Half-blind UK widow commits suicide after incapacity benefit cut

A partially-blind widow, who suffered crippling back pain for over a decade, committed suicide after her incapacity benefit was cut because state assessors claimed she was fit to work.

Following a two-minute assessment, private firm Atos Healthcare concluded Jacqueline Harris was fit to work despite the fact she had trouble walking and suffered constant, excruciating back pain.Her incapacity benefit was subsequently axed by the government, which pays the firm to conduct fitness-for-work assessments.

Harris, a former nurse who had claimed incapacity benefit for a number of years, was awaiting a serious spinal operation when Atos assessed her. According to the deceased’s sister, the Atos employee asked Harris one question during the interview – whether she was capable of catching a bus.

The firm has been the focus of a firestorm of criticism in recent times, with mounting claims that vulnerable and unwell people are being wrongly proposed for work, and are forced to endure exasperating and upsetting medical interviews.

‘Atos should be shot’

Fifty-three-year-old Harris was discovered dead in her home in south Gloucestershire in November 2013, with a hand written note attached to her chest stressing she did not wish to be resuscitated. She took her own life just a few weeks before an appeal hearing had been scheduled with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Harris’ sister told the Daily Mail the family received a letter about the hearing a month after the former nurse died. “I didn’t tell them she had died and went along myself. I said to them ‘I’m disgusted’. Atos should be shot,” she said.

Speaking outside the Bristol court, where Harris’ inquest was held, Christine Norman said her sister’s decline was sparked by the DWP’s decision to replace her incapacity welfare allowance with Jobseeker’s Allowance. “It gave her no hope. She was defeated. What hope did she have?” Norman asked.

Norman added the government has since ruled Atos’ decision to declare her sister fit for work was wrong.

Throughout the inquest, the court was told Harris had suffered an array of different injuries and disabilities since the 1990s. Her trouble began with a fall during work, causing injured discs in her neck and back. She also endured chronic pain in her hands, resulting from a vicious dog bite and partial blindness following a severe bang to the head.

As her back pain worsened over time, Harris sought assistance and advice from doctors, attended pain management classes and engaged in physiotherapy.

Following the DWP’s decision that she was fit to work, Harris pleaded with the body saying she was awaiting an intensive back operation. But her poignant pleas were reportedly ignored.

 

Read the rest of this story here: http://rt.com/uk/209731-suicide-woman-benefit-axed/

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ATOS Was Fined £30 Million For Errors In WCA Delivery

Same Difference

Many thanks Benefits And Work.

In an exclusive report, The Londoner has been told that government contractor Atos was fined £30 million for errors in its delivery of the work capability assessments.

It was announced at the time that Atos had made a “substantial financial settlement” to the DWP, for “significant quality failures” in its reports on people’s ability to work.

Until now details of the fine have been kept hush-hush to avoid embarrassing the company, which is leaving the contract in February 2015.

When asked, the DWP would only respond:

“They are paying us a financial settlement but we can’t disclose the amount for commercial reasons”.

When Atos was asked the same question: “It’s all legally bound up, I can’t comment,” was the reply from its company spokesperson.

But is the £30 million correct? “Will you tell me who gave you the figure?” was Atos’s only reply.

What Benefits…

View original post 114 more words

Work capability assessment system at ‘virtual collapse’, says judge

Robert Martin, outgoing head of benefits appeal tribunal, says DWP was too optimistic about conducting fit-to-work tests

The outgoing head of the tribunal which hears appeals relating to social security benefits has said that the work capability assessment (WCA) has undergone “virtual collapse” and accused the Department for Work and Pensions of being overly optimistic about the pace at which fit-for-work tests were being carried out.

Writing in the Judicial Information Bulletin, a confidential journal distributed to tribunal members, Judge Robert Martin, who retired as president of the social entitlement chamber at the end of last month, says that the tribunal was advised by the DWP to expect a surge in its workload. But he says problems with delivery of the government’s welfare shakeup and the removal of legal aid funding for challenging benefits decisions meant there was actually a drop in cases, from more than 50,000 in July 2013 to 8,775 in March this year.

“The virtual collapse of the WCA process is the biggest single factor in the decline of the appeals intake,” he writes.

He says the DWP had advised the tribunal that there would be a “bow wave” of appeals after Atos Healthcare, which administered fit-for-work tests for sick and disabled people, had recovered from its initial problems which led to questions about the quality of its work. “The advice from DWP was unduly sanguine,” he observes.

In March, the government announced that the £500m contract with Atos, blighted by accusations that the tests were crude and inhumane, was going to end early.

Referring to the removal of funding under the legal aid scheme for advice and assistance on welfare rights matters, Martin writes: “This loss of funding, compounded by continuing cutbacks in local authority spending on advice services, has severely reduced the help and support available to claimants to pursue their legal rights in challenging benefit decisions.”

In the article, which appeared in the April edition of the Judicial Information Bulletin but was only published online last week, on a forum for welfare rights workers, Martin also has less than flattering words about other parts of the government’s welfare changes.

From the Guardian: http://www.theguardian.com/society/2014/jun/11/work-capability-assessment-collapse-benefits

Government disability assessors forced to give wrong decisions or trigger an internal audit?

More from the Parliamentary Committe submissions on ESA and the Work Capability Assessment.

 

“We have no confidence that the new providers of the WCA will be much different from Atos Healthcare, unless the fundamental contractual arrangements are opened up to extensive scrutiny and realistic adjustment.  The contractual relations introduced between DWP and Atos Healthcare as well as how compliance is sought within Atos Healthcare practices, were largely responsible for the poor performance of Atos Healthcare.  An analysis by Kaliya Franklin was published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, entitled, ‘Investigating the real reason for the misery of ‘fit for work’ assessments’.   Franklin analysed this in terms of required ‘statistical norms’, which are more commonly understood by the rest of us as targets, such that:

 

“The small number of points a frontline assessor is able to give without eventually triggering audit clearly demonstrate why there is a vast disparity between initial assessment and appeal; an audit may be triggered if the assessor awards the points outlined in the descriptors, ie if they go above an average of 2.1 points for physical conditions and 3.6 points for mental health conditions”.

 

We can judge, crudely, from these figures that if, for example, a first claimant with only physical difficulties was awarded in total 15 points and placed in the WRAG (Work Related Activity Group), the assessor would, on average, need to award 6 of the next claimants with no points.  We can also judge from Franklin’s analysis that overall assessors were effectively obliged to award less than 15 points in about two thirds of cases.”

Written evidence submitted by John Slater (WCA0028). Read more here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/work-and-pensions-committee/employment-and-support-allowance-and-work-capability-assessments/written/5987.html

 

Why are doctors involved in such a farce?

The parliamentary Committee on Work and Pensions’ is in an ongoing enquiry into ESA and the Work Capability Assessment.

I’ve been reading some of the submissions that have been published on the Parliament.com website, and I will be putting some extracts here. You can read  all the submissions by following the link at the bottom of this post.here. To read all the submissions for this that have been published on the Parliament website, follow the link at the bottom of this post. – Argotina

 

“The fact is that the overall system is a failure by design.  Two GPs in a 2011 survey by Manchester Alliance for Community Care described the WCA system as unfit for purpose.  They said, ‘This is a completely inefficient system which prevents any meaningful discussion about returning to work’, and, ‘My overall impression from the effect on my patients and their reports of assessments is that the current process is definitely designed less to help or support patients to return to gainful employment and more to take as many as possible off benefits, regardless of their health.’  Dr Louise Irvine, a London GP, claimed the WCA process “was causing distress to thousands of people with long-term health conditions deemed fit to work, as well as subjecting the doctors (working for Atos) to ‘McDonaldization’ of their careers”. Dr Margaret McCartney, a Glasgow GP, stated that “the tests – peak flow, limb movements, pushing a box around, pressing a button – are clearly unable to distinguish someone who can work from someone who can’t… The box ticking to achieve enough points to be granted ESA is ludicrous. The assessment bears no resemblance to real life. Why are doctors involved in such a farce?

This is from the WCA Action Group, “an alliance of organisations and individuals in the North of England which uphold the rights and dignity of disabled adults and people with mental health problems and opposes their discrimination and harassment.  Member organisations include Europia, Manchester Alliance for Community Care, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, Breakthrough UK Ltd. Greater Manchester Welfare Rights Advice Group, and Access to Advice”

read the full submission here: http://www.parliament.uk/business/committees/committees-a-z/commons-select/work-and-pensions-committee/inquiries/parliament-2010/esa-wca-inq-2014/?type=Written#pnlPublicationFilter

 

Black hole fears as Atos ends ‘fit-to-work’ contract early

French outsourcing firm Atos has walked away from a contract to assess whether benefit claimants are fit to work.

Senior industry sources warned that the Government would not find anyone prepared to take on the £100-million-a-year contract. They suggested the Government would be forced to pay a “substantial premium” to any new contractor.

Officials in the DWP are believed to be talking to two other companies, Capita and the American outsourcing firm Maximus, about taking over. It is understood that they want to split the contract up with the possibility of two or more companies sharing the assessments.

However, sources with knowledge of the assessment programme predicted the department would “struggle to get anyone to do it on anywhere near the same terms”. The pointed to the reputational damage done to Atos as a result of its involvement in the contract and changes to the complexity of the assessments – which meant any new entrant would charge much more to take on the work. Maximus hinted that it would be unlikely to bid for the contract on the existing terms.

The Government also became embroiled in a dispute with Atos after Mike Penning, Minister for Disabled People, suggested that ministers had been responsible for the early end of the contract. “They haven’t pulled out actually, we’ve removed them from the contract,” he said. “This is not them walking away.”

However, sources close to the company dismissed this. “People don’t usually pay a fine if they’ve been sacked,” they said. “Atos went to the Government to negotiate its way out of the contract, not the other way around.”

Atos is understood to have become increasingly unhappy with the terms of the work capability assessment contract and the public anger associated with it. The company said that last year there were on average 163 instances per month of staff being abused or assaulted, culminating in a week of protests in February. Jenny Gulliford, of The Work Foundation, said another problem facing any new provider would be the costs associated with taking over the contract.

“I can imagine it would be more expensive because of the administrative costs of having to set it up for such a short period of time,” she said.

“The speed at which it’s likely to be set up is something I do worry about. We’ve had previous contracts which have been set up very quickly, like the work programme, which did take a long time to settle down and for outcomes to improve.”

Gillian Guy, of Citizens Advice, added: “The work capability assessment is broken and innocent people are caught in the middle. Atos terminating its contract is not going to result in an overnight improvement in support for sick and disabled people. We need urgent root-and-branch reform of this whole system.”

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said it would never comment on the value of contracts.

by Emily Duggan in the independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/black-hole-fears-as-atos-ends-fittowork-contract-early-9219832.html

I take my hat off to Iain Duncan Smith. Only he could turn a disability crisis into a fiasco

The DWP’s latest disaster – a report leaked to the Guardian about £1bn of welfare cuts – is typical of the incompetence ruining millions of lives

We no longer discuss whether Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms will succeed or fail. We no longer need thinktanks and charities to produce reports on what might happen if you attempt to reform every strand of the social security system at once, without taking any advice at all from people who actually live with illnesses or disabilities, and at a time when money is short and compassion shorter.

The chaos at the Department for Work and Pensions is now so widespread, so universal, that we can only report daily on each new disaster.

Last week alone, the doomed universal credit project bade farewell to yet another IT manager. Over budget, with more than £60m already written off in failed rollout, it seems increasingly unlikely that the scheme can be saved at all.

Reassessments of employment support allowance (ESA) have been suspended as Atos grinds to a halt under the sheer volume of new applications, reassessments, and transfers from old benefits – and the new personal independence payment (PIP) assessments. There are no doctors assessing disability living allowance any longer, and PIP decisions are taking up to eight months. The bulk of PIP reassessments have also been deferred until after the 2015 election, just too toxic to expose to the electorate.

The Work Programme has failed almost completely to help sick and disabled people into work, with fewer than 1% sustaining work over the longer term. Nick Clegg’s Youth Contract has failed spectacularly to help younger people into work.

The new PIP benefit is resulting in a shocking two-thirds of disability claims being rejected, successful ESA appeals have soared to an unprecedented 43%, and tribunals say they cannot keep up with demand, leading to yet more frightening delays.

Food banks report that welfare changes now make up 50% of their referrals, but the welfare minister David Freud believes that it is “very hard to know” why people use them. Church groups are united, blaming Duncan Smith for creating “hardship and hunger”.

Social care budgets, respite care, day centres and carers’ support have been slashed by up to 40% up and down the country, leaving people with conditions such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, cancer and kidney failure increasingly isolated. Perhaps most shockingly, sick and disabled people are being forced into unlimited, unpaid workfare that takes no account of their conditions.

So, at a time when sick and disabled people face uncertainty in every aspect of the support and services they rely on to lead active, inclusive lives, we might think it vital for the DWP to be at the very top of its game. Firing on all cylinders. Cooking on gas.

But perhaps this government really is so incompetent as to believe that, at the same time as it attempts to dismantle the welfare state and rebuild in its own image, it can attempt to make unprecedented cuts to departmental running costs. Perhaps this has contributed to the repeated failures and forced U-turns.

This week the Guardian reported that a leaked internal review revealed “that the Department for Work and Pensions is struggling to meet ‘extremely challenging’ demands for over £1bn of efficiency savings over the next two years, and these pressures could disrupt plans to roll out benefits reforms”.

With £1bn still left to find, it warns “further savings can be achieved only by radical measures, such as outsourcing core services to the private sector, investing heavily in new IT systems, and moving to digital-only customer services”.

And at a time when the need for experienced DWP employees and jobcentre staff could not be greater, “almost 30,000 posts (24% of the workforce) have been cut, with thousands more expected through voluntary redundancy schemes in the next few months”.

Every time I despair that the fiasco could not be made any worse, it seems that the DWP always has yet more incomprehensible decisions to astound me with. Like a very slow car crash, choking off whole motorways with wave upon wave of twisted, jagged metal, this DWP chaos just keeps piling up.

Presumably we’ll be sacking three of the England squad just as the World Cup kicks off? Closing all our schools just before GCSE week? Or is this level of incompetence only reserved for people living with long-term illnesses and disabilities?

However, it’s often easy to forget that these ignorant schemes, crumbling around us, are there to decide how people live. These are not the inevitable mistakes and teething problems of any new system. Every failure, every cut, every tribunal and appeal has ruined a life. Not a few lives, but millions.

They may be unseen, and often unheard or misunderstood. But they are people just the same, and they deserve so much better than this.

by Sue Marsh in the Guardian, 12th March 2014: http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/mar/12/iain-duncan-smith-disability-crisis-fiasco-welfare