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Monday, 12 March 2012

Inequality in the Welfare State? [CIRC Report]

Inequality in the Welfare State?
Report written and produced by Clydebank Independent Resource Centre, 627 Dumbarton Road, Dalmuir Clydebank G81 4ET 0141 951 4040:  Registered charity no. SCO37670. November 2011

A  few supplementary thoughts.
Prof Harrington has never challenged the basic premise that fit for work (FFW) decisions can be distilled into a set of parameters that can be adequately assessed by a DWP administrator, “supported” by no more than a lowly-trained medic operating under their direction. 
In addition the question of whether condition variability and task repeatability can ever be adequately assessed in a single short WCA has not been sensibly addressed.
Prof Harrington himself does not pass all of the tests to establish his “independence” from DWP & Coalition dogma and a cynic would argue that his vested interest in certain outcomes makes this impossible.
Although many WCAs are poorly performed by Atos, DWP claims to have rigorous quality and audit procedures in place and that Atos routinely achieves its contractual KPIs.  Either this is not true, or they do not work, at least to the standards most would assume.  The fact is that they satisfy only the standards DWP has set – DWP has not on thanking them for their efforts.
Without doubt and despite its protestations to the contrary, the Government largely subscribes to the “benefit scrounging” school of thought.  This can easily be seen in some of the imagery it uses in key publications.
The Government has singularly failed to offer any definition of the work it is glibly passing people fit to perform.  It relies on the concept of ‘general work’ (sic), without even describing its basic characteristics.
DWP has severely criticised the historical contribution of GPs to this process to the point where it has effectively challenged their professional integrity.  Rather than tackle this unsubstantiated proposition directly, DWP has adopted a costly strategy that progressively removes them (GPs) from the process altogether.  It still however claims they (GPs) play an important role to play, albeit from a remote and mistrusted position.  This is one of many contradictions within DWP’s assurances and it is both surprising and disappointing that their representative organisations have not taken great issue with this implication – or is it just a case of same money, less work?
The comments on p15 are not quite correct.  Whilst the Atos HCP does not have direct access to medical records etc, they are required to consider and log ANY evidence a claimant brings to a WCA.  What is missing is a comprehensive briefing for claimants (and their reps) to ensure that they present their situation at the WCA as comprehensively as possible.  The WCA invitation letter covers little more than being able to prove who you are!
The WCA handbook is quite clear (and reasonable) over how a HCP must deal with an apparent contradiction between claimant evidence and their own observations to produce an acceptable report.  It states that the HCP cannot simply rely on their ‘opinion’ and must support any conclusions with evidence of one kind or another – this could take the form of a specifically tailored examination and/or Q&A.  It is therefore vital that the claimant takes everything they can to the WCA or any contradiction might not be apparent – the HCP must not be left in the position where they can (legitimately) say that they were unaware of something relevant to the way the assessment should be performed.
The report rightly highlights DWP’s progressive tightening of descriptor definitions, notably in March 2011.  DWP insists that they are justified based on objective evidence, but this is not confirmed within the documents they themselves rely upon.  In fact in some cases, the reports contain explicit disclaimers where DWP states that it does not necessarily share the views and conclusions of the authors – how absurd it that?
In addition, the joint DWP/Atos process contains a number of surreptitious ‘correlations’ whereby very specific interpretations are placed on the answers to seemingly innocent questions.  A visit to a supermarket for example means being able to cover 800m comfortably and would attract no points.
Worse still, in Mar 2011, ‘walking’ was substituted with ‘mobilising’ again on the surface for legitimate reasons but has given rise to the “invisible wheelchair”.  This allows the HCP & Decision Maker to make the mobility assessment with the claimant in a wheelchair even if they do not normally use one, even if their GP has advised against it and they do not even have to declare that this is what they have done.  All the claimant sees is no points.   The invisible wheelchair can be deployed selectively in that it might appear for mobility assessment on level surfaces, but be abandoned when steps are involved.
DWP insists that a declaration of fit for work does not mean they do not believe you are ill, just that the illness is not severe enough to stop you working.  This is of course (as explained above) despite the fact that ‘work’ is not defined.  Furthermore, it insists that people who find themselves on the job market through this route are at no disadvantage relative to other fully fit job seekers.  It bases this assurance on reports in which it has incorporated a disclaimer (see above) and/or completely contradicts its proposition and universal compliance with long standing disability equality legislation.  The reality is that there is no real evidence to support any of this.

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