Follow by Email

Saturday, 17 March 2012

A reasoned and coherent way forward - stage 1

The Tory Government is simply doing what Tory Governments do – no surprises there.

If the intention is to unseat them at the next election, the first thing to consider is what would come next, but that’s a thought for another day.  Just be careful what you wish for.

There needs to be a plan, which I think starts with unravelling all of the spurious claims they are making and exposing their policies for what they are.  Personally, I believe the step by step, logical approach will be more productive than “Nazi bastard” vilification.  Whilst this usefully winds up some emotion, it is at risk of alienating the very large proportion of people who are prepared to be sympathetic if than can see the issues in a clear and honest light.

The view of disability that causes greatest upset is the one that regards it as just another form of unemployment, or perhaps more accurately, under-employment.  This is clearly part of the Government’s thinking.  It suggests that there is an absolute formula that can differentiate between those that can work and those that cannot.  It has been allowed to drift and all they are doing now is resetting it to where it should be.  They imply that this new level can be independently and scientifically determined, so their approach is unchallengeable.

This of course is not true.  The cut-off is part of one’s dogma – religious, political, whatever.  The Coalition believes that the bar should be set considerably lower (so fewer are allowed past it) which is their ‘prerogative’, but let’s not lie about its basis.  One way or another, it has formulated an estimate of how many people need to be moved from one side of the line to the other.

Closely linked to this is the “Arbeit Macht Frei” philosophy, so not only is working good for society, it is good for you individually too – it will broaden your outlook, enhance your self-esteem, and improve your health and probably your longevity too.  It will do this both directly and indirectly through you being financially better off.  It is a little vague on how all the wealth created is distributed, but at least everyone gets some.

With such a strong belief in the work panacea, not surprising that one would accept a fair degree of collateral damage as undoubtedly the ends justifies the means.   The horrendous fit-for-work errors that crop up frequently are not personal, nor particularly deliberate: they are just seen as part of the price one has to pay.  The points to get across therefore are firstly that this is not the case and secondly if it were, this price is too high.  The current process is flawed on two counts:
1.       It produces  too many errors
2.       It produces far too many extreme errors
The consequences of both are massively compounded by a very long and convoluted remedial process that has no feedback loop to generate at least some progressive improvement.

They claim their approach is based on need rather than financially driven (bottom up, not top down), but this is splitting hairs if they continually redefine “need” to fit a financial target, which is precisely what we have now.  Cleverly, if WCAs are not producing the required ratios, they manipulate WCA content to make sure they do. Proof is through the descriptor changes made in March 2011

The complementary side of this is of course is the nature of work itself – not how much of it is available, but what characteristics it has.  Quite obviously, if you move the bar downwards, you need to re-specify what work is so that it can accommodate people with what is now a wider range of abilities.  The Government in effect argues that it has already done this and is now just catching up by modifying descriptors accordingly.

This claim is based on the way in which employers of all types have positively responded to equality legislation over the years, to the point where in the typical workplace, disabled employees are no longer at any disadvantage when compared to fully able employees.  This is not just about wheelchair access, but literally every aspect of every work environment.

This is the argument DWP used to substantiate its descriptor changes in March 2011.  It argued that the changes were legitimised by clear scientific and impartial evidence which is simply untrue.  The report on which they mostly rely was indeed commissioned by DWP.  However, its results are far from conclusive and in places diametrically opposed to the Government’s proposition.  Also and somewhat absurdly, the report includes a disclaimer whereby DWP points out that it does not necessarily agree with the authors.  I can only assume that when they quote evidence to support their strategy, they hope that nobody will ever check it out.

It is also worth considering causes and effects as they are often wrongly assigned.  The Government regularly falls back on the proportion of claimants initially found FFW following a WCA.  If they lump together FFW + WRAG, they can quote proportions of around 70%.  This, they say justifies the process they have set up.  What they conveniently forget however is that this is precisely what they have designed the process to do, so it is rather a self-fulfilling prophesy.  In fact, one could argue that given this, the results are actually quite disappointing from the Tory viewpoint – ONLY 75%, when they would like it to achieve something higher.

One final general point and that is over the meaning of “independence”, which in reality is often very hard to achieve.    Most commonly it requires features such as:

·         not controlled by another
·          free from the authority, control, or domination of somebody or something else, especially not controlled by another state or organization
·         able to self-govern
·         Financially independent, not forced to rely on another for money or support.

The prevailing view from most quarters, campaigners included is that much hangs on the infamous Professor Harrington – if they were only to implement all of his recommendations properly, everything would be ok.  NO IT WOULD NOT and this is why.

One of the biggest issues has been around decision making errors, subsequently corrected.  Logically therefore right-first-time decision rates would be an important KPI to monitor.  DWP has not, does not and will not however be using it.  Nor will they declare a target that they are aiming for.  This is just politicians for you – keeping the water muddy, but where is Malcolm setting the target and insisting they meet it sooner rather than later – all conspicuous by its absence.

Secondly, how independent is Malcolm?  Just run through the tests above and make up your own mind.  He has done little more since involvement began than “urge patience”. He has also said:
“My take on things is that [the Department for Work and Pensions] DWP and [Jobcentre Plus] JCP (in collaboration with Atos where appropriate) are energetically implementing all of my recommendations.” and
“In some cases I believe the JCP staff responsible have actually improved on what I had proposed in light of practical experience. I see real progress and am even more confident of improvements than I was in my interim report to the Minister in May. “

I would simply ask
·         What evidence does he have to support any of this?  A few examples would be really helpful.
·         Does anyone who has had repeat dealings with WCA/Atos over the past three years agree that things have changed very much for the better?
It is ironic to say the least that the venerable professor wants to “collect robust evidence about what is and isn’t working, moving, where possible, away from anecdotal reports.”,  when DWP does exactly the opposite.

If you go back to Professor Harrington’s first report in 2010, there are other things conspicuous by their absence, notably a comprehensive PDD (Project Definition Document).  This is very much standard management practice and can be constructively applied in almost any ‘change’ situation to define the scope of the work, its boundaries, its objectives, success criteria, assumptions, inclusions, exclusions etc.  It then provides the key reference point for subsequent work for the duration of the project and I would say it is impossible to manage well without one.  There were some general terms of reference at the outset, but all rather vague – unprofessional or deliberate – who knows?  There was no well-reasoned argument for example that explained why NHS services had been excluded from consideration.  Nothing of this nature has appeared since and his subsequent work just follows the same path.

So we need to reconsider Professor Harrington’s so-called independent role in all of this and if there is a conspiracy, judge if he is part of it.

No comments: