Tag Archive | WCA

The Telegraph, ESA and WCA

I wrote this post for Hardest Hit, and have simply cross-posted here.

 

Hardest Hit was pleased to see Isabel Hardman’s piece in the Telegraph on ESA. Ms Hardman wrote to explain that, “Disability testing isn’t working as it should – and Conservatives must have the courage to admit it.” This is an encouraging stance from a right-leaning newspaper and could become the start of increased accuracy in the debate around welfare.

When one knows most of the facts around an issue, it is easy to pick out the misleading from the less misleading newspaper articles. Newspapers don’t routinely cite the sources of their data, which can make fact-checking difficult. If one already knows the facts, this stage is automatically much easier. Knowing ESA as I do, it is refreshing to read an article that is not misleading in either direction.

The Work Capability Assessment for ESA has come under a lot of criticism. As we know, and Ms Hardman points out, 42% of appeals against ESA are successful.[1] Other information exists supporting the claim that the ESA assessment process is inaccurate. The Citizen’s Advice Bureau has reported high levels of inaccuracy in reports made by Atos assessors.[2] Tribunals report that most appeals are overturned due to new oral evidence presented to the tribunal – that is, evidence that would have been available to the Atos assessor had he or she asked the right question(s).[3] The independent Review, headed by Professor Harrington, has said that Decision Makers’ decisions vary in quality and consistency.[4]

The National Audit Office said that there are “serious questions about the quality of the overall decision-making process.”[5] A court judgement on Wednesday ruled that the current system is unreasonable to people with mental health conditions.

There are many reasons to believe that the ESA assessment process does not work; these are just some of the outcome data that suggest flaws in the decision-making process. As Ms Hardman says, the method of assessment is also unreliable. “It fails to assess, beyond someone’s ability to move a cardboard box in the test room, whether they are capable of doing a real job. The activities in the test are removed from workplace realities. … There are some simple changes that could improve the test, although they are unlikely to remedy the inherent flaw: the fact that it doesn’t realistically assess a person’s ability to do a day-to-day job.” Unfortunately, a real-world test – realistically assessing a person’s ability to do a day-to-day job – was the one thing that then Minister for Employment Chris Grayling was “absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed to.”[6] Incorporating a real-world test has since been rejected on the grounds that there is a lack of “clear, evidence based advice” for what such a test might look like.[7] This “inherent flaw,” which most disabled organisations agree to be a flaw, appears set to remain.

Despite this, there are possibilities for improvement to the ESA assessment process. There could be more time for both the claimant and Atos to request and receive medical evidence; the questions asked of the claimant could be more relevant to the ability to work; the claimant could be provided with more space and time to fully explain the impact their condition(s) has. Other small, or less small, improvements could be made without first radically over-hauling ESA to include a real-world test.

There doesn’t have to be a public collapse of faith in these tests. Although Hardest Hit amongst others may feel that the collapse of faith should already have occurred, the fact that it hasn’t means there is still time for the Coalition government to get ESA right. It is vitally important: it is not just that this “distresses people who deserve better,” but that it drives into poverty and worsened health people who deserve full support. A catastrophe in the welfare reform may well “be enough to prevent any government looking at welfare reform for another generation,” so the Coalition must get this right.

There is potential for great harm, but there is also potential for great good. It is for us to ensure that everyone knows both what is wrong and what can be done right, to ensure justice for all the sick and disabled of this country.


[2] Right First Time, 2012, Citizen’s Advice Bureau

[3] Social Security and Child Support Tribunal hearings: Early analysis of appeals allowed from pilot data, Nov 2012, DWP

[4] Professor Harrington, An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment – year two, Nov 2011

[5] 23rd Report; Contract management of contract services, Feb 2013, National Audit Office

[6] Work and Pensions Committee hears from Chris Grayling on migration to employment and support allowance, June 2011

[7] Professor Harrington, An Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment – year two, Nov 2011

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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

 

 


(Why We’re Not) Benefit Scroungers: Extract 2

The one thing I am absolutely unreservedly and implacably opposed to in all of this is a real world test.” – Chris Grayling, Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions, 2011.

But the current, not-real-world test isn’t working.

It is not uncommon for a claimant to be signed off work by a GP, and yet be refused benefits.[1]  Nor is it unknown for an employer to consider an employee to be too ill to return to work, yet the employee is refused ESA.[2]  The DWP argue that this is because the ESA assessment considers the ability to carry out any job, not just the one the claimant was in before becoming ill.  However this still conflicts with the GP’s judgement, and the questions asked are so poor that it is often unclear what job the DWP has in mind when assessing a person as fit for work. …

When a system works well, appeals against decisions occur in marginal cases.  In terms of the WCA, the only people appealing should be those who received just under the required points.  After all, most people know whether or not they can walk 200m, dress themselves, prepare a meal, remember to take all their medicine etc.  They won’t appeal if they can appreciate that the decision was fair (n.b. fraud in DLA costs a mere 0.5% of DLA payments, less than the cost of official error.  Fraud in Incapacity Benefit is even lower at 0.3%.  ESA will not be assessed until 2013).  Yet up to February 2010, 60% of appeals overturned in favour of the claimant were for cases that had originally been awarded zero points.  A further 23% had been awarded between 3 and 6 points (there are no 1 or 2 point descriptors), leaving just 17% who had been awarded between 7 and 14 points.[3]  This is unacceptable.  A high percentage of claimants are failing to even come close to having a proper assessment of their health made. …

There is high variability between decision makers [who are non-medical staff at the Department of Work and Pensions].   Professor Harrington, the head of the independent reviews into the ESA assessment, said that “consistency and quality of decision making appear to be key issues.”  This is particularly the case now that Harrington’s previous recommendations have led to an increased importance of the decision maker’s role, relative to the ATOS assessment. …

Professor Paul Gregg, before the WCA was rolled out nationally, reported that, “the test so far has caused a huge amount of anguish to the people who have gone through it. We need to have something that is working accurately before we apply it nationally. We shouldn’t roll this out until we have something that is working.”[4]  Gregg was involved in the design of the new system (ESA and WCA)and  has been described as “one of the most rigorous and high-impact social policy academics in the UK.”[5]


[1] Dryburgh, Unfit for Purpose, 2010, Citizen’s Advice Scotland. http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/unfit-purpose

[2] Dryburgh and Lancashire,The Work Capability Assessment, 2010, Citizen’s Advice Scotland http://www.cas.org.uk/publications/work-capability-assessment

[3] HC Deb, 28 June 2011, c662W

[4] New disability test “is a complete mess,” says expert. 22nd Feb 2011, The Guardian. http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/22/new-disability-test-is-a-complete-mess

[5]Baumberg, September 27th 2012, Paul Gregg: new ideas for disability, employment and welfare reform. Inequalities. http://inequalitiesblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/27/paul-gregg-disability-employment-speech/

Disability’s Not Working

The government has plans to further sanction long-term sick or disabled people if they deem these people to not be working hard enough.  There are already sanctions if these people do not attend all of their ‘work focussed interviews’ or fail to satisfy ‘work-related activity’ requirements.  The government is extending this ‘work-related activity’ to include work experience; it is now legal for officials to mandate people in WRAG to carry out work experience,[1] although plans for unpaid work experience have not yet been finalised.[2]

“Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support those moving close to the labour market, and the individual’s responsibility to engage with the support.  Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility.”

I find this sort of statement deeply frustrating.  I’m not interested in what Ministers feel.  I’m interested in facts.  What exactly does it mean for a long-term sick or disabled person to ‘engage with the support’?  Who decides what is engagement and what is not, and does the decision maker understand what it means to be long-term ill or disabled?  In what way will sanctions successfully incentivise people to comply with their ‘responsibility’?  What is their responsibility, given that they are long-term sick and thereby have reduced capabilities?

Work-related activity as defined in the Welfare Reform Act 2007 is that which “makes it more likely that the person will obtain or remain in work or be able to do so.”  The 2012 extension is that this work “includes work experience or a work placement.”  Work-related requirements for those found to have limited capability of work (i.e. in WRAG) is limited to ‘work preparation’:

Section 16 of Welfare Reform Act 2012

(1)In this Part a “work preparation requirement” is a requirement that a claimant take particular action specified by the Secretary of State for the purpose of making it more likely in the opinion of the Secretary of State that the claimant will obtain paid work (or more paid work or better-paid work).

(2)The Secretary of State may under subsection (1) specify the time to be devoted to any particular action.

(3)Action which may be specified under subsection (1) includes in particular—

(a) attending a skills assessment;

(b) improving personal presentation;

(c) participating in training;

(d) participating in an employment programme;

(e) undertaking work experience or a work placement;

(f) developing a business plan;

(g) any action prescribed for the purpose in subsection (1).

(4)In the case of a person with limited capability for work, the action which may be specified under subsection (1) includes taking part in a work-focused health-related assessment.

(5)In subsection (4) “work-focused health-related assessment” means an assessment by a health care professional approved by the Secretary of State which is carried out for the purpose of assessing—

(a) the extent to which the person’s capability for work may be improved by taking steps in relation to their physical or mental condition, and

(b) such other matters relating to their physical or mental condition and the likelihood of their obtaining or remaining in work or being able to do so as may be prescribed.

(6)In subsection (5) “health care professional” means—

(a) a registered medical practitioner,

(b) a registered nurse,

(c) an occupational therapist or physiotherapist registered with a regulatory body established by an Order in Council under section 60 of the Health Act 1999, or

(d) a member of such other profession regulated by a body mentioned in section 25(3) of the National Health Service Reform and Health Care Professions Act 2002 as may be prescribed.

The plan is that those considered capable of ‘work-related activity’ may be mandated to carry out voluntary work for charities, public bodies and high-street retailers.  There is no plan for a time limit for such work, despite the existence of time-limits for people on JSA.  There is also no evidence that this will be at all effective; it may even be detrimental.  The government’s paper on work and health, published in 2006, concluded that there is no data on the impact of work on people with chronic health-problems, and that there is a significant minority for whom work has negative effects.[3]  Whilst it is to be hoped that this significant minority would be placed in the Support Group, there is no confidence amongst disabled and long-term sick people that this is the case.

There is a real risk that this requirement will cause deteriorations in people’s health.  These people have been found unfit for work; some of the reasons they are unable to work will also apply to their ability to carry out mandatory unpaid work.  If a person would find paid work exhausting or painful, or would be unable to regularly attend due to fluctuations in health, surely this will also be the case for mandatory unpaid work?  Advisers lack medical knowledge that would enable them to assess a patient’s ability to carry out work, whether paid or not, or understand why health issues can make such work impossible.  There is then the possibility that advisers will require people to carry out work that is beyond their capabilities, and then sanction them when they are unable to carry on.

Added to this, the government is making sanctions are even harsher.  It is as if they have forgotten that they themselves assessed these people as unable to work due to health problems.  Current sanctions have a maximum of £28.15 a week, but from 3rd December this will change to £71 a week, which is 70% of the weekly payment.[4] As Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said, “Whatever an individual’s health problems, slashing their benefit is only going to exacerbate the strain they are already under. The additional stress and anxiety incurred by the sanction – worries about paying for bills, rent and even food – risks devastating their mental health.”

It is essential that the government starts listening to disabled people and what they need, not what the government wants.

Death rates and the WCA

Recently, the discussion around the numbers of people who die after being found fit for work has come up on twitter again.  This is because of the release of a government report, as a result of a freedom of information act, dated 9th July 2012.[1]

The headline figure on twitter is that 10 600 people have died within six weeks of their WCA claim ending, in less than one year.  This comes from page 6 of the report, where the number of deaths within six weeks of a claim ending is broken down into those for whom the assessment had not been completed (2 200), those who had been put in WRAG (1 300) and those who had been put in the Support Group (7 100).  These provide an update to the figures that the Daily Mail received to their FoI request back in April.[2]  The figures then were for Jan-Aug 2011, whereas the latest figures are for Jan-Nov 2011.

This number of deaths sounds pretty big.  It’s 11 000 people in one year; a lot of people, in a short period of time; a lot of people who are very sick.

But alone these figures do not tell us much.  We can hype them up, say it’s a huge and alarming number and the government needs to do something about it, but before we do that we need to put them into context.  After all if it were 11 000 people out of an overall group of 11 million people, that would be a very low death rate and not something to be upset about.

We need to know at what rate working-age people normally die. Then we can compare death rates for those waiting for ESA assessments, those in WRAG and those in SG to what they would be if these groups were made up of average members of public.  That’s the best way to find out how alarming these figures are.

Every year, 225 in every 100 000 working-age people die.[3]

Using data on the number of people in WRAG , SG and still under assessment in each quarter from November 2010 to February 2012 – to calculate the number of man years in the respective groups from Jan 2011 to Nov 2011 – and the number of deaths, adjusted to be per 100 000 and per year, the comparable figure is 573 for the assessment phase, 537 for WRAG and 6910 for SG.

People who have applied for ESA die at a rate 2.5 times higher than for the average working-age population.  People in WRAG die at 2.4 times the expected death rate.  People in SG die at over 30 times the expected death rate.

These are seriously ill people, putting to lie the government’s assertions that people on ESA are festering or abandoned.  It is not just those whom the government recognises to be ill; it’s also those who are applying for ESA or have been deemed fit for ‘work-related activity.’  This is very simple data and it would be dangerous to read a lot into it, but the one message this data gives on its own is a very simple one: people receiving ESA are genuinely ill.  The government needs to stop peddling this myth that people on ESA do not need to be there.


[2] Sommerlad, N., 32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit, 4th April 2012, Daily Mail. http://blogs.mirror.co.uk/investigations/2012/04/32-die-a-week-after-failing-in.html

[3] Office of National Statistics. This is the average death rate per 100000 for males and females between 15 and 64.  http://www.ons.gov.uk/ons/publications/re-reference-tables.html?edition=tcm%3A77-265234

James Max, Atos and the Paralympics.

I haven’t read an article that made me angry for a while, but this one managed very successfully.  In the interest of accuracy, I have made a summary of the reasons why I disagree with various statements.

http://www.londonlovesbusiness.com/business-news/business/james-max-atos-is-the-right-sponsor-for-the-paralympics/3323.article

Mr Max makes numerous statements in his piece that are not accurate.

He says, “Take something away from people that they have got used to receiving and they’ll be uproar. Add to the mix that it’s a benefit for disabled people and that it’s not fair that they go through a vetting process to achieve the government’s aims to ensure those who claim benefits really deserve them, and there’s every ingredient for an explosive mix.”

He appears to be unaware of what the controversy is about.  This is not about going through a vetting system to determine who does or does not deserve benefits.  This is about people who do need benefits being incorrectly turned down.  It is about assessments being carried out in places that are inaccessible and/or inappropriate for use by disabled people.  It is about Atos workers recording untruths.

No-one has ever said that that there should not be medical assessments to ensure that claims are genuine.  If there were no such process, then of course anyone could decide to claim.  Assessments are good and necessary; assessments also need to be accurate and fair.

The use of the term ‘deserving’ is a little inappropriate.  We’re not talking about who is ‘deserving’ here; deserving is far too inaccurate a term and open to many interpretations and ambiguities.  Is someone deserving because they managed to work for the majority of three years before becoming ill (the criterion for receiving National Insurance Contribution based payments)?  Is someone deserving if they receive a particular treatment for a particular condition?  Is someone deserving if they are generally a good person who is nice to their neighbours?  Is someone deserving if they don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t eat high fat, sugar or salt containing foods, don’t shop for clothes in anywhere more expensive than New Look, and don’t buy groceries from anywhere more expensive than Asda?  Is someone deserving because they have no children or live in a tiny house?

What about people who became ill before they were old enough to work?  What if the standard treatment doesn’t work for a particular person, perhaps because their body reacts differently or another health condition makes it inappropriate?  What if someone likes to have a glass in the evening, as many other people do (and incidentally thus helps the economy and the government through alcohol duties)?  What if clothes need to be sturdy so they don’t wear out, comfortable so they don’t cause pain, and warm because the person gets cold easily and this makes their illness worse?  What if specialist, expensive food has to be bought because the body is useless at processing standard food in a sensible way?  What if the person was actually earning enough to support three children very well in private schools, but then became ill?

The correct term is ‘needy.’  This is much more easily defined.  It simply depends on what is necessary for an adequate standard of living, and considers the extra costs that many disabled people face.

 

Mr Max goes on, “Perhaps the deficit we have in this great nation of ours is because of previous incompetence at government level?

Money was handed out in a modern day form of gerrymandering – buying goodwill through a benefits system that’s more generous than it should be. Now we are tackling the problem and making sure only those who deserve the benefits receive them.”

It is a dangerous argument and one I have seen many times before.  What I have never seen is any evidence that the current recession, either in the UK or worldwide, was caused or is prolonged by welfare spending in the UK.  Rather what I understood to be the problem was spending at the other end – reckless spending by people with a lot of money who didn’t make sensible use of it.

Mr Max has come back to his ‘deserving’ argument.  Interestingly, the idea for the welfare state was set up with the aim of helping everyone who is needy, and at a time when the country was poor, because it was currently engaging in a large military campaign otherwise known as World War 2.

 

Mr Max’s next argument is that, “Protestors claim the means testing exercise being conducted by Atos isn’t fair. Get used to it. Life is unfair. It’s unfair that some are born with a disability. It’s unfair that some have had limbs removed as a result of illness or injury or through having fought on behalf of their country. It’s unfair that some will live longer than others. Indeed it’s unfair that those who work have to pay tax to support those who, in many cases, cannot be bothered.”

Life isn’t fair.  I fully agree.  It is therefore the role of the government to assist in making life more fair.  It is not acceptable to turn to someone in need and I say, “I will not help you, because life isn’t fair, so why should I who happen to be well and well-off share my good luck with you?”

As for tax, there are many reasons for people to pay tax, and the public as a whole benefits from such spending.  A similar argument could be made about why taxes of people living in the South-East should not be used to improve the lives of people in any other part of the country.  After all, why should money taken from a well-off southerner be used to pay for roads, schools, healthcare and education of people living in the north?

Claiming that many people ‘cannot be bothered’ is empirically a wholly unfounded statement.[1]  42% of benefits go to pensioners (not including sickness benefits); Mr Max can suggest that pensioners ‘cannot be bothered’ to support themselves, but he may find himself with little support.  A further 20% goes on Housing Benefit and 15% on children, and 8% on Disability Living Allowance which is not an out-of-work benefit and therefore does not fit under the ‘can’t be bothered’ category.  These two benefits – Jobseekers and Employment and Support Allowance – together make up a mere 7% of benefits.  It is dodgy to suggest, during a recession, that many people in these groups ‘can’t be bothered,’ particularly when the majority of this group is made up of people who are genuinely too ill to work.

 

Mr Max makes some interesting statements regarding the suitability or not of Atos as a sponsor for the Paralympics.  “The firm provides IT services to the UK Border Agency. OK, so the firm was blamed for IT systems issues that caused delays in the run up to the Olympic Games. Not ideal, but not a basis for protest.

The second and more significant government contract is with Atos Healthcare, a sub-division of the main company employing over 3,000 people… The protests are unfounded. Just because the company is streamlining payments does not make them an unsuitable sponsor.”

On his first point, I would have thought that a company paid by the government to carry out a public good should not consider itself to have money to spare on sponsorship until it had first provided a good service.  It seems particularly inappropriate for a company to sponsor an event that involves two areas – Border control and disabled people – in which it had failed to provide a good service.

 

He then goes on to a discussion of protests against the current system for ESA: “Indeed, with any cut to any allowances there will be genuine cases where the wrong decision is taken. However, that is no basis for protests…

Most disabled people I know just want to be able to get on with their lives.

They don’t want sympathy or special treatment. They just want an opportunity to show that they are every bit as able, determined and capable as their able bodied counterparts. Shame on us for discriminating. And shame on us for allowing protests of this nature to cloud the real issues.”

In a situation in which very few people are incorrectly turned down, and those people are marginal cases where a judgement is harder, then there is no reason to protest.  But in a situation where many people are turned down and these include people who are very clearly ill then it is very right to protest, and we as a nation should be disturbed if we think that there is no reason to protest.

 

Mr Max continues with a reason why corporate sponsors are fine, even when they are ones whose service is opposite to the event sponsored, “Indeed many of us recognise that you have a choice. If you don’t want to go to McDonald’s or drink Coca-Cola, no one’s forcing you to. Personally I like what they do, support their globalised approach and appreciate that their size and commercial muscle (and money) makes our lives better.”

What upset people about McDonald’s and Coca-Cola was not about whether or not they liked buying these companies’ products.  It was because in general the products offered do not make our lives better; they are not health foods or exercise regimes.

McDonald’s and Coca-Cola are also not relevant to the matter here, which is the role of Atos.  Chronically unwell people who need government support in order to live do not have the luxury of going to a different provider of healthcare assessments.  It is a public service, but the provider was decided by the government and not by the public.

 

Mr Max ends with a complaint that the current benefit system does not work. “If the Paralympic Games tell us anything, it’s that for too long as a society we have made judgments about the skills and capabilities of those with some form of physical disability…

We have not provided facilities and help, training and opportunity but simply paid people off to keep them quiet. Strip benefits away from those who don’t need them by all means, but let’s make sure the legacy of these games is that never again will we treat those with a disability as second class citizens and never again will we criticise corporates who make a real and lasting difference by sponsoring the greatest events on earth.”

The Paralympic Games do not give us any insight into the abilities of the average disabled person.  The Paralympians are people who, through huge investment by outsiders, have managed in part to overcome some of their limitations. If we wish to use them as an example, then the example is that there needs to be a lot more money invested in disabled people to enable them to reach their true potential.  And there continues to be need for investment in society to make society accessible.

The government hasn’t ‘paid people off to keep them quiet.’  It has given financial support to people who are too ill to work.  If the government wants these people to be able to work, it needs to invest in healthcare research and development so that the treatments these people need will actually exist.  If the government has not done this, it is not the fault of the people who are ill.

In relation to people receiving DLA, then yes “facilities and help, training and opportunity” are needed.  What is also needed is an improvement in the wider society and workplace such that these things become as accessible to the disabled as they currently are to the able.  DLA is given because society presents barriers to people with impairments, and thus makes them disabled.  Until society is changed, disabled people will continue to need financial support in order to allow them to overcome the barriers that are the largest for them as an individual.

 

Disabled and chronically ill people will continue to protest for as long as they are refused the support they need.  It is good and right that they do so.  We do not have to be ‘victims,’ but neither are we all athletes.  If the Paralympics will leave any legacy, let it be this: disabled people can achieve extraordinary things, but only if someone else will pay for them to get there.