Saturday 1 December 2012

Disability Workfare – Even Worse Than We Feared

With Disability Workfare due to kick in on Monday, DWP chose the end of the week to throw out their press-release, clearly trying to restrict the ability of anyone to challenge it in any significant manner or even engage in a meaningful debate. The press-release claims that no disabled person will be mandated onto work experience, but in the very next sentence starts talking about mandating us onto subtly different Mandatory Work placements under threat of sanction. So if you turn down work experience it isn't difficult to guess what will follow.

We now know that from Monday contractors from the likes of A4E will be able to mandate a disabled person onto indefinite Mandatory Work Placements, and while the Work Programme Providers are reluctant to elaborate, and DWP claim otherwise, it is clear much of this will be with private sector companies. Of course with contractor bonus payments dependent on showing progress, and contractors being given targets for sanctioning people on the Work Programme (a fact revealed by DWP’s own research), the absolute certainty is that the immediate interests of individual contractors will be given precedence over the interests of the disabled people forced into their absolute control.

Chillingly the press-release states that Mandatory Work Placement will be used in “circumstances where someone refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working.” So the likelihood is that we will see Mandatory Work Placements being used as a club to force disabled people into treatments some medically unqualified A4E or Serco contractor desperate to get his monthly bonus thinks is appropriate, no matter whether that is the actual case. As an example, I have major back problems, for most people standard physiotherapy is an appropriate part of treatment for back issues, and we have seen suggestions of linking the Work Programme and physio in the past, but in my case my back problems are linked to my Hypermobility Syndrome, and the stretching aspects of normal physio would be actively damaging, but is that a nuance that a pressured A4E hack is going to understand, or care about? There are plenty of other examples of damaging treatments out there, for instance ME and exercise, which even has a powerful lobby of UK doctors backing it, no matter that the rest of the medical world disagrees with them.

The press-release even resorts to outright lying when it states “People who are too sick or disabled to work are placed in the support group for ESA”. All people in receipt of ESA have been classified as too sick to work by ATOS following a Work Capability Assessment and are placed in both the Support Group, and in the Work Related Activity Group, which is precisely the group that mandatory workfare will now apply to. The difference between the two groups is that someone in WRAG may, and only may, become able to work at some indefinite point in the future, and that point will often be years away, if at all (a point DWP are incredibly reluctant to acknowledge). Additionally, as Labour’s Shadow Employment Secretary, Stephen Timms, has pointed out, many people are being wrongly placed by ATOS into the WRAG when they should in fact be in Support Group. It is likely that this new policy will drive the already disastrous rate of WCA appeals even higher.

Indeed the prospects of disability workfare are so bad that even the major disability charities, who have clung to workfare through the worst of the protests against it, are now dropping it like a stinking corpse. The British Heart Foundation have already severed all ties, Cancer Research UK will pull out on the 1st January and Scope are urgently reviewing their position.

One aspect of disability workfare that seems not to have been explored is that there is going to be a huge issue around the legal concept of duty of care (i.e. the requirement to protect people from harm) for anyone taking on someone from ESA under a Mandatory Work Placement. People on ESA have by definition been found not currently fit for work, while duty of care applies to anyone an employer is in a supervisory position over (or to customers or even passers-by), it is not necessary for them to be the disabled person's employer in terms of law for duty of care to apply. It may well be the case that taking on a disabled person under mandatory workfare will violate the terms of their employer liability insurance, leaving them directly liable.

The press-release also contains the bizarre assertion that not having had many jobs is a valid reason for subjecting a disabled person to mandatory workfare. Speaking as a disabled person, I have only ever had one job, so would presumably be subject to this. Of course that one job was for 22 years and revolved around developing flight control systems to stop aircraft falling out of the sky; so maybe not having had many jobs isn’t the career weakness DWP claim it is. For that matter the Civil Service Fast Track typically recruits direct from university, so it is likely that the authors of the press-release have themselves only had one job….

(Amended to refer to the indefinite Mandatory Work Placements rather than Mandatory Work Activity, which is apparently limited to 4 weeks)


  1. Didn't millions of people die in two world wars on the pretext of this never happening in Britain?

  2. There's some confusion due to the poorly worded DWP press release. ESA claimants will not be forced onto the "Mandatory Work Activity" scheme, but mandated to workfare as part of the Work Programme - in theory this could mean up to two years workfare, in practice it has tended to be around six months - this is the same regime that JSA claimants face.

    Mandatory Work Activity is a different workfare scheme currently only inflicted on JSA claimants.

  3. It's worth mentioning that, despite the rhetoric used, the difference in definition between the WRAG and SG isn't about what may happen in future - both SG and WRAG are about where you are now. People in the WRAG are considered well enough to do something to prepare for a potential return to work (even if there's no reason to think that will ever happen), while those in the SG are too ill to do even that - even if there's reason to believe they will be completely well in a year's time.

  4. One minute I am on MWA the next week WRA working 30 hours a week for a builder,3 hours a day taking a bus...need help in figuring away to go to Prison,but do not want to hurt or distress anyone because £71 a week and homeless is slavery,just bloody tired.

  5. This off all the horrific notions included in the Welfare Reform Act bothers me the most; this is predominately due to my last work place and the enormous problems I had leading me very close the the edge of despair.

    I envisage a mass of Chronically sick & Disabled People mandated into totally unsuitable and often abusive situations to survive.

    How oh how did the UK come to this?

  6. why nobody is up in arms about this amazes me!

  7. The more I read about this the worse my health is getting, I have been put on a stronger anti depressant and it is still not really helping.
    I have a number of health problems, including Fybromyalgia/CFS/ME, lymphodema, Anxiety and Depression. I have not worked since September 2000 and have had many periods where I have been house bound. Has anyone examined whether the health problems the government are causing with these changes is an attack on our human rights to remain medically stable and not be put in danger of injury or death because of our governments actions?

  8. I am really worried about this, and not only for myself.
    I have ME and struggle to keep on top of daily activities, even before any work placement
    How are people such as myself supposed to find energy to keep our lives in order?
    Work will prevent shopping, cooking, tidying and all the domestic necessities the people who devise these schemes probably have "help" for.

    It is immoral and must surely contravene human rights to force people to work for nothing in a job which could provide paid employment.

  9. its a goverment who say they look after us the disable and sick but in reality they dont care one bit its ids thought is to claim back our benefits so that he can give over to his mates like emma who awarded herself 8.6milliuon in bonuses so is this right but on it goes daily the abuse by atos dwp denying the benefits to those who should be worrying about getting better if possible ,but with this hounding lots are dying and more becoming iller throu it but then ids doesnt care if we hsve to go into hospitals because of his deparments treatment of the sick thuse causes more for them to payout less for their mates but then ians a right cruel git who shouldnt be in office jeff3