Mental health treatment in the Job Centre – what could possibly go wrong?

A Mental Health task force set up by Nick Clegg has decided to subject people on benefits to mental health treatment at the Job Centre.

Out of all the possible environments for mental health treatment, the Job Centre could the worst.

The treatment will take the form of talking therapy and computer-based Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. A posting on the governments’s Contracts Finder website reveals that the DWP intend to spend £21 million on the online CBT. It is not clear how much they intend to spend on human therapists, where they think they can get them, or whether they will actually have training and experience to do the job.

There are so many problems with this scheme that it is hard to know where to start. The biggest problem I can see is that there can be no meaningful consent to treatment in the context of the Job Centre. Where once the Job Centre was there to help people to find a job, these days it is more known for ruthless sanctions and cutting off benefits for whatever trivial excuse they can come  up with. If Job Centre staff tell someone that they need mental health treatment it will be backed up with words such as “your benefits may be affected if you do not attend” which is a barely-veiled threat that they apply to most “voluntary” tasks that they inflict on people.

The regime of sanctions and workfare means that the Job Centre is a direct cause of much mental illness among people on benefits. I cannot see anyone wanting to reveal this to any therapist in the Job Centre even if absolute confidentiallity is promised. There is too much danger of it leaking to vindictive staff who are eager to hit their targets for sanctions.

Computer-based CBT could be even worse. CBT does not work for everyone and there is a chance that staff will use failure to get better as an indication that someone is not trying, and an excuse to cut their benefits. CBT often makes people worse before they get better and it is not something that should be done in a public place where there is little chance of privacy. It could leave people in a raw emotional state and vulnerable while out in public, or the setting may prevent people from engaging at all. Indeed, the suspicion will be that Job Centre staff will monitor progress just like they monitor the Universal Job Match system.Whether true or not, that will be a barrier to a lot of people.

This whole scheme seems to have been set up with the primary aim not of improving mental health, but of getting people in to a job. There is no indication of how the DWP will treat people whose mental health does not improve enough to get a job, or even get worse. Clegg’s mental health task force seems to have no clue about the reality of unemployment, poverty or illness. Had they asked anyone in this situation they would have been told that this plan will be damaging, not helpful.

If there is money available – and seemingly, there is at least £57 million available – why on earth isn’t it being spent within the NHS to undo some of the savage cuts that have taken place? Lots of people including myself have been desperate to get proper talking therapy from the NHS for years but unable to do so. Tories and LibDems seem desperate to force unsuitable treatment without consent on people on benefits instead of properly funding NHS services. This scheme is a useless bandage on the gaping wound inflicted by this government and it will do more damage than it helps repair.

Related Links

Clegg announces plan for job centre mental health treatment scheme

Nick Clegg holds first meeting of mental health taskforce

Contracts Finder: Online Supported Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

 

PIP judicial review: Court rules against us but vindicates our case

We lost. The judge ruled that in the end the consultation process for PIP was not unfair.

However that is not the whole story. You see, the judge found that it was the second consultation that made things right. The first consultation, he had some harsher words for. Words such as:

“Unfortunately mind-bogglingly opaque.” (Paragraph 105 part ii)
“At best ambivalent” (Paragraph 105 part vii)
“Convoluted, inherently unclear, ambiguous and confusing.  No construction allows for full coherence.” (Paragraph 106)

Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the government chose to do things, I think you’ll agree.  The government’s legal team also agreed, and in fact they have accepted that they must share a portion of the costs of this judicial review in the face of evidence that it was indeed justified.

Not only that, but the government made it perfectly clear that they know exactly how much their policies will hurt people but want to do it anyway.

“… [T]his was recognised from the outset.  In developing the PIP assessment we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.  However, we believe that these impacts can be justified as being a logical result of distributing limited resources in a different and more sustainable way…”.
(Paragraph 80)

Let’s see that again:

we were aware that the vast majority of recipients of DLA were individuals with genuine health conditions and disabilities and genuine need, and that removing or reducing that benefit may affect their daily lives.”

And again:

“genuine need”

So we have the government’s lawyers arguing that the DWP and the government ministers know full well that they are removing vital support from hundreds of thousands of people who have few other options and who will suffer as a result. And they are doing it to save money.

The judge agreed with the DWP that taking money from physically disabled people to allocate to other PIP claimants achieves “substantive equality between physically and non-physically disabled.” I argue that this has reduced the equality of physically disabled people compared to not-yet-disabled people, purely because of budget.

This is Lowest common denominator equality.

This is your government. This is what the society that we live in is prepared to accept.

The court’s findings and what’s next

The judge was persuaded by Dr Bolton’s evidence that the government could have changed their decision had they decided to listen to the overwhelming opposition to the 20m rule in the second consultation, and so it was not unfair. My legal team and I disagree. We still argue that the decision had long since been made and that the secretary of state had a closed mind by this point, and so the second consultation was not at a formative stage.

Although the judgment went against us I feel that the judge’s analysis of the first consultation is vindication for our bringing this case to court. Don’t forget that the second consultation only came about after this case was given permission to proceed and the DWP realised that they could not get away with such a shambles.

I hope that the admission by the government that they know exactly what they are doing will make people wake up to what is happening. Meanwhile, this is not the end. The legal team and I are considering our options to appeal this result.

Press Release from Public Law Solicitors

PIP Consultation Judicial Review Press Release

Read the full judgment

PIP consultation judicial review starts today

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

Replacement of disability living allowance headline news for hours

Why I am suing the government

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

 

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”

Being accused of DLA fraud may force you to apply for PIP

The Benefits and Work website claims that people will lose their Disability Living Allowance permanently if someone accuses them of fraud. There is some truth behind this claim but the headline is a wild speculation from the information that they actually have.

The facts behind the story are this:

People who currently receive DLA will all be “invited” to apply for Personal Independence Payments over the next few years. A large number of people who receive DLA are not expected to qualify for the same level of support from PIP and so this move is rightly feared by many. People can apply for PIP before their DLA runs out if they wish – these are “self selectors” in DWP speak. Anyone whose care or mobility needs change will have to apply for PIP rather than alter their DLA claim. As long as nothing changes, most people can remain on DLA until 2015 or the end of their award.

The scary part of this story comes from a quote that Benefits and Work found on Rightsnet.

“At our local JC+/customer/representative forum meeting last week a DWP partner support manager brought the following change of wording to the attention of the meeting (second bullet point on page one of link)

In his words anyone who was ‘bubbled’ (shopped) would be taken as if they were a ‘self selector’ in the DLA/PIP reassessments.

Nothing appears to have been changed in the PIP trans regs to allow this but it is worrying when the PIP/DWP ‘thinking’ changes the words ‘those claimants where we receive information…’ from the actual legislation.”

The source claims that anyone who is reported to the DWP for fraud will be treated as if they have reported a change and therefore have to apply for PIP.

This is a fairly tenuous link, but a worrying one all the same. The overwhelming majority of reports to the benefit fraud hotline are either malicious or wrong and the fraud rate for DLA is incredibly low. If all that is required to trigger the move to PIP is a false report then a lot of people are going to be badly affected. However, we do not know whether this second-hand claim is true, or whether the practice will be widespread or just confined to one or two areas, and we do not know if a person will have to be found guilty of benefit fraud or just reported – the wording could mean either. Given the history of the DWP’s approach to sanctions I wouldn’t say it is out of the question for this to happen against the rules, but we will have to wait and see about that.

I find the way that Benefits and Work have reported this to be irresponsible and misleading. In their email they stated that “The DWP have ruled that…” when there is no such ruling, only a second-hand report. They also missed out the third sentence from their quote, which stated that nothing has changed in the PIP regulations.

I do not think anyone should worry about being moved because of a malicious fraud report, at least until we have more evidence.

Benefits and Work: Claimants to lose DLA permanently if falsely accused of fraud, DWP decides

DWP still breaking their own rules on Mandatory Work Activity

I suppose it was only a matter of time until one of the various things that I have been campaigning about hit someone closer to home.

My brother left college last year after finishing a BTEC National Diploma in Computing with a good result. Unfortunately jobs in IT are few and far between in this area and so after a few months he claimed Job Seeker’s Allowance while looking for a work. Wishing to continue his education but unwilling to rack up tens of thousands in student loans, he started an Open University course in Computing earlier this year (Which still attracts a course fee of £2,500 per year for part time study) with the intention of finding a part time job to pay his living costs.

My brother has turned up for his appointments at the Job Centre every fortnight except the one that clashed with our grandfather’s funeral. He went on the rather pointless one-day course that he was ordered to attend but that offered him only literacy and maths help far below the level of his qualifications. He has applied for jobs, although perhaps not as many as he could have, and filled in his Job Seeker’s record.

Then a couple of weeks ago during his regular signing-on he was asked if he was willing to undertake work experience. Not being unwilling if it would help his employment opportunities, and also fearful of what the repercussions would be if he refused, he said yes. Soon afterwards he received a text message from the DWP. It informed him that he was to start Mandatory Work Activity and would be contacted soon by a private company that would arrange his placement.

This was quickly followed up by a letter giving more details, reproduced here:

DWP letter MWA05 ESG

 

The letter reads:

To continue recieving Jobseeker’s Allowance and/or National Insurance credits, you must take part in Mandatory Work Activity.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD, or one of their partners, will support you whilst on Mandatory Work Activity. They will discuss with you the work placement and the support it will provide to improve your chances of getting and keeping a job.

You must complete any activities that ESG HOLDINGS LTD asks you to do.

You will still need to attend the Jobcentre and meet your benefit conditions, including attending Fortnightly Jobsearch Reviews and any other interviews and being available for and actively seeking employment.

ESG HOLDINGS LTD will let you know when you will start Mandatory Work Activity. You must participate until you are told otherwise.

If you fail to participate in Mandatory Work Activity without a good reason, your Jobseeker’s Allowance could stop for up to 26 weeks. You could also lose your National Insurance credits.

We have passed your details onto ESG HOLDINGS LTD who will be in contact with you shortly.

This letter was followed up by a phone call from ESG HOLDINGS and my brother was told to attend a placement at the British Heart Foundation shop for thirty hours per week over five days per week for four weeks.

However, campaign group Boycott Workfare were told in February that the British Heart Foundation would not take people who were forced to attend work with them:

The British Heart Foundation, contacted by a Boycott Workfare campaigner back in November, were insistent that they “would not actively encourage any placements, regardless of the scheme name, where the person involved is not a willing participant…

It is in the rules that after six months job seekers are sent to The Work Programme, but that is a different thing altogether to Mandatory Work Activity (MWA) and in any case he has not quite finished six months on JSA. The Work Programme involves learning skills and various activities, applying for work, and some work experience. Mandatory Work Activity is by definition forced on people and only involves work placements. In reality both involve forced work for no pay or face having no Jobseeker’s Allowance for six month, but the government did try to claim that The Work Programme was not compulsory. (They were lying though.) Even if JSA is counted as a wage for the work done it works out at far less than the legal minimum wage, and with MWA the job seeker has no choice in who they work for or what they do. Placements can be far outside of the skillset of the job seeker, or against their moral position, but are still compulsory.

A DWP guidance document released through a Freedom of Information request in January tells us a few relevant facts about the MWA scheme which I will quote in the next few paragraphs.

It has not been explained to my brother WHY he has been sent for MWA. Here’s what the DWP guidance says MWA is for:

15. A JSA claimant potentially suitable for MWA is one identified through the work targeted interview process, supported by use of the Customer Assessment Tool, as lacking ,or failing to demonstrate, the focus and discipline that is necessary to effectively:

  • seek out and pursue job opportunities
  • secure and retain employment

16. MWA may be beneficial for a claimant that has recently received a labour market related sanction/disallowance, providing an opportunity for them to develop the skills, disciplines and behaviours sought by employers.

19. If a lack of recent work experience is proving to be a barrier to finding work for an otherwise well-focused claimant, Advisory Teams must seek to address this through appropriate measures eg Work Together; MWA is not an appropriate measure in such cases

None of these conditions would seem to apply. My brother has attended all but one of his interviews and has looked for work. He hasn’t received any sanctions for failure to look for work. He doesn’t entirely lack work experience; he has helped out a lot over the last two years in a large kitchen for a charity that provides a conference centre and guest house, and has received training there. In any case, MWA is not to be used to provide work experience. Then we must address the issue that he was not given any indication that he would be placed on MWA or any way to avoid it:

22. A referral to MWA must never come as a surprise to a claimant. If a claimant’s circumstances suggest that they may be suitable for MWA, the adviser must:

  • explain to the claimant that they are being considered for referral and the reasons why i.e. to develop skills, disciplines and behaviours that are widely valued by employers and that can help them in seeking employment.
  • provide an overview of the provision to the claimant
  • explain to the claimant that the case for referring them will be discussed with the Advisory Team Manager in line with district implementation protocols to support MWA
  • explain to the claimant that if they are subsequently referred to MWA, their participation will be mandatory
  • record, as an LMS conversation, that the discussion with the claimant has taken place and the reasons cited for considering an MWA referral

NB The language and tone used when discussing MWA with claimants is crucial. MWA must never be used as a threat or portrayed as a punitive measure.

The news about the MWA was given by text message. However, the guidance states:

26. The referral must be made within an adviser interview (a flexible intervention interview should be used).

27. The adviser undertaking the referral must take the following actions:

  1.  Explain to the claimant:
    • why they are being referred
    • that the case for referring them has been discussed, and agreed, by the Advisory Team Manager
    • what the provision entails
    • how we expect them to benefit from the provision
    • that any travel and/or care costs they incur will be met by the provider

None of this actually took place. In the absence of any plausible reason for my brother’s referral to MWA and given that the correct procedure does not seem to have been followed in the slightest, I have to conclude that job seekers are being given mandatory work at random in contravention of their own rules, or that staff have some other motive such as targets to send for unpaid work. Perhaps the advisers don’t even know the difference between The Work Programme and Mandatory Work Activity.

 

 

Sanctions removed from work experience – but only a small victory

The government today caved in to bad publicity and agreed to remove the possibility of sanctions from those who refuse to take part in the work experience scheme. Those guilty of gross misconduct may still be sanctioned with removal of benefits.

However, a DWP spokesperson confirmed to me this afternoon that it is only the work experience scheme which is affected by this change. Those on the work programme, which is run by third party providers such as the disgraced A4e, may still face sanctions if they do not cooperate with the programme. As detailed in the previous article on this site, it is mandatory to attend the work programme after a set amount of time receiving Job Seekers Allowance or Employment Support Allowance. The DWP spokesperson pointed out that the work programme provides much more than just work experience placements and referral to the programme does not necessarily mean undertaking work experience.

In addition to the work programme there are several other schemes involving compulsory work including the community action programme and mandatory work activity. There is also the possibility that those who refuse work experience may be picked for mandatory work activity, and then sanctioned if they refuse to take part in that.

I discussed with the DWP the issue of those who are receiving ESA and placed in the work related activity group being referred to the work programme and possibly for work experience. This is problematic since at the current time many people overturn the decision to place them in the WRAG on appeal and appeals can take a year in many cases so that people who are not fit for the work programme, never mind fit for work might be sent for work experience. The spokesperson did point out that people can present evidence and ask for a reconsideration before going for an appeal, although since at least 40% of those who appeal their decision go on to overturn it I do not think this is enough to ensure that everyone on the work programme is physically and mentally up to the task.

As it stands then, the removal of sanctions from the work experience scheme is a minor victory but the danger is that it will convince the public that all is well once more and the anger over people being made to work without pay may cool. Jobseekers and sick people can still be referred to the work programme where companies such as A4e can send people to do unpaid work experience or face loss of benefits. In the case of those who recieve ESA there is no limit to the length of time they may be made to work without pay. Bizarrely, now that sanctions for refusing work experience have been removed, it may be the case that only people over 24 and those who are officially too sick to work can be forced to work unpaid.

DWP edits documents to pretend work placements weren’t compulsory

The government have been consistently claiming that the Work Experience Scheme and the Work Programme are entirely voluntary, and that only Mandatory Work Activity is compulsory. They were lying, and now we have proof.

I previously pointed out that a DWP document proves that referral to the Work Programme is mandatory in many cases. This image taken from page 7 of the DWP Work Programme Statistical Release states that job seekers aged 18 – 24 will be referred after 9 months, aged 25+ after 12 months, and ESA claimants within 3 – 6 months.

Work programme referal points

Referral to the Work Programme does not automatically mean being sent to work in an unpaid work placement, but it does give full power over your future to the contracted Work Programme provider company. Thanks to the investigative work of Johnny Void we now have proof from a DWP guide for Work Programme providers that when a provider sends a job seeker to a work placement it is compulsory. Here is an image from the relevant page of the guide.

work programme provider guidance original

Paragraph 14 states:

Work Experience for JSA Claimants

14. Where you are providing support for JSA participants, which is work experience you must mandate participants to this activity. This is to avoid the National Minimum Wage Regulations, which will apply if JSA participants are not mandated.

However, if you try to read the original document from the DWP website at this point that isn’t what you see. Instead you will see this page:

work programme provider guidance modified

The documents has been modified. The original paragraph 14 is gone and paragraph 15 has been relabelled as 14. Also note that the European Social Fund logo has been removed. Despite the changes, the version number of the document, shown at the bottom right corner, is V2.00 in both cases. Credit again goes to Johnny Void for spotting that the document had changed and finding the original document lurking in the Google cache.

You can check the Google cache for the original document at least until it updates to reflect the new one, and you can check the revised version from the DWP website. I have saved copies of both the original and the revised documents here. (My copy of the original was saved as a PDF from the Google cache.)

Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Original)

Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Revised)

Éoin Clarke has also discovered that the DWP have removed the latest version of the Work Programme prospectus from their web site, although the 2010 version is still available. The prospectus has a similar table to that at the top of this article. I have saved a copy of that document here too.

Work Programme Prospectus v2 (2010)

Not only do we have proof that Chris Grayling, Iain Duncan Smith, David Cameron and the DWP were all lying, we also have proof that the DWP silently modified their documents to remove the evidence.

We are at war with Eastasia. We have always been at war with Eastasia.

 

Grayling, Workfare and Lies. Again.

Yes, I’m afraid this is yet another blog post on Workfare and Chris Grayling. Sorry. I just couldn’t let this one go. Employment minister Chris Grayling spoke to Radio 4’s Today programme this morning at length and lied his way through the whole eleven minutes. You can have a listen in this Audioboo:

Grayling defends government work experience programmes (mp3)

I started to transcribe the parts that were blatant lies, but I gave up because it was going to be so long. Instead I will highlight a couple of points. Grayling repeatedly asserted that the Work Experience Scheme is entirely voluntary. On paper, it is. In practice once a Job Centre adviser has suggested that someone should go for work experience, if they refuse then they are likely to be sanctioned (lose benefits) for being uncooperative or referred for Mandatory Work Activity which is definitely not voluntary. In addition, a person will lose benefits for at least four weeks if they drop out of a work experience placement after the first week, so it is definitely not voluntary after week one.

Grayling mentioned Mandatory Work Activity. He said it would only be used “when a job centre plus adviser feels that somebody has gone off the rails or they’re not trying or they’re really kind of out of sorts.” The DWP say that it would only be used for people who need to learn the discipline necessary to hold down a job because they have never worked, however we know that MWA can often be used as a punishment for disagreeing with an adviser or simply because an adviser doesn’t like someone. There is an article in The Guardian detailing the case of a graduate who has previously worked (for pay) in McDonalds and Morrisons and yet was sent for MWA. According to James Ball of The Guardian, in November 8,100 people were sent for mandatory work activity, which is 1,500 more than those sent for work experience.

He said that MWA is only used for “community benefiting projects” which is not true. MWA can be for a for-profit company as long as that company undertakes some community work.

He said that the only scheme which involves mandatory work is the Mandatory Work Activity scheme. This is not true. People can be forced to take part in The Work Scheme, as you can see for yourself in this DWP statistics release. [PDF] The image below shows page 7 from this document with the word “Mandatory” clearly used over and over again. This is regarding referal to The Work Programme, however once on the programme the private company providing the services such as the disgraced A4e can and do send people for unpaid work.

Work programme referal points

 

“They’re coming under pressure from a big internet campaign that is being run by an organisation that is a front for the Socialist Workers Party.”

“It’s a false campaign […] My own email address was hacked by this organisation and used to lodge a complaint with Tesco so I don’t accept that the scale of the campaign is very large, it’s a small number of activists who are deliberately targeting these companies and trying to destabilise them.”

I have no doubt that there are some members of the Socialist Worker Party who object to Workfare schemes, but his assertion that objections are being run by an organisation that is a front for the SWP is just ridiculous. For a start, campaigns aren’t being run by any one organisation. There are multiple groups and all sorts of people objecting and campaigning. Boycott Workfare and Right to work are just two of those groups.

Grayling’s claim of hacking stems from his complete failure to understand IT and his labelling what he doesn’t understand as hacking. According to the Today Programme some time after Grayling’s interview:

Mr Grayling clarified his statement, saying that his email was not hacked but that his email address was used on a complaint lodged with Tesco.

Information seen later suggests that Grayling was in fact copied in to an email sent to Tesco by putting his email address in the CC field. If that is true and Grayling can’t tell the difference between being copied in to an email and computer hacking then I suggest that he has some serious defficiencies in his knowledge and needs to go on some remedial courses before he continues in his role in government.

Grayling stated that 50% of the people who start the work experience scheme are off benefits within eleven weeks. This is the only statistic that he was able to quote about results of any of these schemes, and it does not shed any light on how many of those people find work rather than simply stop claiming benefits and rely on parents or partners for room and board or end up homeless. He says “We know that a large number of those young people are actually staying on in employment with the employers who give them the placement” however he is unable to quote any proper reference for that claim and it appears to be purely anecdotal. Certainly Tesco have publicly said that of the 1,400 people that have been on the work experience scheme with them, only 300 have been taken on permanently.

“All of the evidence that we can see is that this does better than simply leaving people on JSA.”

The evidence that I have seen suggests that people do equally well on JSA or on the Work Experience Scheme.

Grayling claimed once again that no companies have pulled out of the work experience scheme. Some companies have demanded guarantees that no one would lose benefits over refusing or dropping out of the scheme, but quite a lot have pulled out entirely.

The presenter touched on an important point when he said that Cait Reilly “was under the impression that she was being forced to do it.” The phrase normally used by the Job Centre is “Your benefits may be affected if you do not attend” or something very similar. This phrase is used for all sorts of things, not just work placements. It is used for the work capability assessment for ESA, which is certainly not seen as optional by most people! It was used when I claimed incapacity benefit in 2005 and was instructed to attend the Job Centre to talk to a disability advisor about possible work. It didn’t seem optional to me. Basically, on paper many of these schemes may be optional but in practice if people don’t do as they are told by the DWP they lose benefits. If the Work Experience Scheme is optional then Chris Grayling needs to inform the Job Centre of that fact.

I will leave the last word to @anwen:

https://twitter.com/#!/anwen/status/172976751704682496

Twisting the facts, printing lies. How the DWP and tabloids are wrong about fit for work stats

 

Headlines claim that just 1 in 14 are unfit for work. Photo by @opinion8ed_dyke

The headlines today are screaming that a mere 7% of ESA claimants aren’t fit for work. The Daily Mail says that “Benefits Britain marches on: Just one in 14 disability handout applicants are too ill to work” while the BBC claim “Tests claim few benefit claimants unfit to work” These figures are grossly misleading. These actually come from a Department of Work and Pensions press release, 26 July 2011 – Work Programme provides tailored support as latest figures show people are being found fit for work. Those news stories haven’t actually mislead about the contents of the press release too much, the propaganda comes from the DWP. The Express, on the other hand, has gone for “Sick benefits: 75% are faking” which is just an outright lie.

Lets start with the figures from the DWP.

For all new ESA claims from 27th October 2008 to 30th November 2010, the result of the initial WCA is as follows

  • Support Group – 7%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 17%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 1%

These figures are true, but lie by omission. First of all, the figures given are for ALL that start a claim for ESA. As stated, 36% of people that start a claim drop out before they even get to their Work Capability Assessment. Some of these people will drop out because they perhaps shouldn’t have applied in the first place. Some might even have been trying it on and then realised that they would be caught. Some recover enough to find work, some find work that fits around their disabilities. Some, however, drop out because they are so ill that they cannot face the application and testing process. We don’t know, as no records are kept of reasons for dropping out, but I contend that many more than we know drop out because they are too ill to finish the process. Given that 36% of claimants are not tested, we cannot include them in the ‘fit for work’ category. That 7% of claimants is actually 11% of claimants who complete the process.

11% is still a very small number. That still casts 89% of claimants as cheats, doesn’t it? Well no. No it doesn’t. Not unless you are a tabloid writer. You see, 17% of total claimantss – or 26.6% of claimants that finish the process – are put in the Work Related Activity Group. Being put in this group DOES NOT mean that the claimant is fit for work! It means that there may be some job, as yet unknown, that the claimant could possibly manage to do, if they push themselves hard enough,possibly at high cost to their health, IF they receive the right support in terms of information, equipment, services and grants. People in this group must attend six interviews at the Job Centre over the course of a few months to try and determine just what this possible job could be, and the support that would be needed to do it. People in this group STILL RECEIVE ESA.

Adding those two together and leaving out the people that dropped out, that means that 37.5% of people tested were not fit for work. That still leaves 61% that were receiving ESA who were found fit for work. Are they all cheats? No. Here’s why.

The Work Capability Assessment takes place at the end of the assessment phase of the claim. That means the test can take place up to 14 weeks after the person started to claim ESA. 14 weeks is a long time, and it should also be noted that people are often sick for a long time before they even apply for ESA, either on Statutory Sick Pay for 28 weeks, or just unaware that they can claim. Those people could easily have been sick for 9 months before being tested. 9 months is long enough for people to recover or start recovering from many health issues, and so these people would have been correctly being given ESA while unable to work. Health issues change, and finding these people fit for work now would be correct, but does not invalidate their claim in the previous months. I think if the WCA correctly finds someone capable of work after many months of illness but heading towards recovery, this is usually a good thing.

Assuming that changes in health conditions account for a chunk of that 61%, let’s say a third, that still leaves the rest. Here’s the thing. The accuracy of the testing process has been found to be wrong, broken, inadequate, however you want to put it, by MPs, a house of commons select committee, many disability rights charities, and many many individuals and activists. Even a person involved in designing the test has said that it is not fit for purpose.

33% of people found fit for work between October 2008 and August 2009 appealed against that decision. 40% of those overturned that decision and were awarded ESA. That’s 27,500 people who were provably found fit for work when they were not. Many more people did not appeal, for many of the same reasons that may have caused people to drop out of the claims process.

Today the Commons Select Committee on the Migration from Incapacity Benefits to Employment Support Allowance released its 6th Report – The Role Of Incapacity Benefit Reassessment In Helping Claimants Into Employment. Among other things, that report criticised media coverage and stated that government had a duty to take more care when engaging with media.

5.  Sections of the media routinely use pejorative language, such as “work-shy” or “scrounger”, when referring to incapacity benefit claimants. We strongly deprecate this and believe that it is irresponsible and inaccurate. The duty on the state to provide adequate support through the benefits system for people who are unable to work because of a serious health condition or illness is a fundamental principle of British society. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to “weed out benefit cheats” shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government’s objectives. (Paragraph 40)

6.  Whilst fully accepting that the Government, and this Committee, have no role in determining the nature and content of media coverage, we believe that more care is needed in the way the Government engages with the media and in particular the way in which it releases and provides its commentary on official statistics on the IB reassessment. In the end, the media will choose its own angle, but the Government should take great care with the language it itself uses and take all possible steps to ensure that context is provided when information about IB claimants found fit for work is released, so that unhelpful and inaccurate stories can be shown to have no basis. (Paragraph 41)

I disagree with part of this in that I think that consciously or not, Conservative ministers have an ideological motive to move people off of benefits, portraying them as cheats if necessary, with the help of special advisors. (SPADS.) I believe that ministers and SPADS have been feeding selected information to the press to create a national view that is biased against sick and disabled people that claim benefits, and the press have been only too happy to amplify this.

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