Welfare to Work policy 'casts the disabled as cheats'
Flagship initiative threatens safety of the disabled by suggesting that they are scroungers, say charities
The government's flagship Welfare to Work policy is inciting hatred and violence towards the disabled by portraying them as cheats and benefits scroungers, an alliance of charities has warned.
A drip-feed of statistics about claimants who have been denied benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions because they are deemed fit to work threatens the safety and quality of life of its members, says an alliance of 50 charities. The government is feeding a negative attitude towards people with disabilities, which, the charities warn, will ultimately end in violence.
The alliance has written an open letter to Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary, after complaining that private warnings on the issue have gone unheeded. The charities say the government should instead be promoting the talents of those who no longer need to claim benefits. Alice Maynard, the chair of Scope, who is a wheelchair user, said: "We just feel it is too much now. It is becoming such a frequent occurrence, it is likely to have some very serious negative effects. I think in the end it ends up in violence."
She added that a hardening of attitudes meant she now "thought harder" about going out at night in London.
Since the coalition government came to power, it has released quarterly statistics on the number of people who are turned down when claiming employment support allowance, which replaces incapacity benefit and income support paid on incapacity grounds.
"Statistics released today show that three-quarters of people who apply for employment and support allowance are continuing to be found either fit for work or stop their claim before completing their medical assessment," said the Department for Work and Pensions.
The charities said the release of the figures and briefings from the DWP was feeding the stereotype that people who claimed benefits were scroungers. Four out of 10 of those turned down for support are granted it on appeal, said the charities, but this had not been widely publicised. Instead, a series of newspaper stories had been published featuring so-called benefits scroungers and cheats.
A recent survey carried out by Scope found more than a third (37%) of people said attitudes towards them had got worse over the past year.
Jaspal Dhani, chief executive of the United Kingdom Disabled People's Council, said: "The language portrays disabled people as scroungers, as lazy – a drain who are not playing their part and making a contribution. It has led to an increase in hate crimes against disabled people, victimisation and reinforcement of very old stereotypes and prejudices.
And of course, the question is, are the assessments being touted by the gov't actually true?Employment benefit test finds two thirds of claimants fit for work
Controversy surrounds new testing system which union says is discriminatory towards disabled people
Atos case study: Larry Newman
The introduction of new medical assessments to decide whether claimants are eligible for sickness benefits has prompted "fear and anxiety among vulnerable people", the committee of MPs concludes, partly because the tests have resulted in large numbers of seriously unwell claimants being refused support.
The report states: "It is widely accepted that the Work Capability Assessment [WCA], as introduced in 2008, was flawed. This has been borne out by the high number of appeals and the high success rate of appellants. It was also reflected in the amount of evidence from individuals which expressed grievances with the way they were treated during the process and the accuracy of the outcome." The MPs estimate the cost to the taxpayer of these appeals at around £50m a year.
The employment minister, Chris Grayling, has accepted that the WCA was initially "flawed" but stressed that significant changes have been introduced. The government acknowledges that "further refinements to the test" are still needed, says the report.
Government officials have failed to highlight the positive goals of helping more people back into work, the report adds, allowing the retesting process to be cast by parts of the media as a mission to weed out the "workshy", "scroungers" and "benefit cheats".
The work and pensions select committee chair Anne Begg MP said: "The government's aim of helping benefit claimants back into work is laudable, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated and nor should the level of anxiety which surrounds the process."
There was also criticism of Atos Healthcare, the company that receives £100m a year to carry out the medical tests to determine whether claimants are fit for work.
Atos staff are currently testing around 11,000 incapacity benefit claimants a week, to help judge whether they are eligible for benefit payments. Charities and MPs say they have been contacted by large numbers of people who felt their test results were simply wrong
Larry Newman was assessed by an Atos staff member and awarded zero points. To qualify for sickness benefit he needed 15. He died from lung problems soon after.Disability benefit reform: is the government hiding behind Atos errors?
Larry Newman attended a work capability assessment in March 2010, when a degenerative lung condition made it impossible for him to go on working in the wood veneer showroom where he had spent much of his career. His weight had dropped from 10 to seven stone, and he had trouble breathing and walking.
The Atos staff member who carried out the medical test awarded him zero points. To qualify for employment and support allowance, the new sickness benefit, he needed to score 15 points, and in July he received a letter from jobcentre officials stating that he was not eligible for the benefit (worth around £95 a week) and would be fit to return to work within three months.
He was devastated by the decision, and dismayed to note a number of inaccuracies in the report that accompanied the letter. He decided to appeal against the decision, but before three months was up he died from his lung problems.
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Righteous anger by disabled people over Atos incompetence in assessing benefit claims should also be directed at the government
Atos is a French IT company engaged by the government to run the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contract to assess claimants for sickness and disability benefits. It is also the target of blame and fury by many sick and/or disabled people suffering at the hands of an inhumane system.
Exactly what a French IT company would know about sickness, disability, welfare benefits and the tough job of administering such claims might be the first question to spring to mind, but the important questions here are not related to competence. The key issue is whether Atos is responsible for a situation causing so much distress and pain to genuinely sick and disabled people. And who benefits by Atos being seen as responsible for this situation?
There are consistent themes among the complaints that sick and disabled people make against Atos. It may seem shocking, but one of the most significant complaints is that many centres Atos use to perform "medical" assessments are inaccessible and lack available disabled parking. Some lack any parking. This has led to fears that using inaccessible centres is a direct tactic to refuse people the benefits they are entitled to.( Read more... )