A New Place Of Exile

Richard Hutton

Category: Disability & Welfare

Government Renounces Any Liability For Harm Suffered By Disabled Benefits Claimants

In reply to the following question, asked by Margaret Garioch (Countess Of Mar) in the House of Lords:

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what person or organisation is legally liable for the wellbeing of benefits claimants who are found to be fit for work under the work capability assessment and who are then made to work.

David Freud answered at length:

The purpose of the work capability assessment (WCA) is to assist DWP decision-makers in assessing eligibility for benefit, or levels of benefit. The WCA is not a medical diagnosis and the decision affects benefit only; it does not oblige anyone to work.

Whilst the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is legally responsible for all benefit decisions made by officials of the department on his behalf, there is no legal responsibility held by the Secretary of State for the well-being of benefit claimants.

Therefore, neither DWP nor WCA healthcare professionals are liable for any adverse consequence suffered by a claimant following a decision that the claimant is fit for work or for work-related activity.

It has long been known by the Department for Work and Pensions that a high number of people made to attend Work-Related Activity Groups have died within a short space of time. So, not only do the government know this – they also refuse to take responsibility for it.

Source: Written Answers, Column WA301, Wednesday 19th December 2012 (Hansard)


Are ‘cultures of worklessness’ passed down through generations? – No.

From the Guardian today:

Families experiencing long-term worklessness remained committed to the value of work. Workless parents were unanimous in not wanting their children to end up in the same situation as themselves

The article was written in response to findings revealed in a study made by Teeside University, on behalf of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation. Teeside put it more strongly than the above quote indicates:

“There was no evidence of a culture of worklessness; no evidence people didn’t want to work and were happy to be dependent on welfare. In fact, workless parents were keen that their children do better than they had and actively helped them to find jobs”

So, the reality is the exact opposite of the myths peddled by successive government ministers, and their lackeys in the press: the longer somebody is unemployed, the more they value work – not just for themselves, but for their children.

As the JRF noted:

Across the generations, people stressed the social, psychological and financial value of working for a living, in preference to what Ryan Blenkinsopp (54, Middlesbrough) called the “miserable existence” of long-term unemployment

The importance of work, financially and psychologically, increases the longer that somebody is unable to find employment – as has long been known, given the upsurge in mental health problems experienced by the long-term unemployed.

In fact, what the Teeside researchers found was particularly revealing about the values children of unemployed parents are brought up with in the most deprived areas:

After further searching, we managed to recruit 20 families where there was long-term worklessness across two generations and interviewed family members in depth. It was clear that these families did not inhabit of ‘a culture of worklessness’. People told us that they deplored ‘the miserable existence’ of a life on benefits. Families experiencing long-term worklessness remained committed to the value of work. Workless parents were unanimous in not wanting their children to end up in the same situation as themselves.

They actively tried to help their children find jobs (for example, by accompanying them to job interviews to provide moral support). As one 50-year-old father said: ‘What I want is for my family to have jobs. They’re not asking for anything big, that’s the thing, they are not, like, being greedy.’ Unemployed young adults in these families were strongly committed to conventional values about work as part of a normal transition to adulthood. They were keen to avoid the poverty, worklessness and other problems experienced by their parents.

This has always, always, been obvious. Maybe if the media actually listened to the long-term workless instead of vilifying us, people might be spared all the political nastiness, and the bullying, sanctimonious hypocrisy.

For the full report, see Are ‘cultures of worklessness’ passed down the generations? by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment

First-hand accounts by people subject to the Work Capability Assessments:

In July of this year, investigative journalism from Panorama and Dispatches exposed the suffering experienced by claimants of Employment Support Allowance (which replaces Incapacity Benefit) going through the WCA process. The documentaries also revealed something of what goes on behind the scenes at Atos Healthcare, who undertake the assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions. MP’s have raised concerns about the experiences of their constituents; questions have been posed to Ministers; debates have been held in the Commons; the British Medical Association, medical professional bodies and charities, both large and small, have condemned the process; the National Audit Office has highlighted the waste of money from unnecessary appeals; and disabled and sick people have been working continually under extraordinarily difficult circumstances to expose the suffering and hardship they’re experiencing. But still the process continues; neither the Department for Work and Pensions nor Atos Healthcare have been held to account.

The full report is available by courtesy of We Are Spartacus.

Social-Security Cuts Will Cause Economic Damage, IMF Report Reveals

Although the media has largely ignored it, the International Monetary Fund recently acknowledged that cutting public expenditure will damage the economy in countries such as Britain. It wasn’t candid enough to make this explicit – instead, the explanation was provided in a short sub-section within a 250 page report; and was written in a highly complex idiom, liable to easy misunderstanding:

“We find the coefficient on planned fiscal consolidation to be large, negative, and significant”[1].

The import of this is virtually impossible to discern without being put in context: ‘fiscal consolidation’ is the IMF’s euphemism for deficit reduction – that is, cuts to public expenditure. ‘Coefficient’ is their synonym for unemployment[2]. What this really amounts to is that, having compared the actual growth of Gross Domestic Product to the predictions they made in 2010, the IMF are almost brave enough to accept that they significantly underestimated the impact of austerity policies on economic recovery – and overestimated the ability of these policies to encourage economic growth.

But, is it clear that cuts to social security actually damage the economy? Yes: the IMF accept that for every pound cut from government spending, the reduction of economic activity as a whole is between 90 pence – £1.70: which is potentially far higher than the one pound-per-pound ratio that their original predictions were based on[3]. So, cutting £10 billion public expenditure on welfare will cost the economy between £9 billion – £17 billion.

What makes the IMF’s report particularly significant is that the IMF themselves demanded cutting public expenditure in the name of economic growth: the reality is that these cuts are – at best – failing to encourage growth; and are potentially costing the country much more than they are saving.

Shortly after they issued their report, the IMF suggested that Britain should defer further cuts to public expenditure[4]. By contrast, at the Conservative party conference, the Chancellor George Osborne vowed to cut a further £10 billion more from public spending on social security, on top of the £18 billion already scheduled for removal[5].

So it makes no financial sense to keep cutting expenditure on welfare. The need for it has not diminished – on the contrary, it has increased steadily during the last two years. But, if cutting it amounts to financial mismanagement, and undermines the economy, then what reason does the government have for pursuing the reduction of social security?

[1] Box 1.1., p. 41 in World Economic Outlook by the International Monetary Fund; October 2012: http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2012/02/pdf/text.pdf

[2] Firstly, the IMF determined that this was “not driven by crisis economies”, nor by the “role of sovereign debt problems”; it then tested variables including “pre-crisis external imbalances”, “systemic banking crises”, “financial market stress”, and deemed these not to have been responsible. It is the austerity measures which are. Unemployment was deemed to be the single-most significant factor. See p. 41 in World Economic Outlook by the International Monetary Fund; October 2012 http://www.imf.org/external/pubs/ft/weo/2012/02/pdf/text.pdf

[3] For a much more expert analysis than I can offer here, see Keynes was right, IMF admits. And the deficit fetishists are wrong by Owen Tudor cf. TouchStone; 9th October 2012: http://touchstoneblog.org.uk/2012/10/keynes-was-right-imf-admits-and-the-deficit-fetishists-are-wrong/

[4] “If growth should fall significantly below current … projections, countries with room for manoeuvre should smooth their planned adjustment over 2013 and beyond. This includes … the United Kingdom,” (ellipses in original), quoted in IMF says UK should defer spending cuts if growth disappoints by Reuters; 9th October 2012: http://uk.reuters.com/article/2012/10/09/uk-imf-britain-idUKBRE89801S20121009

[5] See:

“In his speech in Birmingham, the chancellor made clear he was not planning to change course and said a further £16bn of savings must be found by 2015/16 to meet his target of balancing the budget within five years. This, he said, would include cutting £10bn more from the welfare bill by 2016-17, on top of the £18bn announced in 2010”

in Tory conference: George Osborne in £10bn benefit cut vow by Brian Wheeler, CF. BBC; 8th October 2012: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-19865692

These cuts to public expenditure could potentially cost the economy £57.8 billion.

ATOS Make £40 million Profit From Work Capability Assessments, While Woman In Need Of Constant Care Is Denied Support

An Atos report declared that a severely disabled woman, Ruth Amin, was capable of work, and should begin seeking employment within the following 12 months. Despite requiring constant one-to-one care, having no concept of danger, and needing to attend life skills classes in order to learn “practical things like how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea”, Amin was referred to the Work Related Activity Group, and mandated to begin preperations for securing employment. Hundreds of thousands of former claimants of incapacity benefit have had the same experience during the last three years. Amin’s assessment report contained a number of glaring errors – including classifying her as male.

Mencap consider Amin’s case to be one of the less extreme examples:

“The evidence we’ve seen suggests an assessment process that isn’t working for lots of people with a learning disability. An assessment designed to determine a person’s ‘fitness for work’ needs to take into account the realities of the barriers experienced by disabled people in getting a job – things like job availability, the prejudices of employers, the support people need to overcome the barriers they face. The assessment in its current form just doesn’t do that.”

By contrast to disabled people being denied financial support, and being treated so poorly, ATOS are set to make £40 million profit from its assessments of the disabled. According to the Daily Record, these figures were unwittingly brought to light by a DWP report, which had not been censored properly:

Titled “Atos Risk Management Plan”, the dossier shows a predicted £40,535,679 profit from the £206million Atos contract for Scotland and northern England. That would pay the disability living allowance of 10,851 people for a year, based on the average weekly payment of £71.84. Atos will collect the colossal sum if they manage to put 15 per cent more people through their tests than broadly expected.

Even if the number of tests carried out is in line with predictions, they will make £28,636,419 by 2017 – enough to pay a year’s disability allowance for 7664 people. And if they drop 15 per cent below their expected total, Atos will still be in the money, making a profit of £16,712,945.

The Daily Record article contains a number of first-hand accounts of people subject to assessments, and declared fit for work. For other accounts, see the Guardian’s letter page ‘Terrible Human Cost Of Benefit Cuts’.  The Guardian also have a video of Ruth Amin’s mother, Cecilila, discussing her daughter’s assessment by ATOS. For another article about ATOS £40 million profit, see ‘Campaigners’ fury as controversial disability test company Atos set to land huge £40m profit’ by The Mirror.

For an example of how the government censors data relating to ATOS’ cash-flow, see: ATOS Financial Risk Management, published in blacked-out form by the UK Parliament.

Disability benefit fraud costs the DWP £80 million. Error costs the disabled/incapacitated £340 million.

 Benefit fraud is classified as instances where all three of the following conditions are in evidence:

1) the basic conditions for receipt of benefit, or the rate of benefit in payment, are not being met;
2) the customer can reasonably be expected to be aware of the effect on entitlement; and
3) benefit stops or reduces as a result of the review.

During 2010-11, the fraud and error rate for disability living allowance was 1.9% (£220 million), of which fraud specifically accounted for 0.5% (£60 million). The fraud and error rate for Incapacity Benefit was 2.4% (£130 million), of which 0.3% (£20 million) was due to fraud. Put together, that’s £80 million. By contrast, official error costs £160 million.

However, Disability Living Allowance was underpaid by £300 million: £290 million of which was due to customer error; whilst incapacity benefit was underpaid by £40 million – all of which was due to official error.

So, in sum: fraud costs the DWP £80 million. Error costs the DWP £160 million, and costs the disabled/incapacitated £340 million.

So why isn’t this fact headline news?

Source: Fraud And Error In The Benefit System: 2010/11 Estimates 



Citizens Advice Calls For Financial Penalties On Atos

“Citizens Advice today renewed its call for the government to impose financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate work capability assessment report that they produce.

The call follows National Audit Office criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions’ failure to penalise Atos – the private company with whom it has a contract to carry out ‘fitness for work’ medical assessments – for under-performance.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“We wouldn’t allow a private contractor to let us down on the Olympics, we can’t allow one to let down disabled people. Mistakes by Atos have a human cost and a cost to the tax payer. Getting medical assessments right first time is absolutely essential to ensuring that seriously ill and disabled people get the support they are entitled to, and cutting the number of unnecessary appeals.

“Private companies on government contracts must be accountable to the public. Government should act now to put in place regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of work capability assessment (WCA) reports and look at imposing financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate report that they produce.”

CAB advisers helped with more than 97,000 ESA problems in the three months January to March 2012 – up 71 per cent compared with the same quarter last year, making ESA the fastest growing advice issue seen in bureaux.

In the same three month period, bureaux recorded an 82 per cent increase in advice about appeals against ESA decisions. Over a quarter of all advice given by bureaux about ESA concerns appeals. Latest official DWP figures say 32 per cent of appeals against an ESA decision are successful and CAB advisers estimate the success rate at appeal where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented is around 80 per cent”.


For further reading see Right first time? An indicative study of the accuracy of work capability assessment reports which discusses research indicating that “many seriously ill and disabled people are being wrongly denied benefits because of serious inaccuracies in an unacceptably high number of medical assessment reports” used to decide who qualifies for Employment Support Allowance.