Friday, 17 February 2012

The Magical Thinking at DWP Gets Worse

In my earlier piece on Magical Thinking, I said that it was clear that DWP didn't have the faintest understanding of long-term disability, and were basing their policy on their lack of understanding.

Just how bad that lack of understanding is became chillingly clear in an article in the Guardian on Thursday. The article reports that in a meeting with disability groups in December, DWP announced that it intended to extend a Workfare-like scheme to disabled people. Under Workfare, unemployed people can be forced to take 30 hours a week of unpaid work experience for 8 weeks, or even 6 months in some cases, with the threat of being sanctioned and their benefit withdrawn if they do not comply. Workfare is already under severe fire from many unions and campaigning groups who view it as akin to slave labour, with people effectively working for far less than the minimum wage and jobs effectively taken permanently out of the marketplace as companies like Poundland, Asda, Tesco, Argos and others just take one Workfare assignee after another. Public pressure has already forced several companies, such as Sainsbury's and Waterstones, to withdraw from the scheme.

For disabled people the potential of Workfare alone would be bad enough, but when asked about time limits on the disability scheme, a DWP official said "There are no plans to introduce a maximum time limit." and also made it clear that sanctions would be applied to force people onto the scheme, or punish them if they refused: "Ministers strongly feel there is a link-up to support those moving close to the labour market, and the individual's responsibility to engage with the support. Ministers feel sanctions are an incentive for people to comply with their responsibility."

The scheme will be targeted at people in the ESA WRAG, which includes people with long term disabilities which are severe enough to mean they are not currently capable of work, but are expected to potentially be capable at some point in the future. As I made clear in my earlier article, that 'potentially' means 'might become capable', not 'will become capable' and for many people we are looking at years not decades of them being unfit for work. Unfortunately DWP are sticking their head in the sand in an attempt to deny the reality of disability and replace that reality with magical thinking in which we all have miracle cures at the 12 month mark and become miraculously capable of competing in the job market on an equal footing with none disabled people. Forcing anyone from WRAG into work is a subversion of what the scheme is supposed to stand for, and the limits on the scheme as currently proposed mean it could even be applied to someone with a terminal illness if they have more than six months to live. Worse, it could be applied to someone with severe mental health issues, with no regard for the consequences to their mental health, or to someone with a physical disability with no thought to the negative physical consequences for them.

We knew DWP was being run to an ideological diktat, sorry, Christian principles, with a disregard for facts that would have embarrassed the Communist Party of the Soviet Union at its worst, but this is a step far, far beyond the pale. I know both from direct personal experience and the experience of others that JCP Disability Employment Advisers have an appalling inability to recognise and understand disability, in particular how it will impact working (which considering that is their sole professional purpose is a pretty utter failure). To now give these people the ability to decide on their own initiative that a disabled person should be forced into a work assignment, with only the vaguest notion of what the consequences for that person's health might be, is taking the DWP's duty of care and tossing it not just out of the window but into a passing bin wagon.

A lot of stuff coming out of the DWP worries me, but the consequences of this notion truely scare me. The whole point of people being in the ESA WRAG is that they have been assessed as not currently fit for work, and to design a scheme whose sole purpose is to force people who aren't fit for work into work, and then to try and justify it both having no limits and being subject to sanctions, suggests that DWP are truly placing diktat above reality and that magical thinking has displaced any other form of thinking they might once have been capable of.

(Edited to correct who has withdrawn from Workfare - should have been Sainsburys, not Tesco, Tesco admit to having taken 1400 people under the scheme in the past 4 months, potentially 168,000 hours of unpaid work ).


  1. I have been extraorinarily lucky - but it shouldn't be down to luck, in that the advisor at my local Jobcentre is supportive. Obviously things might get difficult at the end of december 2012[I changed from income support to employment & support allowance last september]

  2. Here's a thought to focus the minds of JCP Disability Employment Advisers who plan to compel a disabled person to work. "Duty Of Care".
    I bet the courts will have a field day when a GP has signed someone as unfit for work, the DWP has overriddden the GP, and injury follows!

  3. Yea, it's all getting surreal, in a Nightmare on Elm Street kind of way.

  4. andf they wonder why we take our lives

  5. I am going to speak to my Disability Solicitor next week and see what the legalities of this are

  6. I agree with Mark, duty of care could be a huge liability for DWP here. Nor is it simply injury, I control the negative effects of my disability by spending most of my life flat on my back, now if you force me into a situation where I can't do that, then how seriously are you treating your duty of care towards me.


    Article 8 - Awareness-raising

    1. States Parties undertake to adopt immediate, effective and appropriate measures:

    a) To raise awareness throughout society, including at the family level, regarding persons with disabilities, and to foster respect for the rights and dignity of persons with disabilities;

    b) To combat stereotypes, prejudices and harmful practices relating to persons with disabilities, including those based on sex and age, in all areas of life;

    c) To promote awareness of the capabilities and contributions of persons with disabilities.

    2. Measures to this end include:

    a) Initiating and maintaining effective public awareness campaigns designed:

    To nurture receptiveness to the rights of persons with disabilities;
    To promote positive perceptions and greater social awareness towards persons with disabilities;
    To promote recognition of the skills, merits and abilities of persons with disabilities, and of their contributions to the workplace and the labour market;

    b) Fostering at all levels of the education system, including in all children from an early age, an attitude of respect for the rights of persons with disabilities;

    c) Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention;

    d) Promoting awareness-training programmes regarding persons with disabilities and the rights of persons with disabilities.


  9. This truly horrifies me. The idea behind it implies that sick and disabled people are choosing not to work rather than the workplace choosing not to support them into work. It would require a great deal of flexibility on the part of an employer and a great deal of support for the sick or disabled person to get them into a job that they could sustain in the long term without doing themselves irreparable harm. Where is the stick they are waving at the employers instead of at the sick and disabled?

  10. I've just been moved from IB (9 years) to ESA WRAG with no medical, my medical report form states in two places that I will not be expected to return to work in the longer term!! But I'm in the WRAG group, it makes no sense. Any attempt to make me work will end up with me in hospital or taking my own life from sheer pain, unfortunately pain that is invisible. I should appeal but I just can't face it, just doing the form has me utterly depressed and I usually can find some happy in my horrid life!

  11. "my medical report form states in two places that I will not be expected to return to work in the longer term!! But I'm in the WRAG group, it makes no sense."

    Yep, the definition of WRAG is completely incompatible with the people the ESA descriptors lead to being put into it. I'm not sure whether it's deliberate obfuscation to allow all the back to work rhetoric, or sheer, utter, cluelessness.