Third Harrington review of the Work Capability Assessment

The third independent review of the Work Capability Assessment [PDF] by Professor Harrington has been released today. I am not particularly impressed with it, particularly Harrington’s criticism of those who have campaigned against the current welfare reform.

The WCA continues to be portrayed in an extremely negative light, often fuelled by adverse media coverage, representative groups and political points scoring. Whilst the Review continues to hear examples of individuals who have been poorly treated by the WCA process, DWP can be reasonably pleased with what they have achieved. Some recognition of the considerable work to date would give a more balanced picture and DWP needs to be more proactive in communicating this. [Emphasis mine.]

I don’t know what world Harrington inhabits but that “adverse media coverage” was brought about by relentless campaigning from those who are directly affected in horrendous ways – “representative groups” and the only “political points scoring” we’ve made has been nearly universally against all three main parties. We have had a very hard time getting people within those parties to see the problem at all. Calling for the DWP to get better PR is not the solution.
Right in the foreward I was struck by his comments about tribunal judges.

Recommendations on the training of professionals in DWP Operations, Atos Healthcare and the Tribunals have produced some limited progress. In particular, it is regrettable that the First-tier Tribunal has effectively distanced itself from the rest of the WCA. Feedback from the Judges to the Decision Makers has, at last, started in a rudimentary way. However, much, much more is needed if we are to see a real dialogue between the Judges and the Decision Makers. This must happen on cases where there is a difference of opinion on what category is appropriate for that case based on the same set of evidence. For the First-tier Tribunal to suggest that the WCA Independent Review has no remit to consider the appeal stage of the process is illogical and untenable in my view. [Emphasis mine.]

Harrington is calling for feedback from tribunal judges to the Atos assessors and the DWP decision makers over why they reached different decisions to those made by the DWP. However the comments that Robert Devereux DWP private secretary made before the Public Accounts Committee on the 19th appear to be directly quoting the paragraph above out of context and instead criticised the tribunal judges for reaching a different decision. His thought appears to be that if looking at the same evidence then the decision should also be the same, without considering that the original decision makers might have been wrong. What Devereux and Harrington both seem to have missed is that Atos and the DWP have often failed to look at the evidence at all and the face-to-face assessment is not likely to find anything that strays from the Lima computer system’s checklist. There have been many cases where Atos and DWP staff have refused to look at evidence from healthcare professionals or refused to wait for evidence, and many more cases where evidence has been lost in the system somewhere between health care professional and decision maker.

One of Harrington’s conclusions stood out to me:

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) remains a valid concept for assessing benefit claimants’ eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Whilst the WCA continues to garner considerable – and sometimes, but not always, justifiable – criticism the Independent Reviewer has not seen or heard any compelling arguments or evidence that the whole system should be scrapped. Instead it needs to be made fairer and more effective by improving both the process and the technical descriptors used to assess eligibility.

I know a lot of people would disagree with that, but I think this is a lost battle and the public will continue to support assessments in this way. I took a little more hope from his recognition that we do need change.

A number of the major charities in this year’s call for evidence say that although they have seen some change for the better, it is disappointingly incomplete in coverage and depth. I agree with them. Changing such a large and complex process and such a controversial assessment takes time – it is happening.

So far as the descriptors are concerned, progress has been positive but slow. We are close to a new and much improved set of provisions for cancer treatment. For the mental, intellectual and cognitive conditions descriptors and for the fluctuating condition descriptors, work is underway for a formal review of new proposals from a number of charities to compare them with the existing descriptors. This work will continue into 2013 and I have been asked to chair the expert independent steering group overseeing the quality and validity of the evidence-based review. It is important to wait for the results of this before rushing to conclusions about how to change the descriptors.

We know from earlier this year that the DWP have been testing new descriptors and I hope that there will be progress on these so that serious conditions affecting ability to function which are currently missed will be noted in future. Also note in the paragraph above that Harrington is to continue working with the DWP on this aspect.

Media-friendly Cancer

I am concerned that cancer treatment has been singled out as needing special attention once again. Cancer is very bad and unpleasant and everyone knows someone who has had it, that’s why it is politically dangerous to send patients on chemotherapy to work. However many other conditions are equally serious and yet not so media-friendly and are therefore treated differently. The Work Capability Assessment is supposed to be about assessing the impact of the condition on ability to function, not what treatment is being received.

Recommendations

Harrington made a number of recommendations to the DWP. I am pleased that the first is for decision makers to consider the need for further documentary evidence. Whether they will do this or not is another question but as I said before the gathering of evidence is a big problem.

It is essential that all relevant medical and allied evidence about the claimant is available to the DWP Decision Maker at the earliest possible stage in the assessment process. If this can be achieved then Tribunals will be based on Judges and Medical Members considering the same body of evidence as the Decision Maker did.

Less pleasing is his second recommendation:

DWP Operations need to find an appropriate balance between better quality decisions that are carefully considered and ‘right first time’ and the achievement of appropriate benchmarks at a local level.

Now I could be wrong here, but that looks very much like a target.

The third recommendation is that the DWP should try to get more feedback from tribunals as to why decisions are overturned. This seems reasonable as it could affect change in the decisions made to start with. The fourth recommendation is that the DWP must highlight improvements, and be open about problems. As I said before, better PR for the DWP is not the answer. I’m open to hearing about improvements made but not if they are used to distract from problems that remain unsolved.

As an antidote to this review I recommend that you look at The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment from We Are Spartacus. Also note that DWP statistics released yesterday [PDF] show that 53% of the people placed in the Support Group for ESA are put there without a Work Capability Assessment.

I’ll leave you with this comment from Harrington.

Considerable disquiet remains, and this cannot be ignored

You’re damn right it can’t!

 

What’s the difference between 1930s Germany and modern-day Britain?

Before we start I would like to point out that I am not a historian and I am not a sociologist and as such I have done my best to present the information here as I understand it. With that out of the way, I’ll start with an overview of how disabled people were treated in Germany during WWII.

1930s Germany

Nazi Euthanasia Propaganda
A poster about how expensive disabled people are.

The Aktion T4 programme ran in Germany from 1939 to 1945. In the 1920s  Alfred Hoche and Karl Binding, part of an extreme eugenics movement, advocated killing those who were judged to have “life unworthy of life.”  In the 1930s there were huge cuts to state institutions causing overcrowding and Nazi propaganda emphasised the cost of caring for mentally ill and disabled people. In 1939 parents of disabled child Gerhard Kretschmar wrote to Hitler to ask him to permit their child to be killed. Hitler agreed and immediately set up a committee whose job was to organise more such murders – Aktion T4. When the war started parents were told that their mentally ill and physically disabled children were being sent to special treatments centres. In fact they were murdered without the knowledge of the parents. The programme was soon extended to adults, starting in Poland then in Germany. Throughout the programme Hitler knew that there would be huge opposition to such killing and so he never put his orders in writing. The one exception was a secret letter written to authorise the formation of the Aktion T4 programme, mainly because his justice minister would not cooperate without one. The programme operated in secrecy until it was too late for most people. Under the programme at least 200,000 disabled people were murdered over six years, either through lethal medication, starvation or gas chambers.

Modern Britain

Now we jump forward to Britain today. The events I describe in the paragraph above are unthinkable. No government minister, no tabloid newspaper, no man in the street would advocate such things, right?

That’s not quite true though. Most of the pieces are in place. We have propaganda pushing the idea that sick and disabled people are scroungers, workshy, lazy. This propaganda is coming from government ministers, their special advisers, and tabloids like the Daily Express, The Sun, the Daily Mail. Even broadsheets like the Times and the Telegraph have contributed. Such propaganda has even been raised by MPs in the Work and Pensions Select Committee and ministers told to stop. The propaganda is working too, with hate crimes against disabled people up in vast numbers.

We have many people fighting to legalise assisted suicide, inadvertently promoting the idea that life for some people is not worth living. Sure, we’re only asking for voluntary euthanasia, but what other factors might be in play? Pressure to stop being a burden, financial problems, cuts to care all contribute to a desire for death. If euthanasia becomes legal what is to stop people from being pushed to kill themselves? It may be overt or it may be through suggestion and through making their lives hell. (This is more my fear of how it could go wrong than any judgement on my part for or against euthanasia.)

We have cuts to local authority care budgets, starting in Worcestershire, that mean anyone whose care costs more than sending them to an institution will lose some care. The politicians argue that it’s a choice because people can choose to move to a care home or to cut some of their care provision. But what to cut? Eating? Washing? Dressing? Using a toilet? We have already seen people lose in court after fighting to not have to wear a nappy. Adults are expected to soil themselves rather than get help to use a toilet. We have also seen the loss of the independent living fund. The net result is loss of care or institutionalising people. Most care homes are run by private companies and neglect does not seem uncommon. I think more abuse and neglect is likely especially when companies are cutting costs because they have underquoted better homes.

We have sick and disabled people being  judged as fit to work and told to claim job seeker’s allowance and look for work, and we have even more seriously sick and disabled people being placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Both groups are subject to The Work Programme where they are expected to undertake unpaid work experience for large companies, and government plans are to make such work placements of unlimited duration. Work makes you free.

Under these plans anyone who is seen to not be cooperating with The Work Programme and other work related activities will see their benefit income slashed. Those on Job Seeker’s Allowance can have their entire allowance removed entirely for weeks, even six months. Those on Employment Support Allowance (e.g. too sick to work) will see three quarters of their allowance removed. Of course anyone who has been judged as fit to work or has been placed in the WRAG is expected to be capable of going on work placements even if their assessment was wrong and they are waiting a year for an appeal, and even if people are seriously harmed by trying to work. The result is that those who don’t destroy themselves trying to find jobs that don’t exist or going to endless work placements will instead not be able to afford food, clothes, fuel bills, rent and more. Many will be able to use food banks but some will not be physically able to get to them and food banks rely on charity from other people who are struggling too.

The result

Is it such a large step for disabled people to be dying? No. It’s already  happening. Reports in April claimed that 1,100 people had already died after being placed in the work related activity group. That’s more than thirty people a week. This is what Chris Grayling calls “Tough love.”

Some government ministers make policy decisions without thinking about the consequences of what will happen in practice. Others are fully aware of what will happen and just don’t care. Either way, they are often covered by claiming that their policy in itself does not harm people, even though the flaws with implementation allow people to fall through the net and come to harm. Government ignore evidence. They dismiss statistics, they blame the previous government, they claim that processes are being sorted out now, they claim that any harm is the fault of the sick or disabled or unemployed individual. The Government are hiding behind Atos and A4e who are “just carrying out orders” but they way they carry out those orders makes things even worse. Government ministers have the same attitude as many other people in power – they can say “make it happen” and the minions do the dirty work.

In 1930s Germany the government themselves ordered the rounding up and the killing of disabled people. In modern-day Britain the government can claim that it is not their fault, even that it should not happen, but private companies and the chasm of bureaucracy between various government departments are what kill people. Starvation, homelessness and neglect are what will kill people. The implementation is different and the scale is different but the attitude and the outcome are the same.

 

Further Reading

Godwin’s law must die [A Latent Existence]

Action T4 [Wikipedia]

Disabled benefits claimants face £71 a week fines for breaching work plan [The Guardian]

32 die a week after failing test for new incapacity benefit [Mirror]

Early day motion 295 [Parliament]

Work-or-starve plans for seriously ill welfare claimants might backfire [Eklesia]

Past Caring? [We are Spartacus]

 

Letter to my MP: objection to compulsory unpaid work

UK Parliament (freefoto.com)Dear Mr Luff,

I am writing to inform you of my opposition to schemes run by the DWP and the government which send people to do unpaid work and threaten sanctions for refusal to attend. I oppose the use of sanctions and removal of benefits of any sort to compel people to take part in unpaid work or to continue in unpaid work. I feel strongly that any such work placement must be entirely voluntary on the part of the job seeker. I understand that these schemes are a core Conservative policy, however I am not satisfied that this policy has majority support from the public.

Please be aware that I oppose ALL such schemes, including the work experience scheme, the compulsory work element of the work programme, the community action programme, sector-based academies, and mandatory work activity. I am sure there are others that I have missed. I find it very offensive to be told by Iain Duncan-Smith and Chris Grayling that “these are not the schemes that people are protesting about” when myself and others are very definitely protesting about all of these schemes. Even the spokesman in the DWP press office whom I spoke to in the course of writing about these schemes made this allegation, and it is simply not true. There is widespread objection to people being made to do unpaid work or face loss of benefits.

I believe that work experience can provide useful skills and training to job seekers however I do not believe that this will be found performing manual labour such as restocking shelves or cleaning floors in a supermarket, or, indeed, being sent out as cleaners to clean people’s homes. Such placements merely make use of job seekers as free labour to subsidise already profitable business but the claimants will not learn many useful skills at all, if any. As such I believe that work experience placements must be limited to those where job seekers are provided with a genuine learning opportunity and they are not displacing other paid workers as has happened in the case of Tesco and other supermarkets. (I have evidence for all of these assertions which I will be pleased to provide if you wish to query them.)

Additionally I must draw your attention to the plight of claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) who have been placed in the Work Related Activity Group. As things stand and under the welfare reform bill these people, who have been declared not fit to work at the moment but potentially fit to work in the next 2 to 5 years WITH the right support (by one of the designers of ESA) will be mandated to attend the work programme if Atos has decided that they will be fit to work within 3 months. Since a vast number of people are currently waiting for appeals against their placement in the WRAG rather than the support group, and since such appeals are taking a year or more, and since many people have overturned the decision on appeal, it is highly likely that people who are far to sick to work are being made to take part in the work programme and as part of that are being mandated to attend unpaid work placements. This is clearly not right in a society that claims to support those who are too sick to work. As patron of an ME support group you should be aware that many people with ME are being placed in the WRAG and later moved to the ESA support group on appeal, and these people can suffer serious setbacks as a result of being made to participate in the work programme or even work focussed interviews.

Yesterday employment minister Mr Grayling supposedly made concessions to guarantee there would be no use of sanctions on people withdrawing from the work experience scheme. However I have seen the statement yesterday from the minister in which he stated that “The work experience scheme remains and is totally voluntary.” and also that “The sanction regime remains in place.” As I understand it he has not admitted that whatever the rules may be, job seekers are routinely led to believe that placements are mandatory and threatened with loss of benefits if they fail to start or withdraw from the placement. There may be a small technicality here but in practice such work placements are not optional from the point of view of the job seeker. Again, I have evidence of these allegations taken from the DWP’s own documentation and from several people subject to compulsory work which I can forward to you if you wish.

I therefore would like you to make it plain to the employment minister that he must move towards removing all sanctions for failure to attend work experience placements.

Please do not reply to this email with a standard “everything is fine” letter, as I find these to be rather dismissive and I would be grateful if you could address the points that I have raised here.

Yours Sincerely,

Steven Sumpter.

PS

I have heard of cases where job seekers who have declined work experience have been immediately sent for mandatory work activity instead. This seems a vindictive way for job centre advisers to force compliance.

I also have found some of the responses from Iain Duncan Smith, Chris Grayling and David Cameron to be highly offensive. I object to being called “job snobs” “trotskyites” “Anti-capitalist extremists” “unemployed anarchists” and to protests being attributed to the SWP.  These are intended as insults, not arguments, and are not what I expect to hear from government ministers.

Welfare Reform Bill Will Be Made Law But It’s Not The End

Pseudodeviant

This is a guest post written by @pseudodeviant who blogs at pseudo-living.blogspot.com

 

 

 

So that’s it.
Tonight Lord Best forwarded an amendment to the WRB, asking that the government did detailed research on the impacts of the bill so that if it does – as many fear – cause more harm than good it can be dealt with quickly.

Lot’s of Lords spoke in support but eventually Lord Freud convinced the Peer that his amendment was not necessary and Lord Best withdrew. Now there will be no more ping-pong between the Lords and the Commons. The bill will become law. It just has to get Royal Assent, and that is a given.

It’s so sad to think that all the amendments put forward to help those who are vulnerable have systematically been denied by a blinkered government waving ‘finacial priviliage’ at any hint of Lords opposition.

Is this the end? No.

The big fight is just beginning.

Lawyers and Human Rights specialists are gearing up to fight it as are we. Remember the Poll Tax made law but was eventually defeated. We can work towards more protests and direct actions in the coming year.

The PIP consultation is currently ongoing so we have a chance to mitigate some of the damage it might cause. Go to wearespartacus.org.uk and you will find easy read documents, help and a sheet you just have to fill in to send off to the DWP so your voice is heard. There is even a forum you can join to get help and meet others like you. I’m making the most of it 😉

In a year and a bit we’ll have another general election and we can show the government exactly what we think of them. We’ll also have had our chance to get our stories out nationally by then.

It’s important we try to make this a major area for Labour and other parties to focus on so they don’t forget the WRB should they come back into power. We can keep up the pressure there.

And those are just the first things off the top of my head.

Let’s no get too disheartened about this, there is still plenty more we can do.

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.

Mandatory unpaid work – the evidence

The government are relying on technicalities to claim that unpaid work experience is voluntary. In fact they claim that they are entirely voluntary which is blatantly not true. There are multiple schemes which involve unpaid work. Some of them are:

  • The Work Experience Scheme
  • The Work Programme
  • Mandatory Work Activity
  • Community Action Programme
  • Sector-Based Work Academies

Government ministers have been trying to direct attention to the first of these, the work experience scheme, which is almost voluntary. Technically a job seeker has the option to attend work experience or not. The acknowledged element of compulsion is that once someone has been in a work experience placement for a week they can be sanctioned if they leave it. In practice, job seekers may be sanctioned if they refuse to start a placement too. The wording of the standard letter on being sent to do work experience is very strong and does not give the impression that the placement is optional, and people on the scheme have frequently reported that their advisers led them to believe that they had no choice.

The second scheme on the list, the work programme, leads do compulsory unpaid work in two steps. First, referral to the work programme – where a contracted provider administers training, skills development and work experience for the job seeker – is mandatory after a defined time period. Job seekers aged 18 – 24 will be referred after 9 months, aged 25+ after 12 months, and ESA claimants in the work related activity group within 3 – 6 months. Secondly, once on the work programme it is mandatory to take up a work experience placement when ordered to by the company running the programme.

The third scheme, mandatory work activity, speaks for itself. It is up to the Job Centre adviser to choose whether or when to send someone for mandatory work. It is supposed to be used when job seekers have behaved badly or refused to comply with direction from the Job Centre, and to provide discipline for those who have never worked. In practice it can be used vindictively by the adviser with no recourse for the job seeker. Unpaid work under this scheme is supposed to only be work that directly benefits the community but again in practice things are different and the work can be something that does not benefit the community directly, but instead brings profit to an employer who does some community work as well.

Government ministers and the DWP have tried to portray these schemes as being for young people aged 18 to 24 however that is not the case. People of all ages have been sent to do unpaid and unskilled work including those with decades of experience or multiple qualifications in their subject.

Here is an image showing the standard letter sent to job seekers on being sent to do work experience:

Work experience letter: you could lose benefit

The letter states:

Please note that if, without a good reason, you fail to start, fail to go when expected or stop going to the provision mentioned above (as in Section 19(5)(b) of the Jobseekers Act 1995), any future payments of Jobseeker’s Allowance could cease to be payable or could be payable at a lower rate. You could also lose entitlement to credit of National Insurance contributions. (Emphasis mine)

DWP memo DMG 08/11 JSA and work experience includes proof that people can be sanctioned for refusing to undertake unpaid work. Here’s a screenshot in case that document disapears:
DWP memo - JSA and work experience

WORK EXPERIENCE AND SANCTIONS

6 From 5.4.11 JSA may not be payable or it may be payable at a reduced rate to
claimants who are entitled to JSA
and have

3. after being notified by an Emp O of a place on a Work Experience, without good cause (see DMG 34751 – 34752)

3.1 refused or failed to apply for it or
3.2 refused to accept it when offered

or

4. neglected to avail themselves of a reasonable opportunity of a place on a Work Experience (see DMG 34757 – 34758)

This DWP Work Programme Statistical Release proves that referral to the work programme is mandatory. This image from page 7 shows the detail:

Work programme referal points

Another DWP document, Work Programme Provider Guidance chapter 3, proves that work experience is mandatory when sent as part of the work programme. Please note that the document has been modified to remove all trace of mandatory work experience, however you may see the original here. Work Programme Provider Guidance Chapter 3 (Original)

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.

I also have letters sent to Aldston about the Community Action Programme which use similar terms to those used for the work experience scheme. See more at Aldston’s blog.

DWP letter - referral to community action programme

Provider letter - referral to community action programme

 

Apart from all that proof that unpaid work is mandatory, we also have strong indications that work experience placements are not helpful.

The DWP themselves comissioned a review of Workfare schemes in other countries, and you can read that for yourself – A comparative review of workfare programmes in the United States, Canada and Australia

Their report concluded that Workfare schemes may actually make someone less likely to find work:

There is little evidence that workfare increases the likelihood of finding work. It can even reduce employment chances by limiting the time available for job search and by failing to provide the skills and experience valued by employers.

Subsidised (‘transitional’) job schemes that pay a wage can be more effective in raising employment levels than ‘work for benefit’ programmes. Workfare is least effective in getting people into jobs in weak labour markets where unemployment is high.

Full Fact have discovered that rates for leaving Job Seekers Allowance are the same whether work experience is taken or not.

Rates of leaving JSA

There is evidence that job seekers are being used purely as free unskilled labour rather than given beneficial experience:

Jobseekers forced to clean private homes and offices for nothing [Guardian]

In a clear conflict of interest work programme provider A4e has set people to work in their own offices:

A4e compelled jobseekers to work unpaid in its own offices [Guardian]

Finally, it is obvious that there are problems with sending people receiving ESA on the work programme:

My current experience for WRAG  [ABC of ESA]

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

Government taps sick and disabled people as source of free labour

Chris Grayling holds chemo pills - "Repave my driveway and I might give them back"
Image by @dochackenbush

In an astonishing revelation today we find that the Welfare Reform Bill will apply the “Claimant Commitment” that must be agreed to by job seekers to people in the Work Related Activity Group of Employment Support Allowance. Sanctions will apply for failure to keep to the agreement.

Let me explain: people who are too sick or disabled to work can claim ESA. After a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) they will be placed in either the Support Group or the Work Related Activity Group. (WRAG.) People in the support group are considered completely unable to work, at least until the next assessment, while those placed in the WRAG are considered to be unable to work now but potentially able to work within the next few years, with the right help to do so. (One designer of ESA has said that the intention was within two to five years.) People in this group are required to  attend regular work focussed interviews with an advisor at the Job Centre to discuss ways in which they might expect to return to work despite their illness or disability.

It is frightening to discover, therefore, that under the new Universal Credit people who are placed in the WRAG will be subject to the same agreement and conditions as those who are unemployed. This will include the same work experience and work placement schemes, run by the same private commercial providers, and with the same sanctions for refusing to take part. Given the likelihood of dropping out due to sickness and the inability of job centre advisers to be flexible about such things it is highly likely that sanctions will be applied to people merely because they are too sick to do what is asked of them.

What this means is that sick and disabled people who may be completely unable to work at this time can be sent to work for one of the various charities or companies taking part, without pay. The placements are intended to last for eight weeks but unlike for job seekers, there is no time limit for disabled people. People could be sent to work without pay for an unlimited time on the whim of the job centre advisor or the commercial contractor who the person has been sent to.

This is made even worse because the WCA, run by Atos,  is notoriously inaccurate, with many people being incorrectly placed in the WRAG or declared fit to work, but later overturning the decision on appeal. There are lots of examples of people who have been judged fit for work by Atos being sent to the Job Centre to claim Job Seekers Allowance only to be refused help and turned away because the job centre staff can clearly see that they are unable to work. These are people who are supposedly more capable than those in the WRAG.

This clause of the welfare reform bill has remained undiscovered until now but now that it is out in the open we must make a fuss, we must protest. This is too far and the government must be stopped by any means necessary.

Please sign the petition to stop and review the Welfare Reform Bill and the petition to abolish work for benefit schemes.

Disabled people face unlimited unpaid work or cuts in benefit [Guardian]

Government work placement schemes little more than slave labour [A Latent Existence]

Who benefits from The Work Programme?  [A Latent Existence]

Benefit guilt

I recently wrote about my income in detail. I did so partly because the benefits that I receive were listed in a newspaper (My own fault) without actually explaining them, and the amounts caused a few negative comments.

Since making my income public one thing that has been bothering me is that while my wife and I now receive enough money to live on and DLA to provide for the extra costs of my care and mobility, a vast  number of my friends do not. And I feel sort of guilty about that. I know that I shouldn’t, I am getting the proper benefits for my circumstances, but I feel horrible that other people – many with greater need than me – don’t get the help that they are supposed to get.

I went through a Work Capability Assessment with Atos and I was placed in the support group. I know that I am sick enough to merit ESA and DLA but it was always in doubt whether Atos would recognise that. I can’t help wondering what would have happened if my journey to the assessment centre hadn’t been so awful. (You can read about that travesty on a previous blog post.) If I hadn’t arrived shaken, stressed and exhausted perhaps my assessment would have gone quite differently – Atos have been criticised for ignoring variable health problems and could easily have judged me differently if I had appeared well that day.

Perhaps it is chance that I ended up in the Support Group for ESA rather than the Work Related Activity Group or even found fit for work. But then my DLA was awarded on the basis of the Work Capability Assessment too, even though that isn’t supposed to happen until PIP is introduced. So is that two benefits received by pure chance? Being awarded ESA helped me to get DLA and getting DLA has increased the amount that I get from ESA, and both of those ensure that I get housing benefit too. At some point I may get carers allowance although that might lower the amount that I get from ESA.

The point is, I now have enough to live on without being in poverty and always struggling to pay the bills. Many other people are not so lucky. What I really want is for access to these benefits to be available to all the other people that need it. I have so many friends who haven’t got the benefits that they so desperately need. Friends who can’t walk, or can’t get out of bed, or can’t cook for themselves. Friends who have been through the assessments by Atos and refused on absurd grounds. Friends who are in hospital near death and don’t get benefits. I was really terrified that I wasn’t going to get my ESA, and the form filling for benefits and the assessment process itself made me more stressed which led to me being more physically ill too.

Even when people have managed to get all the benefits to which they are entitled it isn’t always enough. I need relatively few adjustments to live. A wheelchair, a shower seat. Some people need hoists and lifting equipment and wet rooms and stairlifts and bigger rooms to fit it all in… and the list goes on. Of course some of that can be paid for in other ways such as from council funds or (until now) the Independent Living Fund but many people end up sorting out their own adaptions. I talked to my GP about getting an NHS wheelchair yesterday and she suggested that it would be quicker and easier to buy one for myself. (Not that I can’t try to get an NHS one.) That happens a lot with costlier items too.

Clearly the benefits system isn’t great at the moment. It’s obvious that it needs reform to solve these problems. But – and this is an important but – the Welfare Reform Bill doesn’t solve these problems. It makes them far worse. It abolishes multiple sources of funding, it cuts the DLA / PIP budget by 20% and it restricts who can get help and who will receive PIP. Government ministers have told us that those most in need will get more help. What they are less keen to tell everyone is that the extra help for those most in need is being snatched away from those who are only quite in need. If you need help but not loads of help, that’s tough. Because the government says you’re not going to get any help at all.