The Department of Work and Pensions has a new scheme to make life harder for people who are too sick to work. The announcement appeared on their website today with the headline “People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them with their barriers to work.”
This is a trial starting with 3,000 people who are in the Work Related Activity Group for Employment Support Allowance to find out whether it is effective at getting people off benefits. Oh, the claim is that it’s to get people back into work, but getting them off benefits is all the government care about and quote figures for. People will be forced to meet with a “healthcare professional” from Ingeus UK by 2016 as part of this trial. Ingeus UK doesn’t have the best reputation either. Telegraph: Firm owned by Kevin Rudd’s wife faces tax questions in Britain.
From the DWP’s announcement:
People on sickness benefits will be required to have regular meetings with healthcare professionals to help them address their barriers to work – or face losing their benefits – in a two-year pilot scheme in central England which begins in November.
Around 3,000 people in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) living in the Black Country, Derbyshire, Leicestershire, Northamptonshire, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Rutland, Staffordshire and Shropshire will take part in the scheme.
There are many problems with this plan.
1. Most people already have a “healthcare professional” – their GP, or hospital specialist, or someone else – who is trying to ensure the best outcome for them. Of course what is best for the patient may not be getting them off benefits.
2. I’m pretty sure there’s some consent issues there. If people will be “required” to meet the DWP’s healthcare professional, how can there be consent? Benefits will be withdrawn if the patient refuses, so they may be coerced to have medical treatment against their will. This is definitely not ethical.
3. These healthcare professionals need not be specialists in a person’s particular illness or disability, or even doctors at all. People going through the Work Capability Assessment with Atos often see staff who know nothing about their issues and who make mistakes over easily spotted issues as a result. What happens if an Ingeus UK healthcare professional recommends a treatment that the patient’s own doctor has ruled out? Will the patient be sanctioned for refusing it? Will people die because they tried it anyway?
4. People are often wrongly placed in the Work Related Activity Group, which is for people who are expected to return to work within a couple of years. Many people appeal and move to the Support Group. Many more don’t appeal because they can’t face it, but on seeing staff at the Job Centre are told to go home because they are obviously not well enough to prepare for work. If this scheme is rolled out nationwide then thousands of people will be made to take part when they are not well enough.
5. “Regular discussions with healthcare professionals” are an unacceptable extra burden on people who are already overwhelmed with trying to juggle medical appointments and DWP requirements. Managing an illness or a disability is a full time job which people must get through despite massive barriers, and now the DWP wants to pile a whole load of extra meetings and travel time on them. Like lots of extra meetings won’t make physical and mental health ten times worse.
If you’re one of the people selected for this trial then it is probably worth contacting a lawyer and finding out if you can fight it.