Friday, 22 July 2011

ESA motion accepted!

Excellent news! I have received confirmation that the motion I drafted (but officially proposed by Liberal Youth) for the Lib Dem autumn conference has been accepted! [EDIT: The motion will be debated on the Sunday] It's been chopped and changed quite a bit from my original draft but the core of it is still there and it is now much more succinct and to the point. Some final editing is still taking place (slight changes in wording, grammar, etc.) by Liberal Youth at the behest of the Federal Conference Committee but the final version to be proposed to conference should, for all intents and purposes, be almost identical to this:
Policy Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments  
Conference notes:
a) That the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work.
b) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare who are paid on a target based system 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 subsequently overturned.
d) The appeal success rate is much higher for claimants with representation than those without.
e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted has been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.

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 is "not fit for purpose".
c) The Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate.
d) Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals.
e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, 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 the associated administration costs.
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 take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.

Conference calls for:
a) All medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by trained professionals.
b) An overhaul of the assessment process moving the focus to ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and that the disabled get the support they need.
c) Any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant's medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
d) The replacement of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group with the introduction of a time limit dependent on individual circumstances.
e) 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) The appeal process to be sped up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.
This is great news for two reasons. The first is that I finally get to speak at conference (woo!) and practice my oratory. The second is that it might hopefully be the start of some real change in the way disabled people in this country are treated.

As a brief guide, the situation at the moment is as follows: the primary support disabled people who are unable to work receive is the Employment Support Allowance. Eligibility for the ESA is determined by means of a tick-box, points-based assessment system conducted by Atos Healthcare employees who quite frequently lack medical knowledge of the disabilities claimants have. The assessment system fails to take into account the wide range of disabilities and the time variant nature of some of them - for example, a person with Clinical Depression might well be able to pick a piece of paper up off the floor (one of the tests in the assessment) as long as they're on a good day but that still doesn't magically render them fit for work. Another problem with the assessment system is that medical evidence is not taken into account. So, someone who was born deaf, has been assessed and diagnosed as deaf by a range of medical professionals and who has all the medical documentation to prove it will not be considered disabled unless the assessment process says he is - all that medical evidence is worthless. Aside from this, a frequent complaint about the assessment process is the underhand way in which it is carried out. For example, one question asked at assessment is "do you watch television?" - if the person answers yes then they are assumed to be capable of sitting down for thirty minutes at a time.

So that's the assessment process. Because of its flaws, a vast majority of people denied support by the assessment system are forced to go through an expensive appeal process. Of those who do, 70% get the decisions overturned on appeal - primarily because the appeal tribunals allow medical evidence to be taken into account. Though even then claimants who have won at appeal are then called in for another assessment which again finds them ineligible for the ESA despite the tribunal's decision, forcing the poor individual to go through the whole appeal's process again. This is bonkers. In fact, the assessment system is so broken that even the person who designed it says so.

Now, even if a claimant is found eligible for ESA it's time limited for one year. After one year they will be expected to have found a job and ESA will be cut off. If they haven't got a job then tough luck. Now, aside from the obvious problem of people with disabilities that prevent them from ever working, how exactly are disabled people meant to be able to find jobs at a time when over a million able bodied people are unable to do so?

And people with ESA are utterly dependent on it. Many of them need it to pay for food, or heating or the rent. For many disabled people ESA is quite literally the only thing that keeps them from the gutter. So if they're denied it, or don't manage to find a job within a year, then they're cut off from aid from the welfare system. Disabled people often have medical expenses higher than those of most people (whilst medication is available on the NHS, that isn't always the case for things like walking sticks or carers) so they are even less able to cope than most people. And even if they somehow find a way to meet their expenses then the stressfulness of the entire procedure often makes their conditions worse. Put yourselves in the shoes of a person with depression, or multiple sclerosis, who has to go through an assessment process which works on the assumption that they are trying to cheat the system and is then unilaterally declared to be lying (for that is, in effect, what being rejected by the assessment process amounts to). Can you even begin to imagine the devastating impact that will have on them in addition to the worries of how they'll be able to pay their bills?

And that's not even beginning to mention the constant stream of stories in the media about "benefit scroungers" and "layabouts" trying to cheat the system. Even people who've successfully made it through the assessment process still have to deal with an attitude that they're just sponging off the system from people ranging all the way from council workers to newspaper columnists to cabinet ministers so just try and comprehend how it must feel to those who are having that message reinforced by the system itself? Oh, and for the record, the fraud rate for ESA is estimated to cost the taxpayer £25 million a year out of a welfare budget of tens of billions of pounds.

Now, like I said, that's just a brief summary of the situation and it completely glosses over the people at the heart of this and the heartbreaking stories that many of them have to tell. We've got a system that mistreats and neglects and humiliates the most vulnerable people in society. The only reason this situation came about under the last government and persists under this government is because the disabled lack a voice. They're easy to ignore. They're not photogenic and they don't count for many votes so both the media and the politicians ignore them. The system we have is worthy of a third world nation and not one of the wealthiest economies in the world.

Thankfully, the acceptance of the motion on to the agenda means that it will hopefully be passed by conference. And if it is passed by conference then hopefully our party's MPs will take note (as they did with the NHS motion back in March) and then they might just be able to get the government to change this appalling state of affairs. I hope so at any rate because, if not, then hundreds of the UK's most vulnerable people will, in some cases quite literally, be forced into the streets to fend for themselves.

If anyone reading this wants to help (and, assuming you have a heart I assume most of you will) then at the moment the motion desperately needs heavyweight supporters to speak in its favour at conference. If you know anyone who might be willing to do so then please leave a comment saying so. Thank you.

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23 comments:

  1. This is a great blog...if you just read out your commentary that itself would be a superb speech. Well done on your motion I will most certainly be voting in favour if it's on a day when I am in attendance. Layla Moran, Battersea and Tooting

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  2. Thank you. The motion is being debated on the sunday and I rather like your idea of using the commentary as a speech. I hope you'll be able to make it to the vote :)

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  3. I recently came across a case where the claimant completed the standard assessment used by GPs for assessing depression. Diagnosis: Severe depression. Assessment for benefits, using the same question set - no points.

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  4. George - Thank you so much for making me aware of this on my blog. I'd love to help and am delighted that you want to use some of my words to make your argument.

    If you'd like to talk things through, I'd be glad to liaise and help in any way I can.

    Please email me on suey2yblog@hotmail.co.uk - if you send a phone number, we can talk things through.

    I can't tell you how delighted I am about this and will blog about it later - but I'd love to speak with you first. This is a wonderful thing you're doing and millions of us thank you.

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  5. George, thank you for this blog and for getting the motion accepted! I can't stress enough how much this means. We are all terrified about what is happening and the fear and stress is making us all more ill. We really need the Lib Dems to take a stand on this.

    You may want to refer to the Lib Dem Constitution and remind them that they -

    “… exist to build a fair, free and open society, in which no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity… a world in which all people share the same basic rights… you oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality… you support the widest possible distribution of wealth and promote the rights of all citizens to social provision and cultural activity… you are committed to fight poverty, oppression, hunger, ignorance, disease and aggression wherever they occur… you will protect the right of citizens to enjoy privacy in their own lives and homes… these are the conditions of liberty and social justice which it is the responsibility of each citizen and the duty of the state to protect and enlarge…”



    Can I refer you to a couple of links with more info? You may have seen them, but just in case...

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jul/24/atos-faces-critical-report-by-mps

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/23/government-reform-disability-benefits?

    http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/joepublic/2011/jul/25/disability-benefits-atos-government-hiding

    http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/2011/04/wca-sick-joke-or-national-disgrace.html

    http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/why-wont-atos-let-us-record-our-work-capability-assessments/

    http://disagreeableweasel.wordpress.com/2011/06/

    http://fullfact.org/search/node/esa


    hope these help and thank you again.

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  6. @Sue Marsh

    Thanks, I've just sent you an email about it.

    @Anonymous

    Thanks for your comment - I'll definitely remind conference of the preamble to the constitution and I can't realistically see conference ignoring its principles and voting it down.

    Thanks also for the links - I've been gathering news stories and articles about ESA but your list includes several I've never read before and I'm sure they'll be really useful.

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  7. Nice one George. I've been through this process myself and hope to be able to speak in support of the motion.

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  8. I've spent all day wondering what we're doing about WCAs, and finding your motion at the end of the day (via Caron's call to arms) has cheered me up no end. Well done. The way in which the WCA system is currently run - government by computer, hard-to-challenge accumulations of power, conflicts of interest - goes against everything we stand for. It's the mother of all broken systems. We need to take a big, big stand.

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  9. Thank you so much Mr Potter for raising this issue. There is and always will be a lot of people who will want to show their grattitude for what you are doing and i am one of them

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  10. Thank God, or whoever for the recent attention that this situation is receiving. Well done George! I got this link from a blog I subscribe to as I am on ESA (with anxiety and depression) and have been through an 'assessment' last year. The resulting "Medical Report" was a JOKE. Physically, I could probably do most things a 20 year old could do. But, when it comes to fluctuating mental health conditions (like Treatment Resistant Depression, Recurrent Depressive Disorder) the Descriptors are at the very least so far fetched and irrelevant it staggers the imagination. I will support this any way I can. Thank you!

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  11. Thank you for this. We've been trying desperately to get our situation into the public eye and this should really help.

    One point I'd like to make in relation to trained medical professionals is that this is what the government claim to have in place now, but what is really needed is assessment by an appropriate specialist -- to quote my own consultant 'it is almost impossible to get any doctor who isn't a specialist in pain management to understand just how disabling chronic pain really is'. If you check the 'WCA, Sick Joke or National Disgrace' link given earlier you can follow how my own WCA actually went - I'd call it a farce, but the consequences are too tragic for that.

    Having passed WCA, time-limiting is the element that terrifies me, and that Grayling so casually dismisses as of no concern - easy for him to say. My condition isn't getting noticeably better, in some ways it's worsening, but how many jobs are out there for someone who needs to work lying down? I face a realistic prospect of never finding work, no matter my qualifications, but of having to survive with no support from the state, of being expected to sacrifice even my pension fund before I become eligible for support again. Dilnot said that wasn't acceptable for the elderly, so why is it true for disabled people?

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  12. Just thought I'd post this. The comments after the article show just how delighted we all are and a great degree of thanks to you all :) http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/07/magic-mr-potter.html

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  13. Thank you Sue. And may I just say, out of all the epithets I've been given in my life, I do think that "The Magic Mr Potter" has definitely got to be my favourite :)

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  14. George, are you aware that the Bill has already passed through the Commons - it has it's second reading in the House of Lords on 13th September - May I suggest that you, and anyone else you can encourage, write to the Liberal Democrat Lords about this?

    http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/lords/

    You can select only LD lords in the red box... get writing!!

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  15. Thanks for the heads up about the Bill. As far as I know the lords are raising some strenuous objections to the bill and I'll definitely be contacting some Lib Dem peers about it (Baroness Sharp happens to be a member of my constituency party so I'll be sure to ask her to speak to her fellow peers about it).

    And I'll definitely urge others to speak to our peers as well. Thanks again for the heads up.

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  16. I would suggest important points to highlight would be -

    Descriptors - bear no relation to real world situations

    LIMA computer system - totally inadequate as only programmed with common illnesses and no facility to deal with subtleties or less know conditions

    11.000 people a week being subjected to this flawed system The whole process of 'migration' from IB to ESA must be stopped until the system is either radically changed or preferably scrapped altogether.

    Atos is costing the taxpayer twice the what the 'fraud rate' was costing and this can only get worse. They are not penalised in any way for reporting a person's fitness for work wrongly - and the subsequent appeals are costing the tax payer 50 million a year.

    This system of assessment is likely to form the basis for the proposed re-assessment for people on Disability Livng Allowance to be moved to PIP - so more of the same will occur.

    Why is it that no-one has asked the question -WHY IS ALL THIS NECESSARY? When they are planning to bring in Universal Credit?!! The whole process of re-assessing and moving people around will have to be repeated in a couple of years when that comes in. If it comes in.

    The Welfare Reform Bill as a whole is seriously flawed and ill- conceived, and will result in hundreds of thousands of damaged lives.

    As Nick Clegg said recently -

    "NO BILL IS BETTER THAN A BAD BILL"

    and this bill needs to be sent back to Committee stage, as the Health bill was.

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  17. Conference notes:
    a) That the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work.

    b) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare who are paid on a target based system 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 subsequently overturned.

    d) The appeal success rate is much higher for claimants with representation than those without.

    A-No it doesn't, the government has stated it wants to make a 20% reduction in disability related benefits. That's not "an aim to move people" it's removing people by force regardless of their condition.

    B- Atos are paid more to refuse someone (by claiming they are 'fit for work') but the DWP isn't sanctioning this corrupt company in any way even though there are rules in place to do so. Atos need their contract revoking.

    C & D- These two don't take into account the number of people too scared to appeal thanks to the Tory media's portrayal of them as dole scrounging layabout. The Lib Dems have been complicit in this by their silence!



    The Lib Dems have neither the political will to change things NOR the trust of the people of the UK.

    As for "This is great news for two reasons. The first is that I finally get to speak at conference (woo!) and practice my oratory. The second is that it might hopefully be the start of some real change in the way disabled people in this country are treated", thanks for placing the importance of vulnerable people below your chance to speak at conference and practice your oratory, that REALLY IS placing things in their order of importance. What an insult!

    Link? Try this http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewcategory/1/

    Members of Carerwatch that are contacting you are Labour fanatics that aren't trusted by most carers with internet access thanks to their association with one particular member of theirs, someone that makes false allegations of benefit fraud is bad enough, one that has admitted to forgery should be enough to make you stand back and take stock.

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  18. well done George a lib-dem who really cares about the disabled...please do all you can, the re-assessments via atos need scrapping and no-one should be transferred onto esa from ib as esa is a deeply flawed benefit unfit for purpose like the dwp ministers who so value it. the disabled community have no voice in the coalition and need lib-dems like you to speak out for them.

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  19. Clive, if I said "The government has stated an aim to remove people by force from ESA" then I highly doubt that it would be taken seriously. Given that it's just a bit of background info at the start of the motion which won't have any impact on what the motion calls for, I hardly see the problem with phrasing things diplomatically.

    With regards to C and D, again I'm sticking with facts which can't possibly be disputed in order to make sure that they can't be questioned and, in any event, they're shocking enough as it is to have an impact on the audience at conference.

    You say we don't have the political will or the trust to change things. Well, that's your opinion so we'll just have to wait and see.

    As for my comment about practising my oratory, that was a bit of the usual humour that I include in my blogposts. It is not meant to be taken seriously as, quite obviously, the plight of the sick and disabled is far more important. And, incidentally, if I just wanted an opportunity to practice my oratory there are much easier things to propose a motion about than this.

    Any changes I try to make to the motion will be based on facts which can be sourced. As such, it hardly matters who the suggestions come from as they're not likely to be implemented if they're lying.

    Incidentally, if you want to warn me that people are "Labour fanatics" then it helps if you don't also insult the Lib Dems in your post and generally make unhelpful and dismissive comments.

    Nevertheless, thank you for commenting.

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  20. Oh another thing George if your wondering why i am so against the conservatives and David Cameron is because they have left me through their persecution of me over the past 30 years looking like this

    http://photoarts.com/haviv/bosnia/image/prisoners2.jpeg

    so you can see sure it's been hell and whatever happens i am still the loser dont forget you cant change what has happened to me but you can fight to make sure it never happens to anyone like me again

    The mp's at the end of the day are just spineless even my own mp who is a Tory is shocked and cant understand the brutality towards me but that is what long term stress has caused

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  21. If you reference me George with the image i posted above you should be able to kill off this bill ?

    Not necessarily as you need to identify who are the main ringleaders in the persecution of the sick and disabled

    Their are many behind the scenes that can inflict damage on the sick and disabled not just the prime minister who may not be the main ring leader it could be someone high up in the civil service or someone in the house of lords so one will at some point need to address to whom are going to take responsibility for their actions as preaching to the those who are not the main ringleaders is futile

    I find Lord Freud a very sinister person as i say a lot of research must be carried out on those responsible for any changes not only to ESA but to all of welfare reform in going forward

    Getting it wrong is not an option as you don't wont all the sick and disabled looking like me in the link above it's not a pretty sight i can tell you

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  22. Thanks so much for raising this George. It is vital the public know what is really happening to the sick and disabled.

    I think the whole thing could be summed up by saying the assessments MUST STOP until the new descriptors can be sorted out and Harringtons reccomendations are implemented. No one is afraid of a proper medical - but these tick boxes bear no relevance to the illness or the real world and real people are suffering enourmously. Please call for the ESA process to be stopped immediately as it is in breach of the Human Right Act and any morality.

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  23. [QUOTE]Jan
    Thanks so much for raising this George. It is vital the public know what is really happening to the sick and disabled.

    I think the whole thing could be summed up by saying the assessments MUST STOP until the new descriptors can be sorted out and Harringtons reccomendations are implemented. No one is afraid of a proper medical - but these tick boxes bear no relevance to the illness or the real world and real people are suffering enourmously. Please call for the ESA process to be stopped immediately as it is in breach of the Human Right Act and any morality.[/QUOTE]

    Totally agree jan i have said this from day one and it's a grave shame on all politicians that this has not been implemented and it's about time it was

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