Thursday, January 31, 2013

Energy Policy is a Failure at Every Level [Grahame Morris MP]

In recent weeks a dramatic drop in temperature and heavy snowfalls has triggered this year’s first Cold Weather Payment in the Easington constituency.

These payments are issued when the average temperature is zero or below for seven consecutive days, helping those most vulnerable to the cold. 

However, over the last two years, all households are feeling the pressure as fuel bills rise in a stagnating economy, and the Government withdraws support for energy efficiency programmes.

The first casualty of the Government’s policy of austerity were those in receipt of Winter Fuel Allowance, when the payment was cut from £250 to £200 for over 60’s, and from £400 to £300 for over 80’s.

This is despite the fact that, according to the Office for National Statistics, there were 24,000 excess winter deaths last year, the vast majority, 19,500 were people aged over 75. GPs report that the number of consultations for respiratory problems increases by up to 19 per cent for every degree below 5 °C the temperature drops.

Age UK estimate that cold homes cost the NHS £1.36 billion due to illness and deaths associated with cold weather. It is illogical to cut fuel payments that stop people needing NHS treatment. It not only costs the taxpayer more in the long run but causes immense human suffering.

Energy bills continue to rise unabated, up by almost £300 since this Tory-led Government came to power. This year has been no different. The Big Six Energy Companies that dominate 99% of the market continue to operate like a cartel, increasing prices in tandem with the latest round of price hikes adding up to £122 to the average bill. While the system fails consumers, it is working for shareholders who received £7 billion in dividends this year.

During Labour’s time in office we introduced the Winter Fuel Payment, increased the Cold Weather Payment, and improved energy efficiency through the Warm Front Scheme. This took nearly 1.75 million households out of fuel poverty, including half a million vulnerable households.

However, along with cuts to the Winter Fuel Allowance, the Coalition Government have become the first administration since the 1970s not to have a Government-funded energy efficiency programme following the closure of the Warm Front Scheme earlier this month.

Warm Front helped over two million people to make their homes more energy efficient and cut their energy bill. In each year under Labour over 200,000 people benefited, however, as the Government wound up the scheme the numbers receiving support fell to 55,014 in the last two years, despite the scheme being under-spent by £50 million last year, and is on course for a similar under-spend this year.

Not only are fewer people receiving support, they are receiving less. Last year the average grant was over £3000, but this year the average spend was only £997, in Easington the average spend was just £785.

The consequence of short-sighted Government policies has seen a rise in the number of households in England and Wales living in fuel poverty increasing from under one in five (18%) to one in four today (25%). The Fuel Poverty Advisory Group warns that 300,000 extra households could be pushed into fuel poverty this winter, and Transform UK forecast that more than nine million households will be living in fuel poverty by 2016.

Britain’s current energy policy is broken, and there is failure at every level, whether it is energy companies exploiting consumers, or the Government withdrawing support to the most vulnerable. We need new solutions, not more broken policies.

Gaming the Work Programme [Another Angry Voice]

A Mark Hoban "meme" that has been doing the rounds on Facebook

The Tory employment Minister Mark Hoban has already taken a lot of criticism.  Before I get to mine I'll just run through a few highlighted by other people first.

There's the contrast between his obvious gaming of the Parliamentary expenses system to stuff the taxpayer with the cost of his home improvements and his berating of the unemployed for supposedly "gaming the system" to claim benefits that in reality provide a fortnightly living allowance of less than the cost of the chrome shower rack and silk cushions he expected the taxpayer to pay for.

There's the fact that he told Parliament that only 15% of appeals against Atos Work Capacity Assessments were successful, when the real figure is actually closer to 40%, and above 70% if the appellant is represented by someone with legal expertise. He also failed to acknowledge that the cost to the taxpayer of hearing all of these appeals now stands at £50 million, with no financial penalties against Atos for having miscategorised so many people as "fit for work" in the first place. In the same Parliamentary session he also failed to answer numerous questions and gave evasive or misleading answers to most of the rest. Mike Sivier did a pretty good demolition job on that particular performance, you can read that here.

Then there's the fact that many people have come across his policy of "delete and block" when it comes to people writing anything vaguely critical on his Facebook page. No matter how polite and carefully worded your criticism, Hoban wont reply, he'll simply delete your comment and block you from ever posting anything again. I must admit that this kind of blanket censorship winds me up more than it should. This is because I've tried as best I can to maintain a no-censorship policy on the Another Angry Voice Facebook page, which means I've left all kinds of vile personal abuse and outright lies about me undeleted, in order to allow the abusiveness and obvious inaccuracy of reactionary right-wing ranters' leavings to speak for itself.

Now onto my criticism, which relates to something that he said in an interview on the BBC documentary about the spectacularly expensive failure of the Tory flagship Work Programme. Here's what he said in defence of the 18 private sector providers that are signed up to administer the Work Programme:
"They know they are only going to make money if they get people into work"
Essentially he is saying that there is no need to worry because this is a "payments by result" business model, however the government's own figures show this to be a grotesque misrepresentation.

In the first full year of the Work Programme 877,880 people ("clients") were enrolled on it, yet only 31,240 (3.56%) of them were helped into full, or part time work. In fact not a single one of the 18 Work Programme contractors managed to meet the minimum target of finding work for 5.5% of them. Not only did all 18 of the contractors fail to meet the minimum target, the figure of 3.56% is significantly below the 5% figure expected if the unemployed were left to go through the old fortnightly routine of demonstrating to how they had been seeking work to staff at the Jobcentre. The government's own figures show that to date, the Work Programme has been worse than doing nothing at all!

The question of how much this dismal performance is going to cost is a difficult one because payments depend on how long the 31,240 clients that found work actually keep their jobs, the payment by results element. If they keep their job for 6 months, the Work Programme contractor gets a payment of between £1,200 and £3,500. If they keep their job for two years, they get a further payment of between £5,000 and £9,600.

Given that we know these payments, it is possible to calculate that the cost of these "success" payments for the 31,240 clients will range between £40 million and £213 million, with the upper figure only possible in the extreme case where every single person stays in their job for two full years. A reasonable estimate that has been adopted by the mainstream press is about £75 million.

What is known is the cost of "attachment fees" that are paid every time a person is enrolled on the Work Programme. These fees range between £400 and £600. The total amount spent on attachment fees in the first year was £326 million. (£10,400 spent on attachment fees for every person that actually went on to get a job).

It is easy to see that Hoban's statement is grotesquely misleading. These companies have ended up being paid far more in "attachment fees" than they will ever manage to get in results payments, even if everyone they have placed manages to keep their job for two full years.

These figures, and the shocking under-performance of every single Work Programme demonstrate that in fact it is possible for these companies to make millions at the taxpayers' expense, even if they hardly get anyone into work at all. In fact, the attachment fees represent a "payment before results" system that looks astonishingly easy to manipulate.

In fact, the only way that the Work programme contractors have over-performed is that they have managed to sign up 9% more clients than expected. They have signed up more clients than expected and they have found work for significantly fewer clients than expected.

What this tells me is that the Work Programme contractors have figured out a way of "gaming the system". They expend as much effort as possible in signing people up to their schemes to collect the unearned £400 - £600 they get for simply submitting the paperwork and they expend as little effort as possible on finding work for hard-to-place clients such as the disabled, the uneducated or unskilled and those that are approaching retirement age. These suspicions are supported by the accusations that one contractor called Triage actually referred to the policy of neglecting difficult clients as "parking".

The statistics also back up this interpretation that "hard-to-place" clients are simply being parked. Of the 68,000 disabled clients put into the Work Programme, only 1,000 ended up in work, a success rate of just 1.47%.

Given that the majority of Work Programme contractors are profit driven private companies, it makes clear economic sense for them to sign up as many clients as possible in order to collect the easy money "attachment fees", rather than spending a great deal of time and effort finding work for people, in, thanks to George Osborne's failing ideological austerity experiment, is a very difficult employment market. The reason for this is that even if the contractor pulls off a miracle and finds a job for one of their "hard-to-place" clients, there is significant risk that they will quit  (for deteriorating health reasons perhaps) or be fired in the first six month period, leaving the company with absolutely no profit to show for all of their efforts.

Returning to the "gaming the system" accusations from the first criticism, it turns out that the Work Programme that Hoban is attempting to defend is a classic example of a poorly designed government contract which actually encourages contractors to "game the system" in order to minimise risks and maximise profits.

It is quite simply stunning to see Mark Hoban, a man who has a track record of making accusations of "gaming the system", make utterly misleading statements to the BBC to cover up the fact that there seems to be an awful lot of contractor "gaming the system" going on in the flagship Tory party scheme that he has ministerial responsibility for.

The performance and financial figures used in this article can be found here and the payments regime is explained in more detail on the Panorama documentary.

Another Angry Voice

Is the Work Programme financially viable?

Nobody seems to be asking at the moment whether the Work Programme is financially viable for the providers.  The Work and Pensions Committee has taken evidence from "users" and there is a focus on the voluntary sector and small organisations which have found that the programme is not working for them or for anyone else.  Charities which help the homeless are particularly concerned about the specific problems of their clients being ignored; WP providers not even asking whether someone is homeless.  Yet the charity Crisis says that it got two people into work separately from the WP but was contacted by a provider asking for details so that it could claim the outcomes.  Meanwhile the media are focussing on other groups such as the disabled.  I missed the Panorama programme, but I gather that A4e was just one of the providers that didn't come out of it very well.  The response of A4e, as usual, is to point to a success story.  Next Sunday morning at 11.00 Radio 5 Live is looking at self-employment and the WP.

But, as I said, nobody is asking whether the whole thing could founder on the fact that the providers can't afford to run it.  The government insisted from the outset that only the largest and most financially secure companies could be prime providers, and that drove some companies, such as Ingeus, to partner with companies which could guarantee their financial security.  A4e didn't do that.  Nonetheless, the DWP was surprised that some potential primes put in bids that even the government didn't think were viable.  It now appears that the attachment fee income was sufficient to keep the companies ticking over.  Maximus, for instance, said that it had broken even on the first year.  But A4e's accounts to March 2012 showed them in deep trouble, and apparently without the expectation that things would improve much.

So what would happen if a prime decided that it just couldn't afford to go on?  Would the business be transferred to another company - assuming anybody wanted it?  Would they have to pay a penalty for breach of contract?  Is the government busy renegotiating terms in order to save the skins of these companies?  If that happens, I suspect it will be slipped through without publicity.


Someone put a petition on the government's e-petition website asking for the abolition of "work for your benefit/workfare schemes in the UK".  The rest of it was eminently sensible, but unfortunately the DWP was able to seize on the description and deny that there was any such thing as workfare in this country (it's American) and equally no such thing as "work for your benefit" - it's all about support.  How lucky that they changed the title of Labour's pilot scheme from "Work for your Benefit" to "Mandatory Work Activity".  

Watching A4e

32 disabled people a week dying [Video]

Killing the disabled, echos of the Third Reich

Ex Atos Nurse Reveals The Real Inside Story [Atos Victims Group]

An Ex Atos Nurse contacted [AVG] with her account of what she was expected to do during her employment carrying out Assessments. Her account confirms what we’ve known for years in that the system is target driven, her account also reveals that those running the Atos contract not one bit about the wellbeing of those they call for assessment.

As this Nurse says at the end of her account:

This is not a job any nurse should do, if their NMC registration means anything to them.

J.Stoker is an alias that this Nurse has used for her own protection

Paul Smith – Founder Atos Victims Group News


I resigned from Atos in 2012.  As a nurse, I was taught to care and be compassionate about the people I was in contact with.  This was not the case with Atos. 

It was very much a target driven role and you were under constant pressure to meet these targets.  We had to see a minimum of 6 clients per day, some nurses were managing 10 and I often wondered how.  I was warned, on a number of occasions, about this.  If another nurse asked for help, I was more than happy to help or discuss a difficult case.  My manager had a firm, but polite, word with me in a quiet corner, and reminded me of my role, which was to meet targets, not have general chit chat with colleagues. We were not allowed to offer any advice to our clients and we were not supposed to engage in a conversation, unless it was about the assessment.   This was extremely hard to avoid, especially with a client with learning difficulties, who would often love to chat!
The doctors would ‘cherry pick’ the easy clients, as they were paid per case and often saw, on average, 14 cases per day.  Very good, considering they worked office hours.

We were monitored closely on how many clients we put into Support Group .  If our totals were above the national average, we would have to ask an ‘experienced’ member of staff for permission to put a client into a support group, even if it was plainly obvious they could not return to work.  Those members of staff who had a low number of support group additions, were praised.

I assessed a client with mental health issues who I entered into the support group.  I was so concerned about her I stayed with her, in the waiting room, until a family member came to collect her to take her home.  I was instructed to attend a meeting with my manager and was given a verbal warning for costing Atos money – when I asked how this was possible, I was informed that during the time I was with this client in the waiting room, I could have assessed somebody else.

I assessed a client with visual problems, due to her diabetes, who could not read 16 point print, nor could she see hazards in the street.  Although not registered blind, she was under the care of a consultant, was receiving treatment and needed constant support from her family.  Although there was not a suitable support group for her, I put her in a higher group and recommended she was recalled in 18 months, after she had received treatment from her consultant, to assess her condition.  I was instructed, by my manager, to downgrade her.  I was told to add her to a lower group and recall her in 6 months.  I strongly disagreed, due to her current condition and underlying medical problems, but was told, in no uncertain terms, not to question my managers judgement.  It was at this point I decided to resign.

I could not live with the knowledge of what I was doing and the effect this could have on somebody’s life.   Although there are a number of people who are more than capable of work, the majority are genuine, sick people who need our help, not to be demoralised in this way.  I saw so many people who would cry in front of me, because they want to work so much, but couldn’t. 

Atos Healthcare do not care about their staff and more importantly, do not care about their clients.  They are more interested in making money and I believe they should be stripped of this contact with DWP.  This is not a job any nurse should do, if their NMC registration means anything to them.

J. Stoker.  RGN

Atos Victims Group News

British Pain Society: How DWP/Atos Work Capability Assessments are failing chronic pain patients

The British Pain Society has a membership of over 1,400 and is involved in all aspects of pain and its management through the work of the Council, Committees and Working Parties.
The British Pain Society has a membership of over 1,400 and is involved in all aspects of pain and its management through the work of the Council, Committees and Working Parties.

Willow Jacky writes:

This edition of the British Pain Society contains a full article on the DWP~AtoS Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and how it is failing chronic pain patients.

The WCA is unanimously condemned by the Doctors and Consultant experts in the field of Chronic Pain Management.

Here is an extract:
‘It is certainly making it harder for us to do our job of supporting patients to become more active and less distressed by their pain, not to mention the additional burden of filling in forms, dealing with the phone calls from patients in distress, and risk managing patients who have become suicidal.
‘As health professionals, we are in a position to comment on what we are seeing. 
‘We are encouraged to see that Paul Burstow, Care Services Minister, has conceded that chronic pain be considered as a long-term health condition (House of Commons, Hansard Written Answers for 01 Feb 2012). 
‘It is good news that vehicles such as the Chronic Pain Policy Coalition and the Pain Summit are driving this agenda forward. 
‘But it is early days, and there is more work to do before there is proper acknowledgement within the Parliament and policy of the condition of chronic pain. 
‘We hope that through writing this article we will encourage others with similar concerns to join us in calling for a fairer work capability assessment process that takes into account the specialist nature of long-term health conditions including chronic pain. 
‘We are heartened that the Council of the Society has taken this issue seriously, and we would welcome comments from members as to their experience and thoughts.’


Panorama: The Great Disability Scam

The Great Disability Scam, as told by Kate Ansell

TV producer Kate Ansell is disabled and was part of the team who made tonight’s Panorama: The Great Disability Scam? Here she mops up a few facts that didn’t make it into tonight’s programme and gives her personal view based on the team’s findings.

Tonight, a Panorama investigation into government efforts to get disabled people back to work broadcasts on BBC One. I co-produced the film, which examines how effective the government’s controversial Work Programme has been in getting Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants back to work.

The figures are pretty stark: out of 68,000 ESA claimants placed on the Work Programme since it began, only 1,000 have found jobs lasting three months or more, a total well beneath the government’s already not-very-ambitious targets for this particular group.

The question is why are they so low?

During the course of research, the team and I spoke to dozens of disabled people who would love to work but feel they aren’t well enough at the moment, but also to others who feel they can and do want to work, and just need support working out how to do that accessibly and sustainably.

Like most disabled people, I could tell you a thing or two about barriers to the workplace. Yesterday, for instance, I found myself prostrate on the floor of an edit suite attempting to do physiotherapy discretely so as not to freak out any of my non-disabled colleagues, while calculating the precise dose of painkillers and anti-spasmodics I could take without losing the power of thought.

Even before this week, an alarming proportion of research for this film was conducted by me, from bed, in my pyjamas, on days when getting dressed seemed like too much trouble. On occasion over the last few weeks, I’d glance at all my paperwork and get confused about which of the DWP documents in front of me were for research, and which ones actually related to my own life.

As a working disabled person, I’m not quite in the minority, but only half of all disabled people in the UK are in employment, a fact which makes me want to weep every time I hear it. Meanwhile, there are two and a half million people claiming benefits because they’re too ill or disabled to work, at a cost to the taxpayer of £13bn a year, a fact which is routinely thrown around and makes disabled people feel bad about themselves.

The government has pledged to get those people back to work. Over the past three months the team and I have met many of those people – disabled people who’d love to work if they can, but either feel the workplace is not appropriate for them at the moment, or need additional help and support to overcome the barriers presented by their impairments.

The Work Programme is part of the government’s answer: a £5bn scheme aimed at helping long term unemployed people back to work. Clients are referred to private companies who take responsibility for preparing them for the workplace. They’re only paid the lion’s share of their fee for doing this after they have successfully found sustained employment for that person.

The companies get paid higher fees for people considered harder to find jobs for – almost all the people in that harder group are ESA claimants.

The idea is that the private sector takes the risk and pays its money upfront: it’s a good deal for the taxpayer, as well as life-changing for the participants. It sounds great in theory … but in practice?

The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) have looked at the figures and say that so far no blind people have got sustained employment through the Work Programme. This was telling as we’d also interviewed Jemma Brown, who’s blind and has been on the Work Programme since March last year.

Jemma has been placed with A4e, the second biggest company involved in delivering the programme. She told us of her frustrations with the service she’s been offered, including failures to provide her with large print materials on courses, or to offer her accessible technology in their offices. A4e told us they take complaints incredibly seriously and are already working with her to resolve these problems.

Steve Winyard is Head of Policy at RNIB. His view of the work programme is that it’s been a “disaster” for blind people. This might be the kind of thing you would expect him to say when faced with those figures, until you realise that the RNIB Group is itself involved with the work programme.

The big companies involved with the programme, like A4e, can subcontract their clients to other organisations. There are thousands of subcontractors, including hundreds of non profit organisations with disability expertise. The RNIB Group is one of them and has a long track record of supporting blind people into employment. So far, the group has only had 62 people referred to them through the Work Programme, doesn’t get paid much for this until people find employment, and meanwhile has invested thousands of pounds in bidding for and providing the expert services.

Unsurprisingly, Steve believes this is no longer sustainable for them.

To find out how widespread this experience was, Panorama conducted its own survey of all 348 voluntary sector subcontractors to the Work Programme listed on the DWP website, and discovered they were far from unique in their concerns.

Of the 184 who responded, 40% said they weren’t part of the work programme. Of those who were, 73% of organisations who responded said they’d had fewer referrals than expected; of those organisations with disability expertise, 77% felt their expertise wasn’t being used effectively.

When you meet as many disabled people desperate to work and struggling to have their needs met as we have over the last few months, you do wonder why this is the case. The answer might be money. Simply, disabled people are expensive. A provider will get paid a one off “attachment fee” of £600 when they take on a client who’s on ESA. If they refer them to a subcontractor, they have to give a percentage of that fee away to them, as they do if the client successfully gets a job.

Many of the subcontractors we spoke to told us they felt the main providers were reluctant to refer for that reason. And, as Anne Begg, Labour MP and chair of the DWP Select Committee currently looking into the Work Programme pointed out, “If they are expecting to get, say, £5,000 from the government for getting [someone] into work but.. spend £6,000 on that individual getting them into sustained work, then that is loss-making for the company.”

We spoke to someone who used to work for a private company, Triage, a large Scottish company which specialises in support and training for unemployed people, and says on its website it has one of the highest employment success rates in the country. It also delivers the Work Programme in some parts of the UK.

She says she heard some staff refer to clients as LTBs – which stood for Lying, Thieving Bastards.

She told us that clients were routinely “parked” if they were too difficult to help – efforts to find them employment effectively stopped. She also says she was advised against asking clients on disability benefits how they are, because it would take too much time.

We put these concerns to Triage. They told us, regarding the phrase LTB: “this is not a phraseology used or accepted by Triage. We believe this relates to a single incident, apparently almost a year ago.”

In relation to not asking clients how they are, they said: “this is a misinterpretation of a constructive approach to positively working with Health Benefit clients…We have found more effective ways of greeting a client…without using words that may refocus them on their health concerns.”

On the issue of parking disabled clients, they told us: “Triage’s delivery structure of the Work Programme does not allow for `parking’.”

Dame Anne Begg has said she will be feeding Panorama’s evidence into the ongoing inquiry into the Work Programme.

Employment Minister Mark Hoban told us: “I’ve got relentless focus on ensuring that the Work Programme delivers to the people who take part in it. I want to see this programme get more people into work.”

Personally, I really want him to be successful in his mission to get disabled people into work. All the disabled people I know want to work, and would welcome help to find a way into employment. I’d like it if they did. It might be a bit easier to do stealth physio in the workplace if there were some more of us around.

Westminster welfare cuts will push 15,000 more Scottish children below the poverty line

By Marc McLean

ACCORDING to Holyrood, Con-Dem cuts will have a devastating impact on those struggling to make ends meet.

Cameron's government stands accused of making the poor poorer
Cameron’s government making the poor poorer

FIFTEEN thousand more Scots kids will be plunged into poverty through Westminster welfare cuts, the Scottish Government will claim today.

The Con-Dems are being accused of hitting Scotland’s poorest families hardest with their overhaul of the benefits system.

Welfare rises will be capped at one per cent for three years rather than being aligned with inflation, which will see thousands of struggling single parents lose out.

Scottish ministers insist the reforms will have a “devastating” impact and estimate that another 15,000 children will fall below the poverty line.

This figure does not include the UK Government’s changes to working tax credits and child benefit.

Speaking before a Scottish Parliament debate on child benefit today, SNP MSP Jamie Hepburn said:
“We can see clearly the devastating impact of Westminster’s welfare changes, with 15,000 children being pushed into poverty as a result of the one per cent uprating of working-age benefits.
“We know that child benefit cuts will see a family of two lose over £1100 and a family with one child over £650.
“This does not take into account the UK Government’s other welfare changes that are having a destructive effect on people’s lives.
“While we in Scotland pursue a policy of greater equality and social justice, Westminster is determined to implement significant spending reductions across the welfare state that goes against those principles.”
The MSP – deputy convener of Holyrood’s welfare reform committee – added:
“The UK Government’s welfare reform agenda is being driven by austerity – not by fairness.”

Prospects for children from poor backgrounds getting worse

The Coalition’s controversial Welfare Benefits Uprating Bill will peg benefit rises from next April. An impact assessment published by the Government suggested single parents would be most affected by the cap, losing £5 a week.

Working households handed tax credits will be an average of £3 a week worse off, though the Treasury insist this will be cancelled out by an increase in the basic rate income tax allowance, which will come into effect in April.

The Department for Work and Pensions estimate that the uprating measures in 2013-14, 2014-15 and 2015-16 will result in around an extra 200,000 children being in relative income poverty compared with uprating benefits by the Consumer Price Index.

John Dickie, head of Child Poverty Action Group in Scotland, said:
“Yet again we are seeing the very poorest families and children being hit hardest by UK tax and benefit policies. UK ministers should be ashamed that policies are being developed that are pushing more children into poverty.”
The campaign group argue that many families with at least one working parent are also going to be affected. Thousands working to stay just above the breadline will be dragged into poverty.

Peter Kelly, of the Poverty Alliance, said:
“These reforms impact on people on the lowest incomes, and both people who are in or out of work. The UK Government seem to be justifying these reforms on the grounds of fairness between those working and the unemployed.
“But many people affected are those claiming working tax credits – and we’ve already seen child benefit frozen too.
“We need MPs to challenge these decisions which are having such a devastating impact in Scotland.”
A DWP spokeswoman said:

“We’ve protected benefits for disabled people and pensioners and committed to helping people who claim working age benefits and tax credits, increasing this support by one per cent.

“Even with plans to limit increases to benefits, people will still see their benefit rates rise – this is not a freeze in support and universal credit will make three million households better off.”

The Scottish Daily Record

Atos scandal: Man found fit to work despite peeling bones

KENNY NICOL was passed as fit to work, even though after seven operations bits of his bone still peel into his flesh.

Kenny Nicol
Kenny Nicol

DISMAYED Kenny Nicol has told how he was passed fit to work – despite suffering osteoarthritis and enduring seven operations.

He scored zero on his new Department for Work and Pensions test, carried out by Atos.

The former oil worker, of Buckie, Aberdeenshire, can’t walk further than 100 yards without his joints swelling and suffers constant pain in his shoulders, hips, knees and hands.

It means he is unable to lift anything heavy or even write.

Kenny, 52, said:
“I have sore knees, flat feet, arthritis in my joints, affecting my elbows, shoulders and hands. I have bone peeling off and sticking into my shoulders, yet I’m allegedly fit to work. It’s nuts.”

We told yesterday how 50,000 disabled Scots were being forced back to work by benefits bullies at the DWP.

Figures showed that 70 per cent of people put through the DWP tests by French firm Atos were passed as being fit or potentially fit to get jobs despite their illnesses.

It has now emerged that of the remaining 30 per cent found to be genuinely disabled and deserving of their benefits, thousands are sent for repeat assessments in less than a year.
Kenny’s benefits were reinstated on appeal. But he said:

“There is no way people should go through what I had to, for nothing.”

A DWP spokesman said: “It’s unfair that in the past, people were abandoned to a lifetime on benefits, without any checks to see if they could, with the right support, go back to work.”

The Scottish Daily Record

Is UK Gov't in breach of duty to respect human rights?

The Centre for Welfare Reform  has already demonstrated that the fiscal impact of UK government policy targets cuts and income reductions on people in poverty and disabled people is extraordinarily severe. The overlapping impact of social care cuts and benefit cuts for people with the most severe disabilities means that the average burden from the cuts, per capita, is 19 times greater for people with the severest disabilities. This is a shocking state of affairs and an unprecedented attack on a minority group. It is obvious nonsense to suggest that no reasonable Cumulative Impact Assessment of the cuts could have been made. It is clear that the failure to make such an assessment puts the UK Government in breach of its duty to respect human rights.
Simon Duffy


Baroness Hollis backs Report

Baroness Hollis back the latest report from The Centre for Welfare Reform:


Baroness Hollis says:
“I welcome the report. It provides stark reminders of the cumulative effects of the current round of so called ‘reforms’ on disabled people. National debt is being turned into personal debt for some of the poorest people. We know that a reduced income does lead to debt, and we also know that debt leads to mental health problems for many, thus turning a financial crisis into a health crisis. Where is the sense in that?”
Baroness Hollis of Wimbledon is also Emeritus Professor of Psychiatry of Disability, St George’s University of London, President of the BMA and Past President, Royal College of Psychiatrists.

The report provides an overview of all of the cuts in public spending and shows how the combined impact of these cuts targets people in poverty and disabled people, including older people.

The report also describes how the burden of cuts falling on these groups is many times greater than the burden falling on the rest of us:
  • People in poverty will lose an average of £2,195 per person, per year – this is 5 times more than the burden placed on most other citizens.
  • Disabled people will lose an average of £4,410 per person – this is 9 times more than the burden placed on most other citizens.
The combination of cuts in benefits and services means that:
  • People with severe disabilities will lose an average of £8,832 per person – this is 19 times more than the burden placed on most other citizens.
These cuts are not the inevitable result of austerity. Instead the cuts seem to be targeted on those minority groups that lack political influence.

Jim Elder-Woodward OBE, chair of the UK Steering Group of the Campaign for a Fair Society says:
“The UK government is targeting disabled people and others on welfare, mainly for political reasons. The Campaign for a Fair Society has demonstrated the injustice of the government’s plans. There are much more humane ways of cutting the deficit, other than cutting the lifelines to so many vulnerable people. It is time that the opposition, charities and disabled people’s organisations made it clear that these plans are unjustified, unfair and extremely dangerous. In order to do this, the electorate must be made aware of the true facts, not the scurrilous stigmatising misinformation presently being disseminated by the government which labels all on welfare, as lazy scoundrels, crooks and n’er-do-wells.”
Dr Simon Duffy, the author of the report says:
“Since 1948 there has never been such deep cuts in services and benefits as these and these cuts target most the very people you would expect a fair and decent society to protect first. The lack of public awareness about what is really going on is shocking and I hope this report will help people become more aware.”
The report is free to download here:


Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Welfare cash cards and spying: the Tory approach to unemployment

An MP's proposal to stop claimants buying 'luxury goods' would fit with a new website that tracks job search activities

Jobseekers queue outside a Jobcentre Plus branch in London, March 2009
'Under the jobseeker model of unemployment benefit the assumption is that the search for work is the claimant's daily job.' Photograph: Oli Scarff/Getty Images

Money acts as the sole means of access to much of society. What does it mean then for its use to be regulated among the poorest? Conservative MP Alec Shelbrooke introduced this idea in the form of a "welfare cash card" in the House of Commons on Tuesday. The card would prevent the purchase of "luxury items" such as cigarettes and alcohol by those on benefts. Shelbrooke justified it by invoking the memory of William Beveridge and the "five giant evils". The card, as with much recent welfare policy, does share an underpinning principle with Beveridge's report: the disciplining of the out-of-work poor. Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, is said to have dismissed the idea, but Shelbrooke's proposal is a telling indication of Tory thinking on labour policy.

Since the financial crash of 2008 and the subsequent austerity measures, many more of us find ourselves underemployed or out of work entirely. Unemployment in October 2008 was at 1.87m – in October 2012 the figure had risen to 2.51m, even after the Olympics labour boom. The government's policy response to this has been to impose increasingly difficult conditions on claimants while seemingly waiting for a miracle to provide jobs.

The "welfare cash card" idea is yet another iteration of this. The proposal is for benefits to be paid to a chip and pin card that would bar the purchase of basic amenities misleadingly described as luxuries. For a long time the government has worked hard to inculcate an image of benefits claimants as "financially reckless" to justify its disciplinarian measures, an image Shelbrooke happily uses to advocate for financial monitoring. The impetus behind this seems only to be the punishment of claimants through privation whilst many are already turning to loans and other means to supplement ever-squeezed benefit payments. In this light it is hard to take seriously the MP's cynical appeal to "raise children out of poverty".

The state of welfare policy is no different, however. Workfare, for example, extends the logic of maintaining a standing army of the unemployed, drilled in the practice of work but not paid for it, which already existed in germ form in jobseeker's allowance. Under the jobseeker model of unemployment benefit the assumption is that the search for work is the claimant's daily job. The ritual of attending the jobcentre to prove that you have made adequate attempts to find work can be gruelling, not least when in many areas there simply aren't enough jobs advertised to satisfactorily complete your job search form.

The entire lives of those who seek state help to live come to revolve around ensuring that the minimal benefits they receive actually do arrive in their account. This is why writers such as André Gorz have been describing jobseeker's allowance as "workfare" since 2003. Discipline comes to dominate our lives whether we are employed or not and whether it is from employer or state.

The introduction of the universal credit system, where a range of benefits will be rolled into a single payment, will see conditionality and the disciplinary role of benefits further intensified. As Shelbrooke's system stands it would seem likely to apply to all those receiving the universal credit, monitoring and limiting the spending of workers and the unemployed alike. This process will be mirrored in the implementation of the universal jobmatch website as a method to spy on claimants' job search activities. The new website will scan benefit claimants' CVs and automatically match them with job opportunities, but it will also allow authorities to remotely track claimants' search activities.

With this in mind the entire myth of tackling "intergenerational worklessness" has to be brought into question. Recent Joseph Rowntree foundation research has put paid to the cliche of "families with three generations unemployed", yet Shelbrooke's discussion of the "welfare cash card" rests on this mythic figure. Even if these families existed it would be unwise to treat their situations as an issue of personal spending choices and not a consequence of how our economy is run.

Open Letter to Liam Byrne - Will Labour Protect Disabled People?

Open Letter to Liam Byrne - Will Labour Protect Disabled People?

SUPPORT THE PETITIONPat's Petition is going to Westminster on the 6th February to meet with Shadow Work and Pensions Liam Byrne to find out what Labour will do to support sick and disabled people. WOW Petition was created to ensure that the work done by Pat's Petition will continue into the future and we have some points and questions for Labour to answer too.

An Open Letter to the Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary
Dear Rt Hon Liam Byrne MP

The WOW Petition is a crowd-sourced grass roots campaign created and supported by disabled people, people with physical and mental health illness, care workers, carers and family members. We have come together because we are frightened. We have each been affected by the devastating consequences of the Welfare Reform Act and feel we are fighting for our lives.

We are determined to continue and build upon the achievements of Pat’s Petition. We are not satisfied that the government will understand or care about the consequences of the cuts and changes to benefits and services until a comprehensive impact assessment has been completed. We are aware of the Prime Minister’s intention to scrap impact and equality assessments. It is vital therefore, that a cumulative impact assessment is carried out with urgency.

Since the WOW Petition was launched on December 18th 2012, at the time of writing almost 18,000 people have supported us. We expect to reach the 100,000 target as we expand into new initiatives and the campaign grows.

Our petition has been championed by disabled actress and comedian Francesca Martinez. Francesca has spoken out publicly against the arbitrary cuts and the unfairness of disproportionately targeting the benefits sick and disabled people rely on. She has appeared on Newsnight and BBC This Week Programmes to voice her concerns. Baroness Grey-Thompson has also supported our campaign.

Sick and disabled people do not understand why the government wishes to wage a “war on welfare” against them. People who are genuinely too sick to work have been cruelly labelled as “feckless” and “scroungers” by government ministers. Welfare statistics have, we believe, been purposefully misrepresented, and the tabloid media has chosen to wage a campaign of misinformation and misleading stories about the level of welfare fraud. This in turn has altered public perceptions of disabled people and hardened attitudes towards benefit claimants.

Where is the sense in forcing people suffering with long-term and chronic conditions onto a depressed employment market where eight people on average are fighting for every job? People with mental health problems find it especially difficult to overcome employment discrimination and to establish themselves in work even when the economy is buoyant. The greater cruelty is that many of these people will not have access to treatment or therapy.

Sick and disabled people do want to work, but the Work Capability Assessment completely fails to recognise their limitations or how they can realistically function in the workplace. The consequences of forcing people to look for work and mandatory Work Related Activity under threat of losing income could cause illness to deteriorate and place a further burden on stretched NHS and mental health services. Sick and disabled people can and do make huge contributions to society. This does not have to be purely based on their ability to make money. Voluntary work and caring is vital for the economy but isn’t paid. For some “making work pay” will not improve their life chances, opportunities and finances. These people deserve to be better supported.

The third ‘Harrington Report’ revealed that just 9% of people expected to recover within twelve months had found work eighteen months later. The support to get people back to work isn’t working. Less than 1.5% of disabled people referred to the Work Programme had found employment.

We are certain that you are already aware of the failings of the fitness to work test, and the increasing numbers of recorded deaths resulting from the loss of income and stress. The fear of the Atos envelope landing on the doorstep is real. When people know that they are not going to have a fair and honest assessment that takes the opinions of their doctors and consultants into account they feel frustrated, helpless and terrified.

Over 330,000 people have been forced to appeal a decision they believe to be wrong. 40% of these are overturned, rising to 70-80% with specialist advice. The government is removing legal aid to make obtaining legal advice at the tribunal stage even more difficult, and we can only presume that it is a cynical attempt to deter people from appealing rather than fixing a broken system.

Under clause 99 of the Welfare Reform Act sick people could be forced onto Jobseekers Allowance whilst potentially waiting many months for the DWP to reconsider a challenge to a decision. These changes are going to have a huge impact on people’s lives. It is insufficient and dismissive of government ministers to blame Labour for introducing Employment and Support Allowance and to complain that they have inherited a flawed assessment process. This is an unacceptable defence for a serious failure.

We want a reassurance that the current fitness to work test will be scrapped and replaced with a credible medical assessment carried out by medical professionals who are allowed to apply their discretionary judgement based on their medical expertise. People feel they are being ‘tricked’ by confusing forms, tick box assessments and an impossibly narrow set of descriptors which excludes severe and enduring illness from the support group. Assessment recordings should be made available to all who request them to reassure people that the face to face tests are above-board.

People will and do work when they are well and able and appropriately supported. Battling illness and battling the current benefits system for some, unfortunately, is simply too much to cope with.

Universal Credit is yet an untested system of delivering benefits but the uncertainty surrounding it is causing a great deal of worry and confusion. Contributory ESA is excluded but the means tested component is not. Some people receive an element of both.

Hundreds of thousands of sick people have lost and will lose all of their Employment and Support Allowance after 365 days because they have a working partner, regardless of whether they are recovered or not. This arbitrary cut is penalising working families and proves that the government’s aim was to cut the budget and not to support sick people back to work. Without access to specialist employment advice they will be further excluded and isolated from the workplace.

We learn that in Merseyside alone the cost of the new “bedroom tax” to social tenants will be £16 million annually. What is most disturbing is that three-quarters of the households include a disabled person. Depending on the locality some people will be asked to pay council tax from their disability benefit incomes.

The government promised vulnerable people that “they had nothing to fear” and that “disability benefits are being protected” but Coalition MPs voted to cap the annual benefit rise of Employment and Support Allowance at 1%. This also includes the support group as only the disability premium is excluded from the cap. With food prices expected to rise above 5% this year sick and disabled people will struggle to buy the basic necessities. Many, including households with disabled children, are already having to cancel hospital appointments due to transport costs, take out loans to buy essentials and are choosing whether to heat their homes or buy groceries.

Local authorities are being forced to cut back massively on the care and support services they deliver to vulnerable people. The charity Scope report a funding gap of £1.2billion for adult social care. 40% of disabled people who require care are saying that their basic needs are not being met.

Disability living allowance is being replaced by the personal independence payment and the ‘goalposts’ are being moved so that by 2018, 600,000 fewer disabled people will be entitled to the benefit as would have received DLA. This is another arbitrary cut as changing the eligibility will not change the disability. Just because someone is ‘less disabled’ than another doesn’t mean that they don’t require the additional support to allow them to stay in work, maintain their dignity, be independent and have an equal chance in life as their peers. 100,000 disabled people are expecting to lose their mobility vehicles because they can move a mere 20 metres. Not even the length of the Commons floor. How is this “supporting disabled people”?

The cumulative impact of these cuts and changes, inadequate social care, along with many others such as the cuts to Children’s Disability Premiums under Universal Credit, the scrapping of Independent Living Fund for disabled adults who live alone, closure of day-care centres, degradation of mental health services, NHS services, amongst others, is too much to bear.
  • We would like to know how Labour intends to correct the injustices sick and disabled people are currently having to cope with under the policies implemented by the Coalition government?
  • What reforms to the welfare system does Labour have planned?
  • Will Labour scrap and replace the Work Capability Assessment with an objective and trustworthy medical test?
  • How do you plan to support those disabled people who have lost work through the Remploy closures?

We would like to thank you for considering our concerns and we look forward to your response. Our hope is that we can co-operate together for a better and fairer future for all sick and disabled people in the UK.

The WOW petition team


The Petition

We call for a Cumulative Impact Assessment of Welfare Reform, and a New Deal for sick & disabled people based on their needs, abilities and ambitions
Responsible department: Department for Work and Pensions
We call for:

A Cumulative Impact Assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick & disabled people, their families and carers, and a free vote on repeal of the Welfare Reform Act.

An immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association.

Consultation between the Depts of Health & Education to improve support into work for sick & disabled people, and an end to forced work under threat of sanctions for people on disability benefits.

An Independent, Committee-Based Inquiry into Welfare Reform, covering but not limited to: (1) Care home admission rises, daycare centres, access to education for people with learning difficulties, universal mental health treatments, Remploy closures; (2) DWP media links, the ATOS contract, IT implementation of Universal Credit; (3) Human rights abuses against disabled people, excess claimant deaths & the disregard of medical evidence in decision making by ATOS, DWP & the Tribunal Service.

DWP force 50,000 disabled Scots back to work

Fury as benefits bullies DWP force 50,000 disabled Scots to go back to work


LABOUR MP Tom Greatrex and disability campaigners hit out after an astonishing 70 per cent of people put through Atos’s tests were passed as being fit or potentially fit to get jobs.

Tom Greatrex
Tom Greatrex
Are you one of the 50,000 previously in receipt of incapacity benefit but now been told you must find work after Atos tests? Give our newsdesk a call on 0141 309 3251 or email

BENEFITS cuts firm Atos have told almost 50,000 disabled Scots they will have to work.

An astonishing 70 per cent of people put through Atos’s tests were passed as being fit or potentially fit to get jobs.

Labour MP Tom Greatrex said: “Too many people are being assessed by Atos as being fit for work when they simply aren’t.”

Atos were hired by the UK Government to help slash billions from the welfare bill.

Just over a quarter of the disabled Scots assessed by the firm have been passed as immediately “fit for work”.

That means they will no longer get incapacity benefit and will be expected to look for work.

A further 43 per cent have been told the clock is ticking on how much longer they will receive the benefit.

Only 19,330 Scots, or 30 per cent of the total, were passed by Atos as being genuinely unfit for work.

The figures were slipped out last night by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

They show that of the 65,430 Scots who had assessments completed by French IT firm Atos, 46,090 were told they were fit to work now or in the future.

The Work Capability Assessments involve benefits claimants having to complete a long questionnaire and attend an interview with an Atos employee.

Interviewees have their disabilities rated on a points system based on 17 different categories.

As reported in the Record, Atos’s assessments have been widely discredited and almost 40 per cent of
claimants have had decisions overturned on appeal.

Greatrex, who campaigns on disability rights, added: “When so many decisions turn out to be wrong, there is a concern whether many of the thousands who have been found fit for work after their Atos test are really able to take a job.

“The Work Capability Assessment should be helping people into work. But the examples the Record has highlighted over many months show in too many cases that people are being hounded in the worst
possible way.

“Heartless Tory Minister Mark Hoban should focus on why there are so many successful appeals.

“When 40 per cent of the decisions appealed are wrong, there is something fundamentally flawed about his Atos tests.”

Richard Hamer, of Capability Scotland, said: “These figures will not be a surprise to many disabled people and disability organisations who have been worried about the impact of Work Capability Assessments for some time.

“The assessment process has a poor track record with the high number of successful appeals suggesting a flawed system which judges that people are fit to work when common sense tells us they clearly are not.

“The other factor to consider is where this 70 per cent of disabled people are going to get jobs. There aren’t enough long-term sustainable job opportunities for disabled Scots and this is where the UK Government should be focusing their efforts, rather than forcing people into work.”

The DWP figures show that almost 180,000 people – 32 per cent – assessed so far have been told to go back to work by Atos. Almost 232,000 – 41 per cent – have been told to prepare for work in the future.

Employment Minister Hoban said: “The old system condemned tens of thousands of people to a life on benefits, with little help to move back to work.

“Now people who can work will be given help to find a job. Getting the Work Capability Assessment right first time is my absolute priority and we have made considerable improvements to the process to ensure it is as fair and accurate as possible.”

Daily Record