PIP consultation judicial review starts today

Today a judge will consider whether the Department of Work and Pensions carried out a fair consultation when it decided that only people who could walk less than 20 metres would get the full amount of help for mobility.

Where with Disability Living Allowance (DLA) claimants had to be able to walk less than 50 metres to qualify for the higher rate, under Personal Independence Payments (PIP) the cut-off will be just 20 metres. People who fall between those two distances will receive the lower rate of £21.55 a week instead of the higher rate of £56.75. As a result they will no longer qualify to lease a car from the Motability scheme and if they currently have one it will be taken away. Other things that may be affected can include automatic entitlement to bus passes and local taxi or dial-a-ride schemes. The lower rate of £21.55 won’t stretch much beyond one taxi trip to see a doctor or hospital in many areas.

Although three people initially pursued a judicial review, two cases were put on hold and my case was continued as representative of the others. The judicial review will examine the consultation about PIP that took place in early 2012 and the second consultation that focused on just the mobility component which took place in late 2013.

The main case is that the first consultation did not address the change to 20 metres while, by the time it got to the second consultation it was too late because there was no realistic possibility of change. The rest of the scheme had already been put in place and so money had already been allocated elsewhere.

In response to the second consultation the DWP unexpectedly claimed that the budget that in the past helped people with physical disabilities to get out and mobile had been reallocated to help people with learning disabilities and mental health problems. This pitting of one impairment against another is fundamentally unfair.. Rather than address inequality by bringing everyone up to the same mobility level, they have chosen to help one group by seriously disadvantaging another. It would seem that the government has seen the word equality but has not understood what it really means. If they had told us what was in their minds when they were consulting we might have had a chance to put them right.

Equality vs Justice
Equality vs Justice

The judicial review will be heard at the Adminstrative Court in Bull Street, Birmingham starting at 13:00 today and all day tomorrow. We don’t yet know when we will hear the results. There will be a vigil outside the courts in Bull Street, Birmingham today at 13:00 which supporters may wish to attend. Please spread the word and tell your friends to look out for this story in the news.

This news report from Sky News last year includes an interview with me about the impact of the changes.

Related blog posts

PIP 20 metre rule consultation response: “We’re not listening.”

Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation

PIP Judicial Review given the go ahead

Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation

Why I am suing the government

If you can only walk twenty metres you’ll get no help

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

This blog post was a little less dry but then I ran it past my lawyer.  (Don’t tell her I said that.)

Two weeks until PIP Judicial Review – 20 metre limit in the dock

It seems like forever since our attempt to get a judicial review over PIP and the fraudulent consultation. Well, that attempt has come to fruition at last. The case against the DWP will be heard in Birmingham on the 9th and 10th of July.

20m in the house of commons

This specific case is about the decision to slash support from those who can walk less than fifty metres, to only those who can walk less than twenty. The drastic reduction in the eligible distance means that some 500,000 people will be left without support even though they can walk less than 50m without some kind of assistance. This change has been made purely to cut costs, as was admitted by the DWP in their response when we forced them to re-open their consultation.

It has actually been quite difficult to bring a case against an opponent that can change the rules to suit its own agenda however the court has agreed to hear arguments surrounding the consultation and the fact that the DWP did not mention the slashing of support until after the consultation was complete.

I will provide more details here on the specific arguments we will make as soon as I can clear them with my solicitor.

Related blog posts

PIP 20 metre rule consultation response: “We’re not listening.”

Victory! DWP to launch PIP mobility consultation

PIP Judicial Review given the go ahead

Announcement: legal action against the DWP over the #PIP consultation

Why I am suing the government

If you can only walk twenty metres you’ll get no help

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

 

DWP demand access at random to your home and documents

In today’s scary news, it has emerged that the DWP are claiming the right to enter the home of people in receipt of a variety of benefits, demand to see their ID and financial documents, and interrogate them for an hour or more. All without prior warning.

While the DWP have always had teams that investigate fraud – including spying on people through their windows from parked cars – the idea that they can select you at random and turn up unannounced appears to be new. What happens if you turn the DWP officer away is not stated.  While the website says “You can reschedule your appointment if you need to” it also says  “You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.” Of course this is very likely to be backed up with the usual “you do not have to comply but if you do not then your benefits may be affected.” When confronted with the idea of losing all their income most people will obey against their will.

As many people have pointed out to me, plenty of sick people cannot cope with this intrusion or unpredictability. (Including myself.) Others may not have the ability to find the documents or to think well enough to provide the answers demanded. Carers who know all the details may not be present.

I suspect that the random selection and the entry into the home without warning  may breach the human rights act. I’d appreciate if someone knowledgeable could check this for me.

It is notable that the text claims that the DWP will check you if you are on Housing Benefit. That benefit is implemented by the local authority and not the DWP. This leads me to believe that this update is mostly posturing for the tabloids on the part of the SPADs that churn out propaganda for the DWP Press Office.

A page on the gov.uk website carrying a date of 2 June 2014 sets out what the DWP are threatening. The current contents of that page in full:


Home visit to check your benefits payments

You may get a visit from a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) officer to check that your benefits payments are correct. A Performance Measurement review officer may visit you if you’re claiming:

  • Employment and Support Allowance
  • Housing Benefit
  • Income Support
  • Jobseeker’s Allowance
  • Pension Credit
Your name is selected at random to be checked. You won’t always get a letter in advance telling you about the visit.

What to expect

The officer will interview you in your home and will want to see 2 forms of identification. They’ll also ask to see documents about money, savings and rent, eg:

  • payslips
  • bank, building society or Post Office accounts
  • rent book or tenancy agreement
  • benefits and tax credit awards

Visits usually last up to an hour but may be longer. You can reschedule your appointment if you need to.

Check their identity

You can check the identity of the Performance Measurement review officer by:

  • asking to see their photo identity card
  • calling the Business Support Team and giving the review officer’s name
Business Support Team Telephone: 0191 216 8050 Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm

Atos to be replaced for WCA but nothing will change

The Department for Work and Pensions has announced that they are looking for a new contractor to replace Atos to carry out Work Capability Assessments.

https://twitter.com/dwppressoffice/status/449121245163180032

This isn’t unexpected given the recent announcement from Atos. However it is clear that the DWP have no interest in making the process any less traumatic. In fact the DWP press office has said that they intend there to be even more assessments but will not stop inflicting punishment by regularly reassessing people who are unlikely to recover.

https://twitter.com/dwppressoffice/status/449122486521970688

The government is of course taking the opportunity to blame the previous government for the whole debacle while glossing over the fact that the coalition took a trial of Employment Support Allowance that was going badly, rolled it out across the country and ramped up assessments against the advice of their own experts. Labour may have hired Atos but the Conservatives and LibDems inflicted this travesty on far more people. In a written ministerial statement Mike Penning talked about “the process we inherited from the previous Government” and claimed that they had listened to experts when in fact they had repeatedly ignored experts.

The fact is that while Atos are complicit in inflicting suffering on sick and disabled people, they were following orders from the DWP. When Atos are replaced by another company the contract will still hold the replacement to “statistical norms” that allow only a tiny number of people to actually receive the help that we expect the government should provide. In reality the replacement of Atos by another brand name is unlikely to change even the staff carrying out the assessments or the buildings in which they take place. (Most of which are rented from the DWP anyway.) In his written statement Mike Penning said

“It is expected that the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment regulations will apply and most of the Atos employees will transfer to the new provider.”

The replacement for Atos will include the same staff, the same buildings, the same descriptors, the same statistical norms. Nothing will change. Same shit different scapegoat.

It is important to note that Atos will carry on under a separate contract in Northern Ireland and that Atos will still carry out WCAs until a replacement is found, though most repeat assessments will not take place. Do not assume that your WCA is cancelled! 

Written Ministerial Statement: Early exit of Atos from WCA contract (PDF)

Doc Hackenbush sums it up well:

How will you differ from Atos? My tie has stripes! Cartoon by @DocHackenbush
How will you differ from Atos? My tie has stripes! Cartoon by @DocHackenbush

The Atos name is toxic – Atos spins off OH Assist

Keen eyes have spotted that Atos Healthcare has re-branded as OH Assist. However this isn’t quite all of the story. Atos Healthcare – a trading name of Atos IT Services UK Limited – had two main areas of business. One is the notorious DWP contract to carry out Work Capability Assessments and more recently assessments for Personal Independence Payments. The other is providing Occupational Health services to large companies. This led to contradictions such as Atos Healthcare telling someone’s employer that they are not fit for work and then Atos Healthcare telling the DWP that they actually are fit for work.

Since they are at the frontline of implementing savage Tory cuts, the name Atos Healthcare has become toxic. Business customers of Atos Healthcare have been pressured by campaigners to take their business elsewhere, and no doubt Atos has struggled to employ staff for that service.

It appears then, that Atos Healthcare has spun off those occupational health services under a new name, OH Assist. OH Assist has a new website and their customers have been informed of the change. (As noted on the Southern Health Website for example.)

Atos Healthcare is still operating and their DWP contracts are still being carried out under that name.

An Atos customer notifies staff of name change to OH Health
An Atos customer notifies staff of name change to OH Health

Atos Healthcare remains only to carry out the contracts for the WCA and for PIP assessments and that is all that is referenced on their website. I am fairly sure that Atos will not be part of any bidding to take on other social security related contracts. I suspect that once Atos can extract themselves from the contract for the WCA (Which seems to be happening fairly quickly) and if they can get out of the PIP contract too (Which they may as they have huge delays and are struggling to employ doctors) then the company will shut down and the Atos Healthcare name will disappear leaving Atos IT Services and OH Assist.

While I celebrate the downfall of Atos Healthcare it is important to remember that the problems they perpetuated are rooted in the Work Capability Assessment and that won’t be fixed just because Atos are no longer involved.

No more repeat Work Capability Assessments until further notice

Some huge news has emerged today after a Freedom Of Information request by the Benefits and Work website.

It appears that the DWP have suspended all repeat Work Capability Assessments with Atos. This means that those who currently receive Employment Support Allowance and are in the Support Group or the Work-Related Activity Group will not be called back for repeat assessment unless the DWP are informed that their health has changed. This appears to be a move to clear the backlog of those in the Assessment Phase of ESA who are waiting for Atos to call them in for a WCA. It is unclear how this might affect the migration for those who still receive Incapacity Benefit. According to Benefits and Work the DWP memo states:

“The number of cases currently with Atos Healthcare has grown. A decision has therefore been taken to control the referral of repeat work capability assessments. Therefore, with effect from 20 January 2014, further routine repeat assessments referrals to Atos will be deferred until further notice.

“Controlling the volume of repeat Work Capability Assessments should help us to reduce delays for new claimants and those that have already been referred.”

Benefits and Work also claim that the DWP did not intend to inform either MPs or claimants. The uncertainty over the timing and outcome of the WCA is a huge problem for most people who rely on ESA and the knowledge that they will be left alone in the near future would be a great help so it is a further sign of cruelty that the DWP don’t care enough to inform anyone.

This decision to suspend repeat assessments sheds new light on the recent announcement by Atos that they are seeking to get out of the contract for WCAs early anyway and on the ongoing battle between Atos and the DWP to place the blame for the failure of the entire scheme.

Dr Greg Wood put some speculation into the thinking behind this decision on his blog in the form of a fictional memo – Work Test Whistleblower: A Note For The Minister?

Source: Benefits and Work: All repeat WCA medicals to be stopped

Related:

Atos want to end DWP Work Capability Assessment contract

The problem with the Work Capability Assessment goes far deeper than Atos

 

Atos want to end DWP Work Capability Assessment contract

According to a report in the Financial Times, (£) Atos are trying to bring an early end to their contract to carry out the Work Capability Assessment.

Atos, if you don’t know, are the French IT company that have the contract to assess every person that claims Employment Support Allowance and determine whether they really need support or should be told to get a job. They are notoriously bad at it, with vast numbers of decision overturned by appeal tribunals and many more who could not face the appeal abandoned without any income.

Crippen - Atos test

The Guardian reported on Monday that the Department of Work and Pensions were looking to commission other providers to take on some of the assessments but in a quote given to the Financial Times Atos said that they were already negotiating to leave the contract early. From the FT article:

The French IT company has been in discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions with a view to exiting the deal since October last year, because it views the tests as “outdated”.

“In its current form it is not working for claimants, for DWP or for Atos Healthcare,” Atos said. “For several months now we have been endeavouring to agree an early exit from the contract, which is due to expire in August 2015.”
“Despite these ongoing discussions, we will not walk away from a front-line service. Our total focus remains on delivering the services we are contracted to provide in a professional and compassionate way, until a new service begins.”

Of particular note is that in the article Atos are cited as saying that “the political environment has become untenable” and that the work capability assessment is “outdated”.

As I wrote earlier this week the replacement of Atos with another outsourcing company will not solve the problems with the Work Capability Assessment as those stem from government policy and the way in which the DWP enforce the contract so as to keep the numbers deemed eligible for help to a minimum. It is, however, satisfying to see a company which has been quite happy to play it’s part in the cruel and unnecessary suffering of thousands finally admit defeat.

Financial Times – Outsource group seeks exit from UK £500m benefits contract after death threats (£ – free registration to read 8 articles.)

Latent Existence – The problem with the Work Capability Assessment goes far deeper than Atos

The Guardian – Atos may lose fit-for-work tests contract as ministers line up rival firms

The problem with the Work Capability Assessment goes far deeper than Atos

There are rumours circulating that Atos might be about to get the sack from their role assessing sick and disabled people to supposedly determine if they could work. The Guardian reports:

“A leaked Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) financial review says ministers across government are working together to build up competition to the multinational company by commissioning other private firms to add “further capacity” to the assessment system. The DWP will then enable “these providers to take over the whole contract” from Atos after the present agreement expires in 2015.”

Unfortunately the main candidates for the job are G4S, Serco, A4E and Capita. None of these inspire confidence and in fact these names will justifiably inspire anger and hatred in most people that I know. But the problem is not just with Atos. The problem is with the Department of Work and Pensions, politicians (both Conservative and Labour) and with the whole concept of testing sickness and disability and fitting people’s problems into boxes in order to say yes or no to supporting them. Atos have helpfully put the problem in their own words in a blog post pleading with protesters not to blame them

“However, Atos Healthcare has no control over welfare policy, the design of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), or the specific eligibility criteria for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  These are set by government.  Our healthcare professionals use their clinical judgement in order to apply the government-designed criteria and they do not have the scope to make any assessment outside of these guidelines.”

Now I am not siding with Atos here, they are definitely responsible for huge suffering inflicted on people at their most vulnerable and no amount of claiming that they don’t set the rules, or that they are only following orders, is going to change that. However they are correct to say that the eligibility criteria are set by government. More importantly, they are accurate in stating that Atos assessors do not have the scope to make any assessment outside of the guidelines.

This is actually a very important admission. You see, there have been consistent accusations that Atos staff work to targets when deciding whether to recommend that someone is able to work or should receive support because they are not. That is, that they are told how many people must go on to receive the social security that they are entitled to and how many must be denied that support. Both Atos and government have denied that there are targets but this is through twisting words rather than actually being true. The DWP may not have targets but they do have “Statistical norms” which say how many people they think should be placed in the Support Group, the Work-Related Activity Group (given some support but continuously pestered to find a job), or kicked off sickness benefits and on to Job Seeker’s Allowance. Pressure is put on Atos to conform to these statistical norms – the logic being that Atos must be doing something wrong if they do not meet them. In turn Atos place pressure on their staff to keep the numbers of people recommended to get support down to absurdly low levels. Dr Greg Wood, a former assessor for Atos, and Kaliya Franklin have both done a lot of work to investigate and expose how this works in practice and I have included the links at the end of this blog post.

So Atos absolutely are complicit in denying support to people in desperate need, and they know it and their staff know it, but at the same time replacing Atos with Capita will definitely not solve the problem since the replacement will be held to exactly the same requirements.

While many believe that this problem with the Work Capability Assessment can be fixed, I am not one of them and so although I will support those who are working towards making the WCA fit for purpose, I also firmly believe that the whole thing should be scrapped. It would be a step forward to believe the reports of the doctors and other medical practitioners that care for sick people and only rely on a specific test for those who do not have access to this for whatever reason, but even that is not enough. I believe that to achieve full support and equality as a society we must introduce a Universal Basic Income / Citizen’s Income that would be paid to everyone regardless of whether they work or not, and not conditional on ability to work or willingness to work. We would still perhaps need some form of checking for disability benefits (currently DLA or PIP) which are paid on top of wages or sickness benefits to those who need it, but even then we should believe people’s own doctors where possible.

Further Reading

Dr Greg Wood:

Work Test Whistleblower

Why I blew the whistle on Atos fitness-for-work test

Kaliya Franklin:

How Norms Become Targets – Investigating the real reason for the misery of ‘fit for work’ assessments

Leaked Evidence Shows DWP Set Quotas For ‘Fit For Work’ Assessments

Politics, Policy and Persecution – The People’s Review of the WCA – Further Evidence

 

Round Up: Universal Basic Income links

Make Poverty History poster - Basic Income
Credit: Photo by Russell Higgs

This is a collection of articles and information that I have found about Basic Income, gathered here for convenience. It is not presented in any particular order.

Open Democracy – Through the eyes of a benefits adviser: a plea for a basic income

The New York Times – Switzerland’s Proposal to Pay People for Being Alive

Red Pepper – Time for a Basic Income

Huffington Post – Let’s Close Down the DWP

New Statesman – The most universal benefit of them all

A  Town Without Poverty?

Video – A Town Without Poverty

The Economist – The cheque is in the mail

Business Insider – There’s A Way To Give Everyone In America An Income That Conservatives And Liberals Can Both Love

Ars Technica – Androids are going to take our jobs, and that’s great!

European Citizens’ Initiative for an Unconditional Basic Income

Pieria – Basic Income Vs Capitalism

Pieria – The Wastefullness of Automation

Video – Basic Income, a new human right

Counterpunch – Taking It to the Streets in Spain

A Latent Existence – Basic Income will solve unemployment

A Latent Existence – Why does everyone have to work?

Guaranteed minimum income: how much would it cost? 

Coppola Comment – Economic equivalence: job guarantee and basic income

New York Times – Paul Krugman: Sympathy for the Luddites

Ingeus recruiting “Health Advisors” for DWP forced “bio-psychosocial health assessments”

Ingeus advert

Welfare-to-work provider Ingeus are recruiting Occupational Therapists to become “Health Advisors” as part of a pilot scheme to help people on ESA (sickness benefits) to return to work. As I wrote yesterday, people receiving ESA in the Work Related Activity Group will be forced to see these Health Advisors and will lose their benefits if they do not. This is a huge problem for all kinds of reasons which you can read about in my previous blog postAn advert placed by Ingeus on the website of the Vocational Rehabilitation Association reveals more details of how the scheme will work.

“From 25th November 2013 Ingeus will be delivering a new Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) Health Professional led contract for customers claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with an 18-24 month prognosis post Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The 2 year pilot programme will ensure clients have access to suitably trained Health Professionals to support the management of their health and wellbeing. We are looking to recruit Occupational Therapists to deliver the ESA pilot across the Central Region.”

It gets worse though. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the words “Bio-psychosocial model” make an appearance.

Delivering bio-psychosocial initial health assessments to identify clients health related concerns and barriers to returning to work, usually taking place via face to face 1:1 appointments but may also require telephone based interventions as well as on occasions a home/community visit.”

The Bio-Psychosocial model of disability is what the government have adopted after decades of being advised by insurance company UNUM. The model basically says that disability is all in the mind of the disabled person and they only need to adopt a better attitude to overcome barriers to work and other activities. It places blame for being ill on the patient and insists that they can just think their way better, as though thinking can eradicate viruses or fix broken genes or regrow broken or missing body parts.

I think access to an extra doctor, nurse, OT or some one else could really be a great help to a lot of sick and disabled people but not through this scheme. Any extra healthcare needs to be consensual and voluntary, this is not. The money spent on this scheme would be far more useful given to the NHS. And as for this scheme using the bio-psychosocial model, you might as well just tell sick and disabled people to “snap out of it”.

Where’s The Benefit: Models of Disability

Vocational Rehabilitation Association: Ingeus advert

Sick people to be forced to talk to the DWP’s own “healthcare professionals”