. I read about people skipping medicine because it had to be taken with food and they didn’t any. I read about people having to fund-raise for equipment they need that their local authority won’t provide.

It made me think. I’m middle class so I haven’t seen much of the grinding effects of poverty before. I’ve spoken with people who think benefits are adequate and there isn’t a problem. But I’m seeing the problem now; I know people who are struggling; I’m seeing what happens when there isn’t enough money and there isn’t enough health. I’m seeing the despair.

I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people who may return to work from sickness benefits should receive benefit for only one year, even though the majority are still too ill to work at that point. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people under 35 can live in shared accommodation, and thus reducing the housing benefit, without considering the health needs of these people. I’m seeing the effects of the government deciding that people should be charged for under-occupying, even though the under-occupation is this and past government’s fault for not building enough social housing.

And there are so many more cuts and changes. Benefits aren’t being uprated in line with inflation, wages, food or fuel. The Independent Living Fund has been closed. Council Tax Benefit is being reduced. Disability Living Allowance is being replaced with a benefit that ministers knew in advance would cut 20% off the money going to disabled people.

People have ended their lives. People are going without food and medicine. People are becoming homeless.

And this is because of the changes this government is making.

We need to realise what is going on. We need to get angry about what is being done, and let the government know this is not what we want. We need to start protecting those who are sick from extra poverty and stress, and stop listening to the unfounded scrounger rhetoric.

Don’t let the government get away with this. There is still time to make changes that will work, but the government needs to know that we want them. We can stop people dying of despair, losing their homes or becoming even more ill. But we need to let the government know.

Welfare Reform: It could have been good

It’s such a shame. There was a wonderful opportunity to make something that worked. To get rid of what was failing and bring in new things that improved on the original. To end the mess and confusion. To repair the holes.

Instead we have more holes. Bigger holes. Holes in places that used to work.

Like Housing Benefit. For those in social housing, Housing Benefit used to go straight to the landlord. The tenant never saw it. Now, Housing Benefit is going to go to the social tenants for them to pass on to the landlord. In a pilot study, arrears increased from 2% to 11%. Landlords faced increased costs as many tenants were reluctant to pay by direct debit due to the financial penalties incurred if a debit payment bounces.

Only 37% of social landlords think direct payment will still be in place in 2017.

Occupants of social housing now also have to contend with reduced housing benefit if they have spare bedrooms. Whilst in theory it sounds sensible to not pay for under-occupation, it depends on a vital assumption that is not met. The assumption is that there are smaller houses for these tenants to move in to. The reality is that there are not. In Falkirk, there are 2547 one-bedroom properties of which 2507 are occupied. That leaves 40 for the 2645 tenants with one spare bedroom, and nothing for those with two or more spare bedrooms. The DWP admits that there is a surplus of three-bed and lack of one-bed accommodation. The DWP suggests that tenants move to a different area – but when all areas lack one-beds, where exactly are these tenants supposed to move to?

Then there’s Disability Living Allowance. This benefit exists to assist with the extra costs brought about by disability. The government is changing this to Personal Independence Payments, a benefit that they predict – and indeed predicted even before it had been designed – to cut 20% off the DLA bill. That’s 20% taken from disabled people. At least 500 000 people are expected to lose disability benefit.

Housing Benefit wasn’t broken. So why break it? DLA could have been improved; instead it was made worse.

But the biggest shame is Universal Credit.

The idea is great. Different benefits shouldn’t be tapered at different rates, as that does cause confusion. So to combine them into one payment with one tapering rate is a good idea.

But the good idea stops there.

The benefit is made up of different components, depending on one’s situation. There is a child element and a disabled element and a carer’s element. But why are these needed when there is already Child Benefit and Disability Living Allowance (soon to become Personal Independence Payments) and Carer’s Allowance?

There are different levels of personal allowance – the amount kept before tapering starts – that will change as one’s situation changes.

There is a cap to the total that can be received, but not everyone is included. Nor is every benefit included.

Council Tax Benefit isn’t included and has been devolved to local councils. This will create a postcode lottery, meaning if you move your income could change. The lack-of-inclusion means that another taper is added to that of UC.

All these things aren’t necessary. Either have a separate Child Benefit, DLA and Carer’s Allowance, or fully include them in UC.  Either have a cap or don’t. Don’t keep changing things as people’s circumstances change – if you do this, you might as well not have bothered with the whole idea of UC.

And then the real problem: all this has been brought in so quickly, that the flaws in the system remain. Councils lack the information they need about how UC will work, so they can’t adapt to it. The IT needed to support it isn’t ready. There have been four directors of this project in 6 months. The pilot scheme is being carries out manually using spreadsheets.

But it isn’t behind schedule. Oh, no. That the pilot is being carried out only in Tameside, and not Wigan, Oldham or Warrington, is not because of delays and problems. That only 300 people – 0.5% of potential claimants – are expected to join in the first month is not because of delays or problems. That those in the trial must be single, have no children, have been recently employed, not be ill or on disability benefits, not be caring for another person, not be homeless, not be in temporary accommodation, have a valid bank account and have a national insurance number is not because of delays or problems. That families will not be included in the October national roll-out – with no fixed date for when they will join – is not because of delays or problems.

It’s such a shame. The benefits system could have been improved. The holes could have been sewn up. The net could have been raised so that people didn’t hit the ground anyway when they fell in. It could have been raised so that people could climb out again.

Instead we have a mess. A universal benefit that isn’t ready; a disability benefit that excludes too many people; a housing benefit that doesn’t meet the cost of housing.

The government could have done something good.

 

References:

Latest information to Universal Credit from The Guardian:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/apr/26/universal-credit-pilot-launch

Universal Credit is having teething troubles.

Posting here for those of you who haven’t noticed I now have my own website www.aidaaleksia.com

Universal Credit is having teething troubles.

Actually it may be a bit unfair to say that.  Strictly speaking Universal Credit refers to the new benefit that will replace income-based Employment and Support Allowance, Income-based Jobseeker’s Allowance, Income Support, Child and Working Tax Credits and Housing Benefit.  Multiple problems have occurred over the past months but not all of them are related to Universal Credit.

The roll-out of PIP (Personal Independence Payment, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance) has been delayed, so that people currently receiving DLA will not be reassessed for PIP until October 2015.  This is a delay from the previous date of January 2014.[1]

Universal Jobmatch is facing trouble.  The government seems keen to get Jobseekers registered on the job-search site and there have been suggestions that this is so that the Jobcentre can track Jobseeker’s efforts in applying for jobs.  However as it is not legal to force a person to allow cookies on their computer, the Jobcentre cannot force anyone to reveal what job-seeking activities they have carried out on the Jobmatch site.

This may be a good thing.  There are many job-search sites and I would suggest anyone searching for a job should not restrict themselves to just one site.  Particularly one that is known to be open to abuse by scammers and hackers – including Channel 4, who deliberately hacked into the government’s Universal Jobmatch site to demonstrate how vulnerable the system is.  Or rather how vulnerable are the people who are using it.

The Benefits Cap is also having trouble.  Asides from being totally against Beveridge’s principles when he set up the first social security system,[2] it is also facing delays of up to 6 months.

The Work Programme is another area facing trouble.  Multiple organisations have withdrawn from it, after public disapproval of a scheme that effectively pays people less than minimum wage for their work.

Even areas that aren’t undergoing reform are having trouble – GPs and the General Medical Council earlier this year called for an end to the Work Capability Assessments for ESA.

 

But these troubles are not related to Universal Credit.  They’re separate troubles.  Universal Credit has troubles of its own…

 

Most recently, that the massive real-time information system on which Universal Credit partially relies is not working.  The Guardian reported today that the IT system supposed to match employer’s payments to employee’s ban accounts (i.e., track how much an individual is paid in a given month) fails on 25% of cases.[3]  This is based on figures given by the Treasury Secretary, David Gauke, in response to a question by Stephen Timms MP (deputy shadow Work and Pensions Secretary) on 17thn December.[4]

Month

Matched Hashes

Unmatched Hashes

Failure Rate

April

2,193

87,888

97.6

May

99,264

577,174

85.3

June

747,217

828,226

52.6

July

1,091,365

200,638

15.5

August

1,307,797

239,494

15.5

September

1,209,276

348,078

22.4

October

1,453,502

273,895

15.9

November

1,544,683

526,608

25.4

 

Interestingly, and perhaps also disturbingly, whilst it is to be expected that the initial failure rate was high, that failure rate has also risen recently.

This isn’t the only problem that Universal Credit is facing.  The above-mentioned real-time information system lost some of its “key personnel” in November, according to The Independent.[5]  These included the programme director, Malcolm Whitehouse, and the head of IT, Steve Dover.  The newspaper also reported that the programme has been placed on a Treasury list of projects in crisis, is running late and is over-budget.  A national roll-out has been delayed, such that the national roll-out scheduled for October 2013 will not involve instead a small number of regional projects.

 

So maybe it isn’t unfair after all to say that Universal Credit is having teething troubles.  Whilst many of the problems are due to wider welfare reform (or lack of it, in the case of ESA), a substantial number of issues remain with Universal Credit specifically.

We’ve had a Labour government for 15 years, so perhaps it’s to be expected that a young Conservative-LibDem government has teething trouble.


[1] Note this is a delay only for those people on DLA who are not due for reassessment before October 2015.  New claims, claims due for renewal and claims with a change in circumstances will be assessed for PIP starting at various months in 2013, depending on claim type and location

[2] all families should receive child benefit because a) it’s good for the country to have a new generation to support the old b) children should not live in poverty c) only giving benefit to those reliant on social security creates a perverse incentive against work

Fact-checking FactCheck

Fact-checking fact-check

 

Firms get up to £13 720 for getting a person into a job.  Currently there is a small attachment fee of £400, which is to be phased out over the next few years as companies build up their success and therefore can afford to take people on at their own cost.  The biggest single payment is for a job outcome, paid when a person on JSA has been in employment for 6 months or a person on ESA has been in employment for 3 months.  However the money really starts coming in when people have stayed in jobs beyond the outcome period, as the companies then get between £117 and £370 every four weeks up to one or two years.  Presumably these people are no longer getting support from the Work Provider, so the Provider can just wait for the money to come in every four weeks.

Poor performance of the Work Programme has been linked to the state of the economy, which is worse than was expected when the WP started.  However CESI said the target of 5.5% should be revised down by only 15%, to just under 5%.  The headline figure of 3.4% getting a job is still too small.

However, whilst headline figures look poor, they mask the fact that with each month more people join the programme, without an equal number leaving because their allotted time (2 years) is up.  The appropriate figure is not the percentage with a job outcome out of all who have been referred, but the percentage with an outcome within a set period – not including people who have not been on the programme for that length of time.

So to know how well the programme is doing, we first need to decide how quickly we think they should find jobs for people attached to it.  Assuming that taking up to 12 months is acceptable, then the success rate is around 8.4%.

Fact check does mention this, but not until near the end of the report.  By this time, there has been a lot of comparison of the 3.5% figure to the DWP target of 5.5% and suggestion that the WP is worse than nothing.  ESA figures were submitted to the same incorrect use of maths to get 1.5% finding work; the reality is that 4.1% of those who joined the programme in June-Aug 2011 had work a year later.

Fact check does not provide any data on whether the WP is worse than nothing.  To know this, we would need to know what percentage of jobseekers who had been out of work for 6 months prior to Jun-Jul 2011 and who were not placed on the WP got jobs within a year.

Keeping a job is not just about job outcomes, it is also about staying in work after that time.  For people from ESA, 2000 sustainment payments were paid out.  This works out as the average ESA referral not staying in work for more than six months (otherwise there would have been more sustainment payments).  I haven’t done the equivalent calculations for Jobseeker referrals, but the length of time people stay in work after reaching a job outcome is a crucial piece of information that the government has rather disappointingly not given us,

 

Cost wise, fact check has neglected sum important figures.

Until a person gets a job, Work Providers receive only £400 (attachment fee).  It is therefore not very expensive to have a lot of people on the programme, if being on the programme was all that mattered.  However the key thing is that for the Work Programme to be counted a success, people need to get into and stay in work.  This rapidly raises the costs.

At the lowest end, a Work Provider gets a £400 attachment fee, £1200 job outcome fee and 13 sets of sustainment payments at £170 each – a total of £3810.  At the highest end, the figures are £400, £3500 (all but ESA ex-IB claimants are £1200) and 26 sets of £370 – a total of £13720.

The first thing fact check has forgotten is that sustainment payments occur every four weeks for either 52, 80 or 104 weeks (1, 1 ½ and 2 years).  So most of the money that a Work Provider will get for getting a person into a job hasn’t been paid yet.

Secondly, so far only 8.4% of people got jobs within a year.  That’s approximately 9 people not getting a job to every 1 person that does.  The cost of that one person’s job includes the attachment fee for the other 9 who didn’t got jobs (although if people get jobs in their second year on the programme, the ratio of attachment fees to jobs will decrease; also this fee won’t continue to occur after the first few years of the WP).

All of this means that one job found this year costs between £7410 and £19120.

This means the WP is currently more expensive than the Flexible New Deal, Employment Zones, New Deal for Young People and New Deal for 25+.

 

So the key facts are:

WP success is 8.4%, not the 3.5% used by Fact-Check to compare to the 5.5% target

For ESA claimants, success is 4.1% not 1.2%

The WP is currently more expensive than the other programmes considered by Fact-Check

Does the Work Programme Work?

Back on wordpress because I can’t get my website to work…

Today (27th november) the government released data on the first year of its work programme.  This programme is open to people on ESA and JSA.  People are mandated to this programme when they have been on JSA or ESA for a set number of months; the number of months depends on the category into which a person falls.  For people moved on to JSA from Incapacity Benefit, this is three months.  People placed in WRAG can be referred to the work programme at any time, in general when they are considered to be within three months of recovering enough to return to work.  Jobseeker’s are given six months before referral if they are 18-24, and 12 if they are over 25.

The Work Programme was started in June 2011.  Since then, there have been 878 000 referrals to the Programme and 837 000 attachments.  Of these, 91% were from JSA and 9%, 79 000 people, were from ESA.  Most ESA referrals are from new ESA claims who are mandated to the programme from WRAG; these form 52 100 people or 66%.  The next biggest is voluntary referrals at 22% (17k), and the smallest is ESA claimants who were previously on IB, at 12% (9.4k).

Out of all referrals, 200 000 people started jobs.  However most left within six months: only 31 000 people have been in work long enough for the Work Programme Providers (WPPs) to get job outcome payments.  Of these 31 000, only 1 000 are people from ESA.

To get an idea of how well the WPP are performing, ideally we would need to know how long it took people to find a job and have data for 2 years, the amount of time WPP are given to find people a job.  Because the WP has only been going for 14 months, the best we can do is to use the first three months to work out what percentage of people are found a job in 12 months.  We also can’t easily compare it to Jobcentre data, as Jobcentre data will include people who are able to find jobs more quickly.  There is also little data on how will the WP performs compared with previous schems, although Alex Hurn does a good comparison here. (basically, WP is not very, if at all, effective, and the Future Job Fund was effective)

For ESA groups, this gives the data in Table 1 for how many and what percentage found work within one year of referral to the WP.  Note that the September 2011 cohort is just under one year, as figures for August 2012 are not available yet.  Over all ESA groups, 475 people found jobs within one year of joining the Work Programme out of 11 488 referred from June-Aug 2011.  That’s a success rate of 4.1%.  This is much lower than the figure for all people on the WP, which has an 8.3% success rate over the first two months of the programme.

Note that there is some incorrect use of statistics.  For all WP participants, 31 000 of 878 000 referrals got jobs: this is 3.5%, the figure that is being most quoted.  However, this includes people referred who weren’t attached (don’t ask, I don’t know what that means, unless it is that people voluntarily left the benefit) and therefore understates the percentage.  It also includes people who have joined the programme very recently and therefore can’t be expected to have yet found work.

This graph shows the percentage that have a job outcome (i.e. stay in work for 6 mths) for each month after joining, up to ten months.  It is not cumulative.  The big jump between 6 and 7 months suggests that most people are likely to take at least 6 mths to be found a job.  Therefore, to include people who joined the WP in the last 6 mths (i.e. Feb to Jul 2012) will inappropriately raise the caseload relative to job outcome rate.

This is why the government uses the figure of 8.1% and 8.6%.  These are the percentages who found work within one year of joining, for June and July 2011 cohorts respectively.  These graph use 10 months, to allow more cohorts to be included.

The use of the figure 3.5% is inappropriate.  To know whether the WP is successful, we need to have an agreement on how long we think it should take a WPP to find a job for a person.   If we think it should be 6 months, then the figure is 1.2%; at 9 months it is 4.6% and at 12 (not shown on these graphs) it is 8.35%.

It is worth bearing in mind that for people mandated from JSA, another 6 months has to be added to the time out of work, and for ESA it is another three.  So if the total amount of time acceptable for a person to be out of work, including time before joining the WP, is 12 months, only 1.2% get a job in this time.

ESA ex-IB ESA New IB/IS voluntary ESA voluntary JSA ex-IB
% referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs % referred no. jobs
Jun-11 0 90 0 3.9 1800 70 6 170 10 7 300 21 5.6 150 8
Jul-11 8.3 120 10 3.2 3400 109 7 290 20 6 500 30 8.1 370 30
Aug-11 0 130 0 3.3 3290 109 5 210 11 7 460 32 7.1 208 15
Sep-11 0 180 0 3.7 3550 131 4.3 230 10 6.3 480 30 8.3 240 20
Jun-Aug 2.9 340 10 3.4 8490 288 6.1 670 41 6.6 1260 83 7.3 728 53

Job outcome rate varies by group.  In particular, people who are on ESA and have been mandated to the Work Programme are unlikely to find work, at 3.4% across both groups.  However, people moved on to JSA from Incapacity Benefit or who volunteer for the programme from IB or ESA are twice as likely to find work, at 6.7% across all three groups.  It may be that this occurs because those who are mandated to the WP are less healthy than those found fit for work (although bear in mind these people are not necessarily either well or fit for work) or those who self-select for the WP.  People who self-select for the WP may feel that their health condition or disability need not be a barrier to work, if appropriate work and support can be found.

The key issue however is whether or not these people stay in work.  And the results say that they do not.   1000 people from ESA found work.  But only 2000 sustainment payments occurred for people on ESA.  Sustainment payments are lump sums given to WPP for every four weeks an ESA claimant spends in employment above the first three months.  Given how long the work programme has been running, and the number of people reaching a job outcome (3months in work) there was potential for 3000 payments to be made.  Such a small sum means very few people stayed in work for more than 3 months.  Because the number of job outcomes per month has been increasing, most of the potential sustainment payments occur for people who reached job outcomes in Feb-Jun 2012.  This skew also means that the average person who got a job kept it for only 6 months (3 months to job outcome, plus 3 months of sustainment payments).

The data suggest two things.

First is that small numbers of people are being helped into long-term employment.

Second is that a large percentage of people who reach 3 months employment don’t stay in that employment.  They may not leave right away, but the data suggests the average person does not get past 6 months.

The numbers can be cooked in different ways.  You can consider how many got a job out of all who have been referred to the WP, but this makes it look worse than it is – it includes people who only recently joined.  You can consider how many got a job within a year of being on the WP, but this makes it look better than it is – it forgets that people have already been unemployed for three or six months, and ignores that the majority do not stay in employment for six months.  You can also find inappropriate data to compare it with: bearing in mind that these are people who have been unemployed for six months (three for ESA), it is not correct to compare this with all jobseekers who find employment, because some will find employment within six months of signing on.

But however the numbers are cooked, one thing is clear: the Work Programme is not working well.

Key Figures:

All:

837 000 people joined the Work Programme

200 000 people started a job

8.3% of people got a job within a year of being on the WP.[1]

1.2% of people got a job within a year of being on JSA, or 9 mths of being on ESA

31 000 people kept a job for six months (three for ESA recipients)

20 000 people kept a job for more than six months (three for ESA recipients)

£58 000 was spent as sustainment payments for the 20 000 people in work for more than six months (three for ESA recipients)

ESA:

1 000 people had a job for three months

4.1% of people got a job within a year

Most of these people did not stay in employment for more than six months


[1] This data is only available for people who started the WP in June or July 2011

The People’s Review of the WCA: a summary

Yesterday a report was released about the Work Capability Assessment for Employment and Support Allowance.  It contains many stories of poor assessments and inappropriate decisions that a person is fit for work.  Here I have made a summary of some of the problems that the WCA faces.  The full report is well worth reading and can be found at http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-peoples-review/

 

The ESA is surrounded by secrecy:

  • Atos Health Care Professionals (HCPs) have to sign the Official Secrets Act
  • The DWP has refused to release details of the contract between the DWP and Atos
  • Details of the Independent Tier that monitors Atos have not been released
  • Data on Quality Assurance checks are not available to the public
  • The report on improved Mental Health descriptors developed by Professor Harrington with Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society has not been released to the public
  • recordings of assessments are ‘only provided for the customer’s own personal use’ and will not be routinely used in appeals or as evidence of inaccuracy in the WCA
  • Data on the use of free text boxes during the WCA are not released to the public

 

Evidence suggests the ESA is not working well:

  • 41% of people found fit for work appeal this decision
  • Of this 41%, 38% win the appeal.  This rises to 70% if the claimant has a representative; some representatives claim a 100% appeal success rate
  • 72% of claimants found fit for work are still out of work 12-18 months later[1]
  • anecdotal reports from Jobcentre staff show multiple people are sent to look for work who are demonstrably too ill to work
  • appeals cost £60 million a year; the Atos contract is worth £100 million a year[2]
  • A large backlog of appeals means that the tribunal service has had to:[3]
    • recruit more judges and medical panel members
    • increase administrative resources
    • secure additional estate
    •  increase the number of cases listed in each session
    • run double shifts in its largest processing centre
    • run Saturday sittings in some of the busiest venues
    • set up a customer contact centre to deal with telephone inquiries

 

Atos HCPs are not well trained:

  • reports on training vary, but appear to be measured in days or a small number of weeks[4]
  • HCPs are not required to have a Diploma in Disability Assessment Medicine[5]
  • any training received by Atos HCPs is not recognised by the European Qualifications Regulations 2007[6]
  • The Royal College of Nurses has refused to accredit the training of Atos Nurse assessors[7]

 

WCAs are not well checked for accuracy and quality:

  • Checks are internal and are not open to the public
  • The checks are run by a company chosen and paid for by Atos
  • Professor Harrington recommended unannounced visits to assessment centres, but this has not occurred
  • the National Audit Office said that, “The current target of no more than 5 per cent of reports being graded as ‘unsatisfactory’ is not sufficiently challenging and allows the contractor to deliver a significant number of assessments before financial penalties become due.”[8]

 

WCAs have been criticised by multiple bodies and experts:

  • GPs called for an end to the WCA with immediate effect
  • The British Medical Association called for an end to the WCA with immediate effect[9]
  • The RCN has refused to accredit Atos nurses[10]
  • The Liberal Democrat Party voted unanimously for a Motion calling for the WCA to be changed
  • The High Court has granted a Judicial Review against the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, on the basis that medical evidence for claimants with mental health issues should be obtained early in the assessment process
  • the National Audit Office criticised the DWP for not seeking financial redress for delays
  • The NAO noted “uncertainty of roles and responsibilities, poor record-keeping and irregular sitting of the Executive Management Board.”

 

Recording of WCAs is variable:

  • no information about the right to have WCA recorded, or how to request this, is provided on either the DWP or the Atos website
  • the Jobcentre said that, “There is no real need for customers to request and use the recording of their assessment.  The recording is only provided for the customer’s own personal use and must not be put into the public domain… If the customer is insistent on the recording being taken into account as evidence, these will be handled on an individual basis and the customer will need to provide consent for Atos Healthcare to share this information with Jobcentre Plus.”

 

Professor Harrington’s recommendations have not all been implemented:

  • work with Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society to develop better mental health descriptors has not been used by the DWP
  • Professor Harrington recommended unannounced visits to assessment centres, but this has not occurred[11]
  • there is no requirement for a claimant’s doctors to submit medical evidence
  • there is strong opposition to incorporating a real world test into the ESA assessment process
  • Atos is not required to provide data on the use of free text boxes during the WCA[12]

 

There is risk of breaching human rights:

  • a judge ruled that not requesting data from a claimant’s doctors may breach the Equality Act requirement for reasonable adjustment for claimants with mental health problems
  • the Welfare Reform Bill was not accompanied by a human rights memorandum, and there has not been any detailed analysis of the compatibility of the Bill with human rights obligations
  • conditionality and sanctions could lead to destitution, which would be inhumane or degrading treatment This is particularly problematic where disabled people are judged capable of work when in practice they cannot work; they may therefore struggle to comply with the requirements put on them.
  • The decision to time-limit contribution based ESA to 12 months has not been taken on the basis of any evidence that twelve months is a reasonable time frame in which to expect chronically ill or disabled people to have recovered and/or found work

 

Customer satisfaction with WCAs is low.  Problems include:

  • poor format of the assessment process:
    • irrelevant questions
    • lateral questions
    • lack of consideration from the claimant’s doctors
    • tick-box approach
    • increase in severity and prevalence of mental health problems as a result of the assessment[13]
    • doctors have noted that suicidal tendencies and self-harm are occurring in patients where the WCA is cited as a contributing factor
    • nearly 1000 complaints have been made against Atos so far this year
    • Citizen’s Advice Scotland has received 24 000 complaints about Atos and the WCA[14]
    • investigations have been started into 35 Atos HCPs

 

 


Where DLA falls down: Mobility and Wheelchair users

When I first applied for DLA I was refused.  I challenged this in a 2 ½ page letter that took me two weeks to write, explaining why the decision maker was wrong.  Essentially everything the decision maker had wriiten was wrong.

On mobility related issues, the decision maker said I could walk reasonably and slowly for three minutes.  The form I had filled in had various questions with tick boxes:

How well do you walk?

  • normal,
  • reasonable (e.g. slight limp),
  • poor (e.g. shuffle, heavy limp, stiff , balance problems),
  • very poor (e.g. dragging leg, stagger, need physical support)

How fast do you walk?

  • normal (> 60m/min),
  • slow (40-60m/min),
  • very slow (<40m/min)

I had ticked poor and very slow, and then explained in the text box that I shuffle, sometimes limp, and have problems with balance.  I think I mentioned weakness as well.  For the question, ‘how far can you walk (including any short stops) before you feel severe discomfort?’ I answered, 100m.  I explained that it took me three minutes to walk this far.  I also explained that I can only do this once in a day.  After that I am restricted to below 50m; any more and I would end up with increased weakness and pain and would worsen my overall state of health.

I don’t know where the decision maker got reasonably or slowly from.  I explained this in my letter, and so the reconsideration removed ‘reasonably’ and ‘slowly’ from the list of reasons why I don’t qualify for higher rate mobility.  But my ‘ability’ to walk for three minutes remained.

To me this suggests a major failing in the criteria for DLA.  To qualify for higher rate DLA, a person must be unable to walk at all, able to walk only a short way without severe discomfort, or would become very ill if walking was attempted.[1]  This is very high criteria: moderate discomfort is irrelevant – it has to be severe; short breaks in walking are irrelevant – they have to be long breaks; very slow walking doesn’t matter – if you can cover more than 50m, you can walk, regardless of how long it takes; repeatability doesn’t matter – if you can do it once, it doesn’t matter how restricted you are after that; if walking too much (in my case, covering over 50m in one go – ignoring ‘short’ breaks – more than once in a day) makes you more ill, it doesn’t count – it has to make you ‘very’ ill.

So despite the fact that I am a wheelchair and mobility scooter user, I don’t get higher rate mobility.  Not only this, but despite the fact that I cannot go out alone (except on a few local roads with my mobility scooter, which is too big to go on public transport) because I need someone to push my wheelchair, I don’t get lower rate mobility either.  This is because ‘guidance or supervision from another person’ refers only to behavioural problems, difficulties arising from being deaf or blind in a unfamiliar place, problems with talking to others or needing someone to keep an eye on you.  ‘Guidance or supervision’ does not include needing someone with you because of physical difficulties with walking.

Because I don’t get higher rate mobility, I also can’t get a Blue Badge.  But if I wish to go out somewhere in a car, I will also have my wheelchair in the back of the car for use at the destination.  This has to be got out of the car, on a road or in a car park, in order for me to be able to use it.  I have had multiple problems with doing this without the benefit of being able to park in a disabled space.  Sometimes the available parking spaces are very narrow, such that it is vastly easier to park by reversing in; but this would mean being unable to get the wheelchair out of the back.  So the wheelchair has to be got out first – in the car park, not in a space, with other cars trying to get past. Other times the car park is very busy with cars and people, and getting the wheelchair out whilst cars drive past is difficult.  When I am especially tired, I want the wheelchair to be brought round to the side of the car so that I can get straight in from the chair.  This isn’t possible if there is a car in the adjacent space; there simply isn’t room.

So I can’t get out on my own, and I can’t get out without physical support (i.e. a wheelchair or mobility scooter) but I don’t get any financial assistance with this.  Despite the time costs to the person who drives me somewhere or pushes my wheelchair, despite the costs of taxis, despite the extra cost of tickets because I need someone with me to get on public transport, despite the cost of purchasing, maintaining and insuring a wheelchair and mobility scooter, despite these costs and despite the fact that DLA is supposed to help with these extra costs that are experienced by people with disabilities, I don’t get any financial help.


[1] Other criteria for this are: being a double amputee, being blind or get higher rate care with severe mental impairment and severe behaviour problems.