Author: Kitty S Jones

I’m a political activist with a strong interest in human rights. I’m also a strongly principled socialist. Much of my campaign work is in support of people with disability. I am also disabled: I have an autoimmune illness called lupus, with a sometimes life-threatening complication – a bleeding disorder called thrombocytopenia. Sometimes I long to go back to being the person I was before 2010. The Coalition claimed that the last government left a “mess”, but I remember being very well-sheltered from the consequences of the global banking crisis by the last government – enough to flourish and be myself. Now many of us are finding that our potential as human beings is being damaged and stifled because we are essentially focused on a struggle to survive, at a time of austerity cuts and welfare “reforms”. Maslow was right about basic needs and motivation: it’s impossible to achieve and fulfil our potential if we cannot meet our most fundamental survival needs adequately. What kind of government inflicts a framework of punishment via its policies on disadvantaged citizens? This is a government that tells us with a straight face that taking income from poor people will "incentivise" and "help" them into work. I have yet to hear of a case when a poor person was relieved of their poverty by being made even more poor. The Tories like hierarchical ranking in terms status and human worth. They like to decide who is “deserving” and “undeserving” of political consideration and inclusion. They like to impose an artificial framework of previously debunked Social Darwinism: a Tory rhetoric of division, where some people matter more than others. How do we, as conscientious campaigners, help the wider public see that there are no divisions based on some moral measurement, or character-type: there are simply people struggling and suffering in poverty, who are being dehumanised by a callous, vindictive Tory government that believes, and always has, that the only token of our human worth is wealth? Governments and all parties on the right have a terrible tradition of scapegoating those least able to fight back, blaming the powerless for all of the shortcomings of right-wing policies. The media have been complicit in this process, making “others” responsible for the consequences of Tory-led policies, yet these cruelly dehumanised social groups are the targeted casualties of those policies. I set up, and administrate support groups for ill and disabled people, those going through the disability benefits process, and provide support for many people being adversely affected by the terrible, cruel and distressing consequences of the Governments’ draconian “reforms”. In such bleak times, we tend to find that the only thing we really have of value is each other. It’s always worth remembering that none of us are alone. I don’t write because I enjoy it: most of the topics I post are depressing to research, and there’s an element of constantly having to face and reflect the relentless worst of current socio-political events. Nor do I get paid for articles and I’m not remotely famous. I’m an ordinary, struggling disabled person. But I am accurate, insightful and reflective, I can research and I can analyse. I write because I feel I must. To reflect what is happening, and to try and raise public awareness of the impact of Tory policies, especially on the most vulnerable and poorest citizens. Because we need this to change. All of us, regardless of whether or not you are currently affected by cuts, because the persecution and harm currently being inflicted on others taints us all as a society. I feel that the mainstream media has become increasingly unreliable over the past five years, reflecting a triumph for the dominant narrative of ultra social conservatism and neoliberalism. We certainly need to challenge this and re-frame the presented debates, too. The media tend to set the agenda and establish priorities, which often divert us from much more pressing social issues. Independent bloggers have a role as witnesses; recording events and experiences, gathering evidence, insights and truths that are accessible to as many people and organisations as possible. We have an undemocratic media and a government that reflect the interests of a minority – the wealthy and powerful 1%. We must constantly challenge that. Authoritarian Governments arise and flourish when a population disengages from political processes, and becomes passive, conformist and alienated from fundamental decision-making. I’m not a writer that aims for being popular or one that seeks agreement from an audience. But I do hope that my work finds resonance with people reading it. I’ve been labelled “controversial” on more than one occasion, and a “scaremonger.” But regardless of agreement, if any of my work inspires critical thinking, and invites reasoned debate, well, that’s good enough for me. “To remain silent and indifferent is the greatest sin of all” – Elie Wiesel I write to raise awareness, share information and to inspire and promote positive change where I can. I’ve never been able to be indifferent. We need to unite in the face of a government that is purposefully sowing seeds of division. Every human life has equal worth. We all deserve dignity and democratic inclusion. If we want to see positive social change, we also have to be the change we want to see. That means treating each other with equal respect and moving out of the Tory framework of ranks, counts and social taxonomy. We have to rebuild solidarity in the face of deliberate political attempts to undermine it. Divide and rule was always a Tory strategy. We need to fight back. This is an authoritarian government that is hell-bent on destroying all of the gains of our post-war settlement: dismantling the institutions, public services, civil rights and eroding the democratic norms that made the UK a developed, civilised and civilising country. Like many others, I do what I can, when I can, and in my own way. This blog is one way of reaching people. Please help me to reach more by sharing posts. Thanks. Kitty, 2012

Director of medical research says rise in cases of sepsis is because of NHS funding cuts and overcrowding in hospitals

Deaths from sepsis recorded in England’s hospitals have risen by more than a third in two years, according to data collected by a leading safety expert. 

According to Sir Brian Jarman, the director of the Dr Foster research unit at Imperial College London, the number of recorded deaths where the primary cause was sepsis was 11,328 in 2014-15. By 2016-17 there were 15,722 deaths in hospital or within 30 days of discharge where sepsis was the leading cause, an increase of 38.8%.

Jarman, whose unit sends real-time alerts to hospitals that fall behind the expected mortality rate, blamed the increase partially on the consequences of real-terms funding cuts.

“The biggest thing that’s important seems to be the number of staff – doctors per bed,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme in August. “One of the secondary important things is the overcrowding of hospitals. The level of overcrowding shouldn’t be more than 85% [bed occupancy], and it’s been going over 90% in recent years.”

Jarman, a former president of the British Medical Association, said the number of beds available had halved and the number of admissions had roughly doubled over the past 30 years – an “amazing change of provision of healthcare”.

In 2015, an inquiry found that 40% of patients with sepsis who arrived in A&E had not been reviewed by senior doctors quickly enough. There were also avoidable delays in giving patients intravenous antibiotics in nearly a third of cases (29%).

Every death from sepsis is a tragedy, yet too often the warning signs are missed – there is a need to get far better at spotting sepsis across the NHS and this advice shows how vital it is for clinicians to treat life-threatening symptoms as soon as possible.

Last year, Jeremy Hunt, then the health secretary, told a private memorial service for a one-year-old boy who died from sepsis that the child was let down by the NHS and the government.

Speaking at the service in Cornwall, Hunt said he had “come here to say sorry” to the family of William Mead, who died after the emergency services failed to diagnose a fatal case of sepsis. Hunt told those gathered at Truro Cathedral: “I as health secretary, the government, and the NHS, let down William.

“I’ve come here to say sorry. This weekend William should have been enjoying beautiful Cornish sunshine with his parents.

“We didn’t spot his sepsis before it was too late.”

William’s motherMelissa Mead, has become a prominent campaigner for better diagnostics of sepsis, saying that the NHS system was “broken”.

She has also described her son’s final hours, his symptoms and her repeated pleas to health services in painstaking detail on her blog site.

In February 2017, I developed sepsis, which is caused by an overly aggressive immune response to an infection. In my case, it happened because I had developed pneumonia while I had ‘flu. In sepsis (sometimes called septicaemia) the immune response causes widespread and severe inflammation and a drop in blood pressure (‘shock’), which leads to organ damage and other life threatening complications. The problem is that people often feel unwell when they have an infection, and sepsis is insidious. It can advance  very rapidly. I developed pneumonia and sepsis within four days of starting with influenza symptoms, by the fourth evening, my symptoms had become life threatening. 

I thought my symptoms were simply because I had a severe strain of influenza, and hadn’t realised I had developed pneumonia. My sons had both been very poorly the week before, while they had the ‘flu, too. By the time I knew something was very wrong, I was already in septic shock, and despite having an almost overwhelming urge to crawl back to my warm bed and just sleep, a sudden weird sense of impending doom kept me from doing so. Had I gone back to bed, I would never have woken again. 

Although Jarman believes that staff shortages and overcrowding on wards are partly to blame for the rise in sepsis, NHS England have said more conditions were being classed as sepsis than before, and a spokesperson added that efforts had also been made to improve diagnosis. However, it’s not quite true that more deaths from sepsis are being recorded as being caused by sepsis.

Dr Ron Daniels, chief executive of the UK Sepsis Trust and an intensive care consultant, said sepsis was one of the most common causes of death in the UK, it’s responsible for killing up to 44,000 people a year – in hospital and in the community.

He said that hospital records made it almost impossible to keep track of the true number of deaths through sepsis, because, he added: “It’s very common that if someone dies of sepsis that it’s coded or reported as simply being the underlying infection.

“So they might die of sepsis in an intensive care unit with multiple organ failure – but they’re recorded as a death from pneumonia. We need to fix that problem before we can truly understand the scale of sepsis.

The best way for us to do that is to develop a prospective data system like a registry that exists for other conditions, so that we can really get a national picture of what’s going on.”

He added: “The treatment for sepsis, if it’s caught early enough, involves very basic interventions – looking for the source of the infection, giving antibiotics.

“For every hour we delay in giving antibiotics, the patient’s risk of dying increases by a few per cent, so it’s essential that we spot it early and deliver the basics of care quickly.”

Jarman hopes his research data can be used to improve the survival chances of hospital patients who developed sepsis, via alerts that he sends to hospitals that are falling behind.

He said “Some of those hospitals with a lower death rate have got particular ways of reducing mortality from septicaemia, which the others we hope might learn from, and also we hope that by giving them this alert, within a month or two of the actual happening, they can actually get in there and do something quickly.”

There has been more of a focus on screening for sepsis in the NHS in recent years, led by the UK Sepsis Trust, which was formed by a group of clinicians at the Good Hope Hospital near Birmingham.

However, the fact that deaths from sepsis are commonly recorded as being caused by an underlying infection, rather than abnormal immune response to it – sepsis – means that gathering mortality data about hospital practices in diagnosis and management of sepsis is likely to lead to inaccurate results and cannot be relied on to improve recognition and diagnostic practices, or treatment.

Some reasons why sepsis is increasing

Vulnerability to sepsis is becoming more widespread. This is thought to be for a number of reasons:

  • More opportunities for infections to become complicated – more people are having invasive procedures and organ transplants, and more of us are taking immunosuppressive drugs and chemotherapies
  • Rising antibiotic resistance – microbes are becoming immune to drugs that would otherwise control infections

People more likely to get sepsis include:

  • Those with underlying lung disease, such as COPD and asthma
  • Those with illnesses that affect their immune response, such as HIV, leukaemia, chronic illness such as diabetes, lupus, and some other connective tissue /autoimmune diseases
  • Those taking immunosuppressant therapies, such as people who have had organ transplants, those with autoimmune illnesses, those with cancer having chemotherapy, or those on long-term steroid treatment 
  • Those who have had their spleen removed

Other predictors of higher severe sepsis incidence rates include socioeconomic status (those in poverty and destitution are at greater risk), and urbanicity.

In a context of austerity and cuts to basic social security and the NHS, it seems almost inevitable that cases of sepsis will increase.  

Any infection can trigger sepsis, including minor accidental cuts and insect bites that have become infected, but the following types of infections are more likely to cause sepsis:

  • Pneumonia
  • Meningitis
  • Abdominal infection 
  • Kidney/ urinary tract infection
  • Appendicitis
  • Infection of the gallbladder
  • Some cases of ‘flu

Symptoms of sepsis include:

  • Fever above 101ºF or a temperature below 96.8ºF (above 38.3º Celsius or below 36º C)
  • Heart rate higher than 90 beats per minute (tachycardia)
  • Fast, shallow breathing – rate higher than 20 breaths per minute (tachypnea)
  • Infection.

Other symptoms may be:

  • Dizziness or feelings of faintness
  • Confusion or a drop in alertness, or any other unusual change in mental state, including a feeling of doom or a real fear of death
  • Slurred speech
  • Diarrhoea, nausea, or vomiting
  • Severe muscle pain and extreme general discomfort
  • Difficulty breathing – shortness of breath
  • Low urine output (not needing to urinate for a whole day, for example)
  • Skin that is cold, clammy, and pale, blue, discolored or mottled
  • Skin that is cool and pale at the extremities, signaling poor blood supply (poor perfusion)
  • Loss of consciousness

It’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention if someone has more than one or two those symptoms, though loss of consciousness and severe breathing difficulty always need urgent medical attention.

The earlier you seek treatment, the greater are the chances of survival.

Sepsis medical criteria

There are two tools or sets of criteria that doctors use to determine the severity of your condition. One is the systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS). SIRS is defined when you meet two or more of the following criteria:

  • Fever of more than 38°C (100.4°F) or less than 36°C (96.8°F), often with chills and shivering
  • Heart rate of more than 90 beats per minute (tachycardia)
  • Respiratory rate of more than 20 breaths per minute or arterial carbon dioxide tension (PaCO 2) of less than 32 mm Hg
  • Abnormal white blood cell count

Another tool is the “quick sequential organ failure assessment” (qSOFA). It uses the results of three criteria:

  • Low blood pressure
  • High respiratory rate (greater than 22 breaths per minute)
  • Glasgow coma scale score of less than 15. (This scale is used to determine your level of consciousness.)

A positive qSOFA is determined if two or more of the above measurements are abnormal. Some doctors prefer using qSOFA because unlike the SIRS criteria, qSOFA does not require laboratory tests and so may be used to make a prompt assessment. This means it can also be used by paramedics – as it was in my case. The results of either or both of these assessments will help doctors determine care promptly.

Tests, diagnosis and treatment of sepsis

The first step that doctors and paramedics take in diagnosing sepsis is to observe the symptoms. Sepsis is a major challenge to diagnose, and in Intensive Care Units it’s one of the leading causes of death. It is also a leading cause of people being readmitted to hospital. Sepsis arises unpredictably and can progress very rapidly.

When doctors observe the typical signs and symptoms of sepsis, they will also consider the patient’s medical history and be alerted to possible sepsis if there has been a recent infection, a surgical or catheter procedure, or if the patient is particularly vulnerable to infection – because of compromised immunity, for example.

The main treatment for sepsis and septic shock is antibiotics, as most cases are caused by a bacterial infection, though viral and fungal agents less commonly may also cause sepsis. If someone has severe sepsis and septic shock, antibiotics will be given directly into a vein (intravenously). Often other support is provided, such as oxygen, ventilation, or dialysis, is also given to support organ function, depending on how well a person’s organs are coping. Methods to stabilise blood pressure are often used, along with administered anticoagulants to prevent blood clots.

Ideally, antibiotic treatment should start within an hour of diagnosis to reduce the risk of serious complications or death. Intravenous antibiotics are usually replaced by tablets after two to four days (though sometimes longer). Antibiotics may have to take them for 7 to 10 days or longer, and often for a while after someone leaves hospital, depending on the severity of their condition.

Doctors may have to make a quick “best guess” at the type of infection and, therefore, the type of antibiotics needed, because speed in treating the infection is of the greatest importance; waiting for laboratory sample tests would hold up a potentially lifesaving intervention. Treatment may be adjusted once the causative microbe has been identified.

Antibiotics alone may be sufficient at a very early stage of sepsis, but treatment needs to be given very promptly.

For later stages of sepsis and septic shock, emergency hospital treatment will be needed (often in the intensive care unit); additional to the IV antibiotics, it may include:

  • Intravenous fluids (especially during the first 24 to 48 hours after admission, if you have severe sepsis or septic shock.
  • Vasopressors (to raise blood pressure)
  • Central lines
  • Anticoagulants (to prevent blood clots)
  • Other means of organ support as necessary, such as oxygen therapy, mechanical ventilation or dialysis

Severe sepsis is associated with a drop in blood pressure. Low blood pressure reduces the amount of oxygen and nutrients going to the body’s organs. This drop causes damage to the body’s major organs.

Septic shock advances when adequate blood pressure cannot be restored despite treatment with IV fluids. Septic shock may progress very quickly to multiple organ failure and death.

Complications from septic shock may cause symptoms of:

  • Kidney failure
  • Lung failure
  • Heart failure
  • Blood clots
  • Death

Prompt medical attention, diagnosis and treatment are key to surviving sepsis.

Often, paramedics may test for a rise in blood sugar as hyperglycemia is very common in people who are critically ill with sepsis, regardless of whether they have diabetes. Mine had risen despite the fact I had been unable to keep food down for four days. Mine is usually on the low side generally, but it had risen while I was ill. No one really knows why this happens. 

Laboratory tests at the hospital include a blood test to measure C-reactive protein (CRP), which is a substance in the blood that is produced by the liver, and it is used to measure levels of inflammation in the body. It’s used often to test for some types of autoimmune illness flares, too.

A CRP level of more than 10 milligrams per litre (10mg/L) indicates clinically significant inflammation. However, when someone has a severe infection such as pneumonia, it is usually very high – often between 100-200, and sometimes higher. A high CRP is generally linked with infection severity, and a CRP of 200 + is fairly common in sepsis. A CRP above 300 is associated with a poorer prognosis. Mine was 396 by the time I got to hospital. 

CRP tests are very clever science and extremely useful. It’s not possible to make a diagnosis from the test result alone, but used in conjunction with other tests, CRP results can support a diagnosis. And the CRP level may also be used to judge how effective treatments are. The CRP “resolves” – comes down quite quickly, often before a patient starts to feel better – when their treatment, such as antibiotics, is successful. Two or three days into the IV antibiotic treatment, my CRP was down to 193.

Other biochemical tests include blood clotting assessments, a white cell count, measurements of serum lactate, procalcitonin and something called alkaline phosphatase, all of which collectively may helpt to diagnose a severe infection and a severe systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS), which is the key feature of sepsis

Testing is usually done to determine which family of bacteria has caused the infection so that antibiotic treatment may be tailored to treat it. 

It’s important that doctors maintain a high suspicion of sepsis  when someone hasan infection and symptoms, which is necessary to help prevent deaths.

In my case, the paramedics were highly suspicious of sepsis because I was tachycardic, my breathing was rapid, and I had an impeding sense of doom. My temperature was very raised and my blood glucose was raised. My blood pressure had plummeted to 70/40. There were no oxygen exchange noises in my lower lungs, so pneumonia was quickly diagnosed. An x ray later confirmed the pneumonia. I was given IV fluids to help raise my blood pressure and an antibiotic in the ambulance. I have no doubt these measures helped save my life.

 

Early suspicion of sepsis helps save lives.

 

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I wrote about my own experience of sepsis here, which includes more detailed information. The most shocking part ofthis experience was the fact I had not realised I was so gravely ill. So I wanted to raise awareness of this insidious and often fatal condition: Surviving sepsis: awareness raising and a case study

 


I don’t make any money from my work. I am disabled because of illness and have a very limited income. But you can help by making a donation to help me continue to research and write informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you. 

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My response to Brandon Lewis when he invited me to support the Conservatives

Image result for brandon lewis and theresa May

I was surprised to get the following email from Brandon Lewis, the Conservative party chairman, yesterday. 

I’ve published my response below the email.

Brandon lewis1

Brandon Lewis 2

brandon lewis 3

My response:

I want to share some news with you, Brandon,

I won’t ever be supporting the Conservatives. 

The government claims that austerity will ensure our children don’t inherit debt. That’s utter rubbish. I have seen my 2 youngest sons struggle making ends meet to get through university. Their tuition fees cost a lot more than our young people are permitted to borrow through the student loans company to meet their living costs each year. Despite the poorest students struggling to get by, they will still come away from university with a debt that is the same size as my mortgage was in 2003. My sons also lost their Education Maintenance Allowance because of your government.  To be frank, your party have caused my family and loved ones nothing but increasing hardship.

That’s how much this government values young people. Not very much. Certainly not enough to invest in their future, or in in opportunities that are meaningful and secure. My generation had access to free higher education. This generation is the first in a long time to be worse of than their parents were, in multiple ways, and not just because of the heavy costs of an education.

Jobs have become increasingly precarious. Worker’s rights and conditions are deteriorating and exploitation is flourishing because you have viciously attacked trade unionism and undermined the principle of collective bargaining. You have also deregulated the labour market because you are, after all, the ‘business friendly’ party.

Conservative corporatocratic principles have tilted the balance of power away from workers, leading to blatantly exploitative employment practices and grim, insecure working conditions. Your ‘business friendly’ agenda is the reason for bank bailouts, excessive pay for CEOs, increasing socioeconomic inequality, as well as the exploitation of national treasuries, people, and natural resources. Such an approach constitutes proto-fascism. 

Historically, fascists have operated from a social Darwinist perspective of human relations. Like the Conservatives, they create and value inequality. In terms of economic practices, this has generally meant promoting the interests of successful and monopolistic big business while destroying trade unions and other organisations of the working class. Fascists also promoted nationalism. I’m sure you don’t need me to point out the numerous uncomfortable parallels here, including your party’s stranglehold on the media. 

“Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power” – attributed to Benito Mussolini, but probably came from Giovanni Gentile, the philosopher of fascism, in the first edition of the Italian Encyclopedia (Enciclopedia Treccani).

In 2013, JP Morgan wrote a document, which I read at the time – The Euro Area Adjustment—About Half-Way There. Firstly,  they say that financial measures are necessary to ensure that major investment houses such as JP Morgan can continue to reap huge profits from their speculative activities in Europe. Secondly, the authors maintain, it is necessary to impose ‘political reforms’ aimed at suppressing opposition to the massively unpopular austerity measures being imposed at the behest of the banks. 

The authors write: “The political systems in the periphery were established in the aftermath of dictatorship, and were defined by that experience. Constitutions tend to show a strong socialist influence, reflecting the political strength that left-wing parties gained after the defeat of fascism.

“Political systems around the periphery typically display several of the following features: weak executives; weak central states relative to regions; constitutional protection of labour rights; consensus-building systems which foster political clientalism; and the right to protest if unwelcome changes are made to the political status quo. The shortcomings of this political legacy have been revealed by the crisis.

Whatever the historical inaccuracies in their analysis, there can not be the slightest doubt that the authors of the JP Morgan report are arguing for governments to adopt authoritarianism to complete the process of social counterrevolution that is already well underway across Europe.

What JP Morgan is making clear is that anything resembling ‘socialism’ or left inclinations must be removed from political structures; localism must be replaced with strong, central authority; labour rights must be removed, consensus (democracy) and the right to protest must be curtailed. In short, JP Morgan called for authoritarian measures to suppress the working class and wipe out its social gains since the post-war settlement. This is the unadulterated anti-philanthropic voice of neoliberalism, which your party has embraced. 

Last year 16,333 people in the London borough of Kensington and Chelsea voted in the general election for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party, a constituency that has always been Conservative. Curiously, as the Financial Times pointed out, Kensington is where the senior European bankers live.  Andrea Orcel, chief executive of UBS’s investment bank, is among its denizens. BNP Paribas employs 7,500 people in London, and above VP level, most of them live in the vicinity of South Kensington station. – 25% of inhabitants of the South Kensington neighbourhood in particular work in finance. It is inferred that the swing happened in part because of the complete hash that your party is making of Brexit.

Your ‘high employment’ narrative does not benefit citizens, who face zero hour contracts, little employment security and more than half of those people needing to claim welfare support are in work. Your definition of ‘employment’ includes people who work as little as one hour a week. It includes carers. It also includes people who have been sanctioned.

Now there is a perverse incentive to furnish a hostile environment of DWP administrative practices in action.

When your party took office in 2010, on average citizens earned £467 a week. The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that we now take home £460 a week. In other words, average wages have gone down in real terms during the eight years of Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative governments, while the cost of living has risen substantially. It’s a misleading to make these claims at all when weekly earnings are actually 1.3 per cent lower now in real terms than they were when the Conservatives took office in 2010.

Furthermore, the ONS also produced household data suggesting that the true rate of unemployment is 4 times greater than the government’s preferred statistic.

The Conservative’s official definition of unemployment disguises the true rate, of course. In reality, about 21.5% of all working-age people (defined as ages 16 to 64) are without jobs, or 8.83 million peopleaccording to the Office for National Statistics. I know whose statistics I believe, given your party’s track record of abusing figures and telling lies.

Here is more data here on the effect of chronic underemployment of the unemployment rate, and the depressing new reality of the gig economy.

Conservatives being conservative with the truth as ever.

As ever we are witnessing the same old cheap labour Conservatism, where profits grow and wages are a stagnated pittance. Private companies gatekeep resources and services that were originally intended to meet the most basic needs of citizens, costing the tax payer billions while offering nothing in return but misery and cruel ideologically driven behaviourist practices. 

The clue is in the name: the word “Tory” I guess. It derives from the Middle Irish word tóraidhe, which means outlaw, robber or brigand, from the Irish word tóir, meaning “pursuit”, since outlaws were “pursued men”. It was originally used to refer to an Irish outlaw and later applied to Confederates or Royalists in arms. The term was originally one of abuse. As far as I am concerned, it remains so.

The Tories live by plundering. They steal people’s wages, public services, human rights and liberties, public provision and labour, in order to raise more money for the rich.

People know that wages are low, because of their daily experiences. The cost of living has risen, while wages have remained depressed throughout the last 8 years. People in work have had to queue at food banks, and in-work poverty is growing. Meanwhile you have pared publicly funded welfare support down to the bone. We pay for public services that your government seems to think we shouldn’t need. Your government is a sanctimonious, arrogant Victorian relic, with scant regard for citizens rights and democracy.

A personal account of why I won’t ever support the Conservatives

I’m a disabled person and from where I am trying to stand, I can see very clearly and first hand how your government have taken money from the poorest citizens and handed it out to your very wealthy and powerful friends. At the same time that you were imposing austerity on the poorest citizens and savage cuts on welfare and public services – placing a disproportionate burden on disabled people in particular – you were handing out tax cuts to millionaires to the tune of £107,000 each per year. Your austerity programme was very class contingent. Your generosity is pure elitism in action. Your ‘accumulation by wealthy through dispossession of the poorest’ approach to economics creates a hole in our economy which you attempt to plug every time by squeezing the poorest citizens. It’s a vicious cycle of vicious class discrimination and despotic behaviour, Brandon. 

And you richly reward private companies to gatekeep publicly funded services, causing those who have funded and continue to fund those safety net provisions distress and harm when they need to access the support they have paid for.

I have experienced this first hand. After working for many years, I became too ill to work in 2010, just as the Conservative-led coalition took office. I was forced to give up a social work job I loved because I was very ill. The last 8 years have been the bleakest I have ever known. Not just because I am seriously ill, but because your government have treated my human rights and those of other disabled people as somehow optional and increasingly conditional. Yet the whole point of human rights is that they are universal.

Disabled people like me have been forced to carry the heaviest burden of austerity because of traditional Conservative prejudices. In the last 8 years I have undergone 4 assessments, mandatory review, appeal and years of unwarranted distress and hardship, exacerbating my illness. I lost my home.

At my last ESA assessment, I was so ill that I collapsed. It was just 3 months after I had won my appeal. The nurse who conducted my first assessment said I was fit for work and I scored zero points. Her report must have been about someone else, because it bore no resemblance to my disability, my illness, my life or the assessment. At my last ESA assessment, I ensured that the interview was recorded. The doctor I saw could not understand why the Department for Work and Pensions had sent me for a reassessment when I was so clearly very unwell and having to take chemotherapy. Remarkably, following my collapse, he kindly sent me home in a taxi and Atos paid for it. It was either that or an ambulance.

Because my experiences claiming ESA were so distressing, I couldn’t face claiming PIP for SEVEN years. My local council had helped me, despite the miserly cuts you have imposed on them, (especially in view of the current surplus) because I needed aids and appliances in my home to maintain my mobility, and they offered support with my PIP claim. The assessment experience was once again appalling, leaving me in a lot more pain than when I arrived for the examination. Furthermore, I was told I could not have a point awarded for cognitive difficulties, despite the fact it was noted in the report that I needed prompting during the interview several times, and that my short-term memory is poor – I need aids to remember to take my medication, for example.

The assessor, having acknowledged my cognitive difficulties, went on to conclude somewhat incoherently that it wasn’t a problem. The point was the difference between a basic award and an enhanced award.  The reasoning for deducting that point went as follows: I used to have a driving licence in 2003. I worked as a social worker until 2010 – when I became too ill to work. She also said that I have a degree (gained in 1996, long before I became ill). Therefore there is ‘no evidence’ that [in 2017] my illness has caused cognitive problems, despite it being known to do so. I haven’t been able to drive since 2005 because I developed a sensitivity to flicker, which causes partial seizures. Just driving past lamp posts, telegraph posts and trees triggers vertigo, blindness, severe coordination difficulties, speech difficulties, altered states of consciousness, and muscle rigidity and twitching. I haven’t worked for 8 years, since becoming seriously ill. 

The DWP didn’t even bother to respond to my request for a mandatory review.

My experiences are not isolated events. They have become commonplace. Your government continues to refuse to listen to people like me. You have dismissed us, deplorably, as ‘scaremongers’. Such political gaslighting is shameful.

You have refused to listen to the concerns raised by the United Nations regarding the systematic and grave violations of disabled people’s human rights because of your excruciatingly punitive policies that create hostile environments for those social groups your government clearly despises.

So I’m sure you will understand why I cannot ever support an authoritarian government that refuses to listen to so many citizens’ accounts of their experiences of extremely punitive government policies, or one that refuses to democratically include them in policy design and support them in participating in the economy and society.

What is the point of a government of a wealthy country that not only fails to ensure that all citizens can meet their basic survival needs, but also remains completely indifferent to those needs?

So my answer is no, Brandon.

Ask yourself: what has your party ever done for people like me, my loved ones and my friends? 

With utmost sincerity,

Sue Jones

 

Related

Conservatism in a nutshell

JP Morgan wants Europe to be rid of social rights, democracy, employee rights and the right to protest (2013)



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Meet Helena McAleer: a humane, thoroughly decent private landord who cares about her tenants

Image result for private rental sector

Five days ago, I wrote an article about why private landlords are calling for a ‘major overhaul’ of universal credit. I discussed why some are refusing to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants. Mortgage lenders often refuse to give mortgages to buy-to-let landlords with tenants who claim welfare support. Universal credit has created further concern because of the larger shortfall in rent allowance and rent price, and the new policy is leaving large numbers of tenants struggling with hefty arrears in part because of the long wait for the claims to be processed, too. 

I also talked about Helena McAleer, a private landlord who was reduced to tears after NatWest said she had breached her mortgage terms by letting her two-bedroom property in Belfast to a tenant in receipt of support from the state. The tenant is an older woman, who suffers from mental health problems and would struggle with the moving process, Helena explained.

She was given the cruel ultimatum of making her tenant homeless or footing a £2,500 bill to leave the NatWest deal, after asking for a further advance from the lender. 

She told Mortgage Solutions: “I was angry at the fact that another human being could ask me to kick out another human being.

“It was very black and white…  they don’t think about that person, you’re just an anonymised piece of data… that’s what hurt me, that’s not fair.”

She added: “[The tenant] is a vulnerable older lady, she has mental health issues; I’m not putting her out on the street.”

The marketing innovation manager remortgaged to NatWest in January through broker Habito, providing information about her tenant’s situation to the digital adviser.

But when Helena approached NatWest about taking money out of the property to buy in London in September, the lender said it had not been disclosed that the tenant was in receipt of government support.

She refused to remove the tenant and asked NatWest to reconsider.

The tenant has been in place since 2016 and is set to stay for the foreseeable future.

Helena has been in touch to tell me about her petition, which calls on the government to stop banks discriminating against welfare recipients.

She says “Some banks refuse mortgages to buy to let landlords who let to welfare recipients. My bank instructed me to “seek an alternative tenant” if I wished to keep my mortgage because my tenant was a welfare recipient.

“The government must close these loopholes, as they are a breach of basic human rights.

“A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (welfare recipients).”

This isn’t only because landlords are discriminatory, many banks prohibit landlords from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. Welfare recipients are not 2nd class citizens they deserve access to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes as is their Human Right.

Helena goes on to say in her Facebook post: “You may not know this but I have a buy-to-let mortgage with NatWest and on the 27th September they asked me to “seek an alternative tenant” simply because my tenant is in recipient of “Social Security/Government benefits” or my other option is to find a new mortgage elsewhere and pay a £2500 penalty for moving.

“I was beyond disgusted by the statement. Actually more than that I cried my eyes out for hours, how could a bank, a person at a bank make the decision that I had to kick someone out of their home simply because of their circumstances, because fundamentally that’s what they are asking me to do.

“She has been an extremely reliable tenant for over 2.5 years and I have only had the NatWest mortgage for 6 months. They initially didn’t question the fact that the rent money was coming into my account from the NIHE (Northern Ireland Housing Executive), when questioned on this they said it wasn’t their job to check where the money was coming from only that i was receiving it. So as far as I am concerned they failed to do their due diligence and neither I nor my tenant should suffer because of this. They stated “the mortgage should not have been agreed by our underwriters if NatWest were aware the payments were coming from DSS.”

“Everyone here knows me, you know there’s no way I’d ever ever make someone homeless, so I am currently in the process of moving my mortgage to a more ethical provider and leaving Natwest, I mean moving my current account savings accounts the whole shebang. And knowing me, you’ll know that I won’t stop there, I will always fight to the end for something I believe to be right.

“However, what I have since discovered since this began, is that this policy is symptomatic of discrimination across the entire buy-to-let banking system. “A survey of 1,137 private landlords for housing charity Shelter in 2017 found that 43% had an outright ban on letting to such claimants (benefit recipients). A further 18% preferred not to let to them.” But this isn’t because landlords are necessarily discriminatory, that’s not the real story, this is because banks prohibit many landlords like myself from renting to reliable tenants just because of their circumstances. These people are not second class citizens they deserve the opportunity to live to the same standards as the rest of society.

“The facts are, that there are more than one million families in the UK waiting on the government to provide social housing. This could be alleviated by landlords being allowed to let to these families. According to Shelter, eight million people are only one paycheck away from being unable to pay for their home. This issue could affect us all, not just those currently receiving social benefits.

“In the last few weeks, I have spoken with several charities who have pledged their support, including Shelter who are supporting from a legal perspective, the battle isn’t over yet, so watch this space. I have spoken with the Labour Minister for housings’ office who is speaking directly with Natwest. The story has been published in the press and i’ve started this petition. I’ve been busy .

“So this is why I now need your help, I created this petition to get the government to put legislation in place that would prevent banks, even banks owned by the state, that’s you and me, from discriminating against people on benefits fundamentally denying them their basic human right to safe, secure, habitable, and affordable homes.

“To make this a success I need the support of as many people as possible, I need you to sign and share this petition as far and wide as possible to get the government to take action We need 100,000 signatures (that’s doable) to have this debated in parliament.

“Please sign the petition and share on Facebook, twitter and any other social platforms you happen to be on.

“We have a real opportunity to make a difference to so many people’s lives. We are lucky to live in a world where determined individuals can make an impact on the world in ways that might not have been possible before.

“If anyone has any contacts who would like to know more information to help me spread this story further, please get in touch.”

Please sign the petition and share this widely. 

Thanks.

Thank you Helena for your hard work. And for caring.

Some further information

Shelter has a guide on ‘convincing’ a landlord to rent to you. It says local councils may keep lists of private landlords who accept tenants on housing benefit, and that some websites such as SpareRoom allow you to select a “DSS OK” filter. There is also a website called Dssmove that connects tenants with agents and landlords “that say yes to DSS”.

Smartmove can also help tenants make a claim for housing benefit and Discretionary Housing Payments.

The House of Commons Library has produced a briefing on this issue. 

 

Image result for private rental sector DSS welcome

Related

Why private landlords are calling for ‘major overhaul’ of Universal Credit, many refuse to let properties to ‘high risk’ universal credit claimants

 


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Tens of thousands of people claiming ESA owed thousands each due to government blunder

Tens of thousands of disabled people are set to receive backdated benefit payments averaging £5,000 following a government error. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has revealed it will pay out more than £1.5bn after “shoddy administration” meant about 180,000 people did not receive benefits they were legally entitled to after being ‘migrated’ from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The average underpayment for each person is estimated to be about £5,000, but some people will be owed significantly more, with approximately 20,000 having been underpaid around £11,500 and a small number owed as much as £20,000.

The error was first thought to have resulted in underpayment for 70,000 disabled people over seven years, but a government document published on Wednesday shows it is expected to have affected far more people, with the estimated back payments bill having risen from £340m to £970m. 

The average underpayment for each person affected is estimated to be about £5,000, but some people will be owed significantly more, with approximately 20,000 people having been underpaid around £11,500 and a small number owed as much as £20,000.

Initially, the government said there would be up to £150m that may never be paid back because arrears would only be accounted for as far back as 21 October 2014, the date of a legal tribunal ruling – meaning some would never have been reimbursed. However, following legal action, ministers made a U-turn in July and subsequently announced it would pay back the thousands of disabled people in full. 

In July, Esther McVey, the minster for work and pensions, made a ministerial statement: “The Department has analysed the relationship between ‘official error’ and section 27 of the Social Security Act 1998 in regulating how and to what extent arrears can be paid. As a result of the conclusions of this analysis, we will now be paying arrears to those affected back to their date of conversion to ESA.

“My department will be contacting all those identified as potentially affected as planned. Once an individual is contacted, and the relevant information gathered, they can expect to receive appropriate payment within 12 weeks.” 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, accused the Conservatives of creating a “hostile environment for sick and disabled people”.

She added: “Disabled people have been short-changed and denied the social security they were entitled to. The government must ensure that disabled people who have been so unfairly treated are properly compensated.”

McVey also confirmed that once contacted, claimants would be provided with a dedicated free phone number on which they can make contact with the department.

The government said it was in the process of reviewing about 570,000 ESA cases that could be affected, and that it expects to complete the process by the end of 2019.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Anyone affected by this historic error will receive all of the money they are entitled to. That is why we have created a dedicated team of over 400 staff to examine cases, and have paid back around £120m so far. 

“We have worked with charities and other disability organisations to make sure that we are providing the right support to all affected claimants and are hiring and allocating more staff to do that.”

Responding at the time of the ruling, Carla Clarke, solicitor for Child Poverty Action Group, which launched the legal action, said: “Poor and inadequate DWP processes left up to 70,000 [now estimated at 180,000] disabled individuals without the support they should have received to help them with their additional costs.  

Justice required that the DWP error was corrected in its entirety for the people affected, many of whom are owed arrears from 2011. We are pleased that the DWP agreed that this was correct following our legal action. 

However, it shouldn’t be necessary to take a government department to court to achieve justice for people who have been failed by officials making avoidable errors.”

The government’s hostile environment and Personal Independence Payments

Image result for universal credit disabled people criticism

The government announced in January this year that every person receiving Personal Independence Payments (PIP) will have their claim reviewed. A total of 1.6 million of the main disability benefit claims will be reviewed, with around 220,000 people expected to receive more money.

The decision came after the DWP decided not to challenge a court ruling that said changes to PIP were unfair to people with mental health conditions. The review could cost £3.7bn by 2023.

The minister for disabled people, Sarah Newton, said the DWP was embarking on a “complex exercise and of considerable scale”.

She added: “Whilst we will be working at pace to complete this exercise, it is important that we get it right.”

The government should have got it right inthe first place. It shouldn’t be necessary to take a government department to court to achieve justice for people who have been failed by officials.

Ministers made changes to PIP in 2017 which limited the amount of support people with mental health conditions could receive. As a result, people who were unable to travel independently on the grounds of psychological distress – as opposed to other conditions – were not entitled to the enhanced mobility rate of the benefit. 

The government pressed ahead with these changes, despite criticism from an independent tribunal in 2016.

In 2017, an independent review of PIP was highly critical of the assessment system, after revealing 65% of those who appealed against rejected claims saw the decision overturned by judges.

Last December, a High Court judge ruled the alterations “blatantly discriminate” against people with psychiatric problems and were a breach of their human rights.

Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey subsequently announced that the government would not appeal against the judgement, despite not agreeing with ‘certain aspects of it.’ 

 Disability income guarantee cut under Universal Credit

The first legal challenge against Universal Credit in June this year found that the government discriminated against two men with severe disabilities who were required to claim the new benefit after moving into new local authority area.

Prior to moving, both men were in receipt of the Severe Disability Premium (SDP) and Enhanced Disability Premium (EDP), which were specifically aimed at meeting the additional care needs of severely disabled people living alone with no carer, as part of their Employment and Support Allowance entitlement.

Recently released figures from the DWP suggest that 500,000 individuals are in receipt of the SDP. Both the SDP and EDP have been axed and are not available under Universal Credit. According to both the men, they were advised by DWP staff that their benefit entitlement would not change.

Despite repeated assurances from the government that “no one will experience a reduction in the benefit they are receiving at the point of migration to Universal Credit where circumstances remain the same” both claimants saw an immediate drop in their income of around £178 a month when they were moved onto Universal Credit.

When they asked for top up payments they were told that government policy was that no such payments would be paid until July 2019, when managed migration would begin.

The court ruled that the implementation of Universal Credit and the absence of any ‘top up’ payments for disabled people as compared to others constitutes discrimination contrary to the European Convention on Human Rights. Following months of litigation, McVey, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, carried out a policy U-turn and committed the government to ensuring that no severely disabled person in receipt of the SDP will be made to move onto Universal Credit until transitional protection is in place and also committed to compensating those like the two disabled men who have lost out.

Despite this, following hand down of the judgment the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has sought permission to appeal, maintaining that there was “nothing unlawful” with the way the disabled claimants were treated.

However, a subsequent court case resulted in agreement on compensation for the two men. TP will now receive £3,277 for past financial losses and £3,240 for the pain and distress he has been caused, as well as £173.50 a month to cover the shortfall in his benefits pending transitional protection coming into force.

AR will receive £2,108 for past financial losses and £2,680 for the anxiety and distress he was caused, as well as a monthly payment of £176 to make up the shortfall in his benefits.

The DWP had initially attempted to keep the terms of the agreement secret. However, the High Court ordered the department to disclose the details of the compensation settlement. 

Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “This again demonstrates the government’s mistreatment of disabled people.

“These men were assured by the government that they wouldn’t lose out on universal credit but they were left thousands of pounds out of pocket, which severely impacted on their wellbeing.

“Esther McVey should now compensate all those who lost out, reverse cuts to transitional protection, and withdraw her appeal against the original finding of discrimination.

“The government must also stop the roll out of universal credit and fix its fundamental flaws.

“The next Labour government will transform our social security system, ensuring it is there to support disabled people to live independently and with dignity.”

Tessa Gregory, from the law firm Leigh Day, who represented the two men, known only as AR and TP, welcomed the financial settlements.

But she called on McVey to compensate all other claimants in similar positions, and to reconsider her decision to appeal the finding of discrimination.

She said AR and TP had called on McVey to “urgently” reconsider draft regulations which currently only compensate disabled people in their position with a flat rate payment of £80 a month.

Gregory said: “This plainly does not reflect the actual loss suffered by our clients and thousands like them and compounds the unlawful treatment to which they have been subjected.”

The DWP have refused to answer questions about the case, including how many disabled people it believed had so far lost out on EDP and SDP in the move to universal credit, and whether McVey would reconsider her decision to compensate others in the same position as AR and TP by only £80 a month.

A DWP spokesman confirmed: “The government is appealing the decision of the judicial review, but in the interim we have agreed to make payments to the lead claimants.”

Figures published by the DWP suggest that, in February this year, there were 4,000 SDP claimants and 14,000 EDP claimants (including 3,000 who received both EDP and SDP) who have been moved onto universal credit.

The DWP has previously said it will stop moving claimants of SDP onto universal credit until the introduction of transitional protection next year, while all those who have already lost out through such a move will receive some backdated payments.

But it has not offered them the full compensation agreed with AR and TP and there has been no mention so far of claimants who previously received EDP but not SDP before their move onto universal credit.

And the DWP has still not been able to explain how it justifies not providing equivalent levels of support to new disabled claimants of universal credit, who will receive lower payments than those transferred onto universal credit from legacy benefits such as income-related ESA.

DNS has been forced to complain to the Information Commissioner’s Office about DWP’s refusal to offer a detailed description of how the introduction of universal credit – and the loss of the premiums – will impact disabled people financially.

I did some joint work with Alex, who writes at Universal Credit Sufferer, after a third sector welfare advisor informed us that people claiming PIP were being told to claim legacy benefits – ESA or JSA if they are fit for work – by the DWP and that they were not allowed to sign onto Universal Credit. 

Following several calls between us to the DWP press office, it was clear that staff were not at all clear about this situation. The response we eventually got was “We need to check with officials and come back to you tomorrow.” However, I didn’t get a follow-up call. 

It seems that all new claims for Universal Credit will not be accepted if the person claiming is in receipt of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) Daily Living Component. However, this move has not been widely publicised. Both Alex and I found that when we used Universal Credit’s online application portal, it will not accept a claim if you declare you are in receipt of Personal Independence Payment (PIP).

While it may be a reluctantly positive move to ensure that disabled people won’t be forced into claiming universal credit and therefore losing their disability premiums, this isn’t a long term solution. It nothing to address the loss of the premiums for new disabled claimants. Nor does it address the controversial and fatally flawed assessment and appeal processes that are unfit for purpose under any welfare circumstance.

But the road to tyranny is mostly paved by government that create hostile environments for some groups and ignore citizens’ accounts of the impacts of their actions on citizens.


Related

Conservative MPs accuse citizens of ‘scaremongering stories’ about experiences of Universal Credit.

Work and Pensions Committee publishes “damning” evidence of the impact of Universal Credit

Disabled people ‘worse off’ under universal credit

 


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Blind chef who accidently set him self on fire deemed ‘fit for work’ by DWP

The 51-year-old was registered partially sighted five months ago (Photo: Russell Marcus)

51 year old Russel Barton was registered partially sighted five months ago (Photo: Russell Burton) 

Russell Burton was registered partially sighted earlier this year, after burning himself with oil and setting his clothing on fire accidently at work. Burton has worked as a professional chef for the 25 years, but says his deteriorating eyesight means that he is unable to carry on in that job.

Now he fears for his future because the Department of Work and Pensions have claimed he is ‘fit for work’ so he isn’t eligible for disability benefit.

Yet he cannot apply for work as a chef and he lacks the skills and experience to be considered for other roles. He says after 10 months of signing on he’s had no help with retraining from the government. 

Burton had tried to keep his health problems hidden from his bosses, but was “let go of” four times in 18 months after repeatedly missing orders and following several accidents in the kitchen. The last time this happened, in January this year, Burton said he had to acknowledge that he had to leave behind the career he’s known and loved all of his life. Then, five months ago, his doctor approved him as registered partially sighted. 

Burton says he has been switched back and forth between Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) six times this year – and each time his money is delayed, which is making him depressed and anxious. He added “Each time they switch me between benefits I can be waiting a month of two for my money. They just tell me ‘go to a food bank”.  

“No-one will hire me as a chef anymore and I know myself I just can’t be in a kitchen anymore because I’m a health and safety risk to myself and to others. I tried to hide it for the last five years but I clearly can’t anymore.

“I’m keen to find a new career but no-one gets back to me when I apply for jobs I’ve no experience in. The Job Centre has promised me help with retraining but I’ve had zero support so far.” 

He explains: “One time I was holding a tea towel that caught fire and then the sleeves of my top went up.”

Since birth, Russell’s left eye as been affected by amblyopia. The childhood condition means that vision doesn’t develop properly. Children with this problem can see less clearly out of the affected eye and rely more on the ‘good’ eye. This has caused blind spots and double vision for Burton.

Five years ago, he suffered macular scarring in the righ eye — his ‘good eye’ — as an amateur photographer, as he was trying to capture the sun’s corona, which caused his central vision to go blurred and distorted.

Burton says he’s keen to find a new career path but wants some help with re-training 

He explained how his deteriorating eyesight impacted on his chef work: “I was missing tickets – in a restaurant a chef could get 120 tickets an hour and I was struggling to read them. There were times I cut myself chopping, you’re under pressure to work fast and that’s dangerous without good eyesight.

“One time I was holding a tea towel that caught fire and then the sleeves of my top went up. Other times I’d splashed myself with hot oil as I hadn’t seen there was any there in the pan.”

Burton says: “There’s an awful mentality with Job Centre staff where they think it’s acceptable or normal to leave people for months without money. The system is broken.”

Burton who lives with his partner Rachel and her two children, said the uncertainty and insecurity of his income has had an impact on his mental health: “For months I became a recluse, I didn’t go out anywhere or see anyone,” he said.

He has also lost two stone over the last nine months, which he believes is due to a combination of stress and an undiagnosed stomach condition. 

He said: “The doctors thought I had an ulcer but that’s now been ruled out but they don’t know what’s causing my gastrointestinal problems. It doesn’t help that when I’ve been switched to contributions based JSA or ESA I’ve not been entitled to free prescriptions so I’ve not been able to afford to buy the medicines I need to help settle my stomach.”

Burton said he feels “extremely let down” by the state.

“There’s an awful mentality with Job Centre staff where they think it’s acceptable or normal to leave people for months without money and they just say ‘go to a food bank’ when you complain.

“Food banks should be an absolute last resort for people. The system is broken.” 

A system that coerces people who may, through no fault of their own, pose a danger to themselves or others to work is definitely broken. If Russell Barton has an accident in the work place, who is culpable? Barton has expained the impact of his condition, and outlined some of the consequences. The Department for Work and Pensions have taken absolutely no notice of him. He may find some work he can do, but there are serious restrictions on the kind of work he can now do. 

It’s utterly appalling and cruel that people like Russell Barton are placed in situations where they are left for long periods with no income, and then forced to look for work within an extremely competitive employment market when there are such significant health and safety barriers to the kinds of work he can undertake. 

It’s a social security system that has been set up intentionally to fail people, and furthermore it is placing people in unacceptable situations of danger.

 


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New research shows welfare sanctions are punitive, create perverse incentives and are potentially life-threatening

Image result for 3 year study show sanctions don't work

Two days ago I published an article about people who have been harmed by welfare  sanctions because they were chronically ill. Two of those people died as a consequence of actions taken by the Department for work and Pensions – see Welfare sanctions are killing people with chronic illnesses

Several studies over the last few years have found there no evidence that benefit sanctions ‘help’ claimants find employment, and most have concluded that sanctions have an extremely detrimental impact on people claiming welfare support.

However, the Conservatives still insist that benefit conditionality and sanctions regime is ‘helping’ people into work. 

Yesterday, an important study was published, which warned what many of us have known for a long time – that sanctions are potentially life-threatening. The authors of the study warn that sanctioning is  “ineffective” and presents “perverse and punitive incentive that are detrimental to health”.

The study – Where your mental health just disappears overnightdrew on an inclusive and democratic qualitative methodology, adding valuable insight as well as empirical evidence that verifies that sanctions are harmful, life-threatening and do not work as a positive incentive to ‘help’ people into work. The authors’ conclusions further validate the wide and growing consensus that sanctions should be completely halted.

The researchers say that benefits sanctions and conditions are simply pushing disabled people further from employment as well as damaging their health.

The research was carried out jointly by the University of Essex and Inclusion London, and it was designed to investigate the experiences of people claiming the Work Related Activity (WRAG) component of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).  

The authors of the report are: Ellen Clifford of Inclusion London, Jaimini Mehta, a Trainee Clinical Psychologist at the University of Essex, Dr Danny Taggart, Honorary Clinical Psychologist and Dr Ewen Speed, both from School of Health and Social Care, also at the University of Essex.

WRAG claimants are deemed suitable for some work related activity and failure to engage can lead to ESA payments being cut or ‘sanctioned’. Under Universal Credit, the ESA WRAG is being replaced by the Limited Capability for Work group (LCW). The ESA Support Group is replaced by the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity group (LCWRA). 

The research team found that all of the participants in the study experienced significantly detrimental effects on their mental health. The impact of sanctions was life threatening for some people.

For many, the underlying fear from the threat of sanctions meant living in a state of constant anxiety and fear. This chronic state of poor psychological welfare and constant sense of insecurity caused by the adverse consequences of conditionality can make it very difficult for people to engage in work related activity and was made worse by the extremely unpredictable way conditionality was applied, leaving some participants unsure of how to avoid sanctions. The researchers concluded that conditionality is an ineffective psychological intervention. It does not work as the government have claimed.

The research report and findings were launched at an event in Parliament hosted by the  cross-bench peer Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson.

Ellen Clifford, Campaigns and Policy Manager at Inclusion London, said: “This important research adds to the growing weight of evidence that conditionality and sanctions are not only harmful to individuals causing mental and physical negative impacts, but are also counter-productive in their aim of pushing more disabled people into paid work.

“Universal Credit, which is set to affect around 7 million people with 58% of households affected containing a disabled person, will extend and entrench conditionality.

“This is yet another reason why the roll out of Universal Credit must be stopped and a new system designed based on evidence based approaches and co-produced with disabled people and benefit claimants.”

The results also showed that participants wanted to engage in work and many found meaning in vocational activity. However, the WRAG prioritised less meaningful tasks.

In addition, it was found that rather than ‘incentivising’ work related activity, conditionality meant participants were driven by a range of behaviourist “perverse and punitive incentives”, being asked to engage in activity that undermined their self-confidence and required them to understate their previous achievements.

Other themes that emerged during the study included more negative experiences of conditionality, which included feeling controlled, a lack of autonomy and work activities which participants felt were inappropriate or in conflict with their personal values.

The government have claimed that generous welfare creates ‘perverse incentives’ by making people too comfortable and disinclined to look for work. However, international research has indicated that this isn’t true. One study found that generous welfare actually creates a greater work ethic than less generous provision.

Dr Danny Taggart, Lecturer in Clinical Psychology at the University of Essex, said: “Based on these findings, the psychological model of behaviour change that underpins conditionality and sanctioning is fundamentally flawed.

“The use of incentives to encourage people to engage in work related activity is empirically untested and draws on research with populations who are not faced with the complex needs of disabled people.

“The perverse and punitive incentives outlined in this study rendered participants so anxious that they were paradoxically less able to focus on engagement in vocational activity.

“More research needs to be undertaken to understand how to best support disabled people into meaningful vocational activity, something that both the government and a majority of disabled people want.

“This study adds further evidence to support any future research being undertaken in collaboration with disabled people’s organisations who are better able to understand the needs of disabled people.” 

Participants in the study commented on some of the perverse incentives: “The new payments for ESA from this year are £73 a week as opposed to £102. Well if you’re on £102 a week because you’ve been on it for longer than 6 or 12 months and you know if you go back to work and it turns out you’re not well enough to carry on then you’re coming back at the new rate of £73 per week. That’s going make you more cautious and its counter-productive and it increases the stress.” (Daniel). 

“After 13 weeks I have to go and put a new claim in. After 13 weeks if the job doesn’t last, or if I get made redundant, or if I get terminated or the contract stops, I then have to go into starting all over again. Reassessment etc. So, I’m worse off.” (Dipesh).

Another form of perverse and punitive incentive arises because qualifications are regarded as an impediment to employment, not an asset; “So when the Job Centre says to you, you should remove your degree from your CV because they don’t want you to be over qualified when you apply for the jobs they give… The impact on your feeling of self-worth… They told me to remove it and if I didn’t I would be punished and would be sanctioned… This is the way that the Job Centre chip away at your confidence and all those sorts of things.” (Charlie).

The report discusses the stark impact of sanctions, described by ‘Charlie’. The authors say: “We include a fuller narrative in this case as it incorporates a number of the themes that came up for the sample as a whole – the perverse and punitive incentives and double binds involved in the WRAG, the mental health crises caused by Conditionality and Sanctioning, and how these pushed people further away from employment.

Charlie explains: “It became a really stressful time for me… we didn’t have a foodbank that was open regularly so I didn’t have that as an option… So, what I was doing instead, because quite quickly my electricity went out… So, all my food was spoilt that was in the freezer. I managed to last for another 5-6 days of food from stuff that I had in the house. So, after that I started to go, I was on a work programme but was never called in. So, I’d go in anyway and there were oranges and apples in a fruit bowl, so I would just go in there and steal the oranges and bananas so I would have something to eat. Then they finally made a decision that I was going to be sanctioned… And there was this image which will probably stay with me for the rest of my life. 

“On Christmas day I was sat alone, at home just waiting for darkness to come so I could go to sleep and I was watching through my window all the happy families enjoying Christmas and that just blew me away. And I think I had a breakdown on that day and it was really hard to recover from and I’m still struggling with it. And it was only my aunt,
I’ve got an aunt in Scotland, every year she sends me £10 for my birthday and £10 for Christmas. And so on the Saturday after Christmas, the first postal day, I received £20 from her and so then I could buy some electricity and food. I was then promptly sick because I’d gorged myself, because I ate too quickly.” 

The authors add Charlie’s description of a meeting with the same advisor who had sanctioned him following the Christmas break and how it has affected him since: “So finally, when new year had ended and I had to go back and sign with that same woman who had sanctioned me. She said that being sanctioned had shown her that I didn’t have a work ethic. Now I’d been working pretty much solidly since I was 16 and it was only out of redundancy that I was out of work… 

“The problem I had with that was the woman who sanctioned me was in the same place and it made me extremely nervous. I now have a problem going into the Job Centre because I literally start shaking because of the damage that the benefit sanction did to me… So yeah that was part, the sanction was one of the reasons that triggered the mental health and problems I’m having now…it was awful and I ended up trying to commit suicide… to me that was the last straw and I went home and I just emptied the drawer of tablets or whatever and I ended up in A&E for a couple of days after they’d pumped my stomach out.” (Charlie).

The report also echoes a substantial part of my own work in critiquing the behaviourist thinking that underpins the idea of sanctions. The ideas of conditionality and sanctions  arose from Behavioural Economics theories. (See also my take on the hostile environment created by welfare policy and practices that are based on behaviourism and a language of neoliberal ‘incentives’ –  The connection between Universal Credit, ordeals and experiments in electrocuting laboratory rats).

The study finds “no evidence to support the use of this modified form of Behavioural Economics in relation to Disabled people”.

The report authors say: “These models of behaviour change are not applicable for Disabled People accessing benefits. The incentives offered by Conditionality and Sanctioning involve threats of removing people’s ability to access basic resources. This induces a state of anticipatory fear that negatively impacts on their mental health and renders them less able to engage in work related activity.”

The report concludes that the DWP should end sanctions for disabled people. The authors recommended that the DWP works inclusively with disabled groups to come up with a better system.

It was once a common sense view that if you remove people’s means of meeting basic survival needs – such as for food, fuel and shelter –  their lives will be placed at risk. Welfare support was originally designed to cover basic needs only, so that when people faced difficult circumstances such as losing their job, or illness, they weren’t plunged into absolute poverty. Now our social security does not adequately meet basic survival needs. It’s become acceptable for a state to use the threat and reality of hunger and destitution to coerce citizens into conformity.

Why sanctions and conditionality cannot possibly work

One fundamental reason why sanctions can never work as the government has claimed, to ‘incentivise’ people into work centres on Abraham Maslow’s groundbreaking work on human needs. Maslow highlights that people can’t fulfil their ‘higher level’ psychosocial needs when their survival needs are compromised. When people are reduced to a struggle for survival, that takes up all of their motivation and becomes their only priority. 

The Minnesota Starvation experiment verified Maslow’s theory. 


One of the uniquely important features of Britain’s welfare state was the National Insurance system, based on the principle that people establish a right to benefits by making regular contributions into a fund throughout their working lives. The contribution principle has been a part of the welfare state since its inception. A system of social security where claims are, in principle, based on entitlements established by past contributions expresses an important moral rule about how a benefits system should operate, based on reciprocity and collective responsibility, and it is a rule which attracts widespread public commitment. National Insurance is felt intuitively by most people to be a fair way of organising welfare.

The Conservative-led welfare reforms had the stated aim of ensuring that benefit claimants – redefined as an outgroup of free-riders – are entitled to a minimum income provided that they uphold responsibilities, which entail being pushed into any available work, regardless of its pay, conditions and appropriateness. The government claim that sanctions “incentivise” people to look for employment.

Conditionality for social security has been around as long as the welfare state. Eligibility criteria, for example, have always been an intrinsic part of the social security system. For example, to qualify for jobseekers allowance, a person has to be out of work, able to work, and seeking employment.

But in recent years conditionality has become conflated with severe financial penalities (sanctions), and has mutated into an ever more stringent, complex, demanding set of often arbitrary requirements, involving frequent and rigidly imposed jobcentre appointments, meeting job application targets, providing evidence of job searches and mandatory participation in workfare schemes. The emphasis of welfare provision has shifted from providing support for people seeking employment to increasing conditionality of conduct, in a paternalist attempt to enforce particular patterns of behaviour and to monitor claimant compliance.

The Conservatives have broadened the scope of behaviours that are subject to sanction, and have widened the application of sanctions to include previously protected social groups, such as ill and disabled people, pregnant women and lone parents.

Ethical considerations of injustice and the adverse consequences of welfare sanctions have been raised by politicians, charities, campaigners and academics. Professor David Stuckler of Oxford University’s Department of Sociology, amongst others, has found clear evidence of a link between people seeking food aid and unemployment, welfare sanctions and budget cuts, although the government has, on the whole, tried to deny a direct “causal link” between the harsh welfare “reforms” and food deprivation. However, a clear correlation has been established. 

A little more about behavioural economics and welfare policy

I’ve written extensively and critically about how Behavioural Economics and the ‘behaviourist turn’ has become embedded in welfare policies and administration. 

The use of targeted citizen behavioural conditionality in neoliberal policy making has expanded globally and is strongly linked to the growth in popularity of behavioural economics theory (“nudge”) and the New Right brand of “libertarian paternalism.”

Reconstructing citizenship as highly conditional stands in sharp contrast to democratic principles, rights-based policies and to policies based on prior financial contribution, as underpinned in the social insurance and social security frameworks that arose from the post-war settlement.

The fact that the poorest citizens are being targeted with theory-based “interventions” also indicates discriminatory policy, reflecting traditional Conservative class-based prejudices. It’s a very authoritarian approach to poverty and inequality which simply strengthens existing power hierarchies, rather than addressing the unequal distribution of power and wealth in the UK. 

Some of us have dubbed this trend neuroliberalism because it serves as a justification for enforcing politically defined neoliberal outcomes. A hierarchical socioeconomic organisation is being shaped by increasingly authoritarian policies, placing the responsibility for growing inequality and poverty on individuals, sidestepping the traditional (and very real) structural explanations of social and economic problems, and political responsibility towards citizens.

Such a behavioural approach to poverty also adds a dimension of cognitive prejudice which serves to reinforce and established power relations and inequality. It is assumed that those with power and wealth have cognitive competence and know which specific behaviours and decisions are “best” for poor citizens.

Apparently, the theories and “insights” of cognitive bias don’t apply to the theorists applying them to increasingly marginalised social groups. No one is nudging the nudgers. Policy has increasingly extended a neoliberal cognitive competence and decision-making hierarchy as well as massive inequalities in power, status and wealth.

It’s interesting that the Behavioural Insights Team have more recently claimed that the state using the threat of benefit sanctions may be counterproductive”. Yet the idea of increasing welfare conditionality and enlarging the scope and increasing the frequency of benefit sanctions originated from the behavioural economics theories of the Nudge Unit in the first place.

The increased use and rising severity of benefit sanctions became an integrated part of welfare conditionality in the Conservative’s Welfare Reform Act, 2012. The current sanction regime is based on a principle borrowed from behavioural economics theory – an alleged cognitive bias we have called “loss aversion.”

It refers to the idea that people’s tendency is to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. The idea is embedded in the use of sanctions to “nudge” people towards compliance with welfare rules of conditionality, by using a threat of punitive financial loss, since the longstanding, underpinning Conservative assumption is that people are unemployed because of alleged behavioural deficits and poor decision-making. Hence the need for policies that “rectify” behaviour.

I’ve argued elsewhere, however, that benefit sanctions are more closely aligned with operant conditioning (behaviourism) than “libertarian paternalism,” since sanctions are a severe punishment intended to modify behaviour and restrict choices to that of compliance and conformity or destitution. At the very least this approach indicates a slippery slope from “arranging choice architecture” in order to “support right decisions” that assumed to benefit people, to downright punitive and coercive policies that entail psycho-compulsion, such as sanctioning and mandatory workfare. 

For anyone curious as to how such tyrannical behaviour modification techniques like benefit sanctions arose from the bland language, inane, managementspeak acronyms and pseudo-scientific framework of “paternal libertarianism” – nudge – here is an interesting read: Employing BELIEF: Applying behavioural economics to welfare to work, which is focused almost exclusively on New Right small state obsessions. Pay particular attention to the part about the alleged cognitive bias called loss aversion, on page 7.

And this on page 18:

“The most obvious policy implication arising from loss aversion is that if policy-makers can clearly convey the losses that certain behaviour will incur, it may encourage people not to do it”.

And page 46:

“Given that, for most people, losses are more important than comparable gains, it is important that potential losses are defined and made explicit to jobseekers (eg the sanctions regime)”.

The recommendation on that page:

“We believe the regime is currently too complex and, despite people’s tendency towards loss aversion, the lack of clarity around the sanctions regime can make it ineffective. Complexity prevents claimants from fully appreciating the financial losses they face if they do not comply with the conditions of their benefit”.

The paper was written in November 2010, prior to the Coalition policy of increased conditionality and the extended sanctions element of the Conservative-led welfare reforms in 2012. 

The Conservatives duly “simplified” sanctions by extending them in terms of severity and increasing the frequency of use. Sanctions have also been extended to include previously protected social groups, such as lone parents, sick and disabled people.

Unsurprisingly, none of the groups affected by conditionality and sanctions were ever consulted, nor were they included in the design of the government’s draconian welfare policies.

The misuse of psychology by the government to explain unemployment (it’s claimed to happen because people have the “wrong attitude” for work) and as a means to achieve the “right” attitude for job readiness. Psycho-compulsion is the imposition of often pseudo-psychological explanations of unemployment and justifications of mandatory activities which are aimed at changing beliefs, attitudes and disposition. The Behavioural Insights Team have previously propped up this approach.

Techniques of neutralisation

It is unlikely that the government will acknowledge the findings of the new study which presents further robust evidence that unacceptable, punitive welfare policies are causing distress, fear, anxiety, harm, and sometimes, death.

To date, we have witnessed ministers using techniques of neutralisation to express faux outrage and to dismiss legitimate concerns and valid criticism of their policies and the consequences on citizens as “scaremongering”. 

It isn’t ‘scaremongering’ to express concern about punitive policies that are targeted to reduce the income of social groups that are already struggling because of limited resources, nor is it much of an inferential leap to recognise that such punitive policies will have adverse consequences. 

Political denial is oppressive – it serves to sustain and amplify a narrow, hegemonic political narrative, stifling pluralism and excluding marginalised social groups, excluding qualitative and first hand accounts of citizen’s experiences, discrediting and negating counternarratives; it sidesteps democratic accountability; stultifies essential public debate; obscures evidence and hides politically inconvenient, exigent truths.

Research has frequently been dismissed by the Conservatives as ‘anecdotal’. The government  often claims that there is ‘no causal link’ established between policies and harm. However, denial of causality does not reduce the probability of it, especially in cases where a correlation has been well-established and evidenced.

The government have no empirical evidence to verify their own claims that their ideologically-driven punitive policies do not cause harm and distress, while evidence is mounting that not only do their policies cause harm, they simply don’t work to fulfil their stated aim.

You can read the new research report from Inclusion London and the University of Essex in full here.

 

Related

DWP sanctions have now been branded ‘life-threatening’

Two key studies show that punitive benefit sanctions don’t ‘incentivise’ people to work, as claimed by the government

The new Work and Health Programme: government plan social experiments to “nudge” sick and disabled people into work

Exclusive: DWP Admit Using Fake Claimant’s Comments In Benefit Sanctions Leaflet

Benefit Sanctions Can’t Possibly ‘Incentivise’ People To Work – And Here’s Why

Nudging conformity and benefit sanctions

Work as a health outcome, making work pay and other Conservative myths and magical thinking


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can make a donation if you like, to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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A man with multiple sclerosis lost his PIP award after assessment report was dishonestly edited during ‘audit’

 

DWP

A man with multiple sclerosis and mental health problems had his personal independence payment (PIP) stopped after officials tampered with the assessor’s original report.  The man only discovered the ‘audited’ version of his health assessment report when he asked for copies to make an appeal.

He said that no one spoke to him or the nurse who carried out the assessment before the report was altered and his PIP was stopped.

The man had been in receipt of the basic level of support for two years when he was summoned to be re-assessed for PIP, which is non-means tested and designed to help with the extra cost of living with debilitating conditions.

Private companies Atos and Capita carry out the tests across the UK, but Atos contractor Salus do much of the work in Scotland.

His local SNP MP, Marion Fellows, said: “The tampering of a health assessment report by someone who wasn’t even in the room is utterly disgraceful and deceitful.

“It shows that, for many people, the system is rigged against them and the outcome is a foregone conclusion.”

An approved nurse at Salus Glasgow carried out the assessment in September last year. The Daily Record has seen the original and ‘audited’ versions of the man’s report.

The original document said the man, diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) last year, has “regular specialist input”. The ‘audited’ version says he does not.

The original report outlines the patient’s MS, depression and anxiety and tells of his difficulties with tasks including cooking, dressing and washing. The nurse noted his clothes were dirty and his top inside-out. The ‘auditor’ had removed the second point.

The ‘auditor’ changed a part which said the man needed supervision or prompting to wash or bathe, and a section on preparing food. The original said he “needs prompting” but the ‘audited’ version said he could prepare and cook a simple meal himself.

An ATOS assessment form which Marion Fellows MP claims was altered by officials (Image: Daily Record)

While the original report said that the man had “regular specialist input” and took regular medication for mental health, the altered report stated that he “has no regular specialist input”.

The man, who is from Motherwell, said: “They didn’t ask me any more questions, they just decided to go back and change the document. I’d say this can’t be a one-off situation.

“It’s disgusting. It’s picking on the weak.”

Fellows, MP for Motherwell and Wishaw, wrote to Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in August about the ‘audit’.

Atos, who now call themselves Independent Assessment Services, told her they did not choose which reports were audited. They wrote in an email: “This happens on a random basis. However, independent DWP audits are a DWP process.”

The DWP wrote in their reply to the MP: “If a health professional’s advice is of poor quality which could result in an incorrect decision, the case will fail the audit activity.”

Fellows said that in every section of the report where the man scored points towards his  PIP award, the ‘auditor’ had reduced his score to zero.

She added: “It is outrageous.

“It isn’t even clear who carried out the audit, as Atos say it was the DWP and the DWP say it was someone independent from them.

My constituent is now going to tribunal.

“This sums up the Tories’ austerity-driven welfare regime, which attacks the most vulnerable.

“There needs to be a complete halt to these audits, and an inquiry so that whoever is responsible is held to account.”

The government guidance document for PIP assessments (section 3.4 onwards) says that “audit processes are in place for auditing the quality of assessments through:
• DWP Lot-wide audit (random sample); and
• The provider – Approval-related audit (for trainees).

And: “Audit has a central role in ensuring that decisions on benefit entitlement, taken by DWP, are correct. It supports this by confirming that independent Health Professional advice complies with the required standards and that it is clear and medically reasonable. It also provides assurance that any approach to assessment and opinion given is consistent so that, irrespective of where or by whom the assessment is carried out, claimants with conditions that have the same functional effect will ultimately receive the same benefit outcome.”

It goes on to say: “The DWP Independent Audit Team carries out lot-wide audit, which is an audit of a controlled random sample from across each contract Lot, feeding in to routine performance reporting for DWP.”

Where a report is deemed ‘unacceptable’: “Any changes made to forms should be justified, signed and dated. It should be made clear that any changes are made as a result of audit activity. Where necessary a new report form should be completed.”

The government guidelines also say that: “Any challenge to the reason DWP has returned a case to the Provider for rework must be made via the nominated rework Single Point of Contact (SPOC).”

In the event of a dispute regarding a request for an assessment report to be changed, “the final decision on whether the case requires rework rests with DWP and not the assessor.” 

So ultimately, an official at the DWP who was not present when a person was assessed, may decide that the assessment report is ‘reworked’, and use non-transparent criteria to change the facts established and recorded during the assessment.

This means that the person making the claim has no opportunity to challenge the changes made to ‘reworked’ reports before the decision is made regarding the claim. 

There is increasing evidence that disability benefits are being removed on flimsy and fabricated grounds. Disability News Service (DNS) has been carrying out an investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty in the disability benefit system, with more than 250 PIP claimants alleging assessors repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations. It’s a regular occurrence for disabled readers to read the reports of their benefit assessment, and find a statement, of an event or comment that never in fact happened.

The government produced guidelines that says assessors must look for ‘inconsistencies’ in disabled people’s accounts. For example, if a person says that they cannot bend because of spinal problems, but they have a pet, such as a cat or dog, a decision will be made that the person making the claim can bend to feed the pet. I

In my own PIP assessment report last year, it says that the HP had to prompt me several times because of my lack of concentration. She also acknowledged that I needed aids to remember to take my medication. Yet the report is riddled with inconsistencies and inaccuracies. It was concluded that there is no evidence that I have ‘cognitive difficulties’ because I have a degree (from 1996), and worked as a social worker (before I became too ill to work in 2010.) It was also mentioned that I had a driving licence as further justification for removing a point, but the report failed to mention I have not been able to drive since 2005 because of flicker-induced seizures, even though I made that clear. I therefore lost one point – which meant I was not awarded the enhanced rate.

As well as widespread allegations of fabricated reports, secret filming has produced claims of a culture of targets, in which assessors are allegedly monitored to ensure they don’t find excessive numbers of disabled people eligible for benefits, and mounting evidence of toxic punitive measures. As one former jobcentre adviser put it when describing her role with benefit claimants, there were “brownie points for cruelty.

Last year, figures released by the government indicated that neither Atos nor Capita – the private companies contracted by the government – paid more than £500m to assess people for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – are actually meeting the target of 97% of assessments conforming to standards. 

The government released the data to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which was due to take evidence from Atos and Capita regarding the assessments.

While private companies carry out the assessments, it is the DWP that makes the final decision on whether to award people financial support. However, those decisions are informed by the contents of reports that privately contracted ‘health professionals’ write during the assessment process.

One of the current performance measure – which sees an independent team pick cases at random – was launched in March 2016. Under the previous method, the private providers audited assessments themselves. 

The NAO found last year that the number of completed ESA assessments were below target, despite an expected doubling of the cost to the taxpayer of the contracts for disability benefit assessments, to £579m a year in 2016/17compared with 2014/15.

The NAO said that nearly 1 in 10 of the reports on disabled people claiming support were rejected as below standard by the government. This compares with around one in 25 before Atos left its contract. The provider was not on track to complete the number of assessments expected last year and has also missed assessment report quality targets.

The proportion of Capita PIP tests deemed ‘unacceptable’ reached a peak of 56% in the three months to April 2015.

For Atos, the peak was 29.1% for one lot in June 2014. 

More than 2.7million people have had a DWP decision regarding PIP since the benefit launched in 2013 – this suggests that tens of thousands went through an ‘unacceptable’ assessment.

However, it’s difficult to acertain what ‘unacceptable’ actually means, in light of the fact that the DWP orders some reports are ‘reworked’. This editing may – and undoubtedly has – result in grossly inaccurate final reports which in turn inform a fatally flawed and unjust decision-making process, aimed at declining disabled people’s claims for lifeline support.

Related

Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’

Thousands of disability assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the government’s own quality control scheme

 


I don’t make any money from my work. But you can make a donation if you like, to help me continue to research and write free, informative, insightful and independent articles, and to provide support to others. The smallest amount is much appreciated – thank you.

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