Reposted from the Leicester Mercury
DWP, you really are a piece of shit!
Nick Gaskin, 46, from Quorn, was diagnosed with primary progressive multiple sclerosis (MS) 16 years ago.
He can no longer do anything for himself and needs round the clock care.
He and his wife Tracy were astonished to receive a letter from the Loughborough Job Centre with an appointment for July 22.
The letter states: “You and your personal advisor will discuss the possibility of going into paid work, training for work, or looking for work in the future.”
His wife, Tracy, called the centre to explain the situation but was told he still had to attend.
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The Conservative manifesto launched today gives no further clues about which benefits they intend to slash in order to cut £12 billion from the social security budget. The manifesto does, however, include plans to look at enforced treatment for people with long-term health conditions.
The 83 page document repeatedly confirms the Conservative’s plan to find £12 billion in ‘welfare savings’. But little more than a page is devoted to the details of how ‘welfare savings’ are to be achieved.
The manifesto confirms that the household benefits cap will be lowered from £26,000 t0 £23,000 – with exemptions for people getting disability living allowance or personal independence payment.
There is also confirmation of the freeze on working age benefits for two years from April 2016, with exemptions for some benefits, including disability benefits.
The manifesto pledges that the Conservatives will ‘work to eliminate child poverty’ which, in the Conservative’s view is caused by ‘entrenched worklessness, family breakdown, problem debt, and drug and alcohol dependency’ .
To aid their attack on poverty the Tories have also committed to review how people with long-term treatable conditions ‘such as drug or alcohol addiction, or obesity’, can be helped back into work. People who refuse help will face having their benefits cut, as the manifesto explains:
‘People who might benefit from treatment should get the medical help they need so they can return to work. If they refuse a recommended treatment, we will review whether their benefits should be reduced.
There is also a promise of ‘significant new support for mental health, benefiting thousands of people claiming out-of-work benefits or being supported by Fit for Work’.
Whether refusing this help, likely to be primarily online and telephone-based cognitive behavioural therapy, will also lead to benefits cuts was not discussed in the document.
However, there is no doubt that conditions such as anxiety and depression are regarded as ‘treatable’ conditions by the DWP. There is, therefore, no obvious logical reason why they should not be dealt with in a similar way to conditions such as substance dependency, which will very frequently have a mental health element.
The Tory manifesto also promises to extend the right to buy to tenants of housing association homes. Whether some claimants in social housing will consider voting for Tory benefits cuts in the hope they will then get a chance to own a home of their own remains to be seen.
But, for most claimants, the Conservative manifesto simply prolongs the terrible anxiety of not knowing how deeply their benefits will be slashed if the Tories win power on May 7th.
Source – Benefits & Work, 14 Apr 2015
A radioactive man, who has been told not to be in close proximity with other people, has been found ‘fit for work’ by government officials.
Peter Foley, 54, from Wakefield in West Yorkshire, was stripped of his sickness benefits by officials from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), despite being banned from standing in queues at his local Jobcentre.
Mr Foley is undergoing radioiodine treatment for an overactive thyroid, which means that his body gives off radiation that could be harmful to other people.
The condition has led to an alteration in Mr Foley’s brain chemistry, leading to depression, anxiety and involuntary tremors. Mr Foley says the experience of having his benefits removed had a detrimental effect on his health and worsened his symptoms.
Mr Foley told the Wakefield Express:
“I am amazed that the DWP decided I am fit for work, even though I am radioactive because of the radioiodine treatment I’m having.
“I’m not allowed near anyone, or on public transport and yet they say I should go to work. I wasn’t even allowed to stand in the queue at the job centre as I had to tell them about my condition. I had to fill in the paperwork in the doorway.
“I have been unable to work because of my overactive thyroid for around five months now.
“The condition has altered my brain chemistry and it gives me terrible tremors and severe depression and anxiety and this situation is just making it worse.”
Intervention from the Wakefield Express has resulted in Mr Foley’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) being reinstated.
His daughter Samantha Foley said: “I can’t thank the Express enough. I’m so pleased the DWP have changed their minds and given my dad the back pay he was owed.
“It was absolutely ridiculous and a huge worry for us.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: “For someone to claim benefits they need to provide evidence to back up their claim.
“Mr Foley has now provided additional information and has been awarded Employment and Support Allowance.”
His ESA payments have been backdated.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 22 Mar 2015
Former jobcentre adviser Angela Neville has written a play to expose the harsh reality of the benefits sanctions regime.
Angela Neville, 48, is describing events she witnessed as a special adviser in a jobcentre that prompted her to write a play about her experiences.
“We were given lists of customers to call immediately and get them on to the Work Programme,” she recalls.
“I said, ‘I’m sorry this can’t happen, this man is in hospital.’ I was told [by my boss]: ‘No, you’ve got to phone him and you’ve got to put this to him and he may be sanctioned.’ I said I’m not doing it.”
Neville worked as an adviser in Braintree jobcentre, Essex, for four years and has written a play with two collaborators, her friends Angela Howard and Jackie Howard, both of whom have helped advocate for unemployed people who were threatened with benefit sanctions by jobcentre staff.
The title of the play, Can This be England? is an allusion to the disbelief that she and the others feel at how people on benefits are being treated, she says. And she unashamedly describes the play, in which she also acts, as a “dramatic consciousness-raising exercise”.
Can This be England? deals with the quagmire that awaits people caught in the welfare system. Scenes are set in jobcentres and in characters’ homes addressing some of what Neville calls the “everyday absurdity” of what occurs, such as when people with disabilities and fluctuating health conditions are wrongly declared “fit for work” inflicting additional suffering in the process. It also examines the dilemmas faced by staff in jobcentres, many of whom Neville believes feel stripped of any power to do good and are crumbling under the strain as managers enforce new rules.
Source – Benefits & Work, 03 Feb 2015
As the NHS descends into chaos, a US healthcare insurance firm is quietly being installed to take over key front line services from GPs including providing certification to bosses for staff absences due to sicknesss. In addition employers are to be given tax breaks to fund medical treatment for staff when it has been recommended by these private sector healthcare professionals.
The new ‘Fit for Work’ service is to be run by Maximus in England and Wales, the same company brought in to replace Atos to carry out the despised assessments for out of work sickness and disability benefits. In a major embarrassment for DWP Ministers, Fit To Work was expected to launch late last year but so far all Maximus have managed is a website and a phoneline.
When the service is finally implemented employers will be able to refer staff to Fit for Work if they have…
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Guidance issued by the DWP last week on the new Fit for Work scheme makes it clear that referrals can only be made to the scheme with the consent of the employee. It also makes it clear that most health assessments will be carried out over the telephone.
Fit for Work is the new DWP scheme intended to cut sickness absence and ESA claims by getting sick employees back to work more quickly. In England and Wales the scheme has been outsourced to a branch of Maximus, the company also taking over the work capability assessment contract from Atos later this year. In Scotland fit for work is being delivered by the Scottish government.
GPs and employers can refer employees for an occupational health assessment via the Fit for Work service once they have been off sick for a month, provided that there is a reasonable prospect of the employee retuning to work. The employee must consent before a referral can be made.
Fit for work will carry out a ‘biopsychosocial holistic assessment’ of the employee over the telephone and draw up a return to work plan on the basis of that call. In a small number of cases a face-to-face assessment will be carried out.
For GPs, the attraction of a referral is that once a return to work plan has been drawn up by Fit for Work the GP will no longer be responsible for providing sick notes.
Employers receive a tax exemption of up to £500 per year, per employee on medical treatments recommended by Fit for Work to help their employees return to work.
Source – Benefits & Work, 06 Jan 2015
A North-East MP has said the remains of Richard III would struggle to pass the Government’s too-strict ‘fit for work’ criteria.
Thousands of benefit claimants are dying within six weeks of being wrongly assessed as being fit to work because of the Government’s “scandalous” welfare reforms, the Commons heard today.
Gateshead Labour MP Ian Mearns compared the coalition to “oppressive regimes in Central and Latin America”, blaming ministers for misdiagnosing at least 10,600 sick and disabled people as being fit for work.
Speaking during a backbench business debate on welfare reform, he said: “Put bluntly, this Government, the Department for Work and Pensions and their agencies are telling us repeatedly that people who are dying are fit for work.
“Between January 2011 and November 2011 some 10,600 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claims ended and the date of death was recorded within six weeks of the claim end.
“This Government has repeatedly refused to release updated 2013 (figures) for deaths within six weeks of an end of an ESA claim.”
Mr Mearns added: “Four people a day are dying within six weeks of being declared fit for work under the Work Capability Assessments.
“It is scandalous – scandalous and an indictment of this place.”
He suggested that the remains of Richard III would also struggle to pass the Government’s strict criteria.
He told the House: “Some might consider this bad taste, but I’m told there was a story doing the rounds, that when the bones of Richard III were discovered in Leicester, Atos carried out an assessment and judged him fit for work.
“It would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.
“It’s a sad truth faced by 12,000-plus families who, every year, have to face their own personal tragedy of this nature.
“In my youth, I never would have imagined that in 2014 it would be the United Kingdom that would be the subject of an Amnesty campaign.
“Yet at its AGM in 2013, Amnesty UK passed a resolution recognising the human rights of sick and disabled people in the United Kingdom had been dreadfully compromised.”
Source – Shields Gazette, 27 Feb 2014
Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that nearly a million people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been found fit for work.
The figures released this week by the DWP claim that a third (32%) of new claimants for ESA were assessed as being fit to work and capable of employment between October 2008 and March 2013 – totaling 980,400 people. In addition, the figures also show that more than a million others withdrew their claims for ESA before being assessed for eligibility through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This can be because of individuals recovering and either returning to work, or claiming a benefit more appropriate to their situation.
The claim has come under criticism from Disability Campaigners. A Disability Rights UK (DRUK) spokesman, speaking to BBC News, said “They are finding people fit for work when they aren’t and they are not even giving them the support they need to get a job. It is a disgrace”.
Indeed many of those passed as ‘fit for work’ will not, in fact, be capable of entering the workplace in any meaningful sense due to physical or mental health problems.
However, Mike Penning, Minister of State for Disabled People disagrees, saying “As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past. With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work, allowing them to provide for themselves and their family.”
A second report from the DWP, also released this week, appears to support what Mike Penning says, as it shows that the number of successful appeals against being found “fit for work” has also fallen sharply. This would suggest that the WCA and the way it is conducted by ATOS Healthcare – both of which have come under heavy criticism – are gradually becoming fairer to disabled people. A DWP spokesman said there has been “significant improvements” to the WCA, which has become “fairer and more accurate”, supports this. Adding, “If it is more fair and accurate and people are moving onto the right groups then of course we would welcome that.”
His comments, will not ‘sit well’ with the many families who have lost loved ones following being found ‘fit to work’. Earlier this week, Welfare News Service, reported on how DWP statistics published 9th July 2012 show that in total, between January 2011 and November 2011 10,600 claimants died within 6 weeks of being declared fit for work by Atos.
Indeed, it would appear that this is something they wish to hide as they have refused Freedom of Information Requests for subsequent years – 2012 and 2013 – claiming it would be “vexatious”. Furthermore, his comments will bring little comfort to the Holt family. This week, The Mirror reported on how bipolar patient Sheila Holt, 47, was sectioned in December after being taken off Income Support.
Days later she had a heart attack and fell into a coma. Despite this, benefit assessors are still sending letters, with ATOS asking why she is not working.
Her dad Kenneth said: “It’s just not right what they have done. It sent my daughter hypermanic” adding “She hadn’t had a job for 26 years. Anyone who knew her would tell you she couldn’t do a job.”
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow said:
“I am in favour of welfare reform but trying to bulldoze through changes in a reckless and insensitive way is not the right way to go about it. This Government is causing a huge amount of damage and I have no doubt that Sheila’s story is being repeated in towns and cities up and down the country. She has a complex disability caused by severe trauma in her childhood and you cannot aggressively push vulnerable people, like Sheila, back into work because it can have, as we’ve seen, very serious health consequences.”
Consequences, which Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, appears to ignore. In a speech, described by DRUK as “more of the same old, same old”, he speaks of “a twilight world where life is dependent on what is given to you, rather than what you are able to create”, and pointed to the “falling numbers claiming the main out-of-work benefits”.
However, in the figures released by DWP, the opposite is true – at least for disabled people. In the first DWP report “early estimates” suggest that upto August 2013 there were 2,430,000 people claiming ESA and old-style incapacity benefit. Moreover, in November 2013 the figure had increased by 35000 to 2,465,000. However it is unclear if this trend will continue.
The second DWP report shows a continuing fall in numbers of claimants found ‘fit to work’ following a WCA. The figures range from a high of 65 per cent for those whose claims began in 2009 to 39 per cent for those whose claims started in the first quarter of 2013. In addition to this 39 per cent were placed in the support group and 23 per cent in the work-related activity group. The figures also show that there has been a significant drop in successful appeals against being found fit for work. Dropping from 41 per cent, for claims starting in early 2009, to 23 per cent for claims begun in the third quarter of 2012. The changes are suggested in the report, as being possibly caused by improvements made to the WCA by the coalition government in the wake of the independent reviews carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
It would appear that the figures released by the DWP do not show people “languishing on welfare” as claimed by Iain Duncan Smith, nor do they appear to paint a picture of a social security system that he claims has become “distorted” under the previous Labour government and was too often an “entrapment – as it has been for a million people left on incapacity benefits for a decade or more”.
However, whilst the DWP still refuses to release figures showing how many have died within 6 weeks of being found ‘fit to work’ and stories, such as Shiela Holt, now in a coma after being found ‘fit to work’ are still being reported, maybe it is not “unnecessary fear” Labour is creating as Iain Duncan Smith says, as he mounts a renewed attack on Labour adding that the Conservatives will put further welfare changes at the heart of their 2015 election manifesto.
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 Jan 2014
A powerful new film captures the desperate real experiences of being judged “fit for work” for people with mental health problems.
Tyneside Mind launched a short film highlighting the real experiences of three local people with mental health problems undergoing Work Capability Assessment.
The film ‘But I’m here for mental health – three stories of the Work Capability Assessment’ used actors to tell the genuine stories of individuals who were deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos Healthcare despite the severity of their mental health problems and the significant barriers they face to get into work.
Local MP’s were invited to the showing which was be aired for the first time at Northumbria University Cinema last week.
The film tells the story of two men unfairly dismissed from work due to ill health and one woman whose sleep apnoea and depression prevent her from being able to work. In a particularly poignant moment in the film one man, who can’t write because he has carpal tunnel syndrome, has to admit to his elderly mother that he has contemplated suicide since losing his job as she fills in the application form on his behalf.
Another scene depicts a lady standing on a bridge thinking about ending her life because she has been told she is fit for work.
“It’s been really traumatic and very confusing for people,” said Oliver Wood, vice chairman of Tyneside Mind, who has himself now been back in work for two years after claiming benefits due to a mental health problem.
“They don’t really understand the process or how, when they are really very unwell, seeing senior hospital consultants and receiving support from mental health services, they are being declared fully fit to work because they are physically capable.”
Currently 37% of all North East appeals against decisions to change or remove Employment Support Allowance are successful, which rises to more than two in five for cases involving mental and behavioural disorders.
But Oliver points to Department of Work and Pensions figures for Northumberland, Tyne and Wear which suggest that over the past eight months an average of 2,200 claimants a month – including many with mental health problems – have had their benefits sanctioned and 1,700 a month have given up their claims.
One fear is that many people with mental health problems may be suffering in silence, due to the increasing “stigma” of being on benefits.
The film uses reconstruction to depict service users’ real stories, interspersed with verbatim quotes from Tyneside Mind service users.
With funding from The Millfield House Foundation and support from Helix Arts and Tyneside Mind, the film has been produced by Meerkat Films to help raise awareness of the devastating impact this assessment process can have on vulnerable individuals with complex and fluctuating conditions.
The release of the film also coincides with the Litchfield Review – the fourth annual Independent Review of the Work Capability Assessment, which is currently used to determine eligibility for the out-of-work benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Over a third of assessments involve people who have applied primarily due to a mental health problem and many more applicants experience a mental health problem alongside other illnesses or disabilities. Yet, the film aims to show that the assessment is not suitable for people with mental health problems, and often actually pushes many people further away from the workplace by exacerbating their mental health problems and directing them to inappropriate support and expectations.
Stuart Dexter, Chief Executive of Tyneside Mind, said: “At Tyneside Mind we help people every week with benefits-related enquiries, and our resources are increasingly stretched.
“The people we represent are still not getting a fair outcome from the Work Capability Assessment. The assessment process is not sensitive enough to recognise the impact a mental health problem can have on someone’s ability to work, and can cause a great deal of stress, especially for those who get an unfair decision and then have to go through a lengthy and costly appeals process. This film aims to highlight what it’s really like for the many individuals subjected to this process and urge the Department for Work and Pensions to urgently improve the system.”
Steve, whose name has been changed, but who speaks of his experience of the Work Capability Assessment in the film, said: “The whole assessment process was so traumatic that I really didn’t think I’d be able to recover from it, let alone talk about it.
“Unfortunately I know that there are so many others like me who have felt humiliated and had their views neglected.
“Tyneside Mind suggested I get involved with this project and I wanted to help because I feel it’s so important to raise awareness of the way vulnerable people are being treated. I hope this film will help change things so nobody else will have to endure what I did.”
Source – Newcastle Journal, 27 Dec 2013
From the xmas edition of Fortean Times (#309) – available from all good newsagents (and W.H. Smiths).
In an assessment for Employment Support Allowance, Gary Swift, 40, from Chesterfield, Derbyshire, who was born without a right arm, was asked (in all seriousness):
“Do you expect your arm to grow back within the next two years ?”
The interviewer was an employee of Atos, a company that runs the assessments for the Department for Work & Pensions.
Well, they do say you could wheel a week-old corpse in front of Atos and they would pass it fit for work… growing a new arm seems quite a minor expectation by comparison.