More than 70 leading Catholics have written to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, who is Catholic, to tell him they fear the impact of his welfare reform policies.
In an open letter the group, led by the thinktanks Ekklesia and the Centre for Welfare Reform, calls on Duncan Smith to redraft his policies “in a way that is more compatible with Catholic and Christian values.”
They highlight benefit sanctions, work capability assessments, the benefits cap and the scheme to incorporate all benefits in a single system of universal credit as policies that are worsening the situation of poor families up and down the country.
“We understand that your Catholic faith is important to you, and your approach is driven by a desire to improve the quality of individual lives,” the letter says.
“However, we believe that [your policies] are in fact doing the reverse. We would urge you to rethink and to abandon further cuts which are likely to cause more damage.”
Duncan Smith was the first Catholic leader of the Conservative party between 2001 and 2003. In 2010 he was named one of Britain’s most influential Catholics. Since his appointment at the head of the Department for Work and Pensions that year, he has led a radical reorganisation of Britain’s benefits system to ensure “work always pays more”.
But he has faced criticism from campaigners who say that cuts to benefits have led to suicides, an increase in poverty and the social cleansing of wealthier areas, particularly in London and the south-east.
Secret Tory plans to slash sickness benefits for people unable to work have been leaked in a document, it has been reported today.
Tory ministers are considering slashing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by as much as £30 a week, affecting thousands of sick and disabled people.
The move would see the value of ESA for this group of jobseekers falling from £102.15 a week to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance – £73.10 a week for jobseekers over the age of 25.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) would also be overhauled and renamed “Employment Capability Assessments”, to “focus attention on work seeking, not benefit seeking”, reports the Daily Mirror.
Maximus have managed their first work capability assessment blunder before even starting the contract in March.
Maximus are not keen on having their name associated with claimant deaths in the way that Atos’ now is in so many people’s minds.
So, appointment letters for work capability assessments won’t come from Maximus. Instead, they will come from a fig leaf company called The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments Limited.
The new company was set up back in June 2014, long before Maximus were officially awarded the contract. Unfortunately, Leslie Wolfe – division president of Maximus- and her fellow director William Smith aren’t so hot on UK spelling, hailing as they do from the US.
So the company they created to hide behind was actually called The Center for Health and Disability Assessments Limited.
Thus, five weeks after incorporating the company, their first act was to change the name so that at least it looks like it is a UK run organisation.
With this level of accuracy and attention to detail, what could possibly go wrong as they take over the assessment of millions of sick and disabled claimants?
Source – Benefits & Work, 22 Jan 2015
Thousands of sick and disabled people have requested an audio-recording of medical assessments for sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), official figures show.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that between December 2012 and February 2014, a total of 4,060 audio-recorded face-to-face Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were requested. The busiest month came in January 2014, when 500 people requested to have their WCA audio-recorded.
However, DWP figures also show that of the 4,060 requests to audio-record a WCA, only 2,670 were successfully completed – averaging between 150 to 200 a month.
On average, approximately 70 were cancelled each month, totalling 1,080 between December 2012 and February 2014. The DWP says 330 individuals were awaiting an audio-recorded WCA in February 2014.
For every 10,000 WCAs completed, the DWP received only 66 requests for audio recordings (0.66%).
The ratio of recordings requested to all assessments completed was highest in January 2014 (1.14%) and lowest in January 2013 (0.36%).
The ratio of completed audio recording to all assessments completed was on average 0.42% and the ratio of cleared (completed + cancelled) audio recordings to all assessments was on average 0.59%.
There is no legal right to record a face to face benefit assessment, says the DWP. And the department has no legal obligation to provide recording equipment.
According to the DWP, the current policy for audio recording of face-to-face assessments is that DWP has asked Atos Healthcare, and its successor Maximus, to accommodate requests as much as reasonably possible.
The DWP said they are releasing these statistics “as a contribution to the debate on audio-recording face-to-face WCAs”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015
An influential Commons committee is asking Newcastle residents for first-hand accounts of a controversial testing regime for people claiming disability benefits.
MPs are asking residents to meet them at Newcastle United Football Club on Tuesday, May 13, to discuss the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos.
The event has been organised by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, a cross-party group of backbench MPs from across the country which scrutinises the work of the Government.
They are holding an inquiry in to Employment and Support Allowance, the new allowance which has replaced incapacity benefit, and the Work Capability Assessment, a test which claimants are forced to undergo to see if they are able to work.
The Committee would usually meet at Westminster and hear evidence from senior figures ranging from Government Ministers to charity managers.
But they have taken the unusual step of asking any member of the public with experience of applying for the benefits or going through the assessment to meet them in Newcastle.
The Work Capability Assessment has been the subject of bitter criticism. Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this year, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “The attack on the disabled and the vulnerable is relentless.”
Anger has focused on the role of Atos Healthcare, the firm contracted to carry out the tests. Critics claim Atos gets decisions wrong and declares people fit for work when they have a disability or serious illness which makes finding a job impossible.
Committee chair Dame Anne Begg, said: “Committee Members, not least in our role as constituency MPs, have heard many concerns about Employment and Support Allowance and about the Work Capability Assessment in particular.
“We are therefore keen to get out of Westminster and find out how the system is working on the ground.
“We want to hear from people who have experience of making a new claim for Employment and Support Allowance or who have been through the incapacity benefit reassessment process.
“Their observations on how the system is working and, crucially, suggestions for how it can be improved, will help inform our ongoing inquiry.”
The meeting will take place in the Moncur Suite, St. James’ Park, between 10.30am and 12.30pm on May 13.
Anybody with experience of applying for Employment and Support Allowance or going through a Work Capability Assessment is invited to speak to the MPs.
Source – Newcastle Journal 09 May 2014
If you become sick or disabled and lose your job you need to know that you will be supported.
However, our advisers are helping more and more people who are having problems with the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). We think this needs fixing and want to make sure that ESA is fit for work. (Article and data from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, 3rd Feb 2014)
ESA is the benefit designed to help people who have limited ability to work. We have found that the ESA process too often fails to determine who is fit for work and who isn’t. This means that the right people are not getting the support they are entitled to.
As our chart shows, despite attempts by successive Governments to put this right we are still seeing evidence that the system is not fit for work.We want…
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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