Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green

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Today the government has announced the new provider for the ailing Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Maximus are replacing Atos, who quit the process after repeated concerns, raised by Labour and disabled people, about the operation of the test.

The government has spent months seeking an alternative provider.

While we’ve always said that simply changing the provider isn’t enough to deal with the underlying problems, Labour hope the new start under Maximus will lead to improved results.

Disabled people have every right to feel wary. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are agreeing a new contract that will last years. With a general election looming, and Labour already having outlined a series of reforms we’d make to the Work Capability Assessment, it is unclear how the new provider will be expected to deliver improvements – or what penalties they’ll face if they don’t.

That’s why I have written to the Minister for Disabled People to ensure that any change of policy direction under a future Labour government can be accommodated within the contract, and that action can be taken swiftly to address poor performance.

We have also said that the new provider should be made responsible for ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is better connected to work support to increase the number of disabled people in work. It’s essential that the new provider gains credibility quickly by providing more accurate results about assessments.

And crucially, the new provider must ensure the huge backlog of Work Capability Assessments is tackled swiftly.

We also expect Maximus to make significant improvements in the day to day delivery of Work Capability Assessments. Labour will insist that:

  • Every assessment centre must be accessible; that information about the Work Capability Assessment process must be available in accessible formats; and that disabled people who cannot reasonably be expected to attend a face to face interview should be assessed at home or another convenient and accessible location.
  • Claimants are advised that they are able to bring a companion to the assessment, who can assist them as appropriate.
  • Information sharing must be improved, including between Department for Work and Pensions, Maximus and Work Programme contractors.
  • Recordings of assessments must be provided on request.
  • Reports from assessors must include information on how an impairment or health condition affects someone’s ability to work.

But there is a broader need for reforming the Work Capability Assessment. Assessments must be part of the support to help disabled people back to work. Currently, the Work Capability Assessment is seen as entirely separate to the Work Programme – contributing to the appalling failure rate of the government’s flagship employment scheme.

Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP set a target of a 15 per cent employment rate for people on the Work Programme after two years. But after three years only 7 per cent of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who have accessed the programme have found work.

Our new approach would provide information about the support that is available in the local area to help individuals. Improving this element of the assessment and decision-making process is a crucial step towards a more integrated system of support.

Disabled people should also have a central role in monitoring the tests. A Labour government would ensure that for the first time disabled people would get a real say in how the assessments are delivered.

The independent reviewer of the Work Capability Assessment would work alongside a scrutiny group of disabled people supported by the Office for Disability Issues. We would also require the DWP to respond to Work Capability Assessment reviews and end the practice of ‘accepting’ recommendations that are then kicked into the long grass.

Accuracy of Work Capability Assessments must be dramatically improved under Maximus. Thousands of disabled people appealing inaccurate decisions have had to wait months for decisions, wasting millions of pounds in appeals and tribunals.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers. The Public Accounts Committee has already reported that targets set for the quality of the assessment were not challenging enough.

Labour would ensure a new system would impose penalties for poor performance, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by the DWP or through appeals. Clear financial penalties will ensure assessors improve the quality of assessments.

This means collecting all the medical evidence needed to make a decision and ensuring they listen to what claimants tell them to ensure decisions are based on the full facts.

The new provider of Work Capability Assessments takes over at a difficult time. Maximus will be judged very quickly on whether its performance is an improvement on years of failure and chaos in the DWP.

Ministers and the new provider need to urgently get a grip of Work Capability Assessments.

Kate Green MP​ is shadow minister for disabled people

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The Labour Party introduced a host of measures to strengthen the rights of disabled people. They passed the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, introduced the Equality Act 2010, and formed the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and, in 2009, the Labour government signed the United Nations convention on the rights of persons with disabilities.

It’s worth noting that without the Equality Act in particular, it would have been difficult to win the cases that have been presented to court against the government, concerning the unprecedented level of discrimination embedded in their policies.

Kate Green and Anne McGuire have pointed out that the original intentions when Labour introduced the Employment Support Allowance pilot and an assessment of people’s capacity for work, have been distorted – that the original aim was to be a supportive and facilitative process, with Disability Living Allowance (DLA), and other supportive measures in place to help people with disability lead a dignified life, fulfilling their potential, but, as Anne McGuire has pointed out, the renegotiation of the Atos contract by the current Government, (along with the addition of targets to remove people’s benefits, and sanctions,) has rebalanced the system to be punitive, rather than facilitative.

Of course the Tories have been very quick to blame Labour for the current situation, however, following a review of their pilot, Labour warned the government of problems with the Work Capability Assessment, which Iain Duncan Smith duly ignored, passing the ESA system into law, making the WCA even more problematic, and as stated, re-contracting Atos “in line with the welfare reforms” in 2011, including targets to take people’s lifeline benefits away, despite the claims made by the Tories. The targets were exposed by Dr Steven Bicks, a GP that applied for job with Atos, assessing whether benefit applicants were fit for work, and secretly filmed his training, which was broadcast by channel 4 – on their Dispatches programme, on Monday 30 July, 2012.

I was very pleased to hear of Labour’s proposal to introduce a new Disability Hate Crime Prevention Law, particularly in light of what has happened this past four years regarding right wing and media portrayals of sick and disabled people, using fake statistics, vicious stigmatising and scapegoating rhetoric to justify the punitive cuts, which have been aimed disproportionately at disabled people.

Comparing policies indicates clearly the stark differences between the parties, and given the briefing from Labour from their ESA review that was blatantly disregarded, and the refusal of the Coalition to undertake a cumulative impact assessment of the “reforms”, it’s clear that the Tories do not regard the poorest and most vulnerable worthy of government diligence, accountability, support and fair treatment.

KittySJones.

Related

“By the general election in May 2010, it was becoming clear that the WCA was getting too many decisions wrong. Unfortunately, the new Conservative-led government was so unmoved by these failings that Iain Duncan Smith ordered that the number of assessments be increased. So while assessments had previously been restricted to new applications for ESA, in November 2010 Atos started to put all 2.2 million existing incapacity benefit claimants through the WCA.

Unsurprisingly things did not improve – many people who were genuinely unable to work were still being declared as fit to do so, and there is now a backlog of more than 700,000 claimants awaiting an assessment. These delays not only cause financial hardship – they also often exacerbate people’s existing physical and mental health conditions.”Sheila Gilmore.

New ‘fit for work’ contract will not be fit for purpose

14533697838_dffcc736f2_o (1)With thanks to Robert Livingstone for his brilliant art work

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12 thoughts on “Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments – by Kate Green

  1. Its all very well dreaming of what politician’s should be doing and telling their contractors how to conduct medical. But a point that seems to have been lost in the mists of time is their own GP. No one else knows the patients better. No one is better trained and is aware of individual circumstances and how it affects lives. No one is more in tune with mental health problems and its effect on individual’s, yes individuals not the generalisations of “disabled people”
    We need to remember that the humble G P has spent seven years a a student, two years as a foundation doctor in a hospital and then another four years as a trainee GP to then be told by a ” medical profesional” ( which could be a NVQ in first aid) that they are mistaken in their diagnosis and the severely of induvidule disablement is a damed insult not just for the Doctor but for the patient who has put their trust and their life in their hands.
    Who did the medical before ATOS. Doctors did on behalf of the DWP, so why not now, probably because of the eugenics indoctrinated pretenders at Westminster by the lake as they dole out contracts to their cosy relationship friends for pubic shools.

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    1. It was actually the DWP who decided who was awarded Incapacity Benefit, and that system was also problematic, agree regarding your comment on eugenics underpinning ideology and policies, and the Tory donor/private company corruption, which is apparent and rife

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    2. Labour demand big improvements that’s great but no more then
      A sound bite Lain Duncan Smith will carry on doing what he
      Has but worse more people will die this will only stop
      By getting this government out and labour in

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  2. If you’re not going to publish my original comment, could you at least email it back to me? It’s long, it took a while to write, and I’d like to publish it myself somewhere; and it’s not like I had the option of saving a local copy.

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    1. If you commented here and it isn’t appearing, well, it ought to be appearing at least to you assuming you’re looking at the site from the same machine as you should have a cookie on your machine which enables you to still see it while it’s waiting for moderation. Now assuming you are logging in from the same machine you made the comment from, and neither you nor Sue can see it, well, it ain’t here! 🙂 Maybe you’re thinking of another of Sue’s pieces?

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  3. “Every assessment centre must be accessible; that information about the Work Capability Assessment process must be available in accessible formats; and that disabled people who cannot reasonably be expected to attend a face to face interview should be assessed at home or another convenient and accessible location.” ..

    Time and time again i read that places are not wheelchair accessible or people wheechair bound are turned away as there is no ground floor assessment room available. This is needed as they cannot go to another floor as they are deemed a fire risk and cannot walk down stairs in case of fire as the lifts will be closed.
    Dear god, what part of assessing chronically sick and disabled peope don’t they get ? It is appalling that people cannot access these assessment centres.
    And as for having to attend assessment centres, many are miles away from where you live, in my case it is at least an hour and a half bus journey and it says a ten miniute walk.. no it is not !! i assume this walk was done by an able bodied person as last time it took me 25 mins and i was in such acute pain they sent me home by taxi as soon as they took my blood pressure, which by then was at toxic levles.
    To get a home visit you have to have a gp letter, the last one cost me £14 to explain exactly why i could not attend an assessment 3 days after surgery on both eyes. errr, i was so swollen, bruised, had dressings on one eye and literally could not see. !!

    Personally i have found the whole charade both humiliating and degrading, extremely stessful and it causes a lot of anxiety and excess pain. I’ve never suffered stress and anxiety before yet l was admitted to A/E with a suspected heart attack after what i classed as no more than bullying and harassment by Atos/DWP .. my gp said it was all down to the repeated forms i had to fill in every 6 months, the result of still being in mild shock after surgery and the harassment from Atos, despite the dwp saying my multiple illnesses being very disabling, degenerative and i would not get better and work in the long term is not likely. I could literally write a book on my experiences with this “one size fits all” stupid inflexible tick box assessment system. I am but 1 person and there are many many tens of thousands more

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  4. The Audio Recording of assessments should be made compulsory, some of those in power say it will effect how claimants respond to questions but I think the real reason why audio recording hasn’t been fully implemented is that the government don’t want the wider public to see the way in which claimants are actually treated?

    The recording of assessments is a win win situation if the providers have nothing to hide, it prevents malicious and vexatious complaints from claimants and also provides safety for the claimant also, especially when the assessor has said something to the claimant and doesn’t put it down in the report?

    The cost of providing a audio recording device to each assessment centre would be quite small compared to the savings it would actually make in the long run, I also cannot see why claimants cannot record theor own assessments without the need for expensive complicated equipment which the DWP say you need to provide a copy for them, they just wish to hide the truth plain and simple, nothing to hide then why not? Will a Labour government guarantee that all assessments will be recorded and if not why not????????

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    1. Yes, the recording of assessments is recommended. I had some discussion with Anne McGuire a couple of years ago, when she was shadow secretary for disabled people, and she had fought to ensure that the recording equiptment was bought. It turned out Grayling at the time had lied about the purchase and availabilty of the equiptment. But the availablity of recording equiptment was part the recommendations that Harrington made. Labour will uphold that recommendation, and will also ensure disabled people have a say in how future assessment is undertaken.

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  5. BEWARE: Maximus is an American for-profit privatizing company that provides business process services to government health and human services agencies in the United States, Australia, Canada, Saudi Arabia, and the United Kingdom.

    Criticisms
    Nov 1997- The Hartford Courant reported that MAXIMUS “gets minimal results” when it was hired by the State of Connecticut to manage a child care program for recipients of welfare. According to the Record-Journal, MAXIMUS “hired too few people, installed an inadequate phone system and fell weeks or months behind in making payments to day care providers.””The Connecticut Department of Social Services (DSS) asked MAXIMUS to meet improvement goals and by December, DSS Commissioner Joyce A. Thomas noted improvements on several fronts commenting, “The good news for Connecticut’s child care providers and the families we all serve is that the situation is rapidly improving. MAXIMUS has come a long way, and we are confident that current efforts are paving the way to long-term improvements.”
    Dec 1998- The Sarasota Herald Tribune reported that the State of Florida had paid MAXIMUS $4.5 Million for a Child Support Recovery contract. MAXIMUS was only able to collect $162,000. “On average taxpayers paid MAXIMUS $25 for every 3 cents collected”.
    April 2000- A New York judge ruled that MAXIMUS “misled” the city’s Human Resources Administration about the role a former senior policy adviser to Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani played in the company’s proposal for a welfare contract. Six months later, in October 2000, the Appellate Division of New York State Supreme Court, unanimously overturned the lower court’s ruling, stating, “There was no evidence of favoritism…There was no evidence that Maximus was afforded unfair access.”
    Oct 2000- Six state lawmakers in Wisconsin called for the termination of MAXIMUS’ W-2 contract, saying the firm has “broken faith with the state and poor people the agency serves in Milwaukee County.”
    June 2001- The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that two MAXIMUS employees filed discrimination complaints against the company. The employees stated that MAXIMUS is so lacking in diversity that the companies minority employees referred to it as “White Castle”.
    July 2007- MAXIMUS settled a lawsuit brought against it by the United States government for involvement in falsifying Medicaid claims for $30.5 million.
    Oct 2010- The Los Angeles Times reported that 146 medical workers, including doctors, nurses and pharmacists were allowed to keep working despite failing drug tests. MAXIMUS was awarded a $2.5 Million a year contract to run California’s confidential “diversion programs”. MAXIMUS contracted the work out to a subcontractor who in turn subcontracted the work to another company. The drug testing company was using the wrong standard of drug test from December 2009 to August 2010, resulting in medical workers who tested positive for drugs to continue working.
    June 2011- Boston-based Fox25 news uncovered that a wanted fugitive by the name of Maureen Simonetti was working for MAXIMUS as a manager on the MassHealth project and had access to the personal information of individuals who use MassHealth for their healthcare. Simonetti’s attorney said his client disclosed pleading no contest to grand theft on her application to work at Maximus in 2005. However, the required Massachusetts background check, known as a CORI, did not uncover Simonetti’s grand theft case in Florida, which is an out of state criminal record. MAXIMUS stated that it had “no reason to believe that anyone’s personal information was used inappropriately” and terminated Simonetti.
    September 2011- MAXIMUS INC. was sued by U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) for disability discrimination for failure to promote a female employee because it regarded her as disabled.MAXIMUS settled the lawsuit in August 2012.
    June 2012- Through an internal privacy audit, MAXIMUS discovered that a worker in Canada illegally viewed personal health records of 43 Canadians. The worker involved was immediately suspended and later fired. Health critic and member of the New Democratic Party Mike Farnworth said the incident was disturbing. “It’s concerning, we’ve had concerns about Maximus in the past,” he said. “I think what I would like to know – is this an isolated incident? Has it happened in the past?” Ryan Jabs, spokesman for the British Columbia Health Ministry said,”The risk is really low level because it looks like he or she was accessing the information out of curiosity but not for any fraudulent activity.”
    January 2013- A MAXIMUS employee, Marilyn Beltran, based in Boston MA was indicted for allegedly stealing more than $490,000 from the Massachusetts Medicaid program. The theft had occurred over a period of nine years.

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