Wednesday, July 04, 2012

Knowledge Is Power - So What Do The DWP Have To Hide?

The world of welfare is a murky one. Balanced, detailed and accurate information can be particularly difficult to find, which is why it was such a pleasure to see a video produced by the Ministry of Justice about appealing against a Work Capability Assessment decision. The information provided was clear, practical and empathetic, it's one of the best pieces of information about appeals that I've ever seen.

So you'd think given repeat assurances from Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith that the genuinely vulnerable have nothing to fear from this process and their confidence, despite the recent BMA vote to call for the immediate end of the WCA, would mean that Ministers and the DWP would welcome any clear, sensible information on these processes.

Not so. The infomercial was removed after less than a week, eventually reappearing after a three month gap, only to disappear again as it became the most popular video the Ministry of Justice have ever made. In an email, the Minister for Work and Pensions complained that the video explained claimants are twice as likely to win their appeal if they appear in person, and that the DWP rarely send a representative to the appeal.

Another difficult to penetrate area is that of welfare to work programmes and the work providers, an industry widely understood to have been beset by fraud many years before the current deluge of allegations began. The company most widely associated with these issues is A4E, run by Emma Harrison who took £8.6 million in dividends from her private funded by the public company. That might be fair enough if A4E had a stunning success rate in helping people into full time, sustainable, fairly paying jobs. But they don't. And to be fair to A4E...neither does anyone else involved in the industry. It really is scraping the barrel when the best you can find to say about a company is that they're just as bad as all the other companies in their sector.

Over the past few weeks I've noticed something on twitter, initially because it seemed like a clever example of a private company turning to social media to improve their brand image, but then increasingly, and a bit grudgingly it turned into respect for the way this individual was behaving. Jonty Olliff Cooper is one of the directors at A4E and he has been using his personal twitter account to answer people's questions, a fair proportion of which are hostile. At first I just noticed that Jonty's responses were always calm, and polite, but as time went on I realised he was also genuinely attempting to engage, to pass on information and vitally to explore the information sent to him.

It's all very odd. No-one explains about welfare in detail, not the DWP, and certainly not the private contractors associated with it. So, it's fascinating, that all of a sudden whilst the DWP are still attempting to conceal accurate information published by the Ministry of Justice, the private providers are starting to try and shine some light into the murk. It would make a cynical person wonder just what the DWP might have to hide?

And then it all got a bit curiouser and curiouser as Alice would say. I noticed this new 'claimants' section on the website of Atos Healthcare. As I read through each section I found myself thinking 'actually this is quite good information'...which is a very disturbing feeling for a welfare warrior to have about the feared and loathed Atos Healthcare. It explains what to expect before, during and after your assessment, and crucially, who is responsible for what. It points out that if you are unable to attend for a WCA assessment the DWP only permit this to be rearranged once, and if you ask for a second then the DWP issue a form. Odd really, you'd think the DWP being a government department covering sick, disabled people and carers as part of their remit would understand that sick, disabled people and those who care for them can have frequent medical emergencies, so why would they not build into the system an ability to cope with that scenario?

It's was interesting to see that although Chris Grayling has repeatedly insisted everyone will have a face to face assessment as part of the WCA process, that this is clearly untrue, Atos describe this as 'an early check to indicate the person does not need to be invited for face to face assessment. Wherever this confirmation comes from it will hopefully be of some reassurance to claimants, because it's been the most vulnerable, particularly those with mental health conditions who have been most terrified of the prospect of the repeated and regular face to face assessments Ministers have insisted will be the case.

For me though, the most fascinating section was 'In Partnership with the DWP'. This clearly lays out the responsibilities of Atos Healthcare, The DWP and HM Government, explaining that Atos are responsible for recruitment, training, collecting evidence, booking and carrying out assessments etc, all in accordance with the criteria laid out by DWP. DWP are responsible for (emphasis mine);


  • Designing and developing the format and criteria for assessments
  • Reviewing all evidence presented by an individual, including but not limited to the report from Atos Healthcare, and making a decision on an individual’s entitlement to benefit
  • Setting delivery targets and metrics for Atos Healthcare quality and service
  • Monitoring service delivery against contractual requirements
  • Authorising medical protocols used in clinical applications



So it seems that finally some light is being shone into the dark details of welfare, from the most surprising of sources, the private contractors themselves. I'd highly recommend people read through all the information on the Atos site, partly because it's a clear explanation of how the process works and what to expect, but also because it clarifies departmental responsibilities. It really should make anyone genuinely interested in who is responsible for the Work Capability Assessment process ask why the DWP are not only the last to come forward with open information, but why, when the other parts of the sector are starting to try to do just that, the DWP are still trying to actively conceal such information?


16 comments:

Spoonydoc said...

I would be slightly cautious here regarding the "no assessment" having been through this process myself.

Although I was put in the support group the first time round without assessment, I was called back just 6 months later. This time I had to have a medical (home visit). The doctor was surprised I needed one and phoned up to find out why, saying "frankly, this is embarrassing"!

I was put back in the support group and he recommended I not be called back for assessment for the longest possible time, which he said would be 2 to 3 years.

However he explained to me that if you are not given a medical, you are put under the same category as those with less than 6 months to live and will therefore be reassessed every 6 months. Furthermore you will be required to have a medical at the next application.

In other words, according to this doctor, although you *can* get ESA without medical assessment, it will only be for 6 months and then you will almost certainly get medically assessed anyway.

To my mind it seemed a complete waste of time for anyone with a serious chronic illness, simply delaying the inevitable.

I would be interested to know which version is correct and whether it is in fact possible to get a long term award without medical.

BenefitScroungingScum said...

There are some good explanations about who does what bit elsewhere in the FAQ's which address some of that.
However, your GP's wrong. Not everyone who doesn't get a medical goes through under the special rules, and the award length is set by DWP.
There's also information relevant to this about the automatic issuing of ESA forms, when and where they come from...

Anonymous said...

I think we have all heard the defence 'I was acting under orders' before.
They are just trying to win the pr war against things like this https://www.facebook.com/video/video.php?v=137616559654249 one on facebook and the horror stories on http://www.afteratos.com/
Interesting about the 6 months from no face to face bit assmnt. I was placed into the support group in April with no medical exam. I hope this Atos doctor spoonydoc saw was wrong.
Tls.

sad times said...

Clearly nobody is sure about this mess us sickies and professionals. I get conflicting stories all the time from my sick and disabled friends....and all different. Even get conflicting stories from professionals I think it's a case of check and double check your own case! Sadly wrong for those that can not?

sad times said...

I think the Gov trying to save money but actually they have nt and want to hide the mess.....they really don t want disclosure of distress caused to people!

Holmey said...

"Monitoring service delivery against contractual requirements"

This IS NOT being done, with the DWP claiming that it is a contractual right, not a contractual obligation, (according to an e-mail from a senior member of the DWP). Who in their right mind does not monitor the compliance of a contract worth over £100 million a year?

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

In terms of openness and information, I've found the DWP has gotten very uncooperative with even vaguely sensitive FoI requests - giving refusals that don't actually add up if you read the ICO's advice.

For instance, they've twice refused to release consultation submissions because they plan to publish them. However, this is only valid if the intention to publish was clear before the request was made, if there is some clarity about when it will be published (though it needn't be a specified date), and if it is reasonable in all the circumstances to withhold pending publication. Even if all those things are true, it's subject to the public interest test, and the ICO is very clear that class-based exemptions (such as the intention to publish) carry no inherent public interest in maintaining the exemption - that has to be established on the specifics of the case.

So the DWP really don't like people knowing what they're doing, why, or who's saying what to whom.

sad times said...

They don't like us! Why? Yep they are hiding!

sad times said...

Every thing to hide? Because of disgrace!

Bill Kruse said...

How many times has Grayling justified these new tests by claiming that with the old system people didn't even have to have face-to-face testing, they just had to fill in forms, he said. Well, the old system's no different from the new system then, it turns out. Is there anything at all Grayling says which can be believed?

Anonymous said...

how do we download this video - we need to - then we could maybe email it to each other and hold it - so we can continually upload it to help others. it is ridiculous to continually medical someone who has NO CURE for their disability it is just wasting more and more money

Anonymous said...

grr i cant see the words - tries again. We NEED to be able to download this video from DWP so we can keep it for future reference and passs it on to other people.

also this govt is wasting money sending pepole who will never get better to many many medicals just a waste of money and makes people sicker

Judith said...

If it is the video about appealing against a Work Capability Assessment decision you are referring to, it is currently available on YouTube again here:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RXQU-wrOHjE&feature=em-share_video_user

I have been able to copy a code on the YouTube site to embed it in my blog at:

http://judithtaylor.blogspot.co.uk/2012/07/alone-we-whisper-together-we-shout.html

You are welcome to pass on the link to my blog in case it disappears from YouTube again.

Judith said...

One can't escape the conclusion that the government has built in as many difficulties to getting awards as possible, in order to slow down or even nullify the process of appealing, and is desperately trying to cover up the fact that its bluff is being called.

It is good that there are commentators like yourself and Sue Marsh and others to help the rest of us understand what is happening.

DavidG said...

"DWP are responsible for (emphasis mine);

Designing and developing the format and criteria for assessments"

We need to be careful about taking things at face value. Having responsibility for is not the same as having sole input into. We know from existing publications that both UNUM, particularly, and ATOS had a significant input into the design of the WCA process.

"Reviewing all evidence presented by an individual, including but not limited to the report from Atos Healthcare, and making a decision on an individual’s entitlement to benefit"

It's important to remember that the first Harrington report found that this was simply not happening because DWP decision makers did not feel able to overrule an ATOS decision because 'they're doctors'. As that 'doctor as demigod' concept is deeply embedded into British culture I'm not convinced they will really have fixed it, no matter the claims of extra training and the like.

jaimelicious said...

What's all the recent Atos-love about? Descriptors aside, they deliberately lie and falsify many, many medical reports - including mine, which doesn't even sound like it's about me - and thus deny people their entitlements. In my case causing financial disaster and worsening my condition because I can't afford equipment and care I need!

They are NOT innocent. Their hands are at least as bloody as DWPs', and I feel it's a worse betrayal - a Doctor, a person I am supposed to be able to trust with my health, flat-out lied about me for money.