allowance, appeal, Army, Atos, audit, benefit, benefits, Channel 4, company, death, decision, Department, Department for Work and Pensions, disability, disabled, Dispatches, DWP, employment, Employment and Support Allowance, ESA, fatal, fit for work, G4S, government, Group, health, Hitler, Incapacity Benefit, mark hoban, Mike Sivier, mikesivier, money, Olympics, Pensions, people, politics, private, public, service, sick, social security, support, tribunal, Vox Political, WCA, welfare, work, work capability assessment, work-related activity
This is the last article in the quartet about private organisations carrying out public duties – and the government ministers who employ them – focusing on what happens when things go wrong.
(This was delayed from yesterday because yr obdt svnt developed a splitting headache. It seems that a trip to the gym and a three-hour drive, taking a sick neighbour to get help, isn’t conducive to writing four articles in a day!)
It should be noted that, in some cases, the error is clear and a logical solution is enacted. For example, when G4S completely failed to carry out its security responsibilities at the London Olympics last year, the government cancelled the company’s contract and called in the Army to sort out the mess. This wasn’t a perfect solution as it meant leave was cancelled for many squaddies and officers, but it did at least allow the Olympics to go ahead with a reasonable amount of security.
On the other hand, we have the current situation with the DWP, Atos and the work capability assessment.
“DWP is to bring in additional providers to carry out assessments,” yesterday’s press release announced under the headline Hoban – taking action to improve the Work Capability Assessment.
The possibility that the Work Capability Assessment may be improved might fill the casual reader with joy, but the problem – for those of us in the know – is that Mark Hoban’s name is attached to it. This is a man who has admitted that he does not understand the benefit system. Why is he still being allowed to meddle with it?
Read down the release and it turns out that the government does indeed want to change the WCA – but not in any way that is meaningful to us. It seems that the paperwork accompanying decisions isn’t sufficiently robust for the Department for Work and Pensions. It seems likely Mr Hoban’s problem is that this might make it possible for more people to succeed in appeals against decisions.
The real problem is that the Work Capability Assessment regime is fatal for many thousands of people, of course. This government isn’t interested in that at all. It appears that Mr Hoban and his associates are happy to let the deaths continue – for them the main issue is that they don’t have to pay back any money to successful appellants.
The details are in the ‘more information’ section of the press release: “In April/May 2013 the DWP carried out an urgent audit of around 400 reports, following concerns raised from a previous smaller audit. This covered cases audited by Atos between October 2012 and March 2013.
“The quality of the reports produced by Atos following an assessment are graded A-C and the audit demonstrated that the number of C-grade reports was around 41 per cent between October 2012 and March 2013.”
Crucially: “A ‘C’ grade report does not mean the assessment was wrong, and the recommendation given in a ‘C’ grade report may well be correct, but, for example, their reasoning for reaching that recommendation may lack the level of detail demanded by the DWP.”
In other words, the reason provided for reaching a decision is unlikely to be strong enough to sway an appeal tribunal.
The press release says: “The Minister also announced that he has already directed Atos Healthcare to put in place a quality improvement plan following… an unacceptable reduction in the quality of written reports produced following assessments.
“Measures include retraining and re-evaluating all Atos healthcare professionals, with those not meeting the required standard continuing to have all of their work audited until they do, or have their approval to carry out assessments withdrawn by the department.”
We know from the Channel 4 Dispatches documentary last year that Atos assessors are ‘audited’ if they don’t meet their targets, which are to put around 12-13 per cent of claimants into the support group, marking around 70 per cent fit for work and putting the rest in the work-related activity group for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
Could it be that the Atos employees have started to lose faith in the process? Maybe they’ve seen the death figures that are being kept from the general public and have started to question whether they are doing the right thing?
In that case, what would a government do, if it wanted to continue wheeling the disabled into the charnel house? Would it not take steps to weed out the dissenters and employ other organisations to carry on the work – until such time as they too develop a moral backbone?
“I am committed to ensuring the Work Capability Assessment process is as fair and accurate as possible, with the right checks and balances to ensure the right decision is reached,” Mr Hoban is quoted as saying. For him, of course, the right decisions involve putting claimants into the three categories, in roughly the proportions described above.
“Where our audits identify any drop in quality, we act decisively to ensure providers meet our exacting quality standards.” Note that he does not define these standards. Is he hoping you make a false assumption about what they may be?
“Since 2010 we have made considerable improvements to the system we inherited from the previous government.” Perverted an already-poor scheme to suit a more sinister purpose.
“However, it’s vital we continue to improve the service to claimants, which is why we are introducing new providers to increase capacity.” To claimants? But… claimants have had no input into this process. It was a government audit that led to these changes; claimants’ wishes are routinely ignored.
“The DWP has also engaged PricewaterhouseCoopers to provide independent advice in relation to strengthening quality assurance processes across all its health and disability assessments.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.
“Atos Healthcare have also brought in a third party to assess the quality of their audit and make recommendations for improvements.” Meaningless to those concerned for the safety of people being put through the process.
“The WCA process has a number of checks and balances built in to ensure the right decision is reached. These include:
- “DWP Decision Makers making the final decision on claimants’ benefit entitlement. Decision Makers can – and do – reach different decisions to those recommended to them by the assessments when all the supporting information is taken into account.” The decision is changed in – what – less than 10 per cent of cases?
- “Claimants who disagree with the outcome of their WCA can provide more medical evidence and ask the DWP to reconsider the decision.” The DWP can take as long as it wants reconsidering the decision, while the claimant’s benefits are suspended and they are left with no means of support.
- “A claimant who disagrees with their decision can also appeal to an independent tribunal, and before any appeal the original decision is looked at again by another DWP Decision Maker.” Is this accurate? Is not more accurate to say the claimant can only appeal after going through the reconsideration process?
“This change in approach for contracting providers to carry out the assessments to be delivered on a regional basis is likely to be fully operational from summer 2014 and will provide extra capacity to help tackle waiting times,” the release continued.
Extra capacity – and in the run-up to the general election in 2015. Didn’t Hitler try to push more Jews into the gas chambers when he knew he was running out of time?
Jonathan Wilson said:
The problem is that they set arbitrary % rates to the three results:- sick, not sick enough, healthy.
Then they demanded the assessor, atos, stick to these targets to get paid.
Once a percentage of assessments had been done correctly and produced valid, ie medically correct, results that didn’t tie into these percentages it was only ever going to end in disaster as the tests would have had to be skewed to force the correct arbitrary percentages onto the latter case loads to keep everything in line with the govs requirements.
So Atos had only one choice, to lie and miss-diagnose its cases to keep within the gov mandated percentages… hence the huge number of appeals and the huge number of wins for claimants.
The only changes to opening up the system to other providers will be to make it more difficult to point fingers, and the only change that will happen with the paper work is to make the incorrect decisions harder to challenge… hence the new “review” before appeal which will starve people of support and in real food terms as these “reviews” will become longer and longer in duration… when the shit hits the fan it will be election time, but they don’t care because they knew they were probably going to be a one hit wonder hence the staggering speed at which they are privatizing and screwing everything up so it will be nearly impossible for an incoming covernment to undo the mess with badly written one sided contracts with huge termination of contract fees payable by said covernment..
denise clendinning said:
i so so totally agree they are sending in the hatchet men to clean up before the election
it all well and good them bringing in all this now but what about the lies and miss interpretation of each claimant has to go through ? why haven’t they just got specialist doctor’s in to do the medical’s like they did for mobility ?
Big Bill said:
When Mark Hoban suggests he doesn’t understand the benefits system I suspect it’s his version of the Nuremberg defence. His is not that he vas only obeyink orderz but that he simply didn’t understand what the consequences of his actions would be upon the disabled. I think all the politicians involved know they’re on a sticky wicket – the criminality of what they’re doing is so obvious – and that this could all end up in court. Hoban’s preparing for this by getting his defence established out there in the public eye where it can be referred to later by defending counsel.
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Mike Sivier said:
Sue Marsh has written a very good piece in The Guardian about the inadequacy of the Work Capability Assessment, and why adding in new assessors will make no difference at all to the quality in a flawed system:
We really don’t need a WCA.
As we all now realise, the WCA was not brought in to weed out (non-existent) fraud.
We need (at most) a convenient tick box (which our govt loves so much) to be added to a simple sick note that a GP can sign to notify the DWP that a patient has been advised to refrain from work. The tick box can specify whether the condition is likely to be short term, long-term (over a year) or permanent. Assuming that our doctors are not liars or frauds (and there is a legal system to prosecute them if they are), that should be ALL the DWP has any business knowing. Not how far you can walk, whether you can lift a cardboard box, how many times you may need your nappy changing, or whether you even need to wear a nappy. WHY DO THEY *REALLY* WANT TO KNOW ALL THAT, FOR GOD’S SAKE?
With eight able-bodied people chasing every vacancy, and unemployment *still* the Tories’ “Price Worth Paying” – THE AGENDA OF THE WCA CANNOT POSSIBLY BE TO GET DISABLED PEOPLE INTO PAID WORK.
SO WHAT IS IT REALLY?
Big Bill said:
In my view it’s to make the benefits system worthless. This will open up a multibillion pound private insurance market in the UK for the like of the disgraced American insurance company Unum who have been adevising the govt (of both political hues) on welfare reform since the mid-90s, as has been reported by Private Eye. No doubt the politicians who help bring this about will be well rewarded.
guy fawkes said:
I don’t know how anyone can consider we live in a democracy where agents of the state work for the benefit of the people.
What is being administered as policy and justice by this shower of incompetents running the country is beyond criminal.
How much more is yet another tier of wca going to cost out of the welfare budget? This government is not only penny wise to the poorest and pound foolish to the richest, but is tying the unemployed sick and disabled into tiers and tiers of complaints systems, benefit conditionality and unjust work capability assesments and they consider these acts show that they are working for the people, disgraceful.
Christine Cassidy said:
Atos have had my ESA50 since 25th August 2013 and it isn’t on the system yet so am still on the Assessment rate. DWP told me I have to stay on this rate until Atos call me in for an Assessment. My condition has change dramatically since I sent ESA50 to them so I phoned and asked for a fax number so that I could fax updated info to them ( got the fax report so they can try and deny I never sent it in). I am waiting to see what they make of my diagnosis now ( Malignant Cancer & Metastasis). If I fail to gain the 15 points I need & placement in the support group I will contact MP’s ect & possibly a Court hearing.
It is despicable how this Current Government is allowed to treat people the way the do when they are to sick and disabled or unemployed to fight back.
I for one am not going to lie down like a good little doggy and wag my tail to my master for a scankey bone to chew on. I will not go down without a fight.
I am a person and I have a name, I am not a commodity to be bought and sold to the lowest bidder.
On the up-side I start my treatment tomorrow.
Mike Sivier said:
I’d like to wish you the best, for both your treatment and your dealings with the assessment system.
Dave Hannan said:
Bought an instructive book @ law recently. The foreword states “legal is not necessarily moral”. Also I recall David Blunkett having an affair with a married woman and then shouting that he “hadnt done anything wrong” Well you screwed another mans wife for a start mate- just be thankful it wasnt mine coz I’d teach yoy right from wrong.