Figures show Work Programme is leaving disabled jobseekers behind

Fresh concerns have been raised over the government’s Work Programme after new figures showed that only a tiny proportion of disabled people have gained a job since the scheme launched two years ago.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said its report showed a sharp increase in the overall number of jobseekers finding work through the programme, compared with the previous figures released in November 2012.

But the DWP figures also show that less than three per cent of claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the new out-of-work disability benefit – have secured at least three months’ paid work since the scheme started in June 2011.

The number of former incapacity benefit claimants who have found jobs through the Work Programme after being reassessed for their “fitness for work” and found eligible for ESA was even lower, with less than one per cent of them finding a job (0.8 per cent) by the end of March 2013.

The figures reveal that just 210 former IB claimants have so far had a “job outcome” of at least three months since the Work Programme began.

The disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg, who chairs the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the report showed “an improving general picture”, but “does nothing to reduce the fear that the Work Programme is failing to reach harder-to-help jobseekers”.

She pointed out that only 5.3 per cent of new ESA claimants found “sustained” work between April 2012 and March 2013. This compares with 32 per cent of jobseeker’s allowance claimants aged 18 to 24.

She added: “We remain deeply concerned that the Work Programme, as currently designed, is insufficient to tackle the problems faced by more disadvantaged jobseekers.”

Dame Anne called on the government to accept the recommendations made by her committee in last month’s report on the Work Programme, including better support for disabled people and other disadvantaged jobseekers.

She said: “I urge the government to carefully consider our report. Doing nothing and hoping things improve is no longer an option.”

News provided by John Pring at http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com

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Remploy job figures underline Work Programme’s failure

The government is facing fresh criticism over the failure of its Work Programme to find jobs for unemployed disabled people.

In the same week that a BBC documentary suggested the coalition’s programme was failing, new government figures appeared to show the effectiveness of investing heavily in personalised employment support for disabled people.

Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures published in November showed that only about 1,000 of 79,000 claimants of out-of-work disability benefits found jobs through the Work Programme in its first year, a success rate of just over one per cent, even though claimants needed to stay in a job for only three months to be counted in the figures.

But this week, the Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, announced that more than 200 disabled former workers from the sheltered Remploy factories closed by the government had so far found jobs, out of more than 1,000 who had taken up the coalition’s offer of support. About another 240 were re-training, she said.

The ex-workers who took up the government’s offer are receiving one-to-one support and advice on moving to mainstream work from more than 200 “dedicated” advisers, as part of an £8 million package of support.

The package includes a “personal case worker” to “help individuals with their future choices”, and access to a personal budget of about £2,500 per person.

Although the former Remploy workers are likely to be easier to place in employment than many disabled people trying to find jobs through the Work Programme, the figures appear to show the effectiveness of intensive, personalised support for disabled job-seekers.

The success rate for ex-Remploy workers is so far about 20 per cent, compared with just over one per cent for disabled claimants of employment and support allowance on the Work Programme.

Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “The first round of figures on the Work Programme were not even disappointing – disappointing does not even begin to describe those figures.”

But she added: “If you put the resources in… you can actually make a real difference to employment opportunities for disabled people.”

Many former Remploy workers, though, have been left devastated by the closure programme.

The Daily Record in Scotland reported today how a Remploy worker in Glasgow has been found dead, on the day his factory closed its doors for the last time. His former colleagues told the Record his death was a “direct result of the factory being closed down”.

Meanwhile, a BBC Panorama documentary broadcast this week claimed that employees of the Work Programme sub-contractor Triage were told to spend as little time as possible on trying to find work for some of their disabled clients, because they were too difficult to place, a process known in the welfare-to-work industry as “parking”.

Panorama also claimed that staff in training sessions referred to clients as LTBs, or “lying, thieving bastards”.

Dame Anne Begg, the disabled Labour MP who chairs the Commons work and pensions committee, which is conducting an inquiry into the Work Programme, said the use of the phrase was “shocking”.

The BBC also surveyed organisations listed by the Department for Work and Pensions as “third party” providers on its Work Programme.

Of 184 organisations that responded, 77 per cent of those who specialised in supporting disabled people said they believed their expertise had not been used correctly by the main provider they were working under.

A Triage spokesman said the Panorama programme was not “balanced or fair”, and strongly disputed the idea that it “parks” disabled clients.

He said that all Triage staff were “trained to highest professional standards in order to provide high quality guidance, support, advice and job matching”, while “many thousands of people have had positive experiences and benefited from engaging with Triage staff”.

And he said the use of “LTB” had been “isolated and wholly atypical”.

The Department for Work and Pensions has so far declined to comment either on the Remploy figures or the Panorama claims.

1 August 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government has ‘blood on its hands’ over ‘fitness for work’ test

The government has “blood on its hands” from the deaths of disabled people caused by its “fitness for work” test, a minister has been told during the angriest and most outspoken parliamentary debate yet on the much-criticised assessment.

Several opposition MPs called for the work capability assessment (WCA) to be scrapped, with many MPs detailing examples from their own constituencies of disabled people who had suffered as a result of the test.

Kevan Jones, the Labour MP who spoke in a debate last summer about his own mental health condition, said the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had been asked to record the number of cases of suicide connected with the WCA but had refused.

He said there had been “a number of well-publicised cases where people have taken their own lives because of this system”.

He added: “It is not too strong to say this coalition government has the blood on their hands for the deaths of these individuals.”

John McDonnell MP said the WCA – which he voted against when it was introduced by his own Labour government – was a “brutal attack on the weakest and most vulnerable in society”.

And he said the level of concern expressed by MPs was “unprecedented about any level of public administration that we have seen in decades”, with “example after example of human suffering on a scale that is unacceptable in a civilised society”.

He said: “I think it is unreformable. That is why I believe it should be scrapped and why the British Medical Association has said it should be scrapped.

“We will be to blame for every injury, every harm, every suicide, every death as a result of the system if we do not do something now to scrap it and bring in something that is fair and based on proper medical knowledge.”

The Common debate on how the WCA is carried out by the government contractor Atos Healthcare was secured by former Labour minister Michael Meacher.

Meacher said he had been sent nearly 300 case histories of people affected by the WCA.

He said: “I cannot begin to do justice to the feelings of distress, indignation, fear, helplessness and indeed widespread anger at the way they have been treated.”

He criticised the “slowness, the rigidity and the insensitivity with which Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions have responded – or very often not responded – to these cries of pain which they have heard repeatedly”.

He said the changes made by the government as a result of three independent reviews of the WCA by Professor Malcolm Harrington had proceeded at a “glacial pace”, and he called for Atos to be stripped of its contract to carry out the assessments.

Labour MP Kate Green said she had a meeting with disabled constituents last week and they told her they believed the WCA system was “deliberately designed to trick them” and to “stop paying benefits wherever possible”.

Labour’s Madeleine Moon said her case worker had been “inundated with [WCA] cases that are both tragic and heart-rendering”, while her telephone was “often clogged with people crying down the line” because they were “unable to cope with the stress of the assessments”.

Charles Walker, the Conservative MP who also spoke in last year’s debate about his own mental health condition, asked whether “the reputation of Atos may be so damaged that it can never really be effective and perhaps the time has been reached where we need to park Atos and move on in a different direction”.

The disabled Conservative MP Robert Halfon said Atos had “repeatedly failed to inspire confidence and they need shaking up”, but that it was a Labour government that had signed the contract with the company.

But another Conservative MP, Margot James, said: “I don’t share the universal condemnation of Atos that I have heard in this House.”

She said Harrington had reviewed the WCA system three times – with particular reference to mental health – and “he did conclude that the improvements are starting to have an impact and as such no fundamental reforms in his view were needed”.

Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, said the Harrington changes had led to improvements in the WCA, although there was a need to do more.

But he claimed that “some of the worry experienced by claimants is as a result of adverse media coverage, and it risks being fuelled by incorrect anecdotal information and indeed total myth”.

He insisted that Atos dealt with 100,000 assessments every month and “consistently meets quality thresholds that we set”, while only 3.6 per cent of its assessments were below standards set by the DWP.

He also said that of all the claimants found fit for work by the DWP, only 15 per cent were overturned on appeal.

He said: “Much is reported that ESA is not working. This is untrue. What we are seeing is people coming off ESA and into work.”

17 January 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Protesters await vital ‘fitness for work’ court ruling

Protesters took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice this week as they awaited a ruling in a case that could force the government to improve its much-criticised “fitness for work” test.

Inside, the high court was hearing the claim for judicial review brought by two disabled people, who say the work capability assessment (WCA) discriminates against them and other people with mental health conditions, as well as those with learning difficulties.

They argue that many claimants are assessed by healthcare professionals who are not mental health specialists, and that the WCA fails to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for mental health survivors and people with learning difficulties.

They want the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos Healthcare – the company which carries out the tests – to seek further medical evidence at the beginning of each claim for all such claimants, rather than forcing them to describe themselves how their ability to work is affected by their impairment.

The hope is that a court victory will force the government to make the WCA fairer and less stressful for some people, and possibly exempt some claimants from face-to-face assessments.

Outside the courts, protesters said the result of the case, expected tomorrow (18 January), could have “massive importance” in the campaign to scrap the WCA, which decides eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

Dave Skull, from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), which is supporting the two claimants – known as MM and DM – said the case could be a vital “first step”.

He said: “There are obviously broader concerns about the whole process, so this case isn’t the answer to everything, but it would at least be a safeguard.”

MHRN was formed in 2010 by people claiming incapacity benefit on mental health grounds, who were concerned about the programme to reassess all those on the benefit for eligibility for its replacement, employment and support allowance.

Many of the network’s members have had relapses, episodes of self-harm and suicide attempts, and have needed higher levels of medication and even hospitalisation in the lead-up to their reassessment.

Another protester, Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said one of her network’s members had started to self-harm after being told by letter that her benefits were to be reassessed.

She said: “She has ended up in a psychiatric hospital as a result of the DWP letters. She hoped to get back into waged work but all her efforts were thwarted.”

Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, who also attended the protest, said the court’s decision would be of “massive” importance.

But he said the high appeal rates against being found fit for work were “evidence enough that something is seriously flawed”.

Greene said the court case should help clarify whether those flaws were in the design of the WCA, or with how it was delivered by Atos.

17 January 2013

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

Government makes ‘significant changes’ to PIP assessment criteria

The government has made “significant changes” to the criteria it will use to assess disabled people’s eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), but early analysis of the alterations suggests key concerns remain.

The Department for Work and Pensions today published its final plans for how it will assess claimants of PIP, the replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).

Disabled activists and disability organisations are tonight examining the detail of the new assessment criteria, but some areas of concern have already emerged.

In its initial briefing, Disability Rights UK said the plans would see “some disabled people who need help with eating, taking medication, bathing, toileting and even avoiding ‘overwhelming psychological distress’ lose vital support”.

Fazilet Hadi, director of inclusive society at RNIB, welcomed “some significant changes” to the criteria, but said there were still “serious concerns” about how assessors would interpret the daily living component of PIP.

She said that changes to the criteria – thanks in part to RNIB lobbying – should mean that blind and partially-sighted people who use a white cane as a mobility aid would be treated “on a par” with guide dog-users.

Hadi said: “This means that people currently on the higher [mobility] rate of DLA should now get the enhanced mobility rate on PIP.”

But she said there were concerns that some partially-sighted people who currently receive the lower rate care component of DLA would not qualify for the PIP standard daily living rate, which could see them lose more than £1,000 a year.

The three care components of DLA – lower, middle and higher rate – will be replaced by just two PIP daily living rates, as part of government plans to cut spending by 20 per cent by 2015-16.

Hadi said: “RNIB is calling for the government to clarify how the reading criteria will be applied to partially-sighted people who might be able to read text in the home by using technology, but cannot read fixed signs outside the home.”

The PIP regulations will be debated in Parliament early next year.

13 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

UN’s international day sees awards, celebrations… and protests

Disabled people took part in protests, campaigns, awards, marches, conferences and celebrations as they found different ways to mark the UN’s international day of disabled people.

Many of the events used 3 December to continue the series of protests against government cuts to disability benefits and services, while others celebrated the achievements of organisations that have helped improve disabled people’s lives.

Breakthrough UK announced the winners of its National Independent Living Awards 2012, which included Harrow Asian Deaf Club, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People, and retail giant Wilkinson.

In Guildford, Surrey, more than 350 people attended the first of a free, two-day sports festival organised by the British Paralympic Association, with more than 1,000 attending over the two days.

More than 20 Paralympians – including stars such as Jonnie Peacock, Sophie Christiansen, Ben Quilter and Mark Colbourne – were on hand to take part in the inaugural ParalympicsGB Sports Fest, which provided an opportunity for disabled people to try out different Paralympic sports and discover how to get involved in them.

In west London, members of Harrow Association of Disabled People took part in a 200-strong march to protest at disabled people being “hit the hardest by cuts to the benefits and services they need to live their lives”.

The march, which was joined by eight local councillors – seven Labour and one independent – and Labour MP Gareth Thomas, passed the Department for Work and Pensions’ Jobcentre Plus offices and ended at Harrow council’s Civic Centre headquarters, where Labour council leader Thaya Idaikkadar spoke to them about their concerns.

In Croydon, disabled people held a vigil inside the reception area of the building used by Atos Healthcare to test people’s eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

The vigil, organised by the Croydon and Bromley branch of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), included a minute’s silence to remember the sick and disabled people who had “suffered as a result of the punitive regime of assessments” operated by Atos on behalf of the government.

They were refused permission to leave flowers in the building, so laid them instead at the local war memorial.

Protesters from Cardiff DPAC gathered beside the statue of Aneurin Bevan, founder of the NHS, for a candlelight vigil which featured about 1,200 candles spelling out the words “Atos Kills”, before continuing their own remembrance protest by blocking traffic for about 30 minutes.

They and many other activists believe the assessments, as carried out by Atos, are putting thousands of sick and disabled people under serious and unnecessary strain, forcing them further into poverty, and are even responsible for many deaths, including some people driven to suicide.

Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People marked the UN’s day by releasing a striking visual and audio representation of the Austerity War report it commissioned and published in September, which describes how the burden of the government’s cuts are falling unfairly on disabled people’s shoulders.

In contrast, the Department for Work and Pensions used the day to launch its Role Models: Inspire a Generation campaign, which will use video clips of young disabled role models talking about the barriers they have overcome to inspire other young disabled people to “help fulfil their potential and achieve their aspirations”.

The European Commission made its contribution to the day by publishing proposed legislation to ensure the accessibility of public sector websites.

But the proposed laws would cover only 12 public services – such as websites for benefits, applying for passports, car registration, birth and marriage certificates, enrolling in higher education, and communicating with the police.

The European Disability Forum welcomed the publication as “a first positive step” but said it would work with MEPs and the European Council to ensure the final legislation was “even more far-reaching”.

The European Blind Union said the proposal was “a missed opportunity” and was “simply not going to deliver the radical change that is needed” because it failed to cover all public sector websites and private sector sites that deliver “basic services to citizens”.

In Tower Hamlets, east London, the disabled people’s organisation Real joined other charities to host a free information event (on 4 December) and party, and celebrated both the international day and its own success in winning a new local authority contract to give disabled people more say over how services are run in the borough.

Meanwhile, Remploy ignored continuing anger over the closure of many of its remaining sheltered factories and released a video featuring pledges from employers – and disabled people such as Paralympic champion David Weir – to push for an improvement in the employment rate of disabled people.

Just three days later, Remploy announced that another 682 disabled people had been told they were at risk of redundancy because of its closure programme.

There were also many powerful blogs using 3 December to warn of the threat to disabled people’s rights posed by the government’s “austerity” policies.

Jane Young wrote that there was “little to celebrate” on 3 December, with the anticipated implementation of a “horrifying range of policies set to devastate the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled Britons”, with the threat next year of “a tsunami of human need, the like of which we haven’t seen in Britain for many years”.

Kaliya Franklin wrote in her blog of a time when Britain “led the way in promoting rights and independence for disabled people”, while Neil Crowther said the government’s “perverse and illogical” assault on disabled people’s rights was “not only unjust, it is pure economic folly”.

5 December 2012

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

DPAC protesters call for general strike over cuts

An award-winning disabled artist is to spend three days in bed in front of an audience, in an attempt to portray the contradictions of her impairment, and the government’s “miserable, terrifying, punishing” fitness for work assessment regime.

The writer-director-activist Liz Crow is forced to spend much of her life in bed because of her impairment, but has always managed to keep that part of herself hidden from view.

“I have developed this incredibly stark way of living,” she says, “and what other people see of me in public spaces is not how I am for most of my life. Even the people close to me don’t really know me at the most extreme.”

In Bedding In, she will make her “twilight existence visible”, exposing the part of her life she spends in bed to public scrutiny, and for the first time “parading” this private self in public.

The piece, part of this year’s SPILL Festival of Performance, in Ipswich, is Crow’s response to the government’s harsh benefits reassessment programme.

But rather than lying low for fear of being penalised by the Department for Work and Pensions, she has decided to “stare that fear in the face”.

She is one of the hundreds of thousands of long-time incapacity benefit claimants who have been tested through the government’s reassessment programme, and subjected to the infamous work capability assessment, carried out by the government’s contractor Atos Healthcare.

Even though Crow has used a wheelchair for 26 years, Atos decided that she had no difficulty walking. She was placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG), for those thought able to move towards paid work.

But she knows she cannot make herself available for work, and so – unless she wins her appeal – she has resigned herself to having her benefits taken away because of the inevitable failure to co-operate with the regime.

“The consequences are that I may have no income coming in and don’t know how as a single parent I will care for my child, let alone my home, etc.”

Less than two weeks after her performance ends, she will need to parade her private self again, when she appeals to a tribunal against the decision to place her in the WRAG.

Crow is clear that she wants Bedding In to be about the complexity of her impairment, and not its “tragedy”.

“I live a pretty good life with the complicated set of circumstances that I have got,” she says, “but if I step out of my bed then it is not seen as complexity or contradiction, and in the current benefits system it means you fall through the gaps.”

Each day during the performance at Ipswich Art School Gallery, members of the public will gather around her bed to discuss the work, and its politics. The hope is that Crow will take the “data” from these conversations and use them to further develop the piece.

“It is a political statement,” she says of the performance, “but it is also trying to make visible this kind of internal wrestling that goes on for a lot of us with the benefits stuff.

“Since I got personal assistants 15 years ago I have managed to find a kind of fragile security in my life. I have rarely earned but I have, I hope, contributed.

“Now the benefits thing has kicked in it has all gone. Suddenly I don’t feel I have any security left whatsoever.”

Even if she wins her appeal, she faces the likely prospect of being reassessed again in another year or so, and then again, and again.

“The idea that this is life now: that is just dire. There are hundreds of thousands of us going through this assessment. There is some small comfort that there are a lot of us in it together but it is not much comfort because of the toll it takes.

“I have this tiny amount of time when I am well enough to do stuff and I am looking at that time being taken away.

“It has been really hard to create the life I have got, a reasonable life, and this big system comes along with these politicians who are so extraordinarily removed from a life like mine and they demolish what I have built up.”

The whole process feels, she says, like “punishment”, not assessment, “an endless round of justifying myself and fighting for a grain of security”.

“There are layers and layers of why it is so hard. One of the things is that if you fall through the gaps, for the press it is evidence that you are a scrounger and a fraudster.”

She is among the many disabled activists who believe that this cruel assessment process – and the callous and incompetent way it is carried out by Atos – are responsible for the premature deaths of hundreds, if not thousands, of disabled people.

Even if these deaths are not caused by the process, she says, “actually they died among all this shit, their last few months were so miserable and so frightening, and I think that’s unforgivable. To condemn people to a really miserable last few months is diabolical.”

Crow feels there is an affinity between her performance and the direct action protest carried out by members of Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) at Marble Arch in central London last weekend.

One of the reasons she is so impressed with DPAC’s campaigning work, she says, is that “they have created an incredible visible presence but have found ways for all sorts of people to contribute”, particularly through social media.

She also sees links with her most recent piece of work, Resistance, an award-winning video installation about the Aktion-T4 programme, which led to the targeted killing of as many as 200,000 disabled people, and possibly many more, in Nazi Germany.

She began working on Resistance in 2008, and started thinking about its themes several years earlier, and felt even then that there were contemporary “connections”.

“Those contemporary connections have just got stronger and stronger,” she says. “I am appalled to feel that we are under greater threat now than we have been in all the years I have been involved in activism.”

She points to newspaper reports of alleged disability benefit fraud and the use of language like “shirkers”, “scroungers” and “fakers” to describe disabled people. This kind of propaganda, she says, is “eerily familiar” from descriptions of pre-Holocaust Germany.

The “specifics” of what is happening now are not the same as in Nazi Germany, she adds, but “the values beneath it are, this idea that we are somehow dispensable, more dispensable than others”.

She also points to the Paralympics, which she says “makes the scrounger-fraudster rhetoric stronger, and leads to a backlash”.

There are even similarities between the Paralympic classification system, and the benefits assessment system. Both suit those who have a “bio-mechanical, quantifiable impairment”, rather than less clear and easily-determined impairments.

Would-be Paralympians with “nebulous impairments” fall through the gaps, she says, just as she and many tens of thousands of other disabled people have fallen through the yawning gaps in the benefits system.

Bedding In is part of Disability Arts Online’s Diverse Perspectives project, which is funded by Arts Council England, and is commissioning eight disabled artists to make new artwork that “sparks conversations and debate about the creative case for diversity”.

Bedding In takes place at the Ipswich Art School Gallery from 1-3 November, from 11am to 6pm, as part of the SPILL Festival of Performance in Ipswich.

24 October 2012