Friday 10 December 2010

Disability Works, Does It?

Companies like A4e, who are paid by the government to get benefit claimants into work, are treated with at best suspicion, and at worst fear and loathing, by many disabled people, especially following TV programmes such as Benefit Busters.

The DWP currently have a shortlist for other companies who are bidding for contracts to carry out government compulsory back-to-work schemes, and worryingly one of the shortlisted companies is the dreaded ATOS, who carry out the ESA medicals, and G4S (formerly Group 4 Security).

However, apparently also on the shortlist, according to, is a consortium consisting of a group of 7 charities, who have called themselves Disability Works UK.
Disability Works UK is a collaboration of national third sector disability organisations including Leonard Cheshire, Mencap, Scope, Mind, Action for Blind People, United Response, Pure Innovations, Advance UK and Pluss.

They boast about their £654.4 million turnover, and cash surplus of £15.6 million, which makes me feel a little queasy. As someone who has donated to more than one of these charities in the past, I will certainly never do so again if that is going to be used in a bid for them to gain their place in what is one of the most oppressive parts of the government's new benefit regime.

For charities and voluntary sector organisations who have done some campaigning against the punitive measures put in place within the benefit system, to now want to play an active part in that system, is disturbing. For them to use money donated by people in good faith as part of that, sickening.

And where does it leave our chances of major disability charities campaigning on our behalf against punitive benefit reforms? If they are hoping to profit from the legislation, I cannot see how we can expect adequate support or representation from them.

If Mind, Scope, Mencap, Leonard Cheshire et al win these contracts, will these charities, who are seen by many as the voice of disabled people, be playing a part in benefit sanctions? Will they be working with ATOS as colleagues? Will we ever trust them again?

(cross posted at incurable hippie blog)


  1. This is incredibly worrying. I have my first "pathways to work" interview in a few days. I've found the ESA system so far incredibly stressful/undermining/patronising/crushing the way I've been treated. It's like I've had no acknowledgment for the fact that I am ill and really struggle - they just want to 'get me back into work' as fast as possible. From the fact that many people get denied ESA I felt INCREDIBLY lucky that I even passed the test. All this pressure makes me even more in despair and anxiety and has definitely worsened my disability. With this amount of pressure (and not support) it makes me feel suicidal.

  2. I am really surprised to read about MIND. One of their reps has given me so much support regarding my impending tribunal for my case of claiming ESA, but now I feel uneasy. They seem to be on our side and now this? It's so hard to know who to trust anymore.

  3. Here's hoping they are simply attempting to offer a more supportive 'alternative' to the heavily commercial services. I'd really like to see the entire system voucherised so that unemployed and disabled people got to choose their own job broker from a free market. Would be a useful trial for what they eventually want to do with schools. ;-)

  4. I'm inclined to agree with DeusExMacintosh.

    I hadn't heard of Disability Works UK until I read this blog, but look at it this way: The best method of changing a system is to get involved in it, and maybe that's how these charities are thinking?

    At least they have some idea about disabled people's lives, surely more than the likes of ATOS. I really want help to become self employed as this is the best way for me to work in a way that accommodates my disability so I'm initially inclined to see the prospect that any future assessment of my capabilities will be done by people with some disability awareness as a positive thing.

  5. Even if they're going into this with the best of intentions it inevitably creates both a real and a perceived conflict of interest.

    The real conflict of interest is that we need them to campaign against the system, but that they will have financial commitments and employees dependent on the continuation of the system.

    The perceived conflict of interest will affect the people working on the front-line of the various charities' traditional caseload. Even if they have no contact whatsoever with the DWP schemes, there are a great many disabled people out there who, as a result of recent benefits policy changes extending across the current and previous governments, have been left scared and mistrustful of anything remotely connected with government. If winning this contract loses these charities the trust of the very people they are supposed to be helping, then is that a victory, or a tragedy?

  6. Why don't you ask them???

  7. One of the most misleading aspects of the Harrington report was his insistence that there are no explicit OR implicit targets for the back-to-work firms in getting people back to work.

    This is highly questionable. The government has stated on many times that it wants a certain number of people removed from Incapacity Benefits (IB, ESA, the rest).

    So when these charities and firms secure a government contract and become part of the Work Programme, they therefore have a vested interest in keeping the government happy - and this means they'll surely be aware of the government's targets.

    (Incidentally, these targets - for the amount of people they want removed from Incapacity Benefits - seem to be thrown out at random by various ministers. I've seen 500,000, 1 million, various percentages...)

    So whatever the good intentions of these charities (Mind, Scope, the rest), they are compromised in their intentions to help people by their dependence on government cash. The government pays by results - therefore, these charities will quickly start to see every sick and disabled person as a commodity to be utilised for financial gain, rather than a person with specific needs and problems.

  8. The more I think about it, the more this is looking like a spectacularly bad idea. Especially if the charities have any hope of maintaining credibility and the faith of service users in their impartiality beyond this government.

    Disability Works UK will have to work very hard to allay people's fears I think.