Thursday, 1 September 2011

The sick way Britain treats her sick and disabled

This is an article by Liberal blogger George Potter. It concerns the way in which sick and disabled people are treated in the UK. He asked for the article to be cross posted and I am pleased to oblige.

One of the ways that you judge a country is how it treats its poor, its old, its young and its sick. The UK fails dismally on all of these measures, with the poor getting poorer, the old dumped in underfunded private homes to rot away until they die, the young being deprived of a useful education and of suitable jobs, and the sick treated as if they are lying, cheating fraudsters stealing public funds, ironically by a group of lying cheating fraudsters who have been stealing public funds.

I'm reminded of a speech made by His Royal Highness the Duke of Rothsay, in which he said that he had always considered it to be a great privilege to be born British. Clearly he had never had to go through an Atos interview.


The main form of support which sick and disabled people receive, is called the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) which is the successor to the old Incapacity Benefit (IB). This is to help with their living costs, which tend to be much higher than those of able bodied people - the cost of petrol for regular hospital trips can quickly add up, for example.

The current system of determining eligibility for support originates with Labour who created a system based on the (incorrect) assumption that the many of those receiving IB were perfectly healthy due to Thatcher moving people onto it during the 80s in order to massage the unemployment figures.

But, while it is true that the number of people receiving IB had remained mostly static at around 3 million for twenty years, the people on it have changed. It is years since able bodied people were deliberately moved onto IB and most of them had died by the time the system was overhauled. The reason the number of claimants had remained static was because both medicine and diagnoses had improved so that people who would have died or gone undiagnosed in the past were now on the system when they hadn’t been before.

Yet this one, utterly flawed assumption, was used as the basis of the last government’s treatment of those on IB. Under the auspices of Labour’s James Purnell, a system was created whereby those seeking to claim IB had to go through an assessment process run by the private French IT company Atos.

The assessment process developed works on the basis of an interview. In this interview, claimants are asked a series of questions by interviewers reading off a points-based, tick-box system on their screen. The system offers a selection of possible answers and the interviewer has to choose the one which best fits the claimants answer. The problem is that the people who designed the assessment did not have medical knowledge of all the conditions possible, nor does the test even begin to take into account the time variant nature of many conditions.

People with time variant conditions, such as disability campaigner Sue Marsh, can’t, on her worst days, get out of bed, can't walk at all, can't eat, vomits every twenty minutes and has to shove needles into herself every 2-4 hours to control the pain and nausea. Yet, on a good day, she might actually be well enough to do most of the things an able bodied person can. But the test only concerns itself with the ability of claimants to complete basic physical tasks on the day - if Sue were assessed on one of her rare good days then she’d be deemed as needing no support whatsoever despite the fact that most days she’s in near constant pain and lacks the strength to even go on a short walk by herself. The system utterly fails people like Sue, who has recently received an assessment decision letter telling her she is perfectly healthy. And it’s not just Sue, I know of a man in a wheelchair who was classed as being as capable of moving about as an able bodied person and of a man with terminal cancer who was told he was fit to work then died three months later.

This horrendous flaw is compounded by the fact the assessment does not at any point consider the medical history of claimants. A claimant can have been diagnosed by the best medical minds on the planet and none of that would matter as no medical evidence is taken into account during the assessment process.

The new coalition government has recently replaced IB with ESA and all those on IB are now being migrated to ESA with the assumption that some of them will fail to qualify and that the welfare bill will be reduced. The DWP is already encouraging that expectation by the recent, and utterly false claim, that 75% of all those being assessed for ESA are fit to work - a figure which the Office for National Statistics has described as “misleading”.

The assessment system for ESA is identical, in all major aspects, to the assessment system for IB. Because of the flaws in the old system, appeal tribunals were set up for those dissatisfied with the decisions made by Atos. On average, 40% of decisions appealed are overturned at tribunal and this rises to 70% when those appealing are given aid and advice from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau - an organisation which is stringently critical of the flawed way in which the system operates. The cost of the appeal system has been increasing rapidly as more and more people successfully appeal incorrect decisions.

This increased cost is on top of the £100 million cost of the Atos contract - a contract which does not include any fines for the extra cost to the taxpayer when Atos get a decision wrong. But the estimated cost of fraud with regards to ESA is £25 million. So, in addition to human cost on the sick and disabled of these flaws, the system doesn’t even save money. In fact, the only cases of fraud identified so far have been discovered by special investigation teams. This is because deliberate fraudsters know how to play the system while the genuine sick and disabled do not.

On top of that, those found eligible for ESA only receive it for a maximum of 12 months if they have made a national insurance payment in the past three years - so if someone has held a job before becoming sick or disabled then they can only have support for a year. After that, the assumption is that they will have recovered and should be able to work and support themselves.

The only way they can become eligible for support again is if they end up in a situation with total assets worth less than £7,500. Only once they have entered destitution does the system consider helping them again.

And as for those put in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), who are put in a half way house between being fit as a fiddle and eligible for ESA, they receive partial ESA - but only subject to strict conditions that they meet exactly the same kind of requirements as able bodied unemployed people. They are expected to attend several interviews a week and meet other, similar conditions, or face stiff financial sanctions. But these are not healthy unemployed people, these are people with severe medical conditions and disabilities who need support to help them find and apply for the kind of work they are capable of doing. They need a helping hand but are made to jump through hoops or face strict punishments instead.

I wish I were making all of this up, but I’m not. The system which is supposed to support our sick and disabled really is like this. The most vulnerable people in our society really are dependent on a system as flawed and uncaring as this. A Liberal Youth sponsored motion which deals with this very issue will be debated at Lib Dem Autumn Conference on Saturday the 17th of September and I urge any Lib Dems reading this to lobby their reps to attend the debate and to back both the motion and the amendment.

George Potter


  1. And we will protect you with Trident(it costs an arm and a leg) to shoot down bird flu whenever it comes near, trust us we do care really! The sad fact is that the LibDems are more Tory than some tories as the deficit has to be increased by overseas interventions to increase our standing in the world whilst cutting back on caring for you till the next election.

  2. tris

    'They are expected to attend several interviews a week'

    Not a prob just stand in front of the interview panel and piss yerself doan yer leg big piss stain in front of yer troosers...........You'll not be asked to many interviews after that to be sure.

    sick or disabled the tory hate them always have always will just feck off and die is what they want them to do.

    the sick should die(fecking quick bastards) and the elderly should work forever and ever and never retire.
    they are all lazy bastards and should get on there(stolen ) bikes and look for! dont ask what work thats the bit of the conundrum nobody has managed to answer so far lots and lots of people looking all over the place for the unobtainable job(would you like fries with thats sir?)

  3. Well the Libdems in the Cabinet certainly are, CH. Clearly though, we see from the election results, the Libdem rank and file have voted with their feet.

    I heard that sickening oaf, Cameron, praising the armed services at Royal Wooton Basset, whilst taking an axe to their numbers O0N THE VERY SAME DAY. They are, he said, utterly sickeningly, what makes Britain GREAT.

    Now, what the troops are used for these days is interfering in the business of selected other countries. Those in fact selected for the UK by America.

    So what, in effect, Cameron was saying was that what makes Britain Great is its interfering in other countries' business.

    Flashman Cameron....

    You have to pinch yourself at the god awful stupidity that comes out of that moan's mouth sometimes, do you not.

    What am I talking about "sometimes"?

    I'll tell you one of the things that makes Britain a laughing stock. It's the half witted cretin at No 10, babbling his PR nonsense designed to attract the terminally stupid.

    Meanwhile, as George points out, there are people dying so that he can say he has been tough of benefit cheats on the (relative) cheap.

    My mother's reading of this blog doesn't allow me to use the word I'd like to about him and his poxy, small minded government of detached millionaires. Although, after today's treatment of the Gurkhas, I'm not entirely certain she'd object.

  4. IB and ESA assessments make use of a points system. The ESA system has less points available, even if the system wasn't stacked agai st you.

    The people doing the assessments are allowed to imagine non-existent wheelchairs that you might conceivably use.

    Having attended a couple of assessments, one Atos IB and one Atos ESA, the interviewed put untruths on the system

    this is a horrible, cynical system

  5. That's what, time after time I ask myself when I hear yet another minister bang on about these jobs that they are all supposed to be going after, and working in till they drop.

    That Grunt Snapps bloke from housing in England, the one who is so repugnant that even his colleagues hate him, he started the other day about encouraging people to work by reducing their housing benefits... where, I ask myself, are all the jobs?

    I read a report yesterday which suggested that the DWP has grossly miscalculated the number of jobs being created and therefore the targets it has given the agencies/companies which are delivering the back to work programme. Unless he ups the payments or reduced the targets 90% of them will go broke and have to pay off the very people employed to get the unemployed into work which doesn't exist.

    The couldn't run a raffle.

  6. Yes Anon. I'm aware of cases where the assessor (for they are not all doctors) has lied on the form presumably because they were under profile for refusing benefit.

    The conclusions that have been drawn from answers given have been so wide of the mark, it might well have been more accurate had the cleaning lady done the assessment.

    What they hope is that the claimant will not pursue the matter any further.

    Only if they lodge an appeal does the claimant ever see what has been written about them. Perhaps they should be given a copy of the report regardless of whether they appeal or not.

    One tip is to write to your MP, get him/her involved in writing to the DWP, and demand a copy of the tape of the interview.

    If they are going to make assertions that are a matter of life and death, they should tape the interview. Of course they don't bother.

    The best thing then, is to call them out as liars. We all know that they do it. Targets MUST be achieved; if not payment is not made, and too many payments missed means closure... and redundancy for the staff.

    Atos should be made to pay back a certain amount for every case that goes to appeal where the appeal is upheld. That might concentrate their minds.

  7. tris
    You must admit that there are millions of people taking the mick. Not worked for decades and claiming to be sick when there's nothing wrong with them. We have to do something about it. Labour wouldn't do anything as they rely on the spongers for their core vote so it always falls to the Tories to have a good clean out.

  8. Monty: First of all I agree that there are people who are taking the Mick.

    There are a few ways of dealing with this. Remember that the reason people are on these benefits is that a doctor put them there. We should be asking ourselves why people who are paid so much money (doctors) are doing this, and investigating if a certain doctor is responsible for more than his fair share. Knowing they are being investigated might make them sit up.

    Yes, I believe that there should be a system of revision of people on these benefits. But it should be fair and it should be done by doctors. There is a tendency in Britain to throw the baby out with the bathwater. This time it is dangerous.

    There are nurses and paramedics doing these interviews, along with a few retired and/or out of work doctors.

    They are not medicals in any real sense of the word, they are interviews: people are asked if they can bend, and if they can bend their knees and put their hand behind their neck, walk up a few steps and not much else.

    Interviews are conducted from a computer screen with minimal face to face contact. Any good doctor will tell you that you that that is no way to conduct an examination.

    Between 40 and 70% of the decisions are overturned, dependant on whether a sick person completes the complex paperwork alone or with help, that must tell you that the system is wrong.

    If my decisions at work were between 40 and 70% wrong, I'd be on the dole.

    There are, despite Pete Lily's (and every Sec of State who came after and found that it went down singing hymns with Middle England) assertions to the contrary, people who ARE sick.

    There are people who are medicated so much that they barely know what day it is; there are people who have minimal control over their bowels, or bladder; there are people with horrible pain, there are people who no one would employ because of their disability or illness. People have been sent back to work with terminal cancer and serious heart conditions.

    And the trouble with the Atos model is that it is target based private enterprise that is responsible Targets must be met, so if its getting near the end of the month and you're 'under profile', you skew some answers so that the client misses getting points, or gets 1 point instead of 2, and then you can fail them and get nearer your target.

    That's the last you see of some of the really sick ones who have no one to fight for them. Some live on less on dole money and eventually go back on to the higher money; some rely on partners, parents, sons, daughters. Some just die.

    It's of no account. The target has been reached, the bonus got.

    It's not the way Scotland would treat people.

    Incidentally, you're wrong about Labour leaving the Tories to deal with this. This is a Labour scheme. It has been in operation for several years. It was implemented with gusto by James Purnell, based on a model invented by a merchant banker.

    And we all know how decent and good they are!

  9. tris..
    I appreciate what you're saying but sadly we've let this sickness benefit scam fester for decades so the inevitable result is a backlash. You didn't hear a peep about the new scheme when Labour brought it in as it was a Labour idea so was fine by the MSM ( esp the BBC). Now that it's a Tory govt it's getting 24/7 coverage. Nasty Tories etc. I hate the Tories as much as the next man but it's all so hypocritical. I was reading today that only 3% of benefit fraudsters ever see a court. And those convicted never recompense what they've looted. Looting benefits seems fine apparently.

  10. Monty:

    It was, in fact, criticised in the MSM at the beginning, but it didn't much get under way until quite near the elections.

    The Tories backed it 100% when it was going through.

    Of course there is hypocrisy in the press. The BBC is a left wing Anglocentric unionist organisation run by loonies who think that they are little gods. Why Cameron hasn't privatised them I really don't know. All you need from the BBC is one channel for serious tv and one for radio. The rest is commercial and should be sold off. Can't think why my tax (because that is what it is) is paying people like Bruce Forsythe.

    Yes, there are many scams going on, but this one was started by Thatcher. I worked with someone who was in Employment Services at the time. They were told to get as many people off the register as possible by fair means or foul.

    There are people on most benefits who shouldn't be there. It's ridiculous that they don't catch more fraudsters, but 3% sounds about the same as the MPs don't you think, and they are fraudsters too.

    But the reason for not catching more is that they massively reduced the fraud team in Tayside and Fife (and presumably all over) to save money, and I remember being told when I joined JC+ that it was down to us ordinary staff to report anything that we thought was dodgy...on top of our proper job!!! For no extra money.

    As they pay so little and the management is unbelievably inept, it is rare to find someone who will do anything extra for them.

    It's strange that Cameron has not put the courts and prisons on high alert for the fraudster as well as the rioter.

    I heard him interviewed this morning by Evan Davis. He refused to equate any of the "rich people's" plundering to the opportunist thieves who stole from shops in London, Manchester, etc.

    And he put the rioting of the Bullingdon boys down to high spirits. We all do silly things when we are young, said he. Clearly poor people who do silly things go to jail for 6 months, but rich people who do silly things are just being chaps....

    And he would NOT criticise the bankers and their massive bonuses...

    You talk about payback. Most of the MPs escaped any punishment at all by paying a small proportion of the money back. No one is even investigating the majority of the Lords who have been stealing from us for years.

    We have to get away from being governed by these people. They don't live on the same planet as Scotland, never mind the same country.

    Anyway, the way to deal with the problem of 3 million sick people, some of whom are faking, is not to give a private company targets to reduce the number. They pick on the ones they think are least able to defend themselves, often the really sick ones. People have died because of this. And that's more serious than people rioting or defrauding or even stealing expenses.

  11. We're agreed about the BBC tris. I don't know why I should pay a tv tax for lefty idiots like Evan Davies to be a sock puppet for the Labour luvvies. There's no way that 'snog marry avoid' is informing or entertaining us either.
    We're even worse off in Scotland with Pathetic Quay churning out their Labour bile day after day. Pampered luvvies squirming at the thought of an independent Scotland scrapping them and throwing them into the Clyde where they belong.
    The benefits system has collapsed though and is now a fully paid up social engineering experiment to remove all responsibility from the feckless who can have as many kids as they want. Knowing that they will never have to pay for anything themselves.

  12. Labour and Conservative governments have both used long term sickness like training as a way of hiding the true unemployment numbers which have been steadily rising over decades in real terms. Those that abuse the system overall are miniscule compared to the systemic tax avoidance and evasion done by those who have the right connections with those in power.

    New NHS or how to jump the queue by money talks.

  13. Thanks for the NHS vid CH. And yes, for all the cheats at the bottom steal from us, it is nothing as compared to legal and illegal tax evasion/avoidance.

    Cameron says we should start at the bottom, I say we should start at the top.

    Perhaps you'd like to explain why you thought you couldn't do your job if we didn't pay for your wisteria to be removed from you chimney. David?


    So Willie has certainly been holding the SNP to account then. That will be why Alex's satisfaction rating is 63% and Willies is 17%.

    That will also explain why the Liberals, despite all this holding to account have voting intentions around the 7% mark, and the SNP have voting intentions of around 48% for our parliament... and for the English one it seems that the SNP have 42% and the Liberals 6%.

    When I was at school that worked out at a ratio of around 7 : 1 ... Oh yeah Eck is being held to account and no mistake.

  15. Yes Monty, you see I agree with much of whjat you say.

    I don't know whty I should be paying for the kids of lads who move from female to female like a bee moves from flower to flower and of course, although the feminists will doubtless protest, the tarts who get so drunk they have no idea who's been giving them one.

    That ugly old vinegar faced bag that snarls as she says "the SNP Government", or "Alex Salmond" thinks she's something special and Kirsty Wark, the Labour party's best friend and worst nightmare at the same time (as she keeps on having to apologise), are paid out of MY money.

    And I agree, Evan, for my money should have roasted that toff Cameron and barbecued him.

    (Why is it that Cameron called him Evan, and he called Cameron "Mr Cameron"?

    Is Cameron in some way better than him?

    As I said it should be sold off and the money given back to the people who have paid for it... vast salaries and star payments, for so long.