Thursday, 17 November 2011

The scandal of the DWP's advisors

This is one of my series of lunchtime blogposts.

WARNING: This blogpost will contain swear words in the last paragraph.

As regular readers of this blog will know, I've spent the past three months taking quite an interest in disability welfare issues. Specifically, I wrote a motion which was passed at Lib Dem conference, becoming party policy, and which called for the government to scrap their planned arbitrary time limit on how long disabled people could receive benefits for and for the government to fix the utterly broken assessment system that was bequeathed to them by the last government.

One of the things that has come from that is that I've learned quite a bit about how the DWP reaches decisions and who advises them when they make those decisions.

And the picture that's emerged is rather disturbing. All the way back in 1994, the DWP hired the Vice-President of the US insurance company Unum, Dr Le Cascio, to sit on the group responsible for designing and enforcing new medical tests for disability benefit claimants.

Now, according to Private Eye:
At the same time, the UK wing of Unum was launching what it boasted was “a
concerted effort to harness the potential” from predicted cuts in benefits,
urging people to protect themselves with a “long-term disability policy from
Unum”.
A year later Private Eye questioned Le Cascio about a potential conflict of interest, which was denied. Fast forward ten years and:
Unum was found guilty in the US of “systematically violating” insurance regulations and fraudulently denying or “low-balling” claims using phony medical reports, misrepresentation
and biased investigations
But despite this, despite Unum being described as an "outlaw company" by the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, and despite a BBC report in 2007 which revealed that internal Unum documents stated that they were driving governmnet policy, Unum's executives have continued to be heavily involved in advising the DWP.

In 2006 Unum executives sat on the panels that devised the Work Capability Assessments  introduced in 2008 and which have an failure rate of 40% (according to official figures). Not only that, but, along with Atos (the company that conducts the assessments) they were the only for-profit companies on the panels. So even if you believe that private companies should be included in governement policy making then why was this cartel of two massive organisations the only companies listened to by the DWP?

In 2001 our old friend Le Cascio:
was a key player at a ground-breaking conference at Woodstock near Oxford, titled “Malingering and Illness Deception”. Malcolm Wicks, Labour work minister at the time, and Mansel Aylward, then chief medical officer at the DWP, were among the 39 delegates.
And, at the same time Unum set up a lobbying group to try to further influence DWP policy.

Then, in 2004, Unum set up a £1.6 million research centre in Cardiff which subsequently received £300,000 of taxpayer's money from the DWP.

According to the Private Eye article from last year:
Unum has been lobbying, sitting on expert groups and hosting meetings at party conferences of all colours ever since. And lo and behold, in May this year, Unum’s then medical officer Prof Michael O’Donnell jumped ship to become chief medical officer at Atos. He barely had time to catch his breath before giving evidence to the Commons committee looking at the welfare reform bill.
Despite all of this, the DWP has repeatedly brushed of enquiries about the relationship with Unum, including one from Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg's health advisor, and has continued to involve Unum with policy making - something which is still happening at the moment. It appears that it doesn't matter which government is in power as the DWP seems to pay more attention to private insurance companies than ministers when making policy.

Meanwhile, the DWP has continued to publish misleading statistics (which are then picked up with glee by the tabloids) such as the claim that 75% of claimants are fit to work - something which was reported by papers as "75% of claimants are scroungers". The DWP has been repeatedly rapped over the knuckles for this by the Office for National Statistics (partly because only 0.5% of claims are deliberate attempts to defraud the benefit system) and yet employment minister, Chris Grayling says he is "bemused by it". Given the recent dramatic rise in disability hate crime then I'd call that criminally irresponsible and callous.

But this attitude isn't surprising when you consider who advises his boss, Ian Duncan-Smith. His two key Special Advisors are both, shall we say "questionable". Susan Squire is one. Until just after the general election she worked for the Taxpayers Alliance, an organisation which fully signs up to the "all disability claimants are workshy scroungers" and which is so right wing that it makes Margaret Thatcher look like a bleeding heart liberal.

Still, Susan Squire seems perfectly normal when you compare her to IDS's other advisor, Phillipa Stroud. This woman is a politician who believes that homosexuality is a "demon" which must be driven out of people through prayer and who set up a church dedicated to doing just that.

Meanwhile, disability charities and organisations such as the CAB are generally only given lip service by the DWP when it comes to involving them in policy making. It's not surprising that the DWP thinks that arbitrarily cutting benefits off to disabled people after 12 months, regardless of their condition, is a good idea when the main people driving policy are right wing nutters and rogue companies with vested interests in milking the public purse for all they can get.

Words cannot easily describe how horrifically DWP policy making seems to be. But perhaps if people like Chris Grayling and IDS actually spoke to some disabled people occasionally, instead of listening to religious and political extremists, then they might actually start to treat sick and disabled people with some basic compassion and dignity, rather than acting like the idiotic, incompetent, heartless cunts that so many tory ministers seem to be.

27 comments:

  1. An interesting read, you don't happen to have the stats for the "dramatic rise in disabilities hate crime" do you? I am genuinely curious. Furthermore, this relationship has been conceived by the civil service or was it put in place my a political party? Anyway good work as always.

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  2. This is scary and vested interest at its absolute worst. DWP has repeatedly denied any connection with Unum (for Atos too) through FoI Act requests, but it maybe that the questions haven't been worded in quite the right way. Unum too has denied any relationship with Atos. Call me naive, but I still just about believe that people will side-step the truth, be economical with it and spin it, but generally not tell down & outright lies.

    To make a difference or at least slow things down, we need a senior politician to make a very clear statement quoting some of the evidence that CG & IDS are getting away with just ignoring.

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  3. re. Unum and Atos -

    http://www.atoshealthcare.com/UserFiles/File/in-the-press/2011/pr_Mike_Odonnell_v2_web.pdf

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  4. @Doug

    http://www.disabilityhatecrime.org.uk/index.php/component/content/article/1-latest-news/165-hate-crimes-against-britains-disabled-on-the-rise

    A 75% rise in two years.

    As for the relationship with Unum, it dates back to 1994 so that means its been in place under the governments of Major, Blair, Brown and Cameron - I'm afraid I've got no idea whether it was initiated by civil servants or by politicians but I'm ready to bet good money that it's down to the DWP itself that the relationship has continued for so long.

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  5. By the way, the swear word is fine and can be embellished with any adjective of your choosing apart from anything that could be a reference directly of indirectly to ethnicity.

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  6. George, did you check the link re unum-atos above?

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  7. @Anonymous

    Yes I did, thank you very much for posting it. That's the same Chief Medical Officer that I was talking about.

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  8. George
    Thought you might find this interesting. New evidence that suggests Unum played a much greater role in influencing incapacity benefit reform than it has admitted so far. It's a news story I sent out to my subscribers this morning. Best wishes, John Pring, editor, Disability News Service

    http://www.bhfederation.org.uk/federation-news/item/1451-new-evidence-of-corporate-giant%E2%80%99s-influence-on-welfare-reform.html

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  9. The involvement of insurance companies in the neurological illness M.E. is well known, senior psychiatrists colluding with Medical Insurers to reclassify ME/CFS as a psychiatric disorder. The parliamentary Gibson report into ME/CFS recommended that this situation be investigated, but this was never done.






    www.sophiaandme.org.uk/collusion.html

    www.meactionuk.org.uk/UNUMProvident_Sharpe_and_CBT.htm


    www.meactionuk.org.uk/magical-medicine.pdf

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  10. John and the most recent Anonymous, just want to say thank you for the links. They make for interesting (and disturbing) reading.

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  11. What is it going to take to put a stop to this, couldn't the large charities bring this forward, get it on the News, papers etc.? There surely has to be something that can be done.

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    1. sadly a lot of the major charities, according to anecdotal reports, it seems decided to play safe and do sweet fa when the shit started to hit the fan.

      oh and by the way( unless anyone can state different) I believe that private enterprises can shield themselves from FOI requests by classifying information they don’t want people to have access to as "commercially sensitive". Even able bodied people are being treated like piles of shit. for example being sanctioned for the most minor of issues( arriving 15 minute late for signing on, reason arbitrarily ignored by DWP staff). political action is too tame a response, it will take a revolution before the government, regardless of the shirt it wears. will wake up to what is happening.

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  12. George, great article. Time politicans woke up.

    The above commentator is absolutely right. The inolvement of UNUM in the denial of disabling illnesses began years ago with Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (M.E.). It is the model on which the current system has been built.

    The aim was to deny that M.E. was a profoundly disabling neurolgical illness and reclassify it as a psychiatric disorder. This was to save on insurance payouts and disability benefits to seriously,longterm ill people. Insurance payouts for mental disorders are much less costly and time limited.

    Please see Professor Malcolm Hooper's documentation of the scientific evidence that M.E. is undeniably a physical,organic illness and the involvement of private insurance industry and UNUM to deny this over many years.

    http://www.meactionuk.org.uk/Defiance_of_Science.htm

    Also how the Woodstock conference in 2001, that you refer to, specificallly set out to discredit M.E. The intention was to relabel it "chronic fatigue syndrome" and say it could be cured by graded exercise,(GET) and psychotherapy (CBT)involving another private company PRISMA.

    http://www.meactionuk.org.uk/Wessely_Woodstock_and_Warfare.htm

    This is the methodology now being used on all benefit claimants. i.e that long term disabilty is simply a "maladaptive illness belief" that can be cured by the "work is good for you" mantra.
    The Department of Health classifies M.E as a " neurological" disorder. However, for the purposes of claiming disability benefits, the Department of Work and Pensions classifies it as a mental illness.
    The WCA test is now routinely finding seriously ill M.E patients "fit for work" as there are no descriptors to account for pain and fatigueing illnesses.

    Can you ask the government why it has extended the deadline on the secret Medical Research Council files on M.E. to 2071? If the illness is psychological,as they want Atos doctors to beieve, why is the information on it since 1988 classified as a state secret??

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  13. George, can you please tell us if Nick Clegg knows about this? also when are the LIB DEMS going to put into any action the motion passed at Conference? Your motion was excellent but nothing seems to have come of it?
    11,000 people a week are being subjected to this unfit for purpose WCA assessment. It is causing untold anxiety, hardship, even homelessness and documented suicides among the sick and disabled. It must be STOPPED until a fair assessment can be put in place. It's predecessor, the Personal Capability Assessment, was already described by the OECD as one of the toughest welfare tests in the world.

    Also you say this "broken assessment system" was bequeathed to this government by Labour. Yes, but only part of that is true.

    The regulations passed by Labour were amended in several ways by this government in February 2011, making the test even tougher to pass. eg substituting "walking" with "mobilising". In other words, even if a person cannot walk very far, they are now assessed on how far they could self-propel an "imaginary" wheelchair.(even if don't own one)

    Ed Milliband started the Early Day Motion 1651 to have the amendments to the legislation annulled. It was signed by 139 MPs including the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Dame Anne Begg.

    Yet not a single Lib Dem has signed it.

    http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1651

    Perhaps you could ressurect it?

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  14. (Sorry if this is a repeat post, but mine don't seem to be appearing)

    George, can you please tell us if Nick Clegg knows about this? also when are the LIB DEMS going to put into any action the motion passed at Conference? Your motion was excellent but nothing seems to have come of it?
    11,000 people a week are being subjected to this unfit for purpose WCA assessment. It is causing untold anxiety, hardship, even homelessness and documented suicides among the sick and disabled. It must be STOPPED until a fair assessment can be put in place. It's predecessor, the Personal Capability Assessment, was already described by the OECD as one of the toughest welfare tests in the world.

    Also you say this "broken assessment system" was bequeathed to this government by Labour. Yes, but only part of that is true.

    The regulations passed by Labour were amended by this government in February 2011, making the test even tougher to pass. eg substituting "walking" with "mobilising". In other words, even if a person cannot walk very far, they are now assessed on how far they could self-propel an "imaginary" wheelchair.(even if don't own one)

    Ed Milliband started the Early Day Motion 1651 to have the amendments to the legislation annulled. It was signed by 139 MPs including the Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Dame Anne Begg.

    Yet not a single Lib Dem has signed it.

    http://www.parliament.uk/edm/2010-12/1651

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  15. Hi jan. I'm afraid your comment got caught in the spam filter for some reason - it bugs me at times, decent comments get blocked yet spambots still get through. Grr.

    The WRB is currently going through committee in the house of lords - when it gets to the section of the bill dealing with ESA and the WCA then I'm pretty certain you'll see Lib Dems doing stuff. The problem is that if Lib Dem MPs kick up a fuss before then then the tories are likely to take umbrage and dig their heels in just out of stubborness. So on this I think we have to wait and see for the time being, hard as that may be.

    I imagine the reason no Lib Dems have signed that EDM is because it looks to be a purely political points scoring exercise. It's not realistic for Lib Dems to back completely revoking government regulations when, in all probability, some of them are perfectly sensible. What would be realistic is for them to change the problematic regulations without scrapping every last detail of the document presented to parliament.

    And the fact that the EDM is sponsored by Liam Byrne - the same shadow cabinet minister who is on record as saying that an arbitrary one year ESA time limit is fine for everone except cancer patients - doesn't exactly fill me with confidence about the motives behind it.

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  16. Thanks for the reply George.
    We look forward to great things from the Lib Dems in the Lords....?!

    Yes I know the EDM is politically suspect as are the Labour Party in this whole affair, who have remained amazingly quiet, while the seriously ill are terrorised.

    This gives great problems to sick and disabled voters. We know Labour began this process, the Tories have run a marathon with it but the Lib Dems haven't stopped them either. So who should we vote for?
    Politicians seem to assume all disabled people are by definition uneducated, gullible and I think the assumption from both parties is that they are all automatically Labour voters anyway.
    This is far from the case, as you know. Most people with chronic illnesses and disability had diverse and often highly profesional lives before becoming ill.
    The next election could turn on the millions of votes from the disabled who are rapidly becoming more political by the minute. The party which takes genuine action over this scandal will get the votes.
    Sorry to tell you George, but the word from the trenches is that the LibDems are facing annihilation at the next election. This is an issue which could turn that around in marginals.
    The ball is in your court.

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  17. So, knowing how wrong the DWP are being towards disabled people, knowing how they are breaking every human right (probably) that humans would hold dear. Knowing that people are losing their lives over this horrific treatment of the disabled - Knowing all this and more.... WHAT can you to about it - WHAT can you do to help before more people lose their lives -

    There are so few people who can get the word out there - Talking on the internet is one thing but 90% of the people who would read the Daily Mail and all the rubbish papers - Do not read this blog - We need so desperately for someone to get the TRUTH out there - This is saving peoples lives.

    I live in fear every single day of the postman. I live in fear for being allowed (permitted to live by the govt) I am disabled, every specialist I seee knows this fact - But ATOS and DWP wont believe them. Yet the NHS employs them but in the eyes of the DWP their word is not truth?

    We need someone like YOU to save us

    Please save me, I want to live and not to be disabled, but I AM disabled so I would love somebdy to be able to show this govt that disabled people are not scum, not liars, not terrible people who should be shot on sight.

    I was a human. Now thanks to govt - All I am is scum :-(

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  18. Mr Potter

    You might add that when the appellant has representation at a tribunal, the success rate goes up to *70%* from that 40%

    And successful appellants are often hauled straight back ibto the system

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  19. *And successful appellants are often hauled straight back ibto the system*

    I don't want to go round and round in this nightmare, its not a wonder people like me just cant take this any more and decide that there is only one way out. I cant live like this its too hard nobody can change it or help people and this govt hate us and are probablyhappy when another one dies. its the only way out of the nightmare

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  20. TPA quoting the Bible as perverse as Maude the Fraud quoting Marx http://liberalconspiracy.org/2012/05/21/tpa-report-uses-bible-to-preach-about-low-taxation/

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  21. even more bizarre Mr Loverman http://politicalscrapbook.net/2012/05/taxpayers-alliance-report-sexual-jealousy/

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  22. a small step GP's vote to scrap WCA .. http://socialwelfareunion.wordpress.com/

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  23. George, don't let Norman Lamb off the hook so easily, in my view he is as much in bed with Unum as the rest of them, (check out http://blacktrianglecampaign.org/2011/09/20/atos-unum-mps-democracy-and-trust/), speaking alongside Unum's Chief Financial Officer at the LibDem Conference while only 2 weeks previously denying he even knew who Unum was.

    We're all in it together springs to mind here, all in it together to con the UK public out of their NI contributions just as Unum did with their clients insurance payments, Norman Lamb included.

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    1. The fact that he attended an event partially sponsored by Unum means practically nothing. It was an event organised, first and foremost by IPPR. Unum would have sponsored it solely for the free advertising.

      Speakers for these events are usually booked by the organisers without having any idea as to who the sponsors are. I, for example, have gone along as an audience member to events where I completely disagree with the sponsors - but I attend the events because its the panel that I'm interested in. It doesn't mean that I support the sponsors.

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  24. As somebody ripped off by Unum's back up plan... only got a partial pay out after FSO got involved.. Of course they have a major vested interest... They ofer employers a Group Income Protection Plan, employers add this to employees contract... get 50% of gross income, less incapacity benefit... now there is the rub... you need to be receiving benefits to make your claim... so the harder it is to get them... the less payouts Unum have to make.. and then its a merry dance, any problems claiming... Unum say its your employer, employer says it Unum... and Unums medical expert in my case, a young clerk with no medical training who contradicted a professor of orthopedics and MRI and x-ray evidence..

    Both the government and Unum have the same aim... don't pay out on insurance... be it NI or Unums private plans.

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  25. It would be interesting to know who in the DWP has shares in either ATOS, Unum, or both. I think this calls for a FOIR on the grounds that there may have been a serious conflict of interest while this welfare reform act was being put together.

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