Monday, 6 June 2011

Where I've been

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that I haven't posted anything on here in a while which may have come either as a disappointment or a blessed relief depending on who you are.

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.


  1. Are you sure your figures regarding number of claimants and percentage of decisions reversed on appeal are correct?

    You have to include a rebuke to politicians about the false and misleading statistics put out claiming 99% of IB/ESA claimants are malingering scroungers, confusing DSA with IB/ESA, claiming those in the work related group are fit to work, etc

    Also, I'd add something about the arbitrary limit on length you can claim ESA if you're put into the work related activity group. Time limiting to one year unless you're eligible for means tested ESA is a nasty little rule.

    Another thing to maybe mention is the big gap between appeal success rates for people with representation and those without.

    And I'd add to the resolves bit something about making the assessment criteria much clearer. So that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness so debilitating that warrants ESA being paid.

  2. @Anonymous

    Thanks for the feedback. I've checked the figures and I've changed the current draft to make it clearer what the figures mean.

    I've also included all the changes you've suggested and have written what should be the final draft which - subject to approval from various other people I'm seeking feedback from - be sent to the conference committee by the end of the week.

  3. You don't mention DLA which is also likely to be assessed in similar ways by ATOS. DLA to PIP is about getting 20% people off the benefit entirely, or to drop the benefit levels to those who receive it.

    I'd like something noted by the LibDems about how the Tories and the media are peretuating the myth that DLA is an "out of work benefit" when it isn't.

    Thank you for restoring my faith a little in LibDemmery, I've been so disillusioned by the silence Lib Dems have shown in the face of hatred towards disabled people originating from the coalition government I decided not to join the party after the election.

  4. @barakta

    The reason I don't mention DLA is because we passed a motion about it at last conference - adding something in here would be redundant as it's more effective to keep badgering our MPs about it, though unfortunately, what with exams, I have to leave that particular task up to other people.

    It'd be nice to get something like that mentioned in the media but unfortunately Lib Dems note things all the time, especially on Lib Dem Voice, and the media never pay attention unless it fits in with whichever narrative they happen to be pushing at that moment in time.

    I'm glad I've restored your faith a little, and I have to say that the treatment of the disabled is one of my least favourite things about this government. It was just as bad under the last government of course but that doesn't make it any less wrong. I'd (obviously) still encourage you to join the party though as we are completely internally democratic and every member has an (equal) say. If anything, we need more people who disagree with the government on things like this as it helps drag the party, and, by extension the government, in the right direction.

  5. Hiya George, just popped in to see your draft motion. I have had a read and there seems to be something rather disturbing in it. I assume you have done your research properly so I am not knocking that, but I am flabbergasted that according to your point (b) that Atos actually get paid for finding people ‘fit for work’.

    Is there anyway to verify that claim? If it is (and I suspect that it is) true than that must be a damming indictment of the whole system and a pretty shameful epitaph to the fag end of Labour’s tenure.

    How can any contract for any ‘test’ be signed where the Government of the Day actually pay the consulting company for saying exactly what the Government wants to hear? There must be some way of getting out of such an incompetently designed contract, surely?

    A mistake is a mistake, but a mistake of this magnitude that goes uncorrected is surely a blight on the rest of us.

    Good luck in getting your motion passed.

  6. @Jim

    It's not certain whether they do actually get such payments as the company is exempt from FOI requests. That said, there are strong rumours about it which is why I used the word "alleged". There is certainly a payment in excess of £100 for each assessment carried out which, if nothing else, means that there's an incentive to rush assessments through. It also means that the company is pressured to achieve savings at least equal to the cost of those payments which in all probability puts pressure of some sort on the staff to fail people. Not that they need to try as the points based system is ridiculously flawed.

    Sadly it really is a colossal cock up and it really does need fixing.

    And thanks for the luck :)

  7. Perhaps you could add at a need to have some of the broader details of this contract, placed into the public domain, in the interests of open Government and transparency added to your motion?

    It seems rather perverse that a company who is supposed to be testing anything, far less people in an objective manner would get paid at different rates depending on the outcome. Though it becomes even worse and Kafkaesque that they get paid more agreeing with the political needs of the Government. You wouldn't have a contract like that for driving tests or clean beaches.

    To be honest George, it looks the system has been devised to pass as many people fit for work to meet a target, than actually assess people.

  8. Well, the motion actually, if implemented, would mean that all the checks were carried out by the NHS which would effectively mean sacking ATOS - I just thought it prudent not to say that explicitly :)

  9. I am so pleased this has happened but what now?


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