Leveson’s third party reporting call ‘is no slippery slope’

The government must back Lord Justice Leveson’s call for disabled people’s organisations to be allowed to lodge complaints with the press regulator about misleading and disablist newspaper coverage, say campaigners.

A letter published in The Guardian this week says disabled people, alongside other minority groups, have experienced “sustained levels of misleading, hostile and discriminatory reporting in the press”.

Activists say there is strong evidence that such reporting has caused an increase in disability hate crime.

The letter welcomes the conclusion by Leveson – in his report on press standards – that the presence of “a significant tendency” within the newspaper industry has led to the publication of “prejudicial or pejorative” references to disabled people and other minorities.

Leveson’s report says a new press watchdog would need to “address these issues as a matter of priority”, with the first step allowing groups representing minorities to lodge “third party complaints”, with the possibility of fines, corrections and apologies if the newspaper was found to have breached the relevant standards.

The “editor’s code” of the current press watchdog, the Press Complaints Commission (PCC), says newspapers must avoid such “prejudicial or pejorative” references, but provides no protection for minority groups if no individual has been identified in a story.

This has given newspapers freedom to run articles portraying disabled benefits claimants as “scroungers” and “fakers”, with the PCC powerless to act.

The letter was written after a Conservative MP told the Daily Telegraph – one of the newspapers criticised by Leveson for publishing misleading stories about disability benefits – that third party reporting could lead to “sinister” and “politically motivated” complaints.

This week’s letter to the Guardian says third party reporting is “critical to ensuring a right of redress and a voice for minority groups”, and was “not a slippery slope to the press being ‘hijacked’ by ‘sinister’ pressure groups” but would “give those who are so often the victims of sensationalist and prejudicial headlines the basic right to make a complaint”.

The Guardian letter has been signed by disabled activists, disabled people’s organisations and hate crime campaigners, including Tracey Lazard and Kirsten Hearn, chief executive and chair of Inclusion London; Tara Flood, director of the Alliance for Inclusive Education; Linda Burnip, a co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts; journalist Katharine Quarmby, author of Scapegoat, a ground-breaking investigation into disability hate crime; John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle; Stephen Brookes, coordinator of the Disability Hate Crime Network; and John Pring, editor of Disability News Service.

12 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Anger as government adds disabled people to workfare scheme

Disabled people could now be forced to work indefinitely for their out-of-work benefits, as a result of new government rules introduced this week.

Those who fail to co-operate with the periods of “work experience” arranged for them could have their benefits cut.

The new rules – introduced on the UN’s international day of disabled people – will apply to claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) who have been assessed as being able to find paid work at some point and so have been placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG).

The decision to force them into work experience could be taken by a Jobcentre Plus adviser or one of the private sector contractors paid by the government to find jobs for long-term unemployed benefit claimants through its Work Programme.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) made it clear that there were “no plans to set a fixed minimum or maximum length for a work placement”, although they were expected to last “for around two weeks” and “must be reasonable and meet the claimant’s circumstances”.

The DWP said the placement must benefit the community and be “appropriate” to the claimant’s impairment, but could include cases “where someone refuses to take reasonable steps to address a barrier which is stopping them working”.

John McArdle, a founding member of the grassroots disabled people’s organisation Black Triangle, said: “It should be obvious to anyone why this is a bad idea. People who are unfit for work are being forced into unpaid ‘employment’ on pain of being made destitute.”

He said he believed the scheme was “immoral… and possibly illegal” and would probably be challenged in court.

And he suggested that any disabled person whose health was “seriously harmed” as a result of such work experience would be able to bring a clear case of negligence or discrimination.

He added: “We are talking about people with multiple impairments and/or illnesses as evidenced by real medical experts and not DWP/Atos ‘disability assessors’.”

In addition to the workfare scheme, DWP said that other WRAG claimants will be offered short periods of “voluntary” work experience.

A DWP spokesman said it was not possible to predict what proportion of ESA claimants would be expected to take part in the workfare scheme, as placements would be “decided on a case by case basis and must be appropriate to the individual’s circumstances”.

The DWP said in a statement that such work experience would “help people with limited employment history get a flavour of the workplace environment, gain new skills and boost their confidence for an eventual return to work”.

Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, said: “People on sickness benefits who do all they can to improve their chances of moving back in to a job have nothing to worry about; they will get their benefits and we will do all we can to help.

“But in the small number of cases where people refuse to stick to their part of the bargain, it’s only right there are consequences.”

6 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Two regulations ‘could hold the key to winning ESA appeals’

Two little-known government regulations could hold the key to helping thousands of sick and disabled people who have been unfairly found “fit for work”, according to a new campaign.

The grassroots, user-led group Black Triangle believes that persuading GPs to write letters to tribunals quoting one of two employment and support allowance (ESA) regulations could make it much easier for claimants to win appeals against the results of their work capability assessments (WCA).

Black Triangle says thousands of people are currently at risk of serious damage to their health because – as a result of their WCA – they are being forced to carry out work or work-related activity that they are not well enough to do.

Black Triangle believes that persuading GPs to refer to regulations 29 or 35 – which date back to 2008 – could even save lives.

The two regulations state that a claimant should not be found fit for work (regulation 29), or placed in the work-related activity group (regulation 35), if such a decision would pose “a substantial risk” to their “mental or physical health”.

Black Triangle is calling on disabled people preparing for their appeal to ask their GP to fill in the gaps in a short draft letter.

The letter states that the physical or mental health of the patient would “more likely than not” be harmed if they were found fit for work, or even found to have “limited capability for work” (the work-related activity group, for those expected to move gradually towards the job market).

Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to Black Triangle, drafted the letter after consulting with a barrister and senior figures with links to the British Medical Association (BMA).

He has already used the letter to help five patients who were facing appeals.

He said: “All I did in a 10-minute consultation was fill out on one side of an A4 letter the diagnoses and how the ESA decision posed a risk to the patient’s physical or mental health.”

He said the process was “very easy, very quick and very effective”, and that two of the five patients had told him that submitting the letter had led to the decision being “overturned immediately without the tribunal even taking place”.

Black Triangle believes that if a disabled person was found fit for work, despite one of the new letters being submitted by their GP, and then experienced a deterioration in their condition, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could be liable for damages.

Carty also believes that the letters could offer legal protection for GPs, who could otherwise be sued if they failed to alert the DWP to the risk of their patient’s health deteriorating if found fit for work.

A spokeswoman for the Medical Defence Union, which offers GPs medical legal advice and insurance against being sued for clinical negligence, said the campaign was “not something we can comment on as it is [in] relation to a doctor’s clinical judgment which is not something we have a view on as it is up to each individual clinician”.

Carty, who works as a GP in Leith, on the edge of Edinburgh, was behind the campaign that led to the BMA calling for the WCA to be scrapped and replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm”.

He has previously joined disabled activists in pointing to links between the WCA and relapses, episodes of self-harm and even suicides and other deaths among those who have been assessed.

Only last week, the latest report by the WeAreSpartacus campaign group produced extensive evidence that disabled people were still experiencing humiliating and inappropriate treatment because of the failings embedded within the WCA system.

20 November 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Charity boss resists calls to quit ‘fitness for work’ committee

A disability charity boss has resisted calls to resign from a committee that advises the government on its controversial “fitness for work” assessment, even though GPs have demanded that the test be scrapped.

Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, was appointed last month to the scrutiny group that is overseeing Professor Malcolm Harrington’s continuing review of the work capability assessment (WCA).

Gillespie replaced Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, who himself resigned because he said the government was ignoring serious concerns about the impact of the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – on people with mental health conditions.

Gillespie was appointed to the scrutiny group only days before the British Medical Association’s annual conference of GPs called for the WCA to “end with immediate effect”, and to be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.

In the wake of the vote, disabled activists called for Gillespie to step down immediately from the scrutiny group.

John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, said Gillespie’s membership of the panel was “untenable”, and that he was not representing “the best interests of people who are disabled with ms”.

And he questioned whether the charity had “bothered to consult with those whom it claims to represent – people actually living with ms”.

He said that not one of the people with ms who Black Triangle had spoken to supported Gillespie’s appointment, and that “on the contrary, an enormous amount of anger and sense of betrayal has been expressed”.

He said that GPs “could not have been clearer in their refusal to be complicit in a system that had been shown to be harmful”, and he welcomed Farmer’s “honourable resignation” from the panel.

He added: “It has become abundantly clear that participation in this panel serves no other purpose than to legitimise an utterly discredited ‘assessment’ regime which is undeniably… causing enormous devastation, hardship and even death to sick and/or disabled people on a daily basis.”

But although Gillespie said he welcomed the vote by GPs, he said he would not resign.

In a statement, he said: “The current benefits system is denying thousands of genuine claimants the support they need to get by, causing a great deal of hardship, anxiety and stress, and costing the state millions in appeals and administration.

“That’s why it’s more important than ever that the review of the WCA system is scrutinised properly, and that the voice of disabled people is heard.

“The independent review needs to be a vehicle for real, tangible improvement of the system to ensure fair outcomes that properly recognise the barriers disabled people face.

“The MS Society has been vocal on this issue for some time and, while I hope my appointment will help lead to positive change, it will not prevent our future vocal criticism of the government or the benefits system where we feel it necessary.”

‘Fitness for work’ test under fire: GPs say assessment must be scrapped

GPs have piled new pressure on the government after unanimously calling for it to scrap its controversial “fitness for work” tests.

The British Medical Association’s (BMA’s) annual conference of local medical committees, which represent GPs, passed a motion this week calling for the work capability assessment (WCA) to “end with immediate effect”.

They agreed that the assessment – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – should be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.

The motion – which was also approved by Scottish GPs in March – says that the computer-based assessments “have little regard to the nature or complexity of the needs of long term sick and disabled persons”.

It was passed as the GP who submitted the motion to the conference of Scottish GPs, Dr Stephen Carty, told Disability News Service how one of his patients had tried to kill himself following a WCA.

Dr Carty, who is medical adviser to the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, is urging the government to create a mechanism to allow doctors to report similar cases in which a patient has been harmed as a result of the WCA process.

In the wake of this week’s vote, which means the motion is now official policy of the BMA’s GPs committee, a BMA spokeswoman said: “We have said that the government needs to look at it again and come up with a better solution.

“It is something the committee will push in discussions with the government over the next year.”

The assessment has caused mounting anger among disabled activists since its introduction by the Labour government in 2008.

They believe it fails to test accurately disabled people’s ability to work, particularly those with mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and has even contributed to or caused the deaths of some of those who have been inaccurately assessed.

Dr Laurence Buckman, chair of the BMA’s GPs committee, said: “When 40 per cent of appeals against the assessments are successful at tribunal hearings, something is clearly very wrong with the system.

“Being in work is good for people’s overall health and well-being, but GPs are seeing too many patients who genuinely need to be on incapacity benefit coming in very concerned and confused by the system.

“It’s not fair on these patients but it could also have a wider impact as well – having a lower income may lead to people having a poorer quality of health and could therefore increase health inequalities for our nation as a whole.

“The government needs to look again at the whole assessment process and replace it with one that is fit for purpose.”

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, said that despite changes to the WCA implemented following reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington, “nobody working with sick and disabled people, or disabled people themselves, have seen any improvements to the system”.

He said: “In fact, the system has gotten far, far worse for us and we expect exactly the same thing to happen with the abolition of disability living allowance and the introduction of personal independence payment.”

He added: “This is just the beginning. We fight on until all professional bodies and indeed all of civil society, join with us and the medical profession in refusing to be complicit in policies and systems that are killing sick and disabled people and driving a great many more into penury and destitution.”

The DWP has so far refused to comment on this week’s conference vote.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Disability movement divided over Remploy closures

Significant parts of the disability movement have backed disabled Remploy workers who are set to lose their jobs because of government plans to shut their sheltered factories.

Despite their continued opposition to the kind of segregated and sheltered employment provided by the Remploy factories, a string of disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) are demanding that the government abandons the closures.

They say that simply shutting the factories and making their disabled workers redundant is the wrong decision at a time of recession.

A letter opposing the closures, written by Inclusion London, has been signed by leading DPOs such as Inclusion Scotland, Disability Action in Islington, Cooltan Arts, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, Greenwich Association of Disabled People, Norfolk Association of Disabled LGBT People and Shaping Our Lives.

Leading parts of the disabled people’s grassroots anti-cuts movement, including the groups Disabled People Against Cuts, Black Triangle and the Broken of Britain, have also signed the letter, as have scores of unions, leading disabled activists, MPs and voluntary organisations.

They say in the letter, published this week in the Guardian: “Our goal and demand for inclusive employment must not be used to justify job cuts that will push these workers into poverty, exclusion, and isolation.”

The letter also calls for investment and support to turn the factories into user-led social enterprises, and more government investment in Access to Work (AtW) and other employment support, a commitment to tackling workplace discrimination and the right to inclusive education and training.

Although the UK Disabled People’s Council has not signed the letter, it also raised concerns about the closures this week.

Jaspal Dhani, UKDPC’s chief executive, told Disability News Service (DNS): “UKDPC welcomes the government’s intention to close sheltered workshops like Remploy but that cannot just be done overnight, putting a number of disabled people out of work in a climate where there is a lack of job opportunities.

“Change has to be managed and we do not want disabled people to become victims of that change.”

But other leading DPOs are backing the government and insisting that the decision to close the factories is the right one, despite the recession.

Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ecdp), Southampton Centre for Independent Living (SCIL), Breakthrough UK, and Disability Rights UK (DR UK) wrote this week to the Sunday Express – which is campaigning against the closures – to back the decision to shut the factories and invest the money saved in AtW.

It was last year’s review of employment support by Liz Sayce, chief executive of DR UK, which suggested an end to government ownership and funding for Remploy, and the closure of factories which were “not viable”, alongside an expanded AtW scheme.

Ian Loynes, SCIL’s chief executive, told DNS that there was “never going to be a good time” for the Remploy workers to lose their jobs.

He said: “We believe it is a good move. We support the minister in her decision. To do anything else will result, we believe, in losing all arguments on segregated provision in the future. We will lose all the good work we have done over the last 30 years.”

He said that Maria Miller, the Conservative minister for disabled people, had made it clear that all those disabled Remploy workers losing their jobs would be given individual support packages to help them find new, mainstream jobs.

Loynes accused some campaigners – particularly unions – of using arguments “of the past” to push their case, such as arguing that Remploy workers would face discrimination if they tried to find jobs in mainstream workplaces.

He said: “If you buy into that, you buy into a future that increases the likelihood of segregation and the likelihood of people being segregated and marginalised.”

Loynes said he believed that the range of opinions expressed about the Remploy closures within the disability movement was not a concern and instead was “something we should celebrate”.

Mike Adams, ecdp’s chief executive, said the closure plan was “absolutely the right thing to do” and accused parts of the disability movement of shifting its position over Remploy.

He said all of the disabled people and organisations that he witnessed take part in the Sayce review – apart from Remploy workers – had made it clear that the factories “should have closed 20 years ago”.

He said: “I don’t think the disability movement should be very proud of itself having moved its position.

“Disabled people in Essex were very, very clear that the Remploy factories should close. It is important that we show some leadership.”

He added: “At some point we just have to go ahead and do it, but make sure that there is a strong transitional process that supports the individual into other employment or other activities.

“Those safeguards have been put in place so I see no reason why they should not just do it now.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Cuts protest brings traffic chaos to central London

Disabled activists have again brought traffic chaos to central London by chaining their wheelchairs across busy pedestrian crossings in protest at government cuts and welfare reforms.

The focus of the two-hour protest in Trafalgar Square was on the demand for the government to scrap its controversial new Welfare Reform Act, which includes plans for heavy cuts to disability benefits.

It was the second such protest this year in London’s tourist heartland by the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), with support again from the mainstream anti-cuts movement UK Uncut, following a similar action in late January at Oxford Circus.

The protest started at about 2pm yesterday (Wednesday) in Leicester Square, with activists marching along Charing Cross Road towards Trafalgar Square.

Lines of wheelchair-users then blocked two of the main roads at the southern end of Trafalgar Square by chaining themselves to pedestrian crossings, a tactic also used successfully in the Oxford Circus protest.

Within minutes, buses, cars and taxis were backed up along all the roads in and out of Trafalgar Square.

Although police officers soon moved in to cut the chains, they made no attempt to physically move wheelchairs from the road, and many of the protesters continued to block the roads for two hours.

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, who travelled from Scotland for the protest with three other members of the campaign group, said: “Disabled people do not like to inconvenience the citizens of London, but we had to get out on the streets of London and let the people know what is happening in their name.”

Linda Burnip, a member of DPAC’s steering group, said protests would continue until the government listened to their demands.

Adam Lotun, another DPAC member, and one of the wheelchair-users blocking the roads, warned that protests were likely during the Olympic and Paralympic Games, although Burnip said they would be unlikely to disrupt sports fans attending London 2012 events.

Lotun admitted there was a chance the public could turn against protesters if they disrupted London 2012, but added: “There is a risk, but we have to make a stand. We have been ignored and we are treated as second-class citizens.”

Mark Harrison, chief executive of Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People (NCODP), who also took part in the protest, warned that disabled people would only feel the worst of the impact of the cuts over the next couple of years.

He said: “My main message to the government is: ‘You are in trouble. This is just the beginning of the fight.’”

He said the presence of NCODP and other disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) at the protest showed that they were “the voice of disabled people and are out there leading the fight against this government and attacks on their human rights”, even though the future of DPOs like NCODP were at risk.

He said: “While companies like Atos and A4E make millions in profit off the back of disabled people, disabled people are suffering and DPOs are going to the wall.”

He insisted that it was realistic to fight for the Welfare Reform Act to be scrapped, and compared the campaign to the successful battle against the poll tax more than 20 years ago.

Another of the wheelchair-users who blocked the roads, Sue Elsegood, from Greenwich, said she was protesting because she was “really concerned about the cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services, particularly the Independent Living Fund”.

She added: “I think [the protest] is about disabled people having their voices heard and saying they won’t accept this kind of treatment.

“If enough people speak out, the government will have to listen. There are people committing suicide about this issue.”

Another wheelchair-user, Maz, from Sussex, said disabled people were “petrified” by the planned cuts, with some killing themselves because of cuts or the fear of cuts to their support, while others had died while waiting for their appeals against being found “fit for work” by assessors working for Atos.

He said: “People fear that they are going to lose their independence, their homes, their carers.”

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Scottish GPs call for ‘fitness for work’ tests to be scrapped

Disabled activists have hailed as a major victory a decision by Scottish GPs to call on the government to abandon its controversial “fitness for work” tests.

Doctors at the British Medical Association’s (BMA) annual Scottish conference of GPs voted for a motion that called for the “inadequate, computer-based assessments” to be abandoned in favour of a “rigorous and safe” system that does not cause “avoidable harm” to disabled people and those with long-term health conditions.

The motion said the work capability assessment (WCA), the test introduced by the Labour government in 2008 to assess people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits, has “little regard to the nature or complexity” of disabled people’s needs.

The Scottish-based campaign group Black Triangle played a key role in having the motion tabled at last week’s conference.

There are hopes that a similar motion could now be proposed at the UK national conference – which will include GPs from England, Wales and Northern Ireland as well as Scotland – to be held in May in Liverpool.

Dr Stephen Carty, an Edinburgh GP and Black Triangle member, said the Scottish conference’s support sent “a ray of hope” to many sick and disabled people.

He said the WCA was “not an effective or safe method of determining ‘fitness to work’”, and he called on the General Medical Council (GMC) to speak out on the issue.

He said: “All doctors are duty bound by the General Medical Council to report any system or process that may be harmful to patients. The WCA is a harmful process. Scottish GPs have spoken: the GMC cannot remain silent on this matter any longer.”

BMA Scotland said it did not keep a record of how many of the 100 or so doctors who attended the conference had voted for the motion.

But Dr Dean Marshall, who chairs the BMA’s Scottish general practitioners committee, said the BMA agreed with the need for welfare reform and to “provide more opportunities for those people who are able to work”.

But he said patients were “very concerned and confused with regards to these assessments. Many are in fear of how they will cope with the removal of, or cuts to, their benefits.

“Evidence appears to suggest that people with serious health conditions are frequently declared fit for work.”

John McArdle, a founding member of Black Triangle, called for the assessments to be halted while the GMC carried out a “thorough investigation”.

He said: “The scandal of these assessments has gone on far too long. As a grassroots disabled people’s organisation we are over the moon that Scotland’s GPs have spoken out so clearly and unequivocally in their condemnation.

“Our GPs recognise the severe and avoidable damage that is being done to sick and disabled people through this brutal, draconian and profoundly unjust testing regime as they see it every single day.”

The GMC declined to comment.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Activists take next step in fight against cuts

Scores of disabled activists have come together to plan the next stage of the fight against the government’s cuts to disability benefits and services.

Members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) heard from activists, politicians and celebrities and discussed their campaigning priorities.

DPAC was formed after its co-founders organised the first disabled people’s protest as part of the mainstream march against the cuts at last year’s Conservative party conference in Birmingham.

John McArdle, co-founder of the campaign group Black Triangle, told DPAC’s first annual general meeting in north London that he believed disabled anti-cuts activists “finally seem to be turning the corner”.

He said: “The message is getting out to people. I think there is going to be a public backlash against the government for victimising us and oppressing us.”

Actor and broadcaster Mik Scarlet said he was saddened that his industry had done more than any other to create stereotypes of “tragic” disabled people, “brave, courageous super-crips” and “scrounging” benefits claimants.

He called for campaigners to bring the stories of “real people who have had their lives ruined through the cuts” to the attention of the media, even though it will “stick in our throats to play to the stereotypes”.

He said: “We need to use the media’s inherent ignorance and prejudice to our advantage. If we can get the real truth about the impact of the cuts out to the public, I think we can change public opinion in our favour.”

Labour MP John McDonnell said that of the three groups suffering most from the government’s cuts – disabled people, people with “insecure nationality status”, and families with children – disabled people had been hit “by far the hardest”.

He said he was meeting people at his constituency surgery every week who were “in absolute desperate straits”, with food parcels being distributed in his constituency for the first time in at least 40 years.

He pointed to disabled people “who have had benefits for years and have gone through the Atos system [which tests people for their ‘fitness for work’] and have lost all their benefits”.

He added: “In the last year… you could sit down after my surgery and weep. I am at a stage now where you think my staff might need counselling.”

McDonnell said the coalition was behaving in a “ruthless” fashion, although he was “ashamed” that the Labour government “laid the road which this government is walking down”.

He also attacked the hostile language being used about disabled, poor and unemployed people.

He said: “It is being used in the House of Commons by individual MPs and ministers, which is an absolute disgrace.”

Olcay Lee, a member of North Hertfordshire People First, told the meeting: “As a disabled person, it is not right that people are taking our money away.

“As you’re disabled, they think you can go to work. Some people can’t. So what is going to happen to people who can’t go to work?”

DPAC used the agm to set up a new, 10-strong steering group of disabled activists: Linda Burnip, Stephen Lee Hodgkins, Richard Rieser, Rob Murthwaite, Roger Lewis, Sarah Mingay, Thomas Butler, Andy Greene, Patrick Lynch and Ellen Clifford.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

New assessment ‘repeats mistakes of fitness for work test’

Trials of the assessment for the benefit that will replace disability living allowance (DLA) show the test is worryingly similar to the government’s discredited “fitness for work” assessment, say campaigners.

The government has been trialling questions for the test it plans to introduce for its new personal independence payment (PIP).

But disabled activist Linda Burnip, who has seen one of the forms sent out to about 900 disabled people around the country – both current DLA recipients and new claimants – says they are almost identical to those used for claimants of out-of-work disability benefits.

This has led her and fellow activists to raise new fears that the PIP assessment will mirror the work capability assessment (WCA), which has been widely criticised for being inaccurate, inflexible and over-medicalised.

There has been heavy criticism of the computer software used to carry out the WCA, the Logic Integrated Medical Assessment (LIMA) programme, which critics say leads to a “tick-box”, “dehumanised” assessment and tempts assessors to rely on the software’s automated features.

Any suggestion that the new PIP assessment will use the LIMA software, owned and used by the much-criticised Atos Healthcare, will cause huge alarm among disabled activists. It would also suggest Atos is in prime position to be awarded the lucrative contract for carrying out the PIP assessments.

Disabled activist John McArdle, co-founder of Black Triangle, which campaigns against the unfair use of the WCA, said the arguments over the PIP assessment sounded “depressingly familiar”.

He said: “It was exactly the same in the run up to and subsequent implementation of the WCA disaster, which has plunged hundreds of thousands of patently ill and/or disabled people into dire poverty and massive distress.

“We are under no illusions that the government has declared war on disabled people and that it is now time for everyone across civil society to stand together with disabled people and see off this attack on our dignity and fundamental human rights, and that includes the medical and nursing professions [who carry out the tests] in particular. This must not be allowed to pass.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted that the new test was “not a medical assessment, focused on what a person’s condition or diagnosis is, but instead looks at the impact of disability on individuals’ everyday lives”.

He said the assessment was “very different to the WCA, which looks at specific functions, instead concentrating on key everyday activities, the challenges people face and the support they need”.

And he said it would allow disabled people to be “reassessed over time – something that is lacking in the current system – to ensure everyone receives the correct support if their needs change”.

He added: “The forms used in the testing of the assessment criteria were designed purely to gather the necessary information needed for this exercise.”

But Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the form she saw “in no way focussed on the impact on an individual”.

She said: “Apart from the first question, which asked what condition people had and how that affected them, it was purely a task-based list, exactly the same as that used for the totally discredited WCA and obviously designed to be used by the LIMA software programme.”

Meanwhile, the charity Scope has launched a new report – backed by organisations including Inclusion London, the National Centre for Independent Living and Disability Equality NW – that is highly critical of the new PIP assessment.

The Future of PIP: A Social Model Based Approach argues that the government’s draft PIP assessment is “not fit for purpose” and unless it “considers the social, practical and environmental barriers disabled people face, thousands of people could be left with the wrong levels of support – and, in some cases, no support at all”.

The Scope report includes a “blueprint” for an alternative PIP assessment, which would take more account of the barriers faced by disabled people, and the extra costs that come with them.

The new assessment should take “the form of a conversation between the prospective recipient and the assessor”, says the report, and should also ensure more is done to pass claimants on to services that could help them overcome the barriers they face.

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com