Friday 17 August 2012

Lord Morris of Manchester

I'm sure you've all read by now about the death of Labour peer Alf Morris. He was the man behind the 1970 Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act and the man behind Mobility Allowance (which then became the mobility component of DLA and will soon become the mobility component of PIP).

The Channel 4 website's obituary has a great quote from him:

“If we could each bequeath one precious gift to posterity, I would choose a society in which there is genuine compassion for long-term sick and disabled people; where understanding is unostentatious and sincere; where needs come before means; where if years cannot be added to their lives, at least life can be added to their years; where the mobility of disabled people is restricted only by the bounds of technical progress and discovery; where they have the fundamental right to participate in industry and society according to ability; where socially preventable distress is unknown; and where no one has cause to be ill at ease because of her or his disability.”

How the last few years must have broken his heart. That all compassion for disabled people has evaporated from our society, that all understanding has been replaced by hate. The fact that means have been put far in front of needs; resulting in the deaths of numerous disabled people because the government had decided to retract their support. The closure of the Remploy factories restricting the number of disabled people taking part in industry. Where socially preventable distress is inflicted on disabled people deliberately. And given that Mobility Allowance was his baby; the fact that mobility is being taken from 20% of that benefit's successors.

NAO Says DWP failed to penalise Atos

The National Audit Office has said that the Department of Work and Pensions has failed to penalise Atos for under-performance on the Work Capability Assessment and has failed to set the French multinational sufficiently challenging targets. In the past year Atos has been paid £122 million for carrying out the WCA, but a further £60 million has had to be spent on Tribunal cases appealing Atos judgements, 40% of which succeed. DWP has admitted that Atos performance has failed to meet agreed time limits and has been sub-standard since mid-2011.

The NAO also noted that DWP's failure to seek the reasons behind tribunal judgements mean that it is impossible to determine whether changes are required to the Work Capability Assessment and that its negotiating position is undermined by inaccurate forecasting of the number of people requiring an assessment, likely related to DWP's recent admission that people assigned into the ESA WRAG by the WCA are significantly more disabled than it forecast. Of the penalty clauses which have been triggered by Atos performance, DWP have claimed only 10% of the redress the taxpayer is entitled to.

A DWP spokesman claimed that they were committed to obtaining "value for money for the taxpayer", while an Atos spokesman said that the WCA contract was "complex and challenging".

The review was conducted by the NAO at the request of the Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who noted that the failure to claim redress and the tribunal costs mean that "The taxpayer is effectively paying for this service twice ... clearing up the mess that results from Atos assessments."

Given the Tory focus on applying 'private sector best practise' to government, the leniency being applied to Atos seems difficult to comprehend; no private company would simply let a failing subcontractor off with 90% of penalty clauses, while a stringent recovery plan would be demanded to deal with the failures rather than allow them to continue bumbling on without intervention.

Monday 13 August 2012

National Insurance and "Taxpayers' Money"

An article I wrote appears in the latest issue of The Occupied Times and can be found online here. This is the unedited version I originally submitted, posted with kind agreement from the OT.

On the day that I’m sitting down to write this piece; an article largely about me and my fears over welfare reform appeared on the US Huffington Post. With it being the US site most of the commenters were Fox News viewers banging on about how Obamacare will introduce Death Panels and nothing to do with what the article was actually about.

There were some supportive comments from decent people who thought the UK welfare cuts were too much. There were some deeply disturbing comments from the pro-eugenics people saying that I shouldn’t be allowed to live at all. Aside from the Fox News fans, the other large group of commenters were the people who said either “well, it’s sad that people have these conditions; but why should they get taxpayers money?” Or “she says she can’t work but she also says she can do her own shopping. If she can leave the house to shop she can get a job and doesn’t need taxpayers money.” Because hitting the supermarket for 45 mins on a good day is exactly the same as working 9 to 5, Monday to Friday. But I digress.

The recurring point there is the one about “taxpayers money”. We seem to have developed this cultural notion that people who claim benefits are not taxpayers, and never have been. This isn’t true.

Because “please don’t dismantle the welfare state and leave people undergoing cancer treatment completely destitute” is considered an extreme left position these days I occasionally get pitted in radio debates against libertarians who are completely opposed to a welfare state because they don’t want to spend “their taxes” on paying benefits to other people. At some point I always end up screeching “it’s called National Insurance for a reason! That’s how insurance schemes work!”

I didn’t get my first job until I was part-way through my degree. My impaired mobility meant I couldn’t do the kinds of work young people traditionally do like bar work or stacking supermarket shelves. So I claimed benefits until I was educated enough for people to be willing to give me a job within my physical limits. I started paying my own National Insurance contributions halfway through my final year at uni and continued to do so for several years.

I was in my mid-20s when my health started to deteriorate. Over the next few years, bit by bit, I reduced the amount of work I was doing until, when I was 28, I reached a point where working was something I’d become completely incapable of. So I’ve now reached a point where I’ve claimed back from the National Insurance pot more than I ever paid in, but that’s how the insurance business works.

Some people buy annual multi-trip travel insurance every year and never make a claim. Other people take out a fortnight’s insurance for their first ever oversees holiday and have to make a claim immediately for a suitcase and contents that were destroyed on the outbound flight. Sometimes that’s just how the cookie crumbles.

I am not just scrounging taxes from others; I paid my taxes and my National Insurance contributions when I could, and now I can’t I’m living under the protection that the insurance scheme offered.

During one of the aforementioned radio debates I was up against a guy who felt that the idea of a third of tax spending going on welfare was absurd. His suggestion? Rich people take out private income-protection insurance instead and only us filthy poor people claim from the state.

Private insurance premiums would cost more than National Insurance contributions. Private insurance companies also try extremely hard to not pay out. If there’s an element of self-infliction to your condition - for example if you drunkenly dived into the shallow end of a pool and broke your neck – your insurer will probably not payout. The welfare state traditionally has paid out to all who needed support, regardless of how the need for support arose. He’d rather people pay more for poorer quality cover just for the satisfaction of saying “yeah, well, at least we’re not spending a third of our taxes on welfare!”

Wealthy people paying for private insurance and not claiming state benefits if they become ill or impaired would further undermine what little will there is among the rich to keep the welfare state going. A rich person has a motivation to pay their National Insurance contributions if they know they’ll get their £90-odd a week should they develop cancer; even though they’ve got their own means to not need it. With strict means testing for people claiming Employment and Support Allowance having come in, this gives the rich further grounds to be hostile towards the poor for claiming what they see as “their taxes”.

Some disabled people have never been able to work and will never be able to work. Some might argue that someone like me who only worked for a few years and has claimed back more than they paid in should at least be eligible because that’s the nature of insurance. What about those who’ve never paid and will never pay even one week’s National Insurance?

The answer to this question is something brought up by a different radio debating partner of mine and also is brought up several times by commenters on the Huff Post article telling me that I don’t deserve state benefits: It’s a family’s responsibility to look after a disabled child.

Of course, what they mean is that a parent should pay to meet every one of the disabled child’s needs for life and the state shouldn’t be forced to pay for a quirk of genetics, a traumatic birth or an accident. But I see it differently: If I’d never been able to work at all; the National Insurance premiums my parents paid would cover me. Radio Rightwinger said that she’s made private insurance arrangements to protect her family, how does National Insurance differ? Both my parents worked in factories and paid their National Insurance, how is that any different to Radio Rightwinger’s private insurance pot?

With people of means no longer able to claim Contributory Employment and Support Allowance for more than a year if they’re deemed capable of possibly being able to work at some point in the future it not only undermines support for National Insurance as I’ve already mentioned; it’s also a remarkable bait and switch. A comparable situation is public sector pensions: Public sector workers were sold a pension scheme and now the government is trying to change the rules. You have to have paid a minimum amount of National Insurance contributions to get Contributory ESA – the clue is in the name – but disabled people are not getting the same outrage and support over this changing of the rules. Two million people striked over pension changes, but because we’re seen as “scrounging taxpayers money” rather than “people who paid into an insurance scheme” I don’t think we’ll ever see the same amount of support in fighting the changes.

Thursday 9 August 2012

Atos sponsors Olympics and Paralympics

At the end of last week @hossylass and I were both asked to write a short piece about Atos to go into this satirical paper about the Olympic/Paralympic sponsors. Our submissions were then not included. So I'm posting them on WtB instead. Mine can be found here. Hossy in fact wrote 2 pieces as she was unsure what they wanted, these are them:

Dear Customer,

You have been carefully selected by your Government database to be one of the first to benefit from our latest opportunity to turn your life around.

Remember how we managed, in one simple assessment, to free you from the burden that is state dependency, and to simultaneously reduce your sickness or disability from “severe” to “marginal” or in some cases cure you altogether?

Well now there is more good news. We have been carefully chosen to take you on a new journey of discovery, to help you to be even less dependent on the state.

This journey will consist of an interview with someone who has an understanding of disability (having completed our extensive 3 hour course), and will be a wonderful opportunity for you to experience different cultural opinions to disability, to learn how to decipher strong accents from many nations, and to allow you to describe your disability in a much reduced manner.

No more shall you be compelled to explain at depth your condition and its affects on your everyday life – we have removed that burden too, and all that will be asked of you is Yes or No answers.

I am confident that you will embrace this opportunity – it will almost certainly be life changing!

Atos Healthcare

Atos sponsors Olympics and Paralympics

Atos are proud to sponsor the 2012 London Olypmic Games, and the UK Government are thrilled that Atos are committing with such generosity.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “In all our dealings with Atos we have found them very receptive to opportunities, sponsoring the Olympics is another way that the Government can cement our relationship. It is also a clear sign that Atos care about not just healthy people, but also those who need to become healthy. Sport is clearly the way forward to good health, as is work.

It is this commitment to ensuring that people are termed healthy that has convinced us that Atos Healthcare are genuinely the best people not just to sponsor the Olympics and Paralympics, but also to manage assessments that increase the number of people who are fit for work, whilst decreasing their personal costs, something I am sure all sick and disabled people want.”

Meanwhile a spokesperson for Atos said: “We are very much looking forward to watching the Olympians, and are grateful for the opportunity to do so. When the Paralympics start, we will be watching equally as closely, if not more so. It is a marvellous opportunity for us to analyse and assess performance, it should be quite enlightening and educational, and may give us increased opportunity to help people to become less dependent on the state. We may be recording some of the competitors for training and fact verification, in order to reinforce our views.”

When questioned on their knowledge of the Paralympic grading system of disability, and disability in general, Atos admitted to being “not quite up to speed” but are “willing to learn”. This is indeed positive news, given that Atos are currently being accused of not having complete understanding of disability, and the vast amounts of proof available that these accusations are founded in fact.

Atos found "fit for work"

At the end of last week @hossylass and I were both asked to write a short piece about Atos to go into this satirical paper about the Olympic/Paralympic sponsors. Our submissions were then not included. So I'm posting them here instead. This first post is my submission, while Hossy's is here:

Atos found "fit for work"

French IT company Atos were last week found "fit for work" when they were awarded the contract by the ConDems to assess disabled people for the new benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP). This is despite them being completely incapable when it comes to assessing people for the existing benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Atos's conclusions in ESA decisions are frequently challenged and appeals found in favour of the disabled person.

If a disabled person was as lacking in ability as Atos then even Atos would probably find them incapable of functioning in the workplace. Despite Atos not being able to correctly decide if they can wipe their own bums without help from a tribunal panel, they will now be tasked with not only finding out if disabled people are fit for work, but also whether or not disabled people are entitled to help in the bum wiping area. And you need that wipe to be damn effective now: The government have redefined the verb “to bathe” and if you need help when it comes to washing you're now only allowed to wash your hands, face, underarms and torso. So when wiping your butt you need to get it spotless because you're not allowed to clean it in the bath.

Atos operate from the idea everyone's a faker until proved otherwise. The same mindset that has excluded all athletes with learning difficulties from the Paralmypics since the Spanish learning disabled basketball team were found to be mostly comprised of frauds in Sydney in 2000. Genuine athletes with learning difficulties make their return this year after having been excluded for 12 years because of a tiny number of fakers. Disability benefit fraud is less than 0.5% but Atos are torturing all disabled people. Kinda makes it seem like Atos are the perfect sponsor.

Thursday 2 August 2012

#ATOS Contracts: Sick Joke, Or Rewarding Incompetence?

It seems the reward for all the heartache and suffering that ATOS have inflicted on disabled people over the past few years, the bonus for getting one assessment in six so wrong it is overturned in front of a judge, for wasting £50m/year of taxpayer’s money in those appeal tribunals, is the right to inflict precisely the same kind of abuse on millions of disabled recipients of Disability Living Allowance as the government axes that successful benefit in order to exclude 20 to 25% of current recipients.

In the same week that ATOS has been pilloried by back to back Dispatches and Panorama documentaries that revealed staff who consider their job toxic, who spend their time looking for ways to not think about the consequences on the patients they swore an oath to protect, while celebrating that they are never called before the tribunals who have to put right their failure, and who seemingly find nothing wrong with asking a suicidal patient why they haven’t succeeded yet (not to mention the absolute triumph of finding a sectioned, catatonic man fit for work), the government has seen fit to reward their execution of the WCA contract with the majority of the contracts to conduct the DLA to PIP migration. The other contracts have gone to Capita, an outsourcing company, because clearly managing office cleaning is everything you need to know to conduct complex medical assessments of disability (or maybe it was their work as bailiffs which drew Grayling’s eye). The terrifying thing is it could have been even worse, G4S were competing for the PIP contracts until they reduced Olympic security to a farce.

You have to wonder what IDS was thinking when he signed off on this. Was he rewarding incompetence, or rewarding ATOS for their demonstrated ability to ignore facts, humanity, ethical obligations and even sheer common sense in pursuit of the mandated cuts?