The reason for this silence is twofold. First of all, I'm right in the middle of my second year exams and revising like mad with little time to write. Secondly, all the time I have had to write has been spent working on a motion for the Lib Dem Autumn Conference. This motion is about the Employment Support Allowance and the assessment process for claimants. So, in lieu of a proper post, I'm going to cheat and post the current draft of the motion in its entirety. So, without further ado, here it is:
Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments
Conference notes that the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work. The ESA aim is part of a target, in light of the crisis involving public finances, to make savings of £11 billion to the welfare budget over the time-frame of this Parliament. As part of this, 3.5 million people on ESA are and will be undergoing reassessment over a three year period starting from 2011.
Conference further notes that:
- a) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare.
- b) It is reported that Atos Healthcare is paid on a target based system where they earn more for every claimant assessed fit to be removed from claiming ESA and back into work.
- c) 70% of case rejection decisions by Atos assessments which go to appeal are overturned.
- d) The appeal success rate is much higher for those with representation than those without.
- e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted have been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.
- f) Anecdotal evidence shows that many faulty assessments are made, especially with relation to time variant disabilities such as mental illnesses.
- g) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses a "tick box" technique, does not taken into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
- h) The estimated rate of fraud for ESA is 5% and deliberate fraud is estimated to cost no more than £25 million in year.
- i) Several claimants have committed suicide as a result of the stressful and distressing assessment process.
Conference believes that:
- a) It is the duty of a compassionate society and the Government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
- b) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses the "tick box" technique, is "not fit for purpose" as it does not take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant. This factual medical evidence is totally discounted.
- c) That the Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate, as evidenced by the high successful appeal rate, and fails to take into account the wide and various range of disabilities claimants may have.
- d) Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals and that the regular criticism of Atos Healthcare over assessments shows that they are unfit to perform them.
- e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, Conference believes that it is wrong to have a system where the primary focus is on keeping people from claiming the benefit and treating every claimant as a potential fraudster, rather than a focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
- f) A system where 70% of decisions are overturned at appeal is not cost effective due to the high cost of holding appeal tribunals and associated administration costs.
Conference criticises ministers and other official spokesmen for using misleading statistics which feed the misconception that the majority of claimants are benefits scroungers, for confusing DSA with IB/ESA and for presenting those in the work-related group are fit to work.
Conference also criticises the media (and the press in particular) for perpetuating the myth of work-shy scroungers and for distorting the facts in order to support the myth. Conference believes that this myth damages public sympathy for many of those who genuinely deserve it.
Conference, therefore, resolves to require our Parliamentary Party to:
- a) Call for all medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by the NHS which, in most cases, will be the body which diagnosed claimants in the first place.
- b) More broadly to call for an overhaul of the entire assessment process with a focus on ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and on ensuring that the disabled get the support they need, rather than on saving money.
- c) Call for any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
- d) Support and call for the scrapping of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group.
- e) Call for the assessment criteria to be made clearer so that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness which is so debilitating as to warrant ESA being paid.
- f) Campaign for the appeal process to be speeded up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.
I just wish to point out that one of my ulterior motives for posting this here is to attract support for the motion and also to ask for feedback. So if there's anyone reading this with an interest in the subject who'd like to suggest changes to the motion, or if there are any conference reps willing to back it, please let me know in the comment threads. Cheers.