Tag Archive | benefits

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

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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.

(Why We’re Not) Benefit Scroungers: Extract 1

This is an extract from my book, “Why We’re Not Benefit Scroungers”, coming out in early December.

 

“General saving is really important to us,” he says. “We are a nation that doesn’t save … We drifted into a culture where consumption was all, and you borrowed to spend … So we change the culture so that you save, you invest and you prepare for the worst. Like we insure our cars, this is basically insuring our lives.”[1]

Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Wooding Green, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

Which sounds great.  Insure your life, then if (when) bad times come, the insurance will pay out to keep you safe.  This is what National Insurance was introduced for.  It is what private health or life insurance contributes towards.  But life, unlike owning and insuring a vehicle, is not a luxury.  If you are poor, you can choose not to own a car (although this reduces job access, further contributing to your poverty).   But few people consider that the alternative to life insurance for the poor should be for them to choose not to live.

Most people don’t spend time reflecting on how they will manage if they fall ill.  Is the mortgage on the house affordable if you develop lupus and can no longer work?  Can you raise two children if you lose your sight?  Will you be able to care for your ageing parents if you have a stroke and become hemiplegic?  Should you avoid all holidays abroad, in order to save up money to ensure you can tide yourself and your family over when the tide goes out on your health?  Do you live in the smallest house you can fit your family into, live in the cheapest area you can, own the most economical car, deny yourself all luxuries – so that on the day when the stroke strikes, the heart attack attacks or your memory walks out and forgets to return, you have enough savings that you do not ever need to ask for support from a charity, friend or government? …

Living with disability or chronic illness is costly.  That is why support is needed.  Whether in work or not, disability brings additional costs to life that the disabled person may not be able to meet.  Disability and chronic illness can hinder education, employment and access, as well as bringing medical costs. …

Disabled people often want to work and aspire to work as much as any non-disabled person.  But their health, combined with lack of accessibility in society, effectively discriminates against them…

The Greater London Authority recognises disablism as a form of oppression.  “Medical and associated interventions should in no way be seen as substituting for ongoing work to challenge and deal with barriers faced by disabled people in mainstream society… ‘Equal opportunities’ does not mean that all people are treated the same, but rather that their diversity is recognised and accommodated to enable them to access services and opportunities.”[2]

The Joseph Rowntree Foundation said: “Much could be achieved if society was properly attuned to the needs of disabled people and effectively enhanced services could do much to reduce the costs carried by individuals. At the same time, additional resources directly for individuals are also required in order to facilitate the ‘level playing field’ that disabled people seek.[3]


[1] Iain Duncan Smith, MP for Chingford and Wooding Green, and Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.  In The Telegraph, Iain Duncan Smith: I’m not afraid to light the fuse on disability reform, 13th May 2012, Robert Winnett;

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/9263502/Iain-Duncan-Smith-Im-not-scared-to-light-the-fuse-on-disability-reform.html

[2] Barer, Davies and Fitzpatrick. Review of the London Health Strategy high-level indicators, Section 3, 2003, London Health Authority http://www.london.gov.uk/lhc/publications/healthinlondon/

[3] Disabled People’s Costs of Living, 2004, JRF

You will NEVER take away my shoes

Guest post again (saves me so much effort!), this time from the amazing lady Sue Marsh. Her blog is
We all know it who have posted here. We all know that by writing too well, or too often or too scathingly, we put ourselves at risk. Some of us will be or are being “investigated”. Some of us will simply lose our sickness or disability benefits, which could mean losing our independence or even our homes.
Despite this culture of fear we are living in, just look at these stories! Could you honestly read through them all without feeling astonished at the state of our care of and attitudes towards the sick and disabled?
If you are one of the mercenaries hired by the ATOS monopoly to prove we’ve all been cheating all along, you can watch me if you like. Take your pictures, twitch the curtain, send me forms and summon me to assessments. Doubt me, judge me, even try to take away my dignity, but you will NEVER take away my shoes.
If I have to use a wheelchair, then surely it’s time for the 8 inch hooker heels? (Electric-blue satin with never ending chrome spike heels. If I can’t walk anyway…) If I feel like wearing fake-fur and ripped leggings I will. I will wear red lipstick and paint my nails gold. If I want to go to dinner with friends and sip cocktails and nibble tapas and pretend, just for once, that I won’t pay for it dearly later, then I will. I don’t do hair shirts and self-denial.
If I have a rare good day, amongst the searing pain and endless vomiting and I want to dance, then I will dance. Joyously, because I know that joy is fleeting. If it puts me on the floor, I will still dance, because I am free. You can’t tell me never to dance.
If you follow me walking my kids home from school one day you might see me chase them, giggling until we fall in the crunchy piles of autumn leaves. Will you see the wince I try to hide as we carry on home? Will you notice my six year old take my arm because he’s already learnt what giggle-chases cost me? But I vow to chase my kids whenever it might not kill me.
If I see your hypocrisy clearly, I will write about it with scorching fire.  I will tweet from a hospital bed, with my drips and my bleeps and my needles and tubes. Read it if you like, you might learn something. Writing is all I have then – did it ever occur to you I can dictate?
At weddings, I will wear a hat. An enormous, wide brimmed, floppy hat, with freesias stitched into the brim. I will hold my head high, push my shoulders back, paint on a dazzling smile and sip champagne. Life and soul for the hour or two life and soul is required. But will you see me when the mask slips? When my soul can’t cover for my life any longer?
I can transform, butterfly-like with expensive skincare and will-power. The grey, clammy, puffy little face you know will emerge, glowing and radiant, my eyes sparkling, my hair shiny. Like Cinderella, the sheen will fade by midnight, but you might not notice, busy as you are marvelling at “how well I look.”
One warm, summer afternoon, when the breeze feels like silk, I will take a motorbike ride with my husband, racing through hazel lined lanes across the rolling South Downs. I will gulp in pleasure and live a year in those few, adrenaline-fuelled hours. I will pull off my crash helmet, shaking my hair and laughing at life. I wonder if you’ll remember how little my life normally gives me to laugh at?
So, whatever money, or security or comfort you try to take from me, all those other things are mine. Chronic illness takes away almost everything you ever took for granted – ambition, spontaneity, careless energy, dreams, independence – sometimes even love. When any of those things come fleetingly within my grasp, I will grab them.

Wearing an Elvis print mini-dress with pink polka dot Jimmy Choos.

**Once again, please share/link/tweet – I don’t care where, the more people read these One Month Before Heartbreak posts, the better. Yes, you can copy and paste it into emails, yes you can send it to your MP. In particular, perhaps I can ask you to send this to high profile women via Twitter and Facebook? On Twitter with the hashtag #ombh. We need friends in high places who are prepared to support us.

(Not) Coping with the ESA assessment process

This is a guest post from @IHaveaBoomstick, used with permission.

 

This morning two large envelopes from the ESA dropped through my door. One for me, one for my Mum. There they still sit, waiting for Mum to come home.  I am simply too stressed, too afraid, and too afraid of being stressed by them to open them until she gets home.  You see, I’m one of the many sufferers of a mental illness who’ve been somehow targeted by the government as part of their budget cutting process and put through the ATOS-led ESA assessment process.

From February to May this year I was filling out their poorly-designed forms, paying for GP support letters, being refused a letter from East Bristol Mental Health Trust because they stopped treating me in 2008 (referring me back to the GP as no more they could do) and reckoned “the GP can do it,” realising how flagrantly ill-equipped their ‘classification’ system is to cope with mental illness, trying to explain to numerous ESA advisors (or one with a rotating name) how WRAG is a joke and will create massive stress for people like me while serving no purpose, being put into WRAG, having them forget to review it, having them review it and stick by the decision while simultaneously sending me through their own assessors report clearly stating this person is unfit for work for at least 2 years if not more (alongside all the medical reports), chasing the Employment Service about my WRAG appointment, chasing legal aid people only to find out that the system in England is such a mess compared to Scotland that they won’t even represent you at an appeal tribunal …

… well, it’s fair to say that for someone with a chemical imbalance in the brain that fails to regulate stress and anxiety and suffers from major obsessive thinking, mental exhaustion, some depression, some paranoia and all the other things associated with an anxiety disorder it was not fun. Without the support of My Mum who organised and chased the case (herself a working pensioner) I would have utterly crumpled. As it was, it triggered an anxiety spell so major that I took months to fully recover from it. And, as someone who is also a diabetic, the stress dropped my resistance to illness so low that the GPs believe I became ill repeated times as a result.

Then, after sending the written appeal 5 months ago and the Employment Service backing off, it all went silent …

… until the envelopes dropped through my letter box. I’ve not even opened them. Yet, as someone whose disorder needs little to trigger it, they’ve pressed all the buttons anyway.

 

The following is what I tweeted this morning in response – it gets a little sweary and occasionally rambling. But it’s how I feel.  This has been edited to be more reader-friendly.  140 character restrictions make for jerky reading.

My mum and I both had two big letters from DWP drop through the door. Probably another ESA appeal failure. Not going to open it. Already stressing me.

It’s been months and months so I am guessing it’s the written appeal verdict.  Mum took over dealing with it as I pretty much blew a mental fuse.  All one massive disorder trigger. They couldn’t seem to ‘get’ that going there once a month and being judged unfit for at least two years was still both a pointless verdict and actually stressful. I can’t tell WHAT I’m going to be like day-to-day, without having a monthly appointment to stress me

Two big envelopes, one for me and one for Mum.  I’m tensing up now and I haven’t even looked at it yet.  It has just made me immediately mentally tense up so I have no choice but to avoid it and let Mum check it later.

It was the attitude of one of them on the phone saying “what’s the problem, you’re in the same category as cancer patients,” that really upset me.  They’re not quite getting that their whole category system is fucked and cancer patients with no chance of recovery should no more be expected to turn up to monthly appointments which have no purpose whatever then me. They don’t get that a disorder fuelled by having a chemical imbalance which means my stress regulation is f*cked means putting me in a situation like that on a monthly basis is not only likely to kick me off but also damaging in general.  It makes me very angry.   This is a joke system.  Let alone people far worse off and less functional then me still being expected to do it. It isn’t just those people being deemed fit being screwed over by this ridiculous assessment system, but the people further down the ladder being screwed over with pointless stress and discomfort as well, given needless hoops to jump through even when the system acknowledges they’re ill!

 

Ok, let’s treat you to some comedy from the Government. There are 3 benefit groups with ESA – first is “Limited Capability to work.” At the other end of the spectrum is the ‘Support’ group for those people for whom getting back to work probably is never going to happen AND SUPPOSEDLY for if “it is decided that you have a limited capability for work-related activity.” Now here comes the middle group: the “work-related activity group.” This is for all those deemed not well enough to do some work but not fucked enough to count as having “a limited capability for work-related activity.” Said activity being appointments where a back-to-work plan is figured out and you have monthly appointments with an adviser.

Unfortunately EVERYONE is being put in that middle group. Getting into the support group? Impossible.  Suffering from a progressive disease and consequently your death can reasonably be expected within six months – work-related activity group.  So if you’re probably going to die within 6 months? – you’re still expected to attend appointments planning to get you a job. Have a mental disability where you can’t cope for days/weeks at a time, is random when it hits, random when it goes and the NHS have TOLD  you that there’s nothing the psychiatrists can do and medication is barely effective and it ain’t getting better? – work-related activity group.

Now the WRA group says: You cannot be required, as part of a work related activity, to apply for a job, undertake paid work or voluntary work, or undergo medical treatment.  And then it has a “personal adviser who will try to help you back into work.” So, no pressure apart from this member of staff whose job description is to pressure. And, according to many, the whole scheme has incentives for employees to get bonuses by getting people back to work. Which doesn’t encourage pressure at all, I’m sure.

The Jobcentre staff themselves? Not their fault whatsoever. The Government, DWP and ATOS have made a glaring fuck-up of contradictory terms in the categories for people, making the support category too hard to be placed into EVEN FOR THE TERMINALLY ILL!!! And thousands of people who, like me, have serious mental illness, physical illness or disabilities fall between the cracks and get screwed.  Thousands of people who aren’t utterly fucked but are not likely to be work-fit functional indefinitely/forever are hounded, harassed and frankly f*cking TERRIFIED that they’ll be forced back into situations that caused some of them to become ill and/or lose control of their disability to begin with

My life is now about balance and routine, trying to avoid stress, input, any mental stimulation that’ll trigger me off. It’s not great and even with that control it doesn’t work well and I regularly have ‘events’ that pretty much consign me to my room for days/wks. But I’ve fought to get that level of stability. I’m unable to work because of it, rarely go out because of it, rarely socialise due to it.  I have gone through the GPs, psychiatrists, psychologists, meds etc. and after all of it have found this equilibrium for managing day to day.  So when the DWP and ATOS try to fuck that over and give me ½ a page of A4 to respond while ignoring ALL medical evidence, including that of their own f*cking assessor? That, my friends, is a system that is utterly, utterly screwed and will get no better atm. Rant over.

 

If it wasn’t for the fact that I live back at home with Mum and she was supporting me, I’d have been in real trouble I think.  DWP has been quiet for 3-5 months and just that one unopened letter this morning has pressed the buttons. Thing is, they don’t get the complexity of mental illnesses. Due to the nature of mine, I spent years massively damaging my health pushing myself through university and then working for 7yrs because not only didn’t I understand it but I’d got into the mind-set of “it’s all in my head” and used that as a real obsessive trigger. So whenever this kicks off with places like them, I immediately start questioning myself: “is it that bad?,” “you worked with it before” etc. etc. despite EVERYTHING I’ve been through medically with the psychiatrists & GPs since. It’s a mental illness and they just trigger it with their actions even more. I think people in general don’t realise how much many of us manage to f*ck ourselves up mentally before we get diagnosed

 

Ironically that rant will/is probably going to contribute to a spell kicking off and me needing to step away for a bit. 100% worth it.  It took me months to recover from the stress of all this at the start of the year, and one unopened letter is enough to spin me out again.  This is why a lot of people don’t fight it. It is exhausting. Without my parent supporting me, I’d just have meekly let it go.  Whole system is screwed.  Irony is I could open the envelope and it’ll say “appeal won, yay” but I’m just too stressed to do it.

 

The telephone advisor’s words are a bit more difficult to post, though my mum and I were so surprised by their attitude that we felt like recording future conversations just to be sure we didn’t imagine it!

 

I have no problems with clamping down on people cheating the system but the way the categories are judged is purely to deny people access to the support group and I would guess to massage the figures hugely.

The whole process is a rushed job. And a money-maker for the government. They may pay ATOS but they changed regulations so you don’t officially need a GP letter of support. Which means the Government don’t have to pay for one as in the past but, if you don’t get one yourself, they won’t check any details with your GP or hospital etc. it seems. And given the amount of panic there is about being assessed and the knowledge now that the system is so terrible, people being assessed feel getting a letter of support is essential. So you pay the £15+ for it. Which goes back into the NHS coffers no doubt, and then seems to be completely disregarded anyway.

 

So my mum is home, and the envelopes are opened. It’s the appeal papers and the answers DWP/ATOS are giving at it. I’m letting Mum read it first as it’s liable to send me off the deep end again but her initial glance through suggests that, yet again, they’re rigidly sticking by their point-based system whilst completely ignoring medical evidence and what was actually written down. Sad thing is, don’t think we can easily get someone to represent me at the tribunal. Unlike Scotland, legal aid here only gives you brief phone advice on if you have a case but won’t represent you.

 

Ok, I’ve read through their ‘side’ of the case. Basically they’re saying, “by our descriptors, we’ve done nothing wrong” and they’re heavily quoting legal cases. Very much seems as though they’re so intent on going by their points-based descriptor system that they ignore what the person is TELLING them. Joke.

I am not very confident at all to be honest. We’re a working-class family.  We don’t know the legal system and someone who does is unavailable/unaffordable here.  Also humorous how they’re quite happy to find their own medical report from 8 years ago but not pay for one from my GP or psychiatry team. This has moved beyond equal, fair treatment now. To me, this just looks like they want to enforce their system regardless of the person.

No allowance for the fact that “your descriptors are f*cked.”  And actually state a legal case in their appeal to make a point that “in this case, something MIGHT happen isn’t good enough.”  Um, your monthly appointments blowing my stress levels through the roof? That WILL happen. But my testimony due to 15+ years of experience as a sufferer clearly isn’t enough as evidence. Tbh, if all this doesn’t work out, I’d imagine the first person I see for this WRAG thing is going to throw their hands up in despair. And now I’m wound up again.

I can only pray that the tribunal actually takes the time to read everything. But I doubt they will. No-one else on that side has so far.  Sorry for all this ranting folks – it’s just that it feels like all the stress from April that was put on hold has come back.  It is just so depressing. Attending monthly WRAG meetings is both pointless given my future diagnosis and is likely to actively aggravate my disorder. How is that so difficult for them to see and allow for?

Only hope is reading that the tribunal is independent of DWP.  I hate Mum getting stressed about going there but not sure I’d be much use tbh. And if I went there and was present? Can guarantee that the stress would retroactively trigger a spell that’d floor me for weeks. Can’t bloody win.

Saving the welfare state from misguided opinion

The folowing is a quick response to an article by Max Wind-Cowie entitled “Iain Duncan Smith: Saving the Welfare State From Misguided ‘Kindness.'” I wrote this very quickly, am now very tired and my hands hurt from typing.  So apologies for any inappropriate statements, I generally try to stay evidence-based but sometimes my emotion gets away with me, especially when I’m too tired to regulate it.  And apologies for any typing mistakes.

 

“Anyone who genuinely, seriously wants to protect our welfare state should be full-square behind Iain Duncan Smith’s latest ideas for reform.”

That’s a huge conclusion to reach.  No arguments are made to support this conclusion.  Off the top of my head, I can think of several against it:

  • Universal credit is not simplifying the benefits system; monthly payments will make life harder for many; online management will  be difficult for many
  • DLA is being replaced with a harsher benefit that is planned to cut 20% from working-age recipients.
  • ESA has a heavily criticised assessment process
  • More and harsher sanctions are being introduced, with no evidence to their effectiveness
  • Out-of-work benefits are amongst the lowest in the developed world and do not meet subsistence levels of income

 

“A Daily Mail article has trailed the idea of using smart-cards to restrict what certain individuals spend their benefits on.”

It was Iain Duncan Smith who trailed the idea, and he has asked his department to come up in one month with a solution to the impacts of drug addiction and poverty on children.

 

“Apparently there’s some moral principle that demands taxpayers fork out money to help addicts fuel their alcoholism.”

Taxpayers are required to provide a form of social insurance because it would be hugely costly and inefficient for individuals to take out private insurance against all possible dangers.  Because it is a form of insurance, welfare payments are not a form of charity.  For this reason there is no more dictation on how the money is spent than a private insurer would place restrictions on the money it pays out.

Dividing people into ‘taxpayers’ and ‘non-taxpayers’ is rarely possible, except for those who are still in or have only just left full-time education.  The majority of adults have paid tax; whether this covers what they receive in benefits at a later date is a separate issue.  Most adults receiving out-of-work benefits have paid tax in the past.  They are therefore, for at least some period of time, buying alcohol and tobacco out of their own taxes.

Mothers who stay at home whilst the father works yet still claim child benefit may not have ‘paid’ their ‘tax’ to ‘deserve’ this benefit.  Pensioners who have worked little (particularly current pensioners, for whom it was more common that the mother/wife did not work) or only on minimum wage but then live for several decades may get more in pension, and other benefits such as housing benefit, winter fuel allowance, TV licence, free bus pass, Disability Living Allowance/Attendance Allowance, Carer’s Allowance, than they paid in tax/National Insurance.  Given all the benefits we all receive from the government – education, health, transport networks, defence – it becomes very difficult to say who has the right to what.

The risks that National Insurance provide against include the possibility of addiction to nicotine and alcohol.  Such addictions may start in childhood through peer pressure and difficult home lives; when carried on into adulthood these people need extensive support not enforcement into further poverty, stress and chaos.  Or the addictions may have started as a response to stress in the adult life; 3-5% of professionals are alcoholic, with another 25% at risk of becoming alcohol dependent.[1]

As a slight aside, taxpayers currently subsidise the MP’s bar.

 

“I want there to be a safety-net for folk who fall on hard times. The good news is – as the British Social Attitudes survey and a flurry of recent polling shows – so, in principle does almost everyone else. But, in common with my compatriots, my support for a welfare system does not equal support for this welfare system. We need social security in this country – not social dependency.”

I think most people agree that we want a safety net and social security.  The difference is, Wind-Cowie implies that the current system promotes dependency (and presumably also a safety net and security, otherwise there would be nothing to become dependent on), whilst the new system will provide safety and security only.  Wind-Cowie provides no evidence for dependence; indeed there is very little.  There is, however, a large body of evidence published by reputable organistations such as the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and Joseph Rowntree Foundation that the current system is not a safety net and does not provide social security.  Unfortunately the changes that the government is bringing, and Wind-Cowie is advocating, are changes that work to make the system harsher.  The aim is to stop welfare dependency; but if there is little dependency then the result will be an even hole-ier net.

 

“Last week, Demos released the findings of a poll, conducted on our behalf by Populus, looking at attitudes to how people spend their benefits. Coming on the back of the BSAS (which, while showing in-principle support for welfare also found high and growing levels of concern about how our benefits system works – or fails to work) this polling highlights the need for further and more radical reform.”

Unfortunately, the public aren’t necessarily making informed decisions.  With a wealth  of media and government output using pejorative language and discussing fraud, dependency and ‘problem families’ as though these are widespread issues, it is unsurprising that many believe there is a culture of welfare dependency that needs to be addressed.  But important decisions need to be based on fact, not on opinion that has been formed from biased and all-too-often sensationalised media reports.

 

“The fact that government currently exercises little to no control over how benefits are spent – while the vast majority of us wish that it would – should bring home the growing gulf between our expectations of what is reasonable in relation to welfare and the policy responses on offer.”

It also brings home the growing gulf between the reality of welfare and poverty, and what many of the rest of the public thinks is the case.

 

“In my view, there are two possible justifications for limiting what benefits can be spent on. The first is in the case of alcohol and drug dependent claimants – whose addictions are ruining their lives and often the lives of those around them. These are people whose illness is all-too-often being enabled by the payment of cash-benefits, which allow them to fuel a destructive habit and makes recovery all the more difficult. By giving this group smart-cards, that could only be used to buy groceries and essentials, and by targeting treatment, we could do a lot of good with minimal harm. This is not about punishing the sick – it’s about enabling their recovery.”

There are many reasons to argue why smart-cards is not going to get addicted people off drugs and aid recovery with minimal harm.  The biggest one is that lack of money has rarely, if ever, been a reason why someone ended a long-term addiction.  On the other hand, it will restrict choice as market-stalls and small shops may be unable to take the cards; it may encourage a black market as people trade items to get desired drugs; it provides no help or support to people who are already suffering the effects of poverty and addiction; it may serve only to force these people into greater poverty and more chaotic lives.

 

“The second group we should look at are the non-disabled, non-contributors. People who’ve never had meaningful work and have never made a meaningful contribution – through NI – to the safety-net the rest of us pay for. There are too many in our society who walked out of the school-gates and onto the dole queue without so much as a glance at the workplace.”

This is a very small group of people.  Or at least it was, until a recession hit and many graduates were unable to get a job – over-qualified and under-experienced being the story of many graduates attempts to find work – whilst many school-leavers struggle to find training or apprenticeships that pay a livable wage, or even one that adequately reimburses the cost of commuting and time spent in training.

 

“We’re a civilised country, we don’t let people starve to death in the streets. But the lack of recognition for contributors – who, on the whole, will get pretty much the same out of the state as those who’ve put nothing in – is a damaging and corrosive theme of our welfarism. We can’t afford to give contributors substantially more. But we could give them more freedom and flexibility over how to spend their benefits than those who’ve added little to the pot. After all, for those who have worked and paid-in their welfare is a right and an insurance policy they should expect to enjoy when times are hard. For those who have failed to pay-in, welfare is the privilege of being born to our generous and caring society. It’s right, proper and – if the attitudinal evidence is to be believed – necessary to start making that distinction. Smart-cards for those who could have contributed but have not done so would be a step in the right direction.”

Somewhat sadly, the first link I found when I searched ‘people starve on streets UK’ was this one: http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2012/10/05/uk-policy-on-refugees-let-them-starve/

Another story explained the existence of starvation and malnourishment in our capital city:

http://www.standard.co.uk/news/dispossessed/in-2012-thousands-of-children-are-starving-on-the-streets-of-london-7621114.html

Other pages explained the role of food banks, a charitable provision and not a government policy of aid.  I’m delighted to live in a country where the citizen’s care, but the government should care too.

Wind-Covie’s lack of data on who pays what in and gets what out undermines his argument about what freedom people should have in spending benefits.  The government, as I have said, pays for many things for the citizens of this country.  A rough calculation I made some time ago suggests that anyone who does not earn an average salary of £41 500 a year for fifty years will receive more from the government than is paid in tax.  Separating into National Insurance contributions vs any other form of tax becomes nonsensical when the welfare bill is well above NI receipts.  Unless the government is going to make other restrictions, it is inconsistent to restrict alcohol and tobacco purchases by people on certain benefits.

It is not right, proper or necessary to make the distinction between those who ‘have’ and ‘haven’t’ paid in. The very concept of ‘paying in’ is rife with problems.  Age is one big factor in what has been paid in.  Caring duties are another.  ‘Paying in’ can also occur through voluntary work, or simply the presence of a friend or relative helping a healthy adult to stay on top of things in an often stressful world.

Then there’s the question of what the government has paid out.  State schools vary in quality.  Healthcare varies in quality.  Public transport varies in quality.  Maybe these ‘problem families’ or people with addictions have these problems at least in part because of inadequate or improper provision on the part of the state in the first place.  So maybe what should actually be happening is that the state should invest more in helping these people, not simply restrict their freedom in the hope that this will somehow sort out all the struggles they are having in their life.  And the state should do this because it failed to help these people in the first place, before the use of alcohol and tobacco became an addiction.

 

“What’s more, it would add more nuance to the ‘conditionality’ framework. At the moment, the only real penalty we have for folk who refuse to play by the rules is to remove their benefits for a short time. So if you refuse to apply for a job we can stop payments – but only for a little while because, as I say, we’re a civilised country. Under a smart-card regime we could use flexibility as a reward and greater control as a punishment. That gives us a better range of tools to use in the battle to get people back to work.”

By short time, Wind-Covie means complete cessation of benefits for a minimum of four weeks (only for the first failure at a low or intermediate level) up to 156 weeks, that is 3 years.[2]  Not a short time for anyone trying to live on nothing.  By better range of tools, Wind-Covie appears to mean an increase in punishments.  Flexibility isn’t a reward when it’s what most people have, it’s simply the status quo with loss of freedom as a punishment.   It shouldn’t be a battle to get people back into work, and if it is then it may be more helpful to look at the state of the job market and what can be done to improve that.

 

“I want a welfare state that accords with the moral intuitions of British people. To continue with what we’ve got would be to dangerously derange benefits from the beliefs, attitudes and opinions of those who pay for them. We need to listen to those who pay the bills, not denounce them. Exercising more control over how benefits are spent – to differentiate between contributors and non-contributors and to enable the recovery of addicts – would be a kindness both to individuals and to our welfare system itself.”

I want a welfare system that works and is based on evidence: evidence of what the problems are; evidence of what is needed; evidence of what is successful.  I’m not interested in intuition when people’s lives are affected.  To separate between contributors and non-contributors, those who pay and those who don’t, is complex to the point of impossibility.  In some ways we all contribute and pay; in many ways we all take.  The ones with the money aren’t necessarily the ones who know what is best to do with it.  And the recovery of addicts has never yet occurred on a large and permanent scale by forcibly removing access to cash.


[2] http://www.dwp.gov.uk/adviser/updates/jsa-sanction-changes/ These are the sanctions for Jobseeker’s Allowance.  As many other benefits such as Housing Benefit are passported from JSA, a loss of JSA frequently means a loss of all benefits and therefore may be loss of all income.

WCA and the fear it brings

With greatest respect and sorrow for everyone who has attempted or completed suicide.

“84% of GPs say they have patients who have presented with mental health problems such as stress, anxiety or depression as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment.  21% of GPs say they have patients who have had suicidal thoughts as a result of undergoing, or fear of undergoing, the Work Capability Assessment.”[1]  As Stephen Lloyd, MP, said, Atos is “feared and loathed probably in equal terms.”  Many find the WCA both stressful and upsetting, and Citizens’ Advice Scotland concluded, “It is fair to say that claimants always feel the process is making every condition worse.”[2]

Patients do not only experience suicidal feelings, brought on or exacerbated by the ESA assessment process; they also act on them.  14% of GPs have patients who have self-harmed as a consequence of the distress brought by the ESA assessment, and 6% have patients who have attempted, and in some cases completed, suicide.  This is something that is scaring people so much that they take it out on their body.  It is scaring them so much that sometimes they literally cannot live through it.

As Rethink Mental Illness concluded, WCAs are pushing vulnerable and unwell people “to the edge.”[3]  And sometimes over it.

 

This is not acceptable.  This is supposed to be a test that assesses people’s ability to work, not one that makes their health worse.  It is supposed to separate the unwell from the very unwell, not drive the unwell into the very unwell category.  Of course when I say unwell, I am talking largely about people who are ill enough to have been out of work for 28 weeks; otherwise they would still have been on Statutory Sick Pay or gone back to work before their SSP ran out.  So it’s not like these are people who are just a bit peaky, to quote Rod Liddle’s definition of ME and Fibromyalgia. (The Sun, 27/1/12)

Genuinely sick people are terrified that they won’t get the support they need.  They know they are too ill to work, but also know they are likely to be found fit for work.  Their fears are not based on rumours.  ESA has been in place for four years, so the people living in fear now have been through the system and know what it is like for themselves.  In that time, appeals have led to 38% of initial refusals being overturned, 60% of which were originally assigned 0 points; if a representative such as a CAB volunteer is present, then appeal overturn rates can reach 100%.  Report after report has highlighted the errors, inaccuracies and falsehoods that are leading to very ill people being found fit for work.  Labour has called for a review; the British medical Association has called for the WCA to be scrapped immediately.

These people are not basing their fear on hearsay.  It’s based on fact and personal experience.  These people are scared because they know the system, they know it doesn’t work, and they know their money is being stolen.  They have a right to it legally – appeals are judged according to the law – but their payments are being stopped.

 

The government and the public need to know this is happening.  They need to know that there are people so ill that, when they are found fit for work, death is a more viable option than an attempt to go on Jobseeker’s Allowance with its attendant interviews.  They need to know that people who weren’t mentally ill are becoming so; people who were mentally ill are becoming suicidal.

“These figures demonstrate how urgent it is that the Government overhauls the test. It is putting a strain on individuals, families and the NHS. The human and economic costs are too great for the Government to continue with it. We urge the Government to halt the system now – it could be the difference between life and death for some of the most vulnerable people in our society.”[4]

As Tom Greatrex, MP, said, “There is clearly a problem when an assessment that is designed to help people back into work ends up having the opposite effect.”


[1] Rethink Mental Illness: New GP survey shows Government welfare test is pushing vulnerable people to the brink. http://www.rethink.org/how_we_can_help/news_and_media/national_press_releases/new_gp_survey_shows.html

[2] Dryburgh, K. and Lancashire, M., September 2010 The WCA: A response from Citizens’ Advice Scotland. CAS

[3] Rethink Mental Illness

[4] Rethink Mental Illness