Thursday, September 27, 2012

Grayling, IDS, Miller to be tried for crimes against humanity?

It might seem ridiculous but the DWP and Atos are guilty of the behaviour described in this image – and much worse – leading to loss of income and stress that, for some, has been intolerable. Thousands of deaths have been recorded.

It may seem like fantasy but the International Criminal Court has been asked to consider whether to take legal action against ministers in the UK government whose enforcement of austerity measures has led to the deaths of sick and disabled people.

Disability specialist Samuel Miller has written to the office of the prosecutor at the ICC in The Hague, intending to file a complaint against the ministers at the Department for Work and Pensions who are considered most responsible for the “draconian welfare reforms and the resultant deaths of their society’s most vulnerable” – Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and Maria Miller.

He believes there is precedent for such a case, thanks to a request for a Greek austerity trial at the Hague.
But the matter is not cut and dried. Mr Miller’s letter seeks clarification on whether austerity deaths of the sick and disabled in the UK are considered a crime against humanity by the ICC and whether the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities would be taken into consideration by the court.

Mr Miller has spent the past year reporting on the crisis for the UK’s sick and disabled to the United Nations. His own verdict is clear as crystal: “Austerity measures consisting of draconian welfare reforms and ‘sham’ means-testing (Atos Healthcare UK and the Department for Work and Pensions) are ostensibly to blame for their plight – with disability hate crime and inflammatory media attacks factored into this mix.”

My own opinion is that Mr Miller is right. At the very least, IDS and his cronies are guilty of corporate manslaughter (see previous blog posts on disability, Atos, the DWP and the many, many deaths).
Will the International Criminal Court see it this way? We’ll have to wait and see.

To be honest, I doubt that this campaign will score a victory at its first attempt.

But the recent verdict on the Hillsborough tragedy has shown that people are prepared to work hard and wait a long time for justice.


Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Atos scandal: Benefits bosses admit over half of people ruled fit to work ended up destitute

PUBLIC fury is growing towards the French IT firm for their role in helping the Con-Dem government slash benefits.

Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 
Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions
MORE than HALF of people stripped of disability benefits after being ruled “fit for work” by Atos were left unemployed and without income, according to a Government study.

The Department for Work and Pensions, who hired the French IT firm to help them slash the benefits bill, have admitted finding out in a survey that 55 per cent of people who lost benefits in the crackdown had failed to find work.

Only 15 per cent were in jobs, with 30 per cent on other benefits.

The DWP claimed people left high and dry were given “tailored support” to find jobs.

But the extent of the hardship suffered by the Atos victims in the study will only add to the growing public fury about the firm and their methods.

Atos have assessed patients with terminal illnesses as “fit for work”. And thousands of victims of genuine, chronic conditions have complained of being humiliated by the company’s tests.

So far, Citizens Advice Scotland have received a shocking 24,000 complaints about Atos, who rake in £110million a year from the taxpayer for their controversial work.

The extent of unemployment among people denied benefits after Atos assessments was revealed by the DWP after a Freedom of Information request.

Investigators from the department spoke to 1100 claimants deemed fit for work and found that 55 per cent had no jobs or benefits.

Thirty per cent were getting jobseekers’ allowance or other benefits and just 15 per cent were in employment.

A later, follow-up survey of 590 of the claimants revealed that 43 per cent were still jobless and without income. Twenty-eight per cent were receiving benefits and 29 per cent were in work.

The snapshot surveys were taken between April and June 2009 and included in a report compiled for the DWP in 2011.

The figures were released to a member of the public under Freedom of Information law on September 10 this year.

The Record has been telling the stories of Scots who have fallen foul of Atos – and of former staff who have seen from the inside how the company operate.

Joyce has not worked since the stress of her job at Atos 
Joyce has not worked since the stress of her job at Atos 

Former Atos nurse Joyce Drummond told us how bosses forced her to “trick” disabled people out of their benefits.

Joyce’s medical training meant she knew claimants were unfit to work, but she was told to mark people as fit if they could write – or if they showed up for their interviews properly dressed.

Labour MP Michael Meacher has launched a campaign against Atos after one of his constituents who had been ruled fit for work died of a seizure.

He said lifelong epilepsy sufferer Colin Traynor’s health deteriorated under the stress of a £70-a-week cut to his benefit.

Meacher added:

 “Colin worried he would lose his home, not be able to pay his bills or even afford food. His health deteriorated, his seizures increased due to stress, and he lost a lot of weight.

“On April 3 this year he had a massive seizure that killed him.

“Colin is just one of many victims of this unfair system.

“Even though they deny it, I believe Atos have been given a target to get two-thirds of people off incapacity benefit.

“There are thousands of people being told wrongly that they are able to work. The Government have admitted that 11,000 people forced on to work-related activity after assessments have died before getting work.
“I am trying to gather all the cases I can, because this is a massive injustice. I am prepared to campaign for months or years until this is addressed properly.”

Atos have defended their role in the benefit crackdown. A spokeswoman said: “Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists use their clinical knowledge and apply the Government’s policy and criteria to each assessment.
“We try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible.”

Sometimes I wish my cancer had killed me

Margaret's story   
Margaret Monaghan 
Margaret Monaghan

AFTER being left on the breadline by Atos, cancer survivor Margaret Monaghan often wishes her treatment had failed.

The mum-of-two was diagnosed with breast cancer eight years ago and now suffers terrible pain in her limbs as well as depression.

But after FOUR Atos assessments, she is still being refused disability living allowance, and is struggling to raise her young family on Job Seekers Allowance.

Margaret, 45, of Stevenston, Ayrshire, said:

“I just feel completely ignored and I get really down about it.

“I’d love to work but I can’t get a job. My memory has been destroyed by my illness and I have terrible pains all over my body.

“I had a mastectomy, the doctor says my nerves have been damaged by the chemotherapy and I have suffered terrible bouts of depression.

“I’ve been to four Atos assessments but they always find I’m fit for work, despite the fact no employer would give me a job in a million years.

“At my lowest points I truly wish that the cancer treatment hadn’t worked, because I feel the life I have been left with just isn’t worth living.

“I have an 11-year-old daughter and 12-year-old son and it breaks my heart because I can’t give them the things I would like to because I have so little money.

“It is clear to everyone that Atos have been brought in to get people off benefits to save money.

“They don’t care what your condition is. Something has to be done about it, not just for me, but for thousands of people out there in the same position.”

A response to Professor Aylward’s statement to Black Triangle

A response to Professor Aylward’s statement to Black Triangle and DPAC outside the IFDM2012 conference, on 11th September 2012.

“Few people have been involved in as many return to work or rehabilitation initiatives as Professor Mansel Aylward” [1]

I was, quite frankly, staggered to read Professor Aylward’s response to the questions posed to him about his usage of the Bio-Psycho-Social (BPS) Model and his apparent denial that his ideas have been deliberately used in the way that I and others have asserted; which is to establish a process, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) by which the majority of the sick can be illegitimately found fit for work.

In my article on the subject [2] I believe I argue convincingly quite the opposite to Professor Aylward’s current assertions, providing examples that indicate how this has been achieved. It is an ideas trail which leads directly back to the esteemed professor and his (and his various colleagues), efforts, (in concert with the insurance firm, Unum), to revolutionise the way in which our health related benefits are administered – with its overwhelming emphasis on ‘proving’, in the words of Chris Grayling, almost everyone capable of ‘some work’. What the WCA most certainly is not, contrary to claims otherwise, is a fair, impartial and objective method of assessing someone’s capacity for work. And one who must take a large part of the responsibility for that situation having arisen is Professor Aylward himself.

Ruthless promotion of the BPS model

Examining Professor Aylward’s recent defence of his position on BPS, and the links that have been made between his work and the rearrangement of our welfare system, it would seem that he is now claiming to have had no influence upon the changes which have been wrought. This is an astonishing claim in light of the manner in which he and others of his cohort have ruthlessly promoted and applied some very specific ideas about illness. These academics, including Professor Aylward, within what I have previously termed the ‘BPS lobby’, have consistently and persistently pushed their ‘new’ notions about illness and disability until they, first successfully penetrated, and then became the sole authoritative discourse within official literature in this area.

They were able to do so through drawing on their privileged positions as leaders of medical and scientific authoritative discourse and doctrine. We should remind ourselves too that welfare policy is to all intents and purposes a form of law, which in the case of welfare benefits is very strenuously applied. Results of failure to comply are severe, and punished mercilessly by the modern system. Those stigmatised as ‘scroungers’ or ‘malingerers’ are afforded zero tolerance and enthusiastically chased to ground and pilloried in our contemporary society. All the more reason, then, for the ideas which have fed into those administrative instruments by which people’s health is assessed to be above criticism, and fair and just, avoiding adding to any stigmatisation of illness and disability.

On 11th September Professor Aylward claimed to ‘sympathise’ with the ‘grievances’ raised by the disabled community. He hints that the address he had just given about the BPS model contained criticism of its current application with respect to disabled people; that he now finds it ‘unsatisfactory’, because it “no longer addresses the exclusion of disabled people from society“. When did it ever, professor? It is not the BPS model itself that people are outraged by, sir, but the uses to which it has been put. And that has been to further ‘exclude’ sick and disabled people from society by further disabling them through adding demonisation to their stigmatisation, and financial penury to their already disadvantaged economic situation. And all this has been accomplished via the Atos administered WCA, built as it was on ideas about ‘illness’ culled from your literature, and that of the insurance firm Unum, whose processes have been aptly described as ‘disability denial factories’.

Meaning of the ‘social’

Professor Aylward wishes that people would believe that he had never taken any other view than that “the social element has been neglected” in the application of ideas from BPS.

But what exactly has been the professor’s use of the ‘social’? That he proposes that this has been neglected in the application of BPS is something I agree with wholeheartedly. The potentially hazardous effects of that most ‘social’ activity of work have been elided, quite deliberately, by he and his colleagues. In fact Professor Aylward has gone to extreme lengths to persuade both medical practitioners and the wider public alike that we all have the wrong idea about work posing possible hazards to health. The positive benefits of work have been hammered home regularly in the publications and research conclusions at every possible opportunity. Not only that but Professor Aylward has decreed that all dialogue about work should be changed, all those ‘erroneous’ ideas that work contributes to poor health must be reclassified as ‘myths’, and work reconstituted in our minds as an essential component of recovery from illness; for everyone, no matter what degree of illness they suffer.  [3]

Considering the strong emphasis on ‘work’ in that aspect of his literature, is this the form of the ‘social’ that Professor Aylward is drawing upon? It appears not. On the release of his co-authored scientific book ‘The Power of Belief’ [4] Professor Aylward gave a presentation around its themes to a joint meeting of the British Psychological Society and Association of British Psychologists. In a graphic which describes the three elements of BPS the ‘social’ is defined by three keywords. Beneath the vague, undetermined ‘culture‘ and ‘social interaction’ we find: ‘the sick role’. [5.,Slide 18]  For anyone unaware of this concept, it promotes, among other things, the notion that a sick person has much to gain from ‘playing’ the sick role. Patients are portrayed as accruing certain advantages from being ill (or merely claiming to be so). These are so-called secondary gains such as ‘exemption from ‘performing’ in society, and from social responsibilities, as well as receiving attention and help that those who do not claim sickness cannot. Those are the ‘rights’ that sick people enjoy. On the other side is the obligation to do everything a person possibly can to get better and participate fully in society. The problem around this, of course, is the assumption that illness can always be recovered from, that the sick will always heal. This is a notion which is not only unhelpful, but is positively harmful when the sick role is attached to the long-term, chronically ill. This, however, is the very aspect of ‘the social’ which Professor Aylward evidently gives priority to in his theories. And it is exactly that idea which is incorporated within the WCA, whereby chronically sick people, with progressive and sometimes terminal illnesses are being forced into a perpetual round of reassessment, the black magic roundabout administered by Atos, just in case they have magically become ‘well’. When we have a situation of someone with Down’s syndrome being asked at their WCA how long they have had that ‘condition’, it is not hard to visualise that she too will be continually reassessed to see if her ‘condition’ improves over time.

Atos, too, endorse concept of ‘secondary gains’ when assessing illness

This idea of the ‘sick role’ is mirrored in an Atos publication of 2004. [6] If any doubt remains about the way in which Atos regards those who are subjected to its formulaic tick box assessment process then this publication will dispel them. A side panel of the document authored by Dr Christopher Bass is entitled familiarly “Symptoms that defy explanation” and includes a helpful list of conditions that fall within this category, including

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic back pain
Repetitive Strain Injury
Non-cardiac chest pain

Dr Bass then proceeds to make much of this concept of ‘secondary gains’ that presumably accrue from claims to these particular types of ‘common’ illnesses, describing them thus:

Work absence as a reward for years of struggle; turning a socially unacceptable disability into a more acceptable ‘organic’ disability caused by injury or disease beyond their control. They can blame their failures on the illness; elicit care, sympathy and concern from family and friends; avoid work or even sex; and there are financial rewards associated with disability“.

I don’t think I’ve ever seen this defamatory notion expressed quite so blatantly towards the members of the sick and disabled community. But then again, this is Atos, who have proven themselves to be Teflon against all legitimate complaints that have been made against them.
I can’t help but wonder how many of these sufferers from ‘unexplained illnesses’ have spent their final months in desperate circumstances after being denied their benefits by Atos.

We think therefore we are…

That ‘version’ of the ‘social’ aside, in practically all Professor Aylward’s work there seems to be nothing but the remorseless application of the psychological, at the expense of any consideration of the social.

The Power of Belief[4], was published at the time of the Unum funding of the Centre at Cardiff University under his directorship. An illustrative chapter title from this collection is “Explaining unexplained symptoms: The role of beliefs in clinical management’. This volume is a multiple contributor work which centres solely on the idea that how people regard their illness is the most important factor in determining the course of it. Not their physical limitations; their pain; the barriers their condition puts up between them and everyday social functioning; the distress arising from having an impaired physical (or mental) interface with which to negotiate a society which caters only to the able-bodied. No, none of these have as much validity or significance in a sick person’s life than what they ‘think‘ about the state of their bodies. This one notion makes it possible to place the blame for someone’s inability to function successfully in the world squarely on their own shoulders, and has made possible, too, the idea that people can ‘recover’ if they only adopt a positive attitude towards that end. This latter idea too, not only holds a special significance within both the professor’s personal ideology and his literature, but is highly implicit in the justifications for the increasing numbers forced off Employment Support Allowance who are portrayed as needing to have ‘tough love’ applied by their government, lest they ‘fester’ on benefits.

An interesting reference is made within the book’s introduction to the rise in ‘symptom based conditions‘ and, as I will cover in a follow up to this piece, this is a concept which has been treated by Professor Aylward in two totally contradictory ways, at different points in time, an action which can only seriously call into question his motives for doing so.

Medicine is the ultimate authority, except when it doesn’t concur…

I have previously written [2] about the inconsistency of the way ideas from the BPS model are used by Professor Aylward and his colleagues -that they are inevitably used in a plastic way, and opportunistically. When the argument calls for ‘authority’ to substantiate their ideas, such as suggestions that some illnesses lack validity, medical aspects are drawn upon, as is implied in their reference to ‘medically unexplained’ conditions. In all other cases the ‘medical’ model or ‘bio’ aspect is disparaged or minimised, as, too, are medical personnel. GPs and specialists, are robbed of their authority; and their capacity to determine a person’s capability to function is questioned. In fact doctors must now be themselves ‘indoctrinated’ to some extent into the ‘new paradigm’ [7.]. This, to date, they are apparently resistant to, committed to their self-identification as patient advocates. This taken-for-granted factor, though, is seen as only one influence on them, since many are accused of being of weak character or of ignorance, through ‘fear’ of repercussions from patients should they deny the requested sick note [8], or through their lack of awareness of the positive part that work supposedly plays in recovery for their patients They are denied, within BPS ideology, the capacity to exert any form of judgement in any given patient’s situation over whether work would be a help or a hindrance to getting well. Their reticence to wholeheartedly swallow this new paradigm is constructed as a (misdirected) stubborn commitment to an irrelevant ‘medical’ perspective on sickness and disability. It is difficult to perceive this as anything other than an attempt to downplay medical authority when it does not suit the ideology or the ends that the Professor Aylward and his BPS lobby are seeking.

SNORB – Indoctrination for the doctors

What is SNORB?  The acronym stands for ‘Sick Note or Bust’, a slogan whose meaning is difficult to grasp. Perhaps it makes more sense to GPs, who are its intended targets. Could it perhaps be meant to represent the attitude of patients who are determined to ‘get signed off’ at all costs? Regardless, SNORB is an initiative created by Professor Aylward’s Cardiff Centre and is part of a campaign to ‘turn around’ GPs’ thinking and change their behaviour around the issuing of sick notes to their patients. Its existence came to the fore through examination of yet another presentation given by Professor Aylward, containing the inevitable repeated themes which seek to link work and health as mutually beneficial partners. This time it was at a ‘Rehabilitation Workshop’ – for insurers, with a panel composed of representatives from the major insurance companies, NFU Mutual, Legal and General and Axa. It’s title is ‘Health and Work: The Moral Obligation’ [9]. As indicated the themes consist of ‘Work is the main (only?) route to wellbeing’, and ‘The most significant obstacle to recovery is found within the psyche, in people’s beliefs about illness’, and so on ad nauseum. The BPS lobby pave the way for a later discrediting, or minimising, of that which they intend to disparage by framing it in terms of a ‘mystery’ or ‘paradox’ or as a set of ‘myths’. Thus (in this presentation, slide 8) an alleged ‘Health paradox’ of improvements asserted to have been made in health outcomes versus increased insurance claims is constructed. As pointed out also in my article [2.], conclusions made about health by these academics are demonstrably flawed, relying on interpretation of data which favours simplistic over-generalisations that overlook such things as unequal distribution of illness across classes, or hierarchical levels of employment, or indeed geographical location. Once, however, the seed of doubt has been planted, and a shroud of mystery has been cast, it is a small matter to finish the job of delegitimisation, to render invalid commonly understood notions about illness or disability through proposing a ‘solution’ which by contrast appears clear, pragmatic and founded in comparative rationality.

SNORB is introduced to this insurance fraternity following the heading ‘Why GPs don’t want to know’, under suggestions for the removal of ‘barriers’. A description of SNORB ‘training’ materials for GPs would not do it justice and a visit to the website [10.] is necessary to fully appreciate the manner in which our doctors are being encouraged to conduct their dialogue with patients about work. I do not use the term ‘indoctrination’ lightly in this instance.

‘Objectivity’ sometimes vital, sometimes not – Two contradictory presentations.

The BPS lobby take a similar attitude to ‘objectivity’, the cornerstone of any professed scientific method, as they do to ‘medical authority’. When it suits the professor’s desired aims to emphasise the importance of ‘objectivity‘, for example in order to diminish the validity of certain conditions, those categorised in his account as ‘subjective‘ or ‘symptom based’ (ie depend largely on personal accounts of pain, discomfort and distress), then this is done. But when the desired effect is to inject some doubt into existing ways of assessing capacity in illness, (ie via the ‘medical model’) Professor Aylward depicts ‘objectivity’ as far less reliable or even achievable.

At one end of this scale a presentation which the professor gave in Amsterdam in 2007 for occupational and insurance physicians, ‘The Assessment of Work Capacity in the United Kingdom’, [11.] begins with the astonishing claim that “The assessment of Work Capacity is frustrated by the meaningless pursuit for objectivity“. The presentation ends with a call to “Abandon the forlorn pursuit of objectivity” and “Embrace the bio-psycho-social paradigm shift”. The cult-like appearance of these last two phrases comes as no real surprise since their objective is to bring about a kind of brainwashing effect into a new ‘way of thinking’. Revealingly, a note attached to the presentation declares that incapacity benefits are a “big area of reformby which the employment rates of sick and disabled people may be increased. Are we really expected to believe that the professor has not had continuing involvement, indeed influence, in these reforms?

Contrarily, Professor Aylward’s presentation at a Sydney conference three years later, entitled ‘Realising the Health Benefits of Work’ [12.] to ‘leaders’ from Australian government and industry depicts ‘objectivity’ quite differently. Here it is presented as a taken for granted final arbiter of fact. In this case it is used, as it so often is by the BPS lobby, to undermine the validity of a range of health conditions, including mental health, musculo-skeletal and cardio-respiratory conditions. Such illnesses are minimised by alleging that they show “Limited objective evidence of disease”.

WCA – an ‘objective’ tool for assessing ‘Work Capacity’

It is disconcerting, when the professor is so particularly adamant about so many of his
assertions to see how flexible a concept ‘objectivity’ becomes in his hands, being capable of being raised or dismissed at will, apparently dependant on which underlying agenda he intends to fulfil. Considering that the major claim to legitimacy of the WCA is that it is impartial, through being built upon objective scientific principles, if as he asserts ‘objectivity’ in the assessment of Work Capacity is unattainable, then this completely undermines it as an authoritative instrument, and proves it to be a fraud. A fraud with devastating consequences for tens of thousands of innocent sick and disabled who are being denied support on its basis.

It may seem like splitting hairs to draw attention this way to the use of words. But when words are used to convince governments to undertake policy changes which aim to remove support from an estimated million people there really had better be clear, robust and consistent arguments to support them. If I were to challenge the government on an issue, and let’s imagine for a moment that it bothered to give me a reasonable reply, it would take a familiar form. Statistics would be quoted, plausible arguments raised. I would be pointed in the direction of those who had produced the research and whose credentials I should trust to have produced honest, impartial, and yes, objective work.

This cannot be said to be the case with the WCA. What we have instead is a process whose intellectual origins are worse than dubious, permeated (and therefore tainted) with vested interests of one type or another, and the academic substance of which is wanting and inconsistent at best, seriously biased and compromised at worst, contaminated by an association with private profits. As a result of it the government is pushing people off benefits faster than Disney threw lemmings off a cliff. This is Professor Aylward’s legacy, and he is clearly attempting to extricate himself from his indisputable and powerfully influential involvement in facilitating it.

Refuted connections

One of the ways that Professor Aylward is now attempting to distance himself (which in my follow up to this piece I will show is not a first for him) from what is becoming incontrovertible proof that the WCA is a fraud perpetrated upon the vulnerable, is through claims that his input into the development of this process has been minimal, and connected only vaguely to work on assessments he did while in previous service at the DSS.

Why then does he display the acronym ‘DDAM’ among his string of qualifications [13.], since ‘DDAM’ is the Diploma in Disability Assessment Medicine, a qualification specifically developed for HCPs administering the WCA – the training and accreditation for which is delivered solely by Atos Origin [14]. The primary academic reference for those studying for this qualification is the Disability Handbook [15], co-edited by Professor Aylward together with his ex-DSS colleague Peter Dewis [16.]

Both these doctors left government service to work for insurance firm UNUM, albeit for Professor Aylward it was under the umbrella of academic ‘funding’ provided by that company, though he must have necessarily been involved in negotiations with that company prior to leaving his government post in order to put that in place. Further, a third co-editor of that book, Dr Moira Henderson went on to hold the post of Chief Examiner for the DDAM from 2003 until 2012 [17.]

Dr Dewis’ involvement with the WCA is substantial. UNUM have described him as having “been instrumental in the setting up of the diploma of Disability Assessment Medicine of the Faculty of Occupational Medicine of the Royal College of Physicians” confirming that he “continues to work as an examiner for that diploma“. The 2005 UNUM page which attests to this has been removed, but Zoominfo has links to a cached version of it here: [18.]
A further reference on that page refers to the ‘leading role’ that Dr Dewis has played in the “development of disability assessment medicine”.
The ‘Disability Handbook’ is quite obviously the authoritative work on which the WCA was built and from which disability assessment has been sourced, and to which all who deal with disability in a general sense refer, bearing as it does the authoritative stamp of the UK government. Does Professor Aylward wish us to believe that although his co-editors of such an influential work have gone on to become further embedded within the Atos process, that despite being by far the most senior, influential, member of the group, and despite he himself holding the DDAM qualification, he has had nothing further to do with it?
This, while he has continued to work closely with his Unum employed colleague, Dr Dewis [19.], who now holds a Directorship with that company following an initial tenure as Chief Medical Officer ?[18] Is it really credible that he would be so uninformed about Atos and the WCA?

This information about Peter Dewis, by the way, is all the confirmation that anyone should need as proof of the direct connections between Unum and Atos, since he quite obviously works for both simultaneously. That, and the fact that Michael O’Donnell, now Chief Medical Officer since 2011 with Atos, held that exact same role for ten years with Unum. Though this is quite openly public knowledge, it is evidently not regarded as any conflict of interest by our government, despite Unum’s quite blatant attempt to capitalise on the increased precarity caused by these ‘reforms’ with their ‘Income Protection Insurance’.

Integrity – when one finds that the boot is on the other foot

Conscious perhaps of the emerging exposure of the profoundly influential role he has played in the WCA, and evidently experiencing a feeling of vulnerability concerning his reputation, Professor Aylward makes the plea of professing himself to be “a man of integrity”. Whether indeed he carries out his implied promise to ‘speak out’ if he ‘finds the WCA is not proper’ will demonstrate whether this is the case. What cannot be overlooked is the fact of the, now hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people who have already had their integrity spuriously attacked via the  humiliating, fraudulent ordeal that is the WCA, the repercussions from which have damaged far, far more than their reputations. And the root of which is without any shadow of a doubt Professor Aylward’s work.

Gill Thorburn 18th September 2012.


As some of the material referred to is in the form of pdfs and powerpoints I have made them available through my dropbox account. The rest are weblinks.

[1.] Professor Mansel Aylward – The Interventionist


Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Benefits bullies Atos driving Scots to brink of suicide, shock survey reveals

AN astonishing one fifth of doctors believe Atos tests are giving patients suicidal thoughts, a report has revealed.

DISABLED Scots are being driven to the brink of suicide by controversial fit-for-work tests carried out by Atos.

Disturbing testimony from doctors exposes the devastation wreaked by the Con-Dem Government’s attempts to slash the welfare bill.

A shock survey shows 84 per cent of GPs have patients who have suffered stress, anxiety and depression due to the humiliating work capability assessments by the French multinational company.

And a startling one fifth of doctors believe the tests are causing suicidal thoughts in their patients.

Fourteen per cent have seen evidence of people self-harming due to the stress they are under.

The results are revealed in a joint report compiled by a group of charities, including the Scottish Association for Mental Health.

The revelations come amid growing public fury about Atos, who do the tests for the Department for Work and Pensions.

Yesterday we told how a Scots nurse was forced to “trick” disabled people out of cash by Atos.

The controversial firm were recently handed a contract worth more than £400million to carry out similar tests on everyone getting disabled living allowance.

They will decide if each patient should still receive help when the benefit is replaced by personal independence payments.

But the stark evidence of doctors will increase concern at the move, which critics insist is merely cover for the Coalition Government to cut welfare payments to the disabled.

The Record yesterday told how nurse Joyce Drummond claims she was forced to “trick” disabled people out of cash when carrying out the tests.

And Citizens Advice Scotland have revealed they received almost 24,000 pleas for help from Scots worried about Atos tests connected to employment support allowance.

The number has increased by 61 per cent in the last two years to become the most frequently asked-about topic in Scotland.

Tom Greatrex
Tom Greatrex 
Labour MP Tom Greatrex insisted the assessments are damaging vulnerable people’s health.

He said: “There is clearly a problem when an assessment designed to help people back into work has the opposite effect.

“The Tory-Liberal Government need to reform the test urgently so those who can work are supported to do so but those not healthy enough are helped, not hounded.

“That 20 per cent of GPs are reporting patients with suicidal thoughts is very concerning. It is vital the Government get to the bottom of this by carrying out a full assessment of how widespread this problem is and what can be done about it.

“The principle of testing people for their ability to work is sound, but it must be done in a way that is fair and doesn’t waste millions of pounds in taxpayers’ money.”

He added: “I am pleased the Record have taken up this issue, bringing campaigning journalism to bear on the assessment process.”

The survey of more than 1000 doctors was carried out by the ICM Research Group on behalf of Rethink Mental Illness.

It forms part of the charities’ submission to the third annual review of the assessment system being carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

The charities, who also include the Royal Society of Psychiatrists, conclude there is clear evidence the assessments are having a “substantive negative impact” on the mental health of patients.

But Atos defended their role. A spokeswoman said: “Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists use their clinical knowledge and apply the Government’s policy and criteria to each assessment.

“We understand that applying for benefit can be a difficult time which is why we try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have worked hard to make sure assessments take account of mental health conditions. It was developed after close consultation with medical and other experts and specialist disability charities.

“Assessors are given guidance on dealing with mental health conditions and claimants are given opportunity to explain how their condition varies over time.”

I was insulted and called a liar

Crawford Leask 

Crawford Leask 

CRAWFORD Leask claims his treatment by Atos was degrading and insulting.

The 52-year-old was forced to give up his job as a mortgage broker after suffering two prolapsed discs on his neck, which caused agonising pain.

The degenerative condition means he is forced to take 27 pills a day to deal with pain and inflammation.
He said: “These people start from a position that assumes anyone claiming benefits is a malingerer and a liar.

“I was told my symptoms would be inherently unlikely to come from the condition, which is effectively calling me a liar.

“I was also asked by a nurse if I could read, which I found insulting.”

Crawford, from Irvine, Ayrshire, has suffered from the condition for three years.

He said: “I would love to be able to go back to work but it would be physically impossible.

“I could well imagine that just about every person who goes through the Atos experience will suffer a huge amount of stress.”

Nearly driven round the bend

Tom Meikle 

Tom Meikle 

TOM Meikle was treated so badly by Atos that he considered suicide.

The 61-year-old council bus driver, from Uddingston, near Glasgow, was unable to work after a nasty leg break and complications.

He only claimed benefits in the period before going back to work. But when he was hauled in for an interview, Atos told him he was fit to work.

He said: “The council were good as gold and agreed to hold the position open until I was fit to go back.
“I explained to Atos that I was desperate to get back to work when I was physically capable.

“But they said I was fit to work. I was in a plaster right up to my hip and it was obvious I couldn’t drive a bus.

“But the woman I spoke to said if I could use the phone, I could work. I told her I’d said to the council I would do a desk job but they couldn’t accommodate that for health and safety reasons.

“I was already really depressed, being stuck on the couch for weeks, but Atos nearly pushed me over the edge.”

Tom had 78 visits to hospital during his nine-and-a-half months off work. He went back to his job last April.
Mental health warning

DEPRESSION and other mental health probems are inevitable when vulnerable people get unsympathetic treatment, according to a pyschologist.

Dr Rick Norris said most people who deal with Atos would love to go back to work but can’t.

He added: “If there’s an unfair suggestion that the person is trying to defraud the Exchequer, this could bring a lot of pressure.”

Daily Record

Over half ATOS found ‘fit for work’ left unemployed

Over half the people ruled ‘fit to work’ by ATOS were left unemployed without any income, according to a new government study.

The department of Work and Pensions have admitted that 55% of people who lost their disability benefits after assessments with the french IT company were unable to find employment. 30% were relying on other forms of benefit and only 15% had found a job.

The DWP was forced to release the figures following a Freedom of Information request.

Public anger continues to grow towards the firm, hired by the DWP to slash the benefits bill, after assessing terminally ill claimants as ‘fit to work’. Citizens Advice Scotland alone have received over 24,000 complaints against them. Their current contract is worth £110 million.

The figures were collected through a survey of 1100 people deemed fit to work. A follow up survey of 590 claimants found 43% were still without any form of income, 28% were on other benefits and 29% had found employment. They were conducted between April and June 2009 and were included in a report for the DWP in 2011.

Earlier this week a former ATOS nurse Joyce Drummond spoke out against the firm, claiming that her role was to ‘trick’ people out of their benefits. She was instructed to assess people as fit to work if they were able to write or attended interviews properly dress- even if her medical experience indicated that they wouldn’t be able to cope with employment.

“If someone came in with a toddler in tow, they were doomed because if they could manage a child, they could surely work.”

She found the role so distressing that she left the company.

Defending their role in the crackdown on benefits, an Atos spokesperson has said “Our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists use their clinical knowledge and apply the Government’s policy and criteria to each assessment.

“We try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible.”


Monday, September 24, 2012

UK Govt. Denounced for Crimes Against Disabled People to International Criminal Court in The Hague

Date: September 22, 2012

To: Mrs. Fatou Bensouda, ICC Prosecutor
Information and Evidence Unit
Office of the Prosecutor
International Criminal Court
Post Office Box 19519
2500 CM The Hague
The Netherlands

Subject: Austerity deaths of sick and disabled people in the U.K.

Dear Mrs. Bensouda,

I am a 56-year-old Disability Studies specialist from Montreal, Canada who has been reporting frequently for the past year to the United Nations on the crisis for the United Kingdom’s sick and disabled. Austerity measures, consisting of draconian welfare reforms and “sham” means-testing (Atos Healthcare U.K. and the Department for Work and Pensions) are ostensibly to blame for their plight—with disability hate crime and inflammatory media attacks factored into this mix.

I have a plethora of evidence but for the purpose of brevity, see:

1) Early day motion 295

2) The attached British Medical Journal Article by Dr. Margaret McCartney.
















19) Please note the comments of MP Dame Anne Begg in item #18.

I am interested in filing an ICC complaint against several British Ministers—namely, Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling, and Maria Miller for their role in the draconian welfare reforms and the resultant deaths of their society’s most vulnerable.

My questions are as follows: Are austerity deaths of the sick and disabled in the U.K. considered a crime against humanity by the ICC? Would the UNCRPD be taken into consideration by the court?

I am aware of a submission to the ICC by psychologists Olga and Tanya Yeritsidou regarding a request for a Greek austerity trial at the Hague—so there appears to be precedent in this matter. Based on the preliminary evidence that I have submitted with this letter, do you believe that the sick and disabled of Britain have a justiciable ICC case?
I look forward to hearing from you at the earliest possible convenience. My personal information is on file with the UN CRPD Secretary, Jorge Araya. My street address follows below.

Best wishes.

Samuel Miller.

Samuel Miller
Blog: Hephaestus: Disability Studies
Blog: My Disability Studies Blackboard
(Montreal, Canada)

Deaths and Suicides linked to WCA: more evidence needed for justice 


Saturday, September 22, 2012

Even the Dying Will Work

Terminally ill cancer patients face being forced to do unpaid work

Britain's Prime Minister David Cunteron.
Latest government plans to reduce the financial burden of the sick and disabled of Britain have been tonight revealed.

A mistake to have got caught-out
The news comes after Tesco's was forced to clarify its position on advertising unpaid, night-shift, shelf-stacking jobs, with the company explaining that given the public furore, it was obviously a mistake to have got caught-out.
Shareholders are said to be “ecstatic”

Britain's biggest supermarket company, that last year made a profit of more than £3 billions, said however, that it will continue to use the benefit claimants on account of them being cheap and desperate not to lose their benefits for fear of having their children taken into care.

This is a 'supportive measure'

In response to the howls of outrage from disability and mental health charities, a government spokesman said “This is a supportive measure”.

The proposals come in the government's Welfare Reform Bill that it making its torturous way through parliament.

Further information from the original article here.

Friday, September 21, 2012

How many hundreds has Atos Healthcare killed so far? [Michael Meacher]

Last Thursday I used an Adjournment debate I had won in the Common ballot to raise the tragedy of one of my comnstituents, Colin Traynor.   He was diagnosed with grand mal epilepsy at the age of 14 months.   At the age of 25 in 2008, striving to be independent, he was interviewd at Oldham Jobcentre to try to find an employer who would be willing to give him a job.   Remploy was contacted, but assessed his condition as so severe that he was deemed unemployable.   In August 2011 he got a letter from DWP, again summoning him for a medical assessment.   On the Atos Healthcare work capability assessment scale he was awarded 6 points, but told he needed 18.   He was judged fit for work, and for that reason was told by letter on 19 December that his Incapacity Benefit was being cut by £70 a week.   Colin worried he would lose his home, not be able to pay his bills or even afford food to eat.   His health deteriorated, his seizures increased due to stress, and he lost a lot of weight.   On 3 April this year he had a massive seizure that killed him.

This is far from an isolated case.   After my speech in the House I received several other similar heart-rending accounts by email.   I quote from two:

“I was sent to an Atos fit-for-work assessment medical.   I was unwell at the medical and pointed out I have had 7 heart attacks, 2 of which were within the prior 18 months.   At the medical the doctor took my blood pressure with a machine and it read 174 over 145.   She said That’s high, so took it on the othjer arm, and it read 172 over 142.   Then the doctor said The machine must be broken, you look fine to me.   That is the first time I have known a doctor to see visually that a person’s blood pressure is fine.   As I walked out, I asked for my taxi fares, and was told I am not entitled any.   As I walked to get a taxi, I got about 50 feet from the medical centre door and had a heart attack…..10 days after the medical I was allowed home (from Hospital), only to find that I was found fit for work in a letter and all my benefits were stopped”.

“I have been fighting for 18 months now for DWP to accept that my clinical depression rules out my capacity to work for the foreseeable future………How many people who have been mentally ill for 15 years or more have found lasting jobs after being forced onto JSA?   The real purpose of this process is to force mentally ill people to live on less money and ‘look for work’.   In my opinion every Conservative and Liberal /democrat minister is guilty of murder.   I am 52, and have never been so terrified (literally terrified) of what this government will do next”.

Related posts:


Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Disabled prisoners' lives at risk by poor care and treatment in jail

Daniel Roque Hall
Daniel Roque Hall chained to a prison guard on a visit to hospital

Lawyers acting for a severely disabled prisoner who was rushed from jail to a life-support machine in hospital, are asking the high court to rule he should not be sent back to a prison that cannot meet his medical needs.

Daniel Roque Hall has Friedreich's ataxia, a degenerative disease, that affects co-ordination of the whole body. It causes a heart defect which requires constant monitoring, and diabetes.

Hall, 30, is a wheelchair user with a life expectancy of 35 to 40 years. In July, he was sentenced to three years' imprisonment, after pleading guilty to importing two and a half kilos of cocaine into Heathrow. The drugs, hidden in his wheelchair, had been smuggled in from Peru where Hall and a carer had been on holiday.

The judge accepted that Hall had been "groomed and manipulated" by drug dealers and, aware of his condition, sought assurances from the prison service that Hall's complex medical needs would be met in custody. The governor of Wormwood Scrubs, in west London, assured the judge that the prison would provide the round the clock care and monitoring that Hall requires, as well as the complex stretching programme needed to keep him stable. This was despite prison inspectors last year finding "little progress in support for men with disabilities" and expressing particular concern over the "lack of systematic identification and help for prisoners with disabilities" at the prison. They described the inpatient unit (where Hall was held) as "an unsuitable environment for those recovering from physical illness".

According to Hall's family and lawyers, within hours of admittance to the prison he suffered a spasm and fell from an examination couch, sustaining a head wound. He was taken in handcuffs to a care home for elderly people. Staff there were not given full details of his medical requirements, which included Warfarin, prescribed to thin his blood.

Back in Wormwood Scrubs, Hall suffered further spasms and says he was constantly denied his full medication. The two constant carers he needs, in case of spasms, were not supplied, nor were the stretching exercises.

Hall's condition deteriorated rapidly and in the early hours of 23 August he was rushed to University College Hospital, London, and placed on a life support machine. A consultant at the hospital said Hall's heart had been "stunned" by his treatment at the prison. His GP says his life will be threatened if he is sent back to prison.
No longer on a life support machine, Hall remains in hospital while his lawyers seek a judicial review of his treatment, and campaigners, including the poet Benjamin Zephaniah and MP John McDonnell, have signed an open letter printed in the Guardian calling for him to complete his sentence at home.

Hall's claims, though shocking, are not unique. Despite the Paralympics helping to challenge myths and raise awareness about disability, the neglect of disabled people in prison is well documented.

Estimates of the number of disabled prisoners vary. The prison service database records a figure of 5% (around 4,500 prisoners), but inspectorate surveys record 19% (around 16,000). A Ministry of Justice (MoJ) survey earlier this year, found 18% of prisoners interviewed had a physical disability of some kind. The dramatic rise in the number of older prisoners in the system over the last decade is likely to further increase the disabled prisoner population.

Yet a joint report by the Inspectorate of Prisons and Care Quality Commission in 2010 found an ageing prison population, where "disabilities were not being adequately dealt with and many prisons not having a disability policy". It also reported that it was "rare to find any form of needs analysis or consultation with prisoners to help establishments carry out their duties under the Disability Discrimination Act".

In 2006, the NHS took over responsibility for healthcare in prisons from the prison medical service. Governors were mandated to appoint a disability liaison officer (DLO) whose job it is to assess the prisoner's needs and link him or her to the appropriate channels in the prison, but last year the rules changed and it is now up to governors to decide whether a DLO is required, or if existing managers and staff can do the job. The MoJ says it cannot say how many prisons have DLOs.

Many DLOs told former chief inspector of prisons Anne Owers that they did not have enough time, support or training to do their jobs. She also noted in her 2010 annual report that prisoners with mobility difficulties suffered considerable disadvantage because of the refusal by ordinary prison staff to push wheelchairs without training. "While some prisons had clearly identified schemes for assisting disabled prisoners in wheelchairs, some staff still declined to do so," says the report.

None of this comes as a surprise to the Prisoners' Advice Service (PAS), a charity that takes up prisoners' complaints about their treatment inside prison. It says it is inundated with calls from disabled prisoners claiming they are not receiving appropriate treatment. Some case notes make harrowing reading: cells occupied by disabled prisoners with no wall bars and inmates having to drag themselves across the floor and falling frequently; PAS "having to make a fuss" to get inmates supplied with basic needs, such as walking sticks, which are then taken away when a prisoner moves prison; and an incontinent prisoner with mental health problems sleeping naked on a urine-soaked mattress.

PAS caseworker Nicola Gregory recalls visits to jails to meet disabled prisoners. On one occasion, a prisoner failed to turn up and an officer pointed to his lack of interest. However, the meeting room was on the fourth landing, accessible only up narrow spiral stairs, which seemed to escape the officer's notice. PAS has advised a wheelchair user who lost privileges for not returning a library book to the prison library, which was on an inaccessible third-floor landing.

Disabled prisoners reported similar experiences of neglect to the Prison Reform Trust (PRT). In a 2010 report on older people in prison, one inmate said he could not get his wheelchair into his cell and had to "try to get from the entrance to my bed"; he had been told officers are not allowed to push him.

Another prisoner who uses two walking sticks says he couldn't have a shower because "I might slip and there is nothing to hold on to, or chairs to sit on". He adds: "Usually a friend helps me because there seems to be no officer or nurse willing to help."

The PRT found few jails had a disability policy, or established ways to help staff identify the needs of disabled people, and that health and social care provision is patchy and often dependent on an individual officer or governor's motivation.

PRT director, Juliet Lyon, says the justice system is putting punishment before humanity and common sense.
"Locking up severely disabled men and women without proper treatment and care puts lives at risk. At best, imprisonment for the disabled amounts to a double punishment."

On 8 September, campaigners calling for justice for Hall held a protest outside Wormwood Scrubs. They fear sending him back to prison would be as good as imposing a death sentence on him and want him to be allowed to serve his sentence at home. "He was given a three-year sentence, not a death sentence," say the campaign posters.

The MoJ says: "The claimant's allegations are currently before the courts and will be resolved in that forum." As for the level of care provided to disabled prisoners, it says: "We have a duty of care to those sentenced to custody by the courts. As part of that duty of care, we ensure that prisoners have access to the same level of NHS services as those in the community."


Thursday, September 13, 2012

PCS Union: Workfare a stain on welfare state

Standing up for the poor and vulnerable: Day Four at TUC Congress

A vigorous defence of the welfare state was spearheaded by PCS to open the final day of proceedings at the 2012 TUC Congress.
Since the coalition government came into power in May 2010 there has been a clear rise in the levels of deprivation. New inequalities are having a destructive impact upon the lives of vulnerable people and services are becoming ever more fragmented, leading to wide variations in access across the UK.

Around £30billion of welfare cuts have been announced by the government, coupled with a sinister vilification by this government and right-wing tabloids to denigrate the welfare state and to demonise those without work, or unable to work, and young people, migrants and the disabled.

Proposing composite Motion 8 - which includes reiterating the principles of fair and equal pay, condemns ‘workfare’ policies and re-instating services necessary to support vulnerable groups – PCS president Janice Godrich said: “We face a government firmly in the interests of the richest 1% of society. It tells us that the welfare state is unaffordable but has already found the money to cut the top rate of income tax from 50% to 45% and to cut corporation tax from 28% to 24%.

“Cameron and Osborne are taking money from the disabled, the unemployed, lone parents and those struggling to pay rent to give to the super rich. But it’s not just this perverse re-distribution we should be concerned about, what we see is the see is the vilification and bullying of anyone on benefits. We see this with the work capability assessments carried out by Atos, the private I.T. company paid £100million a year to carry out these tests formerly performed by public sector workers. We know these tests are deeply flawed because disabled people tell us they are and the British Medical Association has called for them to be scrapped.

“Unemployed people are being bullied as well. The workfare schemes are a disgraceful stain on the welfare state our movement created. A society which refuses to support its most vulnerable has lost the right to call itself a civilised society.”

The motion was unanimously carried.

12 September 2012
Public and Commercial Services Union

Find out more about the PCS alternative to the cuts

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Finding your way around the WCA (Mental Health) [Valerie]

by Valerie

Desktop with PC and screen scattered with papers
Since its introduction in 2008 the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) benefits eligibility test has been heavily debated and it’s particularly inadequate for people with fluctuating illnesses like schizophrenia and bi-polar. There’s been an upsurge in carers coming to my group asking for help to guide their loved ones through the WCA, to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

It’s an extremely confusing and frightening process and to head into it blind can do real damage to people in already fragile conditions. It’s pretty much impossible for someone with a mental illness to complete the questionnaire by themselves. So I did a lot more research and developed a two hour workshop and helpsheet to help people unpick the misleading and oversimplified questions.

The real issue here is whether the job of helping people go through the process should fall on the already laden shoulders of carers. Also carers already spend a large amount of their income, often just the state pension, on subsidising someone with a mental illness. The idea your relative could suddenly lose their benefit is just terrifying. The government claims to have a review process underway as the evidence the current system isn’t working is overwhelming but the reality here in Lancashire and elsewhere is that people are still having their lifeline benefits stopped and the process is making them more ill.

Some carers are making 160 mile round trips from across the country to benefit from my support, and it's taking up a lot of my time. We're finding that if carers have had my helpsheet and complete the questionnaire accurately, the person is often not even called for the interview. A lot of what I do is to try to get across the idea that they're not completely powerless in all this.


Sunday, September 9, 2012


A confidential independent report by Mo Stewart 


This detailed evidence report is offered to members of the House of Lords as a contribution to the delayed debate on Welfare Reform, now planned for September 13th, and was prepared at the personal invitation of noble members from the House. 

As a retired Healthcare Professional I have invested in excess of 12 months of my time, health permitting, to investigate the relationship between the American insurance corporate giant UNUM Insurance, the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) and Atos Healthcare (AH). AH is the private contractor engaged by the DWP to conduct the medical assessments of the chronically sick and long-term disabled population of the UK, who are in receipt of disability benefits, yet this company is not regulated by the Care Quality Commission and so the public have no protection.  The parent company, Atos Origin – another foreign corporate giant - have been awarded several significant government contracts, including the very lucrative IT contract for the 2012 Olympic Games, that the government ensured was awarded as part of “fair and open competition.”

It is cause for enormous concern that, when engaged as UK government advisers on welfare reform, in 1994, Unum Insurance were known as Unum Provident Insurance.  This corporate insurance giant dominates the income protection (disability) insurance market, worldwide, with 25 million clients in the US alone.  Unum Provident Insurance have a diabolical reputation, with strong evidence of atrocious tactics, and a resistance to funding the income protection insurance once a client made a claim following the onset of chronic ill health or permanent disability. (A*)  

By 2005, following copious numbers of successful legal cases throughout the USA, the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, stated that “Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years…”  By 2007, the American Association for Justice identified Unum Provident as “..the second worst insurance company in the US.”(5)  Therefore, given this company’s proven record of sustained misconduct, one must surely enquire why they were ever permitted to be involved with the welfare of British citizens on a statutory basis.   

Following the statement by the American Association for Justice in 2007 Unum Provident Insurance once again changed its name and is now known as Unum Insurance. Unum Insurance deny culpability for the past history of the company and, mysteriously, the majority of the evidence of past wrongdoing by Unum Provident Insurance has disappeared from the public domain, including the transcript of a BBC News report, from 2007, happily rescued from obscurity by researchers who predicted that the UK was at risk of adopting a copy of the American healthcare system, funded by insurance.  With the latest press release from Unum Insurance, announcing that they are about to flood the UK market with mass marketing for income protection insurance, it looks like this is about to become a reality. 

- BBC News 10pm  6th November 2007: 

Mark Daly, presenter:  But, there are still dozens of bad faith cases and allegations outstanding against the company on both sides of the Atlantic.  Despite all of this Unum had senior executives sitting on key government working groups last year, and has provided detailed memorandum on transforming the benefits system. (The government also awarded grants worth £300,000 to Unum’s research centre in Cardiff.  See page 4.  MS) 

Mark Daly, presenter:  The BBC has discovered internal documents revealing that Unum believes it is driving Government policy.  The Department for Work and Pensions refused to comment on Unum’s past.


The government’s devotion to its main priority, which is a dramatic reduction of the welfare budget, has meant that the concerns of respected frontline charities such as Citizens Advice(1), Macmillan(2), Scope(3), and the Disability Alliance(4) are all seemingly ignored.  These welfare organisations, and many others, have collectively expressed serious concerns regarding growing evidence that the disability assessment system, using the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), is flawed and totally unworkable – but the government doesn’t appear to be listening.  On this basis there is a legal challenge now being undertaken by the Disability Alliance, which may lead to a Judicial Review of the government’s welfare reforms. 

Government concern expressed for the welfare of the chronically sick and disabled people of this nation can only be considered to be totally insincere when employing the services of Atos Healthcare (AH) to assess them.  Indeed, the assessment of the long term sick and disabled population by a private contractor with no formal accountability structure, using computer  software instead of a detailed physical examination, has been identified as unnecessarily traumatic.(1-4,7)  This dangerously flawed medical assessment system uses a computer questionnaire, based on a points system, as recommended by government advisers Unum (Provident). Why does a UK government use a discredited US corporate insurance giant as advisers if not to adopt their system?   

Successful government propaganda has the able bodied general public convinced that the majority of people in receipt of Incapacity Benefit(IB) or Disability Living Allowance(DLA) are mainly ‘scroungers.’ This is despite the fact that all evidence supports the fact that, out of the entire DLA budget, less than 0.5% were bogus applications with 1.5% admin error.(1,4)  So why do the other 98% need to suffer other than because the chronically sick and disabled population make very easy targets?  Since when is the opinion of medical experts, namely consultants and specialists in the relevant fields of the claimants' disability, unacceptable as a level of a patient’s ability to work other than when the DWP need to reduce costs?  This is a very dangerous and medically unacceptable precedent, imported from America, that has administrators without relevant qualifications and an unaccountable medical assessment system deciding the fate of often desperately ill and chronically disabled people.  Many people in receipt of DLA do work as the award of DLA is unrelated to employment, but they work because they are well enough to engage in employment, and not when forced to look for employment by DWP medical tyranny because Job Seekers Allowance is much cheaper to fund than disability benefits. 

The DWP’s resistance to employing qualified medical administrators has meant that basic grade administrators, known as “Decision Makers”, who have confirmed that they lack the ability to interpret medical evidence,(7) have betrayed the sick and disabled people the WCA was meant to protect. The actual disability assessment, as reported by the AH contracted healthcare professional (HCP), is simply one extremely limited opinion derived from a dubious computer evaluation programme, as confirmed in the WCA review by Professor Harrington.(7) The main responsibility of the DWP Decision Makers, as identified in the government contract with Atos Origin Healthcare Services, is to correlate all presented medical evidence including the detailed reports of GPs and consultants, who know the claimant and have actually treated them.  Given that the opinions of these medical specialists are accepted in every court in the land, it seems more than reasonable to consider their clinical judgement when deciding if anyone is fit to return to work or to retain disability benefits.   

However, the Harrington Review (7) confirmed that Decision Makers routinely failed in their responsibility and exclusively accepted the opinion of the contracted HCP from Atos Healthcare, who enjoy “total immunity from all medical regulation” according to the General Medical Council (GMC) and the Care Quality Commission.(6)  Because of this, large numbers of chronically sick and genuinely disabled people are being forced to appeal the often alarming decisions of under qualified junior civil servants.(1-4)  Welfare agencies now advise that nothing has improved since the Harrington review, hence the challenge by the Disability Alliance.  

This deeply flawed medical assessment process was identified for a long time by His Honour Judge Robert Martin as President of the Appeal Tribunals. For over a decade Judge Martin’s consecutive annual reports constantly identified serious problems with the AH medical assessments (8). Indeed, Judge Martin was insistent that “..the same problems and errors are repeated year after year, with no sign that anyone takes any notice of feedbacks from Tribunals” as confirmed in evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee.(9) The evidence confirmed that almost half of the Appeal Tribunals find in favour of the applicant (9) with 70% of claims being upheld for claimants who have representation at the Appeal Tribunal.(10) However, the stress and distress of the need to wait for several months to attend an appeal, in order to retain financial support to which these claimants are morally entitled, is totally ignored. If these were civil cases, generous compensation would be offered as an acknowledgement of the unnecessary distress and suffering caused to the many victims. However, all successful applicants can expect is a reluctant reinstatement of their disability payments, and a back dated award to when they were forced to accept Jobseekers Allowance instead of Incapacity Benefit or, more recently, the new Employment Support Allowance.(ESA) DWP letters to their many victims remain unnecessarily hostile and the enforced disability debt is an ever growing problem. These victims of this AH assessment system loose their disability funding instantly, when they fail to obtain the necessary points at assessment. Yet their DLA payments are already committed to fund their Motability car or to identify the need for essential home care as provided by local authorities.  This is brutal, and these consequences appear to be dimissed by the government. 

With plans to rapidly transfer Incapacity Benefit to the new ESA and DLA being renamed and reallocated to the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), all reference to incapacity or disability is being systematically removed.   How can a chronically sick and/or disabled person, who will never again be fit enough for paid employment, be allocated a benefit named Employment Support Allowance when employment is not a realistic possibility?  How does this support anyone with a permanent serious illness or profound disability?  What happened to welfare?  The Minister for Welfare Reform happened to welfare… and it is cause for  serious concern that the input of this one unelected official can threaten the welfare provision for millions with care, concern and compassion replaced with a price tag (11).    

The Minister made his intentions clear in a press interview (11) in 2008 when he claimed that: “… somebody will see a gap in the market and make their fortune” and the article went on to claim that the Minister’s idea was to eventually put the private sector in charge of the long-term unemployed.  “There will be bonuses for hard cases, and no special treatment of disabled people or lone parents with children at school.”(11) As Minister for Welfare Reform, Lord Freud’s past history in finance demonstrates a dangerous lack of any comprehension that a serious illness or chronic disability can indeed be permanent, hence past awards of DLA offered to recipients who, by definition and especially by diagnosis, are profoundly disabled or very ill. These conditions can be exacerbated by exhaustion that often accompanies chronic ill health and serious disability.  American style medical tyranny can’t make them well, and can’t make these genuine claimants fit for work, but constant threats of losing their financial support can and does cause unnecessary distress. 

Now, the most vulnerable people in our society, already faced with a limited quality of life, are being terrorised by the DWP with the threat of an annual review of their DLA financial support, despite their confirmed and permanent illness and/or physical limitations.  Any annual assessment is therefore, by definition, a total waste of limited resources for the vast majority of these people.  The sudden removal of DLA may remove a Motability car, or funding for taxis, and may remove the County Council funded home carers as County Councils will not provide carers unless the client is in receipt of DLA for care at the highest level. Any AH assessment is simply one day in the life of the disabled claimant, and cannot be presumed to identify their permanent state of health.  Government claims that AH assessments are to establish ability, and not to emphasise disability, whilst demonstrating a dangerous lack of concern for identified consequences is offensive to many. 

Urgent decisions need to be made to enable justice to be seen to be done.  


The DWP should employ qualified Medical Administrators, as real Decision Makers, who will comprehend when a given diagnosis means that the patient is far too ill or profoundly disabled to ever consider paid employment.  They would even comprehend that the majority of chronic disability and ill health are, by their definition, variable conditions, and therefore it is  absurd to expect such people to be fit enough to look for paid employment, only to become too ill to work within a short period of time.  Not only would Medical Administrators be able to remove the totally unnecessary distress faced by the innocent victims of this assessment process, but it would also save a great deal of money by greatly reducing the numbers of people going to these AH assessments and, hence, reduce the numbers of Appeal Tribunals.  Any increases in salary costs will be negated by the very significant savings from the reduced costs of tribunals and appeals, as well as the reduced requirement for continued reassessment in many cases.  It would also remove the distress now faced by this vulnerable community.  

The DWP can then either cancel this fatally flawed disability assessment contract with AH, or introduce a generous compensation scheme. There are now many thousands of genuine chronically sick and/or seriously disabled victims of this DWP funded medical tyranny, masquerading as medical assessments, as conducted by Atos Healthcare following guidance by Unum Insurance, formerly known as the totally discredited American corporate giant Unum Provident Insurance.  

It is no coincidence that Unum Insurance are about to launch a massive UK media campaign to promote their Income Protection Insurance as, clearly, it has been planned since 1994 as the UK takes another step forward towards the American style health service, funded by insurance. (12) 

Costs can’t be the only concern in any civilized society.  Care, concern and compassion must be returned to the UK to arrest  tyranny, using foreign companies, against those least able to find social justice.  5000 disabled people and carers didn’t march in London for no reason, and it’s time someone listened to them. 
More detailed information may be found in a book by Ray Bourhis, namely Insult to Injury: Insurance, Fraud and the Big Business of Bad Faith, published in 2005, and in the published papers at the Yale School of Law: The Unum Provident Scandal. (13)  

Mo Stewart
Disabled female veteran – WRAF 
Retired healthcare professional             
5th September 2011 

        (1)  Citizens Advice: 
         (4)  Disability Alliance: 
         (6)  Care Quality Commission:  
         (7)  The Harrington WCA Review: 
         (8)  HH Judge Robert Martin: President of Appeal Tribunals, Report 2007-08  
         (9)  Decision making and appeals in the benefit system.  Second Report of Session 2009-10 
                – the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select committee: 
       (10)  Citizens Advice Scotland: Unfit for purpose:  
       (11)  Welfare is a mess, says adviser David Freud: 
                The Daily Telegraph – 2nd February 2008.  David Freud interview with Rachel Sylvester and Alice Thomson