Tag Archive | wrag

(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/

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(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.

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

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.