Archive for November, 2012

New Report Highlights Failures of Work Capability Assessment

The Spartacus Campaign group has today released the Peoples Review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The press release sums it all up pretty nice nicley;

New report highlights failures of Work Capability Assessment as Spartacus campaign awaits Harrington’s final review

A new report from the Spartacus campaign today (Monday 12 November) analyses the failures of the Government’s Work Capability Assessment and the Employment & Support Allowance system, which is supposed to support people who are too sick or disabled to work.

It also warns that disabled people are at risk because of the government’s refusal to consider a ‘real world’ test – where part of the test would take into account the real barriers to employment.

The report, ‘The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment’, includes examples of people who have been told they are fit for work, including:

Someone with no short term memory mechanism
A man with a terminal brain tumour
An incontinent disabled man who is both blind and deaf

Other examples of claimants’ experiences include a man whose benefits were stopped for failing to return the necessary forms, despite his wife informing the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was in a coma; and a man who died 48 hours after filling in his questionnaire – after informing everyone of his death his wife received a call 3 months later asking him to come in for his assessment.

Overall the report highlights stories of more than 70 people who have been inappropriately  assessed, forced to go to tribunal, felt humiliated or treated inappropriately. It comes prior to the publication of the final review of the Work Capability Assessment by Professor Harrington, who steps down as advisor to the DWP this month, and whose resignation was announced in July, just days after the broadcast of two TV documentaries exposing the reality of claimants’ experience of the assessment process.

The report also highlights serious concerns about the number of people who have died after being told by the DWP they were ‘fit for work’ or have taken their own lives in circumstances where applying for ESA and going through the WCA appear to be factors in their deaths.

Professor Peter Beresford OBE, professor of social policy at Brunel University and chair of Shaping Our Lives, said:

“The work capability assessment is unreliable and unhelpful, as well as being arbitrary and cruel… No-one – not the doctors who make the assessment decisions, nor Atos which has responsibility for providing assessments, nor the Department of Work and Pensions which commissioned them – takes responsibility for the problems and failures in the system. It’s a perfect storm of irresponsibility and unaccountability.”

The report includes an analysis of the position of a number of professional and regulatory organisations on the WCA, including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the General Medical Council, the National Audit Office and the Citizens Advice Bureau, as well as Government statements and background information on Atos, the company  employed to carry out the assessments.

The report’s author added:

These issues are a matter of survival for people living with illness and disability.  It is unacceptable that in 21st century Britain vulnerable people are being treated so appallingly. We hope The People’s Review will spur the Government into prompt and concrete action on the failures of the WCA. Radical change is needed – and it is needed now. Whilst there has been some acknowledgement of the problems following Professor Harrington‘s previous Reviews, our evidence from those at the sharp end of the process, including of the high rate of successful appeals and the huge backlog of unheard appeals, shows the whole system is still failing badly. The cost to the taxpayer is enormous and the cost to those going through it goes way beyond money.  In the meantime, sick and disabled people continue to be severely affected by what they’ve experienced, and terrified of what the future holds.  

The new report is available from:    http://wearespartacus.org.uk  

For more information contact:         Jane Young  jane@janeyoung.me.uk

The full report lists 14 pages of (often) single paragraph case studies of people who have been failed by the WCA, yet it is just the tip of a gargantuan iceberg. Like all the people here and the thousands of others who’s stories are not in the report I was given 0 points by ATOS and declared fit for work. The DWP then used my poor score on the WCA as it’s key reason to refuse to give me DLA. I spent the first two terrifying years of becoming disabled desperately appealing and going through tribunals with no financial support in the mean time. Here are four statements taken from a page at random in the new report which illustrate how this system has failed and upset other sick and/or disabled people who are clearly not fit to work (quotes come directly from the report & are written in their own words);

  • Detached labrum of the right shoulder(2 ops done so far), degenerative vertabrae in my neck with stenosis (shrinking of the outlet which the nerves to my left arm go thru) reducing sensation and strength, nerve damage to the right shoulder affecting the interior of my right arm, severe depression onset due to injuries and personal circumstances, and 3 types of drugs to keep things in order….their opinion…Nil Points and fit for work.
  • I went to one of these tests and had my benefits stopped plus they sent a letter to my doctors telling him to stop signing me off, i could’ve appealed but would’ve had to travel for 4 hours to get to the court! I felt so bad and had to get some work to survive but this then led to me having a heart attack! I have had to have a pacemaker fitted. They said is was deemed fit to work because in the test i sat on a table and all i did was swing my legs forward and back!!!!! Plus asked to bend over!
  • I suffer with borderline personality dissorder anxiety and depression plus i faint sometimes or have black outs. I am being forced back into work and to go to work meetings. I have been threatend with loosing my home, so i ended up self harming and now being threatend with loosing my benefits. If I don’t get my benifits nothing will get paid, and i’ll either end up topping myself or dying of starvation. I am now terrified, i am not ready to go back to work, and if they force me into work i have no idea how i will react. 1 mintue i can be fine next i feel like the anticrist. I can’t control my personality dissorder, mental illness does not have days off.
  • I have multiple health problems – some of which have taken years to diagnose eg, PTSD, diabetes, chronic fatigue, severe allergies causing angioedema and anaphylactic shock, asthma, gastritis, muscle weakness. I’ve just undergone TWO hysteroscopies and the biopsy has revealed a problem. We’ve discussed hysterectomy so I’m guessing the diagnosis won’t be a good one. I can’t climb stairs and I haven’t been out socially for two decades. My last job was as a temp for the NHS and I was dismissed from my job because I became ill at work and had to be hospitalised with pneumonia. They have now deemed me fir for work despite GP and Consultant’s notes which state the opposite.

If you get a chance have a look at the report, it really is worth a read. You can find a copy at the We are Spartacus webpage or this link should take you to a pdf file.

If you can please try and share this report with local MPs, councillors, journalists and groups that wish to ally themselves with the disabled peoples rights movement.

If you want to write to your MP you can find them on this website; http://www.writetothem.com/

I used this letter, you’d be welcome to do the same and edit it to make it more personal.

Dear [insert MPs name],

Today see’s the release of a report put together by disabled people and their allies to try and show the harsh realities of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) preformed by ATOS healthcare on behalf of the DWP to judge whether those claiming ESA are in actuality fit to work. It is so riddled with errors that all independent reviews say it isn’t fit for purpose (unless that purpose is finding severely sick & disabled people incorrectly fit for work of course).

You can find the report here; http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-peoples-review/ and I will paste the press release at the bottom of this email to give you a quick synopsis.

[Insert personal experience/story here if you feel comfortable doing so]

Warm Regards,

[Your name here]

—–

Press Release

[Copy & Paste Press Release here]

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On ESA? You Maybe Entitled To These Schemes

It’s getting cold, Christmas is on it’s way and it feels like my income isn’t covering very much at all right now, but I have noticed a few money saving schemes available to those on ESA/low incomes over the last week so I thought I’d share them in case they can help someone else.

Stamps
Royal Mail has rolled out a scheme to allow people in receipt of ESA, Pension Credit or Incapacity Benefit to buy up to 36 stamps at last Christmas’ prices. So 36 1st class stamps will cost about £5 less. It’s not going to revolutionise Christmas but it can make any stamp purchases cheaper. The offer expires on Christmas eve. If you’ve not had a form you can order one at www.royalmail.com/stampoffer 
Warm Home Discount


The warm home discount is a £130 rebate on your electricity bill open to everyone in receipt of Pension Credit. Some energy companies have decided to offer the discount to people who have low incomes and/or are disabled. Commonly they ask for applicants to be in receipt of Income Based ESA, Income Based JSA and Income Support as well.
I know EDF, British Gas, E.on, Scottish Power and NPower  are offering the option to low income and/or customers. If you click on the names it should take you to the pages detailing eligibly criteria & how to claim.

Edited to add: A customer (@GubbinsMctavish on twitter) of Atlantic Energy chased them up and they have confirmed that if customers of Atlantic Energy or any other SSE companies call their general enquiries line they can send out application forms.

Job Hunting – Part One

“There must be something you could do”
“You’re bright and articulate, surely you can find a job”

“Employers will want you even with your impairments” 

“Disability shouldn’t be a barrier to work” 

“If you can manage voluntary work you can manage paid employment” 

The above is just a tiny taste of what I hear when I explain to someone that I’m not employed. I explain that there are some pretty big barriers to work which I face. Barriers I have tried to overcome quite few time to no avail. It seems that people don’t want to hear that though, maybe it’s that all too human desire to deny that sickness and impairment’s can have long lasting effects, maybe it’s supposed to be friendly encouragement or maybe, just maybe it’s a sign that I’ve just been unlucky in my attempt to find work so far.

I’d like to work, a life on benefits isn’t fabulous. Being poor, vilified as a scrounger and constantly cold isn’t something most people aspire to be when they grow up after all. Until 2009 I had gone 11 years* without a break in employment which tells me I was employable once upon a time at least. As it stands most people, myself included, think that when I’m well I could be a very productive (employed) member of society. It transpires that people aren’t so keen on you being a productive member of society if you are doing it voluntarily… but that’s another blog post.

Still, I’ve decided that as I’m in a place where my health has stabilised that it’s time to have another go at finding work. As I mentioned before there are some barriers that I face when it comes to finding paid employment and these are going to need over coming, or at least worked around if I’m going to find something permanent. I’ll list the three biggest;

  1. Hours/Schedule – my condition varies over the course of a day, I tend to spend at least 12 waking hours of every 48 in a state where I really cannot work. Really. I don’t tend to know when those hours are going to be either. This makes committing to a schedule extremely difficult and long term means I will probably have to miss a lot of shifts through sickness. It also means that I probably won’t be able to make up missed hours at a later date.
  2. Direct Access – I need to use a wheelchair if I’m going to move without being in severe pain. New Street in Birmingham is one of the busiest high streets in the UK but I can’t access a lot of the businesses on it with a wheelchair as a consumer. Most small-medium sized businesses have poor access, and even when they have wheelchair access for customers they do not have it for staff. If the job means going up or down a flight of stairs to use the loo or clock in then I’m going to really struggle. 
  3. Indirect Access/Environment – I have a mental health condition that can be easily triggered when interacting with strangers or in stressful situations. When it is triggered I do not have control over my actions, I may become ‘unprofessional’ quite quickly if I can’t get away. I wish it wasn’t the case but it is and there is no point trying to pretend otherwise; PTSD and dissociative disorders are like that.
There are other things but those three (I think) are the biggest barriers I need to overcome. I don’t think I’m alone in being in this situation so I thought it would be interesting to have a go at finding work and to write about my experiences.
I have spent over 3 years thinking long and hard about work that I ‘could do’ and coming up with nothing that isn’t doesn’t involve either not getting paid or learning a craft and struggling to make £3 a week on websites like folksy.com. As a result it’s become very clear to me that if I’m going to look for work I’m going to need help. 
The First Step.
Once upon a time when I needed help finding work I’d use a recruitment agency. Sadly a quick trip around Birmingham in my wheelchair taught me that you need to be able to climb steps if you want to use a recruitment agency in this city. Excuse me if I sound overly cynical but I doubt that companies who choose inaccessible offices will be particularly well versed in helping people with access needs find work. Hitching up my wheelchair blanket I resolved to think of another way to do things and I that’s when I remembered Igneus. When I was in the WRAG (work related activity group for ESA) I was referred by the Job Centre to a group who were initially called Work Directions, then later changed it their name to Ingeus. I was invited to about six meetings then told that I clearly wasn’t currently well enough to work and that I should come back if I started feeling better/more stable. I’m feeling more stable and wanting to give hunting for a job another try so I thought they’d be a great first step. Sadly when I arrived it was explained to me that I needed to be re-referred by the Job Centre before they’d help me. I was less than impressed given what they’d said when I last saw them. My local Job Centre was too busy to see me so I went home and hit the internet to see if I could find any help there.
I eventually found a group working in partnership with Birmingham City Council called Forward 4 Work and I decided to get in contact. They’ve sent me an application form (with a very very tiny space to list impairments & medication much to my irritation) which I’m currently filling in and dusting off a copy of my CV to send back with it.
As of yet I don’t have any more to add but I will keep updating my progress on this blog. Wish me luck!

* not that it was enough to get contributions based ESA grumble-grumble-grumble

Language Check: Victim or Survivor?

Edited to clarify post content.

When it comes to talking about people who have lived through traumatic events people often get hung up on ‘what they should call them’. In most spaces I visit online or in the world at large there are two words that keep being used to label those who have experienced trauma; victim or survivor.  There seems to be a continuous debate on which word is the most appropriate.

Should they be called a victim? Or does using the term victim make them sound powerless and  create a unnecessary negative label? How about survivor then? It sounds strong and empowering! Yet it can serve to minimise the pain and trauma by making it sound like it’s a thing of the past, something the person is clearly ‘too strong’ to still have enduring problems dealing with the event(s).

It leaves us in a pickle. If these two commonly used words aren’t quite right, which label is?

Long answer: Stereotyping people is not cool. When looking at issues of gender there are countless papers written on the harm caused by stereotyping people as either girls (feminine) or boys (masculine). A quick example is that boys get harmed by the societal expectation that they should never show emotion and girls get harmed by the societal expectation that they are automatically weak. In issues of disability we can see the harm the ‘supercrip‘ stereotype causes as it creates an environment where disabled people feel like if they can’t become a paralympian/get a job/’overcome’ their impairment or disability then they are failures. The same goes for people who have lived through traumatic events. Many don’t feel particularly strong for having simply survived, some feel guilty or angry or miserable or numb or a ever-changing mixture of all of the above. Depending on where an individual is they may or may not find it helpful to think of them selves as having been/being a victim. The point is that is their choice and it will rarely be the same choice as another person would make.

At the end of the day labels are powerful tools and are best used sparingly and respectfully. By trying to lump all people who have lived through trauma into one label you will hurt or distance yourself from those who don’t like being labelled that way. It is far better practise to let people tell you what they want to be called. If you have to use a general term to talk about a group of people (as I have had to in this piece) then using non-emotive language to do so is always best. Instead of saying ‘trauma survivor , ‘trauma victim’, ‘trauma sufferer’, ‘person afflicted by trauma’ or similar I simply talk of people that have lived through or experienced trauma. I try not to make value judgements because I realise they can do more harm than good.

Short answer: None of the above. Don’t label people! People have the right to self determine. If you have to label a group avoid using emotive language and stick to facts.

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