Benefits and targets: Sickness and disability are not the same

Chris Grayling Minister For Work And Pensions Talks To… News Photo Getty Images UK 104714927 150338 300x200 Benefits and targets: Sickness and disability are not the same“Do you have the potential to return to work?” states Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment. It seems a very reasonable question, and when the idea of Employment Support Allowance was initially mooted during the mid noughties at a time of high employment and economic boom it was an admirable aim. Disabled people are deeply disadvantaged and discriminated against in the labour market, but with considerable skills many would love to work. However, like all disadvantaged people there is no one answer for those with disabilities wanting to gain employment.

The shiny pink elephant in the room of policy makers and certain sectors of the disability lobby is the complete exclusion of sick people from this group. Sickness and disability are not the same issue, but for benefits purposes we are all lumped in together and labelled as ‘disabled’ regardless of condition. Whilst it’s important that young people growing up with disabilties be educated, skilled, prepared for a competitive labour market, and taught that they are just as valuable as any other employee, it’s also equally important to recognise the vast difference between those needs and those of someone in their early 50’s, who has worked all their adult life, and now become too ill to work with conditions as diverse as breast cancer, Parkinsons, or Huntington’s Chorea.

Chris Grayling would like to know, “is it really the case that these people can’t return to any work?”. The answer is a shameful yeah but no but yeah but no. Of course it is not the case that young, skilled disabled people can’t do any work – it may be impossible to acheive full-time work, it may require large amounts of support from the NHS, social services, an accessible transport system, the correct equipment, employers and access to work, but work is often possible and desperately desired if those essential factors are all in place. In fact, we had an impressive example of such a situation in the Remploy factories. Remploy urgently needed modernisation and the removal of its entire managment structure, which bled most of its funding into huge salaries, but could, with the correct will, have been reshaped into a modern system of disabled led co-operatives providing a supportive employment environment for those who need it and support towards mainstream employment for others. However, Remploy is set to all but disappear, with 1600+ severely disabled people being made redundant. Promises of support into mainstream employment for those people ring hollow in a time of recession and austerity, particularly as 90% of those previously made redundant from Remploy in better economic times are still without work.

But now ask yourself the same question about a 50 year old woman with Huntingtons Chorea, a rapidly progressing neurological disease, who’s been medically retired from work having watched her mother die horrifically of the same disease and knows she will be lucky to have a few years left before losing all her faculties and eventually facing a terrible death choking on her own saliva. This scenario does not fit into the inflexible welfare system which demands that NHS doctors declare that someone has less than 6 months left to live before they can be considered as terminal. Even if everyone knows they will be beyond terminal in two years that is not terminal in terms of eligibility to benefits. It’s a graphic description, but these are exactly the people Chris Grayling thinks could go back to the workplace, failing to make any real distinction between the different needs of people, some of whom could work with the right support and some of whom are simply too ill to do so.

These issues and more were finally exposed last night by Dispatches undercover investigation into Atos, the company contracted to carry out the Work Capability Assessment for Employment Support Allowance, and followed by Panorama taking a wider look at the WCA system, and in particular the increased cost burden already being felt by NHS GP’s and mental health services who are having to see people previously stable in the community who are becoming ill and needing additional health support as a result of the WCA process. This was accurately described by one reviewer as a “howl of despair”, this one hour of proper investigative journalism is the culmination of four years of fear, desperation and terror amongst sick and disabled people. As a community we were concerned but hopeful when ESA was initially introduced, some naive enough to believe the promises that this was intended to be a system to enable people to work, others still hopeful that would be the case but wondering how that would happen against a background of already reducing social care, access to equipment or support services to even live the most basic of independent lives.

The programmes gave case studies which will come as no surprise to campaigners or those familiar with the inflexible nature of the WCA, but will appear extremely shocking to the wider public who still believe that people they perceive as sick and disabled are deserving of and entitled to social security. The key to ESA and the WCA is simple; a brutal and ruthless desire to reduce the numbers claiming benefits. This desire was always political, originating from a three week report commissioned by Labour’s James Purnell to be carried out by the investment banker, the now enobled Lord Freud. At that time David Freud was an investment banker who freely admitted he had no knowledge of welfare, sickness or disability, but in a mere three weeks concluded that he could reduce the numbers of people claiming incapacity benefits by as much as two thirds, or almost two million.

There has been huge contention about whether Atos or HCP’s are incentivised to remove people from benefits. Whilst no evidence was presented that there are financial incentives, it was clear that HCP’s work under huge pressure to see a miniumum of eight claimants a day, regardless of the complexity of their needs and that should an HCP deviate from an ‘average’ number of people put into the support group, described in a training session as as low as 11 or 12%, they will be immediately audited. It was not mentioned whether HCP’s are audited for finding too many people fit for work, or for their treatment of claimants, but it would seem likely that if that does occur the targets that aren’t targets but averages are applied using a vastly different percentage level. Also, vitally the averages that aren’t targets but are called norms are applied in exactly the same manner to those initially claiming ESA as they are to those transferring from the old Incapacity Benefit. As approximately two thirds of people claiming IB are also entitled to Disability Living Allowance, which has much tighter standards of eligibility than IB, it is reasonable to suggest the IB transfer group already have a very different level of sickness and disability than the ‘normal’ population who are going straight to ESA with a more balanced mix of people. Some have short term conditions and need support for a period of time before returning to the work place.

It seems utterly nonsensical to apply such tight norms with no variation to these two disparate groups. It is also utterly facile to repeatedly claim that there are no targets, when it is abundantly clear that by using a system of statistical norms the only two possibilities are that these norms are imposed as a de facto target by the Department of Work and Pensions upon Atos, or those tasked with setting up the system of norms were as equally ignorant of welfare, sickness and disability as David Freud, and additionally their own areas of expertise, not realising that norms based upon ‘forecasts’ will create a system of targets. Put simply it’s conspiracy or cock up; either Ministers and Atos are quite happy to justify to themselves that it is not a lie to repeatedly deny the existences of targets because they really aren’t targets, they are norms based on forecasts which definitely aren’t targets, or they are so spectacularly stupid that they can’t work out for themselves that targets that aren’t targets because they are norms based on forecasts create targets whether you intend them to or not. Neither scenario is inspiring of confidence in our politicians or Atos.

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  • Peter Stock

    My neighbour claimed for about 6yrs the maximum, while
    feigning disability. She also conned her employee and got
    a massive payout for a faux bad back. Yes it does make me
    angry when I have friends with serious disabilities that claimed
    the minimum, while she was getting more than twice as much.
    This is the reality the genuinely sick are too ill to claim and the
    cheaters claim the maximum from day 1. It is also the genuinely
    sick who get their benefits removed as they can’t fight their corner
    and the cheats who have all the tricks and gift of the gab.

  • Bedlam & Babel

    Thank you – you are quite right.

    I shall also have a look at “Down With All That” which appears to be interesting.

  • Bedlam & Babel

    Thank you for the link, which I shall look at properly soon.

  • Bedlam & Babel

    Thank you.

    I normally follow the note of thanks with “It’s my pleasure” but I’m afraid it isn’t any more because, as you say, we seem to be entering terrifying times.

    The best we can do is keep posting the truth when and where we can.

    I do normally bring in the media element, but now tend to just type quickly whatever is in my mind and press send.

    It isn’t as if any of this is going to go away before I have the next chance to post another version of the same thing, is it?

    As you say, fascism.

    Best wishes.

  • majentah

    Absolutely. All we can do is say the truth in places like this and in the sewer that is the Daily Mail. Those who believe the propoganda are currently rubbing their hands in glee at the torment of the disabled. Their relish is born of ignorance more than cruelty (one hopes) and I believe that the government will, in its arrogance and ambition, overplay its hand; one day there will be a tipping point and people will wake up to the cruel malevolence of the Tories.

    Best wishes to you.

  • Gooner_RVP

    1 in 4 people suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives, is it really that much of a stretch to suggest 1 in 10 people of a working age are in need of benefits related to their inability to work? I really don’t think the most vulnerable in society should be forced to pay for economic problems that they did very little to cause. Tax evasion and even aggressive tax avoidance are as far as I’m concerned far more pressing issues if we’re worried about our National debt (which isn’t really the case, what we’re seeing is the most highly planned and highly financed social engineering project in history).

  • Leon Maurice-Jones

    Work you slaves. Keep working to produce disposable rubbish so that you have to keep working to produce more obsolete rubbish. Work to stay poor. Work to distroy our environment and to keep bankers really rich.

  • Jean Hughes

    To all the people on here who have commented that they “know” someone who is fiddling the benefits system. Have you reported them?!

  • Jean Hughes

    Did you report them? If not why not

  • Alan Usher

    I have Crohn’s Disease, among other illnesses, and nearly eighteen months ago Crohn’s tried to kill me, my bowel perforated, I had septicemia and one of the medications I was taken had given me pancreatitis, to cap it off, I then went into toxic shock. I required emergency surgery, in fact, I was kept under anesthetic for four days while I had two operations. When I was brought round, I could barely move due to my body having wasted away losing 3 stone in weight in those four days, I spent a week in intensive care, and a total of ten weeks in hospital with a raft of complications and problems. It was six weeks before I could manage a few steps I was so ill, I really did have a near miss and was lucky to be alive. Being self-employed I had no choice but to apply for ESA, yet three months after having surgery and still being a physical wreck, barely able to walk or hardly do anything for myself and needing round the clock care, I was sent for a capability for work assessment by the DWP, it seems they doubted I was actually in ill heath, they also doubted the view of my surgeon and consultant who said that recovery would be close to two years. So I had to try and drag myself, with a lot of help, to my local ATOS offices, where I could not even begin to attempt the excuse for a medical assessment, I was found clearly unable to work, but I was worried by the whole process and felt harassed, and all because the a by the numbers approach is followed with little no flexibility. If they’d asked any medical doctor whose care I was under, they would have told them I was not ready, hell, even a layperson could tell easily how ill I was at the time, but no, that’s too simple. I have always worked, and would prefer to work even now, no one that got a debilitating disease ever said they were glad to get it, then have to spend half their lives in bed and in hospital unable to take part in society, this is purely and simply victimisation, take it from me, the majority of employers would never employ someone with a permanent illness or disability no matter what any government says, that’s why I chose to be self employed in the first place, no one would employ me.

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