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Man dies after Work Capability Assessment declares him fit for work

The Derbyshire Times is reporting…that there are calls for the Government to improve work capability assessments after a man declared ‘fit to work’ died a month later.

Stephen Hill, 53, of Duckmanton, died in December of a heart attack. The dad-of-two had suffered heart problems for and was awaiting major heart surgery but following a ten-minute medical examination on November 17 he was deemed well enough to work….

Read the full story here

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The Times & Telegraph report of a backlog in the benefits system

The Times & The Daily Telegraph have reported today that the backlog of appeals by welfare claimants against the removal of their benefits is now long enough that the government has had to hire 84 new judges to deal with it.

Both the Times and the Telegraph write that for the first time extra posts have been needed since 2007, when only ten Social Entitlement Chamber judges were recruited to oversee welfare appeals. In recent months 84 have been hired to help to deal with the caseload, at a pro-rata salary of £101,000 per year.

Under the programme to check whether all 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit are actually fit to work about 11,000 claimants a week are being reassessed. Judges have warned about the growing queue of people appealing against being taken off benefits.

In 2010-11 the number of appeals in the Social Entitlement Chamber, where welfare appeals are heard, were 23 per cent higher than the preceding year and 72 per cent up on 2008-09.

Comments

On one level it is clearly showing that the government is serious about reform and that it is having a real affect. Others will argue however that this shows that the government is getting it seriously wrong

…….maybe the truth is somewhere between these two stools… no pun intended

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Employment Minister accepts Harrington’s recommendations to Work Capability Assessment

He promised it… now he’s delivering it!!!

Chris Grayling has announced that following an independent review, there will be changes to the Working Capability Assessments (WCA).

These changes aim to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the system have been outlined in a second independent review by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

 

Chris Grayling has pledged to accept Professor Harrington’s recommendations and to further consult on how best to support people with cancer.

The main recommendations of the Harrington Review include:

 

  • Introducing checks on benefit decisions to ensure fairness and consistency,
  •  Working with disability groups to help develop guidance for Atos healthcare professionals and Decision Makers,
  •  Improved support and communications for people who move onto Jobseeker’s Allowance to make sure they get the help they need
  •  Regularly publishing data on performance and quality to improve the transparency of the face-to-face assessment

Professor Harrington said:

“My first review found that the WCA is the right concept, but that each part of the process was not working as well as it could or should. Since my last review the process has started giving people a more tailored and personal service.

“This year I have worked alongside some key health and disability organisations to make further recommendations to improve the system, especially for people with mental health and fluctuating conditions.

“I am confident that the changes being implemented are already making a real difference to people and will continue to do so.”

Minister for Employment, Chris Grayling said:

“It is in everyone’s interest to get the system right. We want the assessment to be as fair and consistent as possible. This is the first step on a journey back to work for many people and we want it to be positive.

“The system is far better than it was two years ago but there are still improvements and refinements we can make.

“We are committed to helping thousands of people move from benefits and back into work. Those who are found fit for work will get the help and support they need to get a job. Those found too sick or disabled to work won’t be expected to and will continue to receive the help and support they need.”

Read the independent review

Amanda Frewin

Research & Project Support

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Lib Dems’ pass motion in conference on ESA 

On the first day of the Liberal Democrat conference,  a significant motion became party policy.

The motion was ‘Liberal Democrats in government to oppose an arbitrary time limit on how long claimants can claim contributory ESA’. The time limitation on Employment and Support Allowance is in the Welfare Reform Bill. If you are too ill to work, given ESA and are able to work ‘sometime in the future’, it actually means one year including the 13 week assessment period, during which time potential ESA claimants only receive benefits at the equivalent level of Job Seekers’ Allowance.

In reality therefore the period you can claim the higher rate of sickness benefit is nearer 9 months.

There are two key objections

  • The first is that you can only qualify for contributory ESA if you have paid sufficient levels of national insurance. But how would you feel if you’ve worked for 30 years find that you can only claim for nine months.

Whilst one can claim ‘income based’ ESA, it is paid at the same rate as ‘contributory’ ESA,  but it is means tested and only those on the lowest income receive it, and your partner cannot be working or claiming ESA either. So he will have to claim Job Seeker’s Allowance, which has a string of potential sanctions

  • Why one year?

Yes Minister Comment

Well, well well…..

HERE IS THE FULL MOTION

 

Motion on Employment Support Allowance and Work Capability Assessments
Conference notes that the Government has stated an aim to move people off Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and into work. The ESA aim is part of a target, in light of the crisis involving public finances, to make savings of £11 billion to the welfare budget over the time-frame of this Parliament. As part of this, 3.5 million people on ESA are and will be undergoing reassessment over a three year period starting from 2011.
Conference further notes that:
  • a) Work Capability Assessments determining eligibility for ESA are carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare.
  • b)  It is reported that Atos Healthcare is paid on a target based system where they earn more for every claimant assessed fit to be removed from claiming ESA and back into work.
  • c) 70% of case rejection decisions by Atos assessments which go to appeal are overturned.
  • d) The appeal success rate is much higher for those with representation than those without.
  • e) The way in which work capability assessments are conducted have been regularly criticised by Parliamentary Inquiries and by the Tribunal Judiciary.
  • f)  Anecdotal evidence shows that many faulty assessments are made, especially with relation to time variant disabilities such as mental illnesses.
  • g)  The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses a “tick box” technique, does not taken into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
  • h) The estimated rate of fraud for ESA is 5% and deliberate fraud is estimated to cost no more than £25 million in year.
  • i) Several claimants have committed suicide as a result of the stressful and distressing assessment process.
Conference believes that:
  • a) It is the duty of a compassionate society and the Government to provide the necessary support for those who are unable to support themselves.
  • b) The new Assessment procedure, whereby claimants are assessed by the use of a computer-generated questionnaire in which the Assessor uses the “tick box” technique, is “not fit for purpose” as it does not take into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant. This factual medical evidence is totally discounted.
  • c) That the Work Capability Assessment is inaccurate, as evidenced by the high successful appeal rate, and fails to take into account the wide and various range of disabilities claimants may have.
  • d)  Any medical assessments should be carried out by trained medical professionals and that the regular criticism of Atos Healthcare over assessments shows that they are unfit to perform them.
  • e) Whilst recognising the understandable need to remove false claimants from the system, Conference believes that it is wrong to have a system where the primary focus is on keeping people from claiming the benefit and treating every claimant as a potential fraudster, rather than a focus on ensuring that the most vulnerable get the support they need.
  • f) A system where 70% of decisions are overturned at appeal is not cost effective due to the high cost of holding appeal tribunals and associated administration costs.
Conference criticises ministers and other official spokesmen for using misleading statistics which feed the misconception that the majority of claimants are benefits scroungers, for confusing DSA with IB/ESA and for presenting those in the work-related group are fit to work.
Conference also criticises the media (and the press in particular) for perpetuating the myth of work-shy scroungers and for distorting the facts in order to support the myth. Conference believes that this myth damages public sympathy for many of those who genuinely deserve it.
Conference, therefore, resolves to require our Parliamentary Party to:
  • a) Call for all medical components of Work Capability Assessments to be undertaken by the NHS which, in most cases, will be the body which diagnosed claimants in the first place.
  • b) More broadly to call for an overhaul of the entire assessment process with a focus on ensuring greater accuracy in assessment, a less stressful assessment process and on ensuring that the disabled get the support they need, rather than on saving money.
  • c) Call for any new or revised assessment process to take into account the claimant’s medical history as provided by their GP and/or Consultant.
  • d) Support and call for the scrapping of the arbitrary time limit on the length claimants can claim ESA if they are put into the work related activity group.
  • e) Call for the assessment criteria to be made clearer so that claimants and society in general understand what constitutes an illness which is so debilitating as to warrant ESA being paid.
  • f) Campaign for the appeal process to be speeded up and for all claimants going to appeal to be given access to adequate representation.

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Trial Incapacity Benefits Reassessment:  Customer and Staff Views and Experiences

Yesterday the Department for Work and Pensions reported on the initial outcomes of the reassessment of ESA claims.  The trail, conducted in Aberdeen and Burnley, looked at reworking the current assessment for those on Incapacity Benefit and Income Support due to disability, with 90 claimants being interviewed over the process.  Jobcentre Plus staff and healthcare professionals involved in administering work capability assessments were also interviewed to ascertain the effectiveness and viability of the new assessment process:

Customers reported feeling the revised assessment was less thorough than previous incapacity examinations,

  • It failed to register variable conditions
  • Concerns about the attitudes of the healthcare professions conducting the assessments.
  • Doctors and nurses viewed the reassessment of current claimants as a far longer process than those of new ESA claims.
  • Despite the informative telephone calls and secondary letter, however, healthcare professionals said that substantial amount of time was spent explaining the reassessment process.  However, fewer claimants missed their medical check.

There was some discrepancy regarding the decision-making protocol as one delivery site insisted on a full audit trail and further investigation from Atos Healthcare, whereas the other site used superseding evidence to overrule WCA recommendations.

Greater scrutiny will be needed by DWP as JCP and Atos staff also questioned the feasibility of the changes being brought in nationwide, commenting on the level of time and effort teams have had to dedicate to the trial.

Currently, reassessment for ESA has three possible outcomes for claimants:

  1. Fit for work – claimants are therefore deemed ineligible for ESA are usually referred to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  2. Eligible for ESA but placed in Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), where claimants receive support and are expected to prepare return to employment
  3. Claimants who have a condition(s) whereby they cannot return to employment and are placed in an ESA Support Group, where they are not obliged to undertake any work-related activity.

In October of last year, the DWP reported that 39% of new claimants were deemed fit for work under the revised Work Capability Assessment.

Read the report HERE

Website:  DWP

Kuki Taylor

 

Research & Communications Officer

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Wednesday’s Guardian ran an interesting piece on Atos and their administration of  the Work Capability assessment…

Is Atos being treated unfairly I wonder…..?

Read the very very long article….. HERE

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WCA reforms to be introduced this summer

 

Recommendations made by Professor Malcolm Harrington to improve work capability assessment (WCA) are on schedule to be delivered with the Work Programme this summer.  Professor Harrington’s report published in November 2010 included evidence from disability charities and individuals familiar with employment support for disabled people.

 

Minister for Employment Chris Grayling said:

 

Improving the WCA is central to our commitment to help thousands of people start the journey back to work.

It’s in everyone’s interest that we get the WCA right and that it’s seen as a positive first step towards work.

Those who are found fit for work will get the help and support they need to get a job. Those found too sick or disabled to work won’t be expected to and will continue to receive the help and support they need to lead fulfilling lives.”

By this summer people with long term health problems, such as cancer patients and those with severe mental health problems will not be forced into taking regular assessments. As it stands, cancer patients between courses of chemotherapy are required to undertake WCA, however, the DWP has confirmed that discrepancies between those receiving and those waiting to receive chemotherapy will be halted.

 

Read more

 

Kuki Taylor

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