Written evidence submitted by Jaki Tean |
I have to write in relation to the inquiry into the
Work Capability Assessment.
Regarding the assessments, I think it's appalling
that people who've gone through the appeals process and have had
their original WCA overturned, then have to go through it all
again, in a matter of weeks or months. I've heard this happens
in many cases and I think this amounts to harrassment of disabled
people by the DWP and I hope someone files for a Judicial Review
to stop the DWP from getting away with it because I think it amounts
to what is known as Wensbury Unreasonable in legal terms.
This brings me onto cutting legal aid for benefits
cases. I'm totally cynical about this. There are great injustices
already going on and the Government are paving the way for further
injustice to prevail. It's a nasty move and this means that legal
aid funded workers who help people fight their benefit cases will
also disappear. The figures show that those with representation
do better than those without. Many disabled people will be denied
representation and so will be dealt a double injustice.
I have recently been sent an email by a disabled
advisory group to state that the ESA test is to get even harder
from April 2011. They cite an example in the training manual of
people being able to make a cup of tea, wash or dress as being
passed as fit for work. This is an outrage. My 83 year-old mother
can do these things. Is she to be bullied into work as well? Relating
back to the high success rate of claimants having their ESA decisions
overturned on appeal, by making the ESA test even harder to pass,
fewer will win on appeal (a) because of these ridiculous extra
hoops disabled people are expected to jump through and (b) the
cuts to legal aid for benefits cases will ensure this, so that
the Government can then turn round and meet their targets, rather
than meeting the needs of disabled people. In any case, I understood
that Professor Harrington's report had called for a better, more
sensitive ESA, that was to take account of fluctuating conditions,
mental health problems, the assessment process and so on. I see
little evidence of this in the new training manual. As it is the
test is demeaning and degrading and doesn't look at the impact
of disability as a whole but rather breaks it up into meaningless
tasks, for example, if somebody can bend down and pick up a coin
from the floor, regardless of the fact that a person is supposed
to be able to do repeatedly and without pain, otherwise they are
deemed not to be able to do it at all. But time and time again,
Atos don't abide by their manual. Surely they are the ones who
should be more accountable with such a high error rate? Yet they
are being rewarded financially in spite of their appalling failure
rate and in spite of the fact that their related company UNUM
were found guilty of illegal practises in the US and ran "disabled
denial factories". The WCA test has been declared unfit for
purpose even by its own designer.
Yet in the new manual we have terrifying paragraphs
which show little understanding of how illness and disability
impacts on the lives of those who sufferit's not a case
of "if you can do this, you can therefore work"basic
living and survival is on a completely different level than being
able to have the stamina and consistent good health required for
work. In the DLA consultation, it was at least recognised that
disabled people are "experts in their own condition"
and yet here we have pseudo-science propounded in the WCA manual.
Here are some examples:
(1) "A clinician does not routinely consider
the functional restrictions or disabling effects of the medical
conditions that they treat. They must take into consideration
that the clinician may have no specific training in assessing
disabilities in their medical education, and may have considerable
difficulty in giving an accurate assessment or forming an opinion
in relation to the functional restrictions experienced by their
"Atos Healthcare practitioners are specifically
trained in the assessment of disability. By evaluating the clinical
history, the physical examination and informal observations in
the light of the claimant's daily activities, the medical disability
analyst is able to provide an accurate and consistent assessment
of the functional restrictions. This assessment is based on the
HCP's medical training and expertise, and a body of established
medical knowledge and opinion. The HCP is able to advise the DM
on restrictions arising from the disabling condition(s)."
It is absolute nonsense and a complete arrogance
for Atos to think they know more than a highly-trained GP who
has studied medicine and been in practise, often for years.
(2) "Signs which are inconsistent with purely
organic pathology include":
to examination"everybody reacts differently. Claimants
may have been abused, how can such generalised statements fit
all? It is ludicrous.
rather than localised tenderness"people with fibromyalgia
have sore and painful points all over their body, that's a symptom
(3) "It is usually only possible to observe
the claimant standing for short periods of time but even these
are of value in your report, eg "I observed him standing
for three minutes only during my examination of his spine but
he exhibited no distress and this, in conjunction with my clinical
examination recorded below, would not be consistent with his stated
inability to stand for less than 30 minutes. He may need to move
around to ease spinal discomfort but would not need to sit down."
As always, this opinion should be reinforced by typical day examples
of standing ability."
Again, this is absolute nonsense. There's a world
of difference between three minutes and 30 minutes, Anybody who
has lower back problems knows just what a strain it puts on the
back to have to stand for 30 minutes.
These are just a few examples in the manual which
were were jaw-droppingly shocking. Also, there is little reference
to fluctuating conditions, yet these are the very people who stand
to lose the most, where fatigue, stamina and pain are the main
symptoms, eg MS, ME, fibromyalgia, lupus, anxiety, bipolar, depression,
schizophrenia etc. Furthermore, the assessment is completely anti-women,
there's no mention of women who have abnormal periods and pain
to such an extent that it affects their lives every month.
The Government also keep chanting the mantra that
the welfare bill has "spiralled out of control" which
again is misleading. A lot of the evidence shows this not to be
the case, and any increase in spending was as a result of increased
pensions and increases in Housing Benefit and JSA (as a result
of the housing boom and then the world recession). ESA actually
went down during the same period. Now we hear that the latest
unemployed figures have hit 2.3 million, and those most likely
to get a job are men over 50 working in the private sector. This
isn't looking good for women, young people, and public sector
workers, nor those with a disability. Furthermore, we learn that
the DWP are putting pressure on Jobcentres to sanction people
to meet their targets. Let's make no bones about what this means,
it means people are losing their money, having nothing to live
on, they're in danger of losing their homes, if not their lives
and will ultimately cost the health service more in the long run.
It is madness and kow-towing to the Tory press who are inciting
disability hatred with their vicious and largely untrue reports
against the poorest and most vulnerable in society.
The money this country spends on out-of-work benefits
as a proportion to income is actually the lowest in the world,
lower than the States and many third world countries, and still
the Government wants to continue a campaign which is becoming
dangerously near that of Nazi Germany, where the disabled were
among the first to be targeted. In terms of the market-based economy,
if we are not financially viable we are dispensible, and compassion
goes out of the window. I am ashamed by the monetarist values
of this country, where those that "can" will be catered
for, and those that can't will be beaten, bullied or left to rot.
The mark of a civilized society is measured by how it treats its
weakest members. In the not so distance past, child abuse or rape
weren't taken very seriously, now we look back on those days with
horror and disbelief. One day, too, future generations will look
back with disgust and abhorrence about the way we treated our
disabled people and how it was allowed to happen.
I urge you to do all within your powers to stand
up and be counted and speak up for all disabled people before
it's too late.