Friday, August 03, 2012

Listening and Learning? Is Chris Grayling capable of that?

It's been a tough old week for the welfare industry and DWP, in particular Chris Grayling who seems a wee bit cross. Cross that he's not getting his own way with naughty documentary makers who refuse to film what he tells them to, despite also being given a significant proportion of the same documentary to put across his own arguments. Naughty BBC not doing what a minister says. To be fair that must have come as quite the shock to the current incumbents at the DWP who've become far too relaxed about briefing the press with misleading statistics, being rapped on the knuckles for it, then doing it again and again and again.

The key moment in Spartacus report was when the DWP took to twitter to try and argue their case. This week has been equally explosive and equally telling as late last night Chris Grayling penned a Comment is Free piece, insisting despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary that Work Capability Assessments can improve lives.

Unlike the DWP I'm not a fan of misinformation so it's time to put some facts straight. The DWP have been naughty enough to rack up a whole series of spankings from Nanny, but they did NOT decide to time yesterday's announcement that Atos had won the lion's share of the new PIP contracts in order to divert from information about the Evidence Based Review of the Work Capability Assessment that was announced by charities and campaigners yesterday morning. The timing of the EBR announcement was decided by myself and Sue Marsh in consultation with the charitable sector. I initially received the information about EBR several weeks ago, but neither Sue or I were comfortable breaking the news until we'd checked as many facts as we could. That took a while...bizarrely for a pair of sick and disabled people who rarely get out of our pyjamas we work at a speed the DWP and charitable sector find challenging to keep up with. Fact checking and getting people's agreement took days, so eventually we settled upon this monday to make the announcement. But, then realising both Panorama and Dispatches were scheduled for that day, we felt the news would be better later in the week. Also originally the PIP contractors were due to be announced earlier this week, that changed, presumably because G4S had been one of the preferred bidders and were so busy failing to 'secure our world' that the DWP had a bit of a wibble and wanted more time. They changed dates, we changed dates and the eventual announcements coincided. So, if we're sticking to conspiracy or cock up themes it was a cock up. Given that between us Sue and I take enough medication to sedate a shiny pink elephant, and often don't know what day it is...we make lots of these kinds of mistakes.

Having cleared that up, lets look at the other biggest rumour - financial targets. Financial targets remain just a rumour; though there may well be bonus clauses in the commercially confidential sections of the contract between DWP and Atos no-one knows if this is the case because no-one is allowed to see those sections of the contract. So, there is absolutely no proof that financial targets exist. There's also no proof that there's anything called targets in the contract, because Atos use a system of statistical norms, based on averages, based on forecasts. Regardless of intention using such a system will create targets and a target based culture, particularly for frontline workers fearing a punitive audit process every time they make a decision about whether someone can be defined as fit for work, fit for some form of future work or in need of unconditional support using the deliberately tight parameters set by the DWP. These are NOT financial targets, they are norms based on averages based on forecasts that have never been called targets but do exactly the same thing in practice.
Atos are an eagerly litigious company; I've written two articles within the last week about these norms that create targets, one on this blog and one for the Independent. Atos follow all the work campaigners do, so we can be confident making the assumption that their legal teams have scrutinised my work in detail, and of course the article for the Independent had to be cleared through their legal team. What does this mean? It means that if there was anything factually incorrect in my theory about targets that are really called norms it would have been picked up by two sets of lawyers and either I would have received a stroppy letter threatening legal action if I didn't correct the record....or has been the case, I would have heard nothing. Which means those two sets of legal teams couldn't find anything that was incorrect so we can safely presume that although there don't appear to be any financial targets there is a target system in operation which does not take account of any of the different disabilities or health conditions of those it assesses.

Where does that leave us? Well, it means that the Minister isn't technically lying when he swears there are no financial targets. But it also means that either he's as stupid as Atos and couldn't work out how statistics work* or he knows full well that these statistical norms lead to an effective target culture but isn't technically lying about it, just being even more flexible with how he presents the facts than my bendy joints are. I very much doubt Nanny would be happy with either, thus earning Grayling another spanking.

But, as is often the case with governments, the real issues are in what they are not saying. Chris Grayling uses his Guardian piece to talk about a woman he met with depression who despite being 'almost hysterical' was grateful for his work programme tough love, a common problem with politicians of all parties who are forever bumping into just one person whose life circumstances can be used to support the argument being made. This latest case doesn't feature a black Royal Navy sailor cited by David Cameron who would have had to have been about 12 when he joined up if Cameron's facts were correct, thus proving that his parents could have saved £30 grand a year on his private education as he can't add up any better than I can. Nor was it Ed Miliband's man on the doorstep who had a bad back but who Ed confidently declared as being able to work if he tried harder, showing that everyone's an amatuer disability analyst when they feel like it and about as good at making accurate judgements as Atos are. These three examples are all about reinforcing negative stereotypes with anecdotal stories people can easily relate to.

Are there people claiming sickness and disability benefits who could work with the right support? Of course there are, I am one of them, despite having significant disability and health problems. Would going on a work programme help me? Of course it wouldn't. As a writer I can probably manage to put together my own CV, search the internet for jobs and put in applications without going to a work provider to sit in their office doing exactly that. Of course, that presumes that anyone would let me in their office as part of the reason I lost my part time public sector admin job almost a decade ago was that I was a considered a health and safety risk. That's somewhat discriminatory, but to be fair to my employers...they had a point. Someone regularly dislocating and collapsing in work tends to be a bit stressful for all concerned, and we'll gloss over the time I had to be carried out of the hospital I worked in by paramedics to another hospital to be treated after having spent an indeterminable amount of time unconscious on the floor alone in an isolated office. But I'm sure now I've added in lots of morphine and some complex and at times life threatening breathing issues that the work programme providers and any employer will welcome me in with open arms as will their insurance providers.

What would help me and many other thousands of highly skilled sick and disabled people is for politicians to look at the situation more constructively. Work programmes are based on the assumption people need to be forced into work, and set to the lowest common denominator. Forcing highly skilled and often seriously disabled or ill people through this process is not just degrading and dehumanising it's also utterly pointless. There is currently no set up for people like me to be able to apply to have that work programme funding transferred to an employer to reduce some of their financial and commercial risks in employing me. I can't access funding to provide better equipment to enable me to work from home, or ask a work provider for a list of employers who'd like to hire a more diverse workforce and are willing to be flexible about how that operates in practice in order to benefit from the vast pool of untapped skill out there.

What would also help is a bit of common sense (yes, I know that is banned in Westminster) and acceptance that the current system is not working. It is demonising and devastating those the public perceive as deserving of support and proving so traumatic to go through that it is likely to move people further from the workplace not closer. There's also the fairly major not enough jobs to go around the not yet,  disabled healthy workforce, but like all good politicians I'm going to gloss over that trivial obstacle.

Over the past two years sick and disabled people have tried desperately to expose the reality of our daily lives to an incredulous public. We've reported wheelchair users, including two gold medal winning paralympians being forced to crawl off trains, young disabled people unable to access workplaces or leisure spaces, not because they were unskilled or unqualified but because they couldn't access the social care and accessible housing they needed to be able to work. I've personally experienced a 4* central London hotel who's idea of access was to put wheelchair users on a pallet lift in the kitchen, been hit on the head by faulty equipment on a train, shut in a tradesman's cupboard and left there when asking for assistance at a major London station...oh and accidentally tipped out of my wheelchair in a spectacular enough fashion to stop central London traffic. And they are just the incidents I can immediately recall before the morning painkillers kick in. And I don't exactly get out alot. Tell me, would you feel confident about accessing the world on a daily basis if incidents like that were common place? No fibs now...Nanny is watching...

The answer is, no you wouldn't. But like me, you might still dream of and hope to work. You might as I do dream that employers would be encouraged to employ disabled people to work from home, using technology to empower our skills and be able to ascertain that work is actually being done. You might carry on hoping that you'll be able to fundraise and save for the vital mobility equipment the NHS can't afford to provide, you might dream of a social care package that actually supported your needs, or long term physiotherapy, counselling or whatever it is that you currently can't access that you know having would make the idea of working seem much more achieveable.

But you'd have to carry on dreaming, because all those things were scarce before the Coalition came to power, and are fast becoming almost mythical. You might dream about politicians who tackle these challenges and barriers head on, who ask sick and disabled people to advise them on how this might be possible. You might hope that politicians would understand forcing people down a pathway to full time work is foolish and preventative when instead they could value contribution and recognise that part time paid or self directed voluntary work is a much more sensible aim.

But you'll just have to carry on dreaming, while the Minister carries on repeating himself. Work is good. Benefits claimants are lazy. Jobs are plentiful. And perhaps, if you had the chance, if you dared to ask these politicians how you are supposed to fit within this rigid failing system you'd see and hear their damning response.

A confused look and the assurance that they really, really don't mean people like you.

But they really do mean people just like me, and although they don't mean it, its people just like me who are absorbing the negative and prejudicial attitudes emerging from politicians through the media. I doubt they mean it to frighten us or to increase the barriers to wider society or the workplace, but that's what happens when you base policy on "I don't mean people like you".

So to the Minister, I am exactly one of those people and like many campaigners I'm full of positive ideas to improve disabled people's career prospects. If that is actually the aim of the government, to Chris Grayling and Iain Duncan Smith I say, pick up the phone, have the grace to do as Ed Miliband did when challenged over the issue, close your mouths and open your ears. You might be awfully surprised and pleased by what you hear...

*which lets face it, given that I start crying if numbers over 100 are introduced means you have to be pretty seriously stupid to not understand this.


Bob Castle said...

Chris Grayling cant listen or learn he is sadly locked into his way of thinking. If his ideas of tough love are the things shown in both Panorama and Dispatches then he is clearly unfit for his job. I fear going forward what horror's we have to look forward to with the changes to DLA.

Anonymous said...

Just had a read of the Comment is Free piece that Chris Grayling wrote in the Guardian. He talks about a woman he met not long ago with depression who had been off work for a year and through the work programme had been given help and now works in a Charity shop.

Funny that. It seems he may have only ever spoken to one woman about this issue, because every time he's talked about this he uses the exact same example!! Has he not bothered to actually talk to anyone else?

Read the Guardian article and then read the Hansard transcript below - where he mentions the same woman who he apparently met in January... 7 months and he hasn't managed to find another example? Could do better Mr Grayling!

Hansard Column 291WH -

Oh, and here - Question 17 -

Oh, and look - seems he used the same woman on a radio interview he did too -

Seems that Grayling isn't totally Failing - he seems to be a Master of, as Sonia Poulton puts it, The Single Person Anecdote!!!

hossylass said...

There is no punishment great enough for those who master the Single Person Anecdote.

I am hoping there is a special place in Hell reserved for them.

Paul Smith (Atos Victims Group) said...

May I please ask when did Ed Miliband open his ears to this issue?

The Labour Party are as guilty as all the other parties?

Liam Byrne is a weasle who is about as trustworthy as the third reich and Ed Miliband and his team are failing to support to disabled people all over the uk, one only has to see letters from labour politicians to realise they basically agree with the Atos WCA, there are a few exceptions in the labour party but not many...

Amy_Blue82 said...

You sum up very well why if Grayling and IDS were really interested in getting people back into work they would be spending more time looking at the provision of care and equipment; at discrimination in the work place and all the other things that would actually help more disabled people into work. I would imagine that would generate a lot more money through income tax and NI then would ever be spent on making those provisions and supporting those for whom work is never going to be a realistic possibility.

I often wonder if IDS et al realise what stress does to people, especially those that are already sick and/or disabled. Surely it can only be increasing pressure on the NHS which is already stretched?

DavidG said...

Good piece. But Grayling? Listen to us mere peons? That's like expecting Lord Freud to have a clue or Maria Miller to say something positive about disability!

Anonymous said...

You said (correctly I'm sure),

"I very much doubt Nanny would be happy with either, thus earning Grayling another spanking."

So now you know why they want to abolish the Nanny State!

Chihuahua Crafts said...

Every comment on this piece seems to come from very intelligent and politically knowledgeable people. I hate to put myself forward as less knowledgeable, but I'm afraid I am.

I am a 48 year old woman in turmoil. I received my letter from the DWP today telling me I am no longer disabled (although, according to them I have been for the last 9 years). I am lost and suicidal! My Husband works extremely hard to keep the mortgage paid on a bungalow we bought when I could no longer climb the stairs (after I was told by the DWP that my disability would get worse over the years and therefore I would be on benefits for the rest of my life). I now have 10 days to find a job (OMG how I wish I could laugh right now!!!). We shall also lose our mobility car (which enables my Husband to get to work and allows me my only means to getting out of the house when I am going mad with the four walls around me). Apparently being in pain 24 hours a day no longer makes me disabled.

Okay, I know, a bit of a rant, but how the hell do I now...we have to sell our bungalow and lose our car...are there any human rights in that?? I really need some support from somewhere as I fear I will have a breakdown.

Just for anyone wondering, I suffer from regular slipped discs, sciatica, depression, mild epilepsy, as yet undiagnosed arthritis and 24 hour a day pain....I know, I know, all you employers out there are just dying to give me a job.

I need help, please, someone.

Anonymous said...

I am trying to leave a post. Third attempt. What is happening?????

Anonymous said...

Me too! Thought it was just me!

BenefitScroungingScum said...

not well & taking rest of month off. comments moderated to stop spam, will be delays sorry

Anonymous said...

So sorry :-( Didn't mean to rush you. Just wanted to help someone who had posted a comment. Contact Good Advice Matters about your benefits problem. They have given me some good practical help. Good luck.
By the way, Kaliya: this was your best write-up so far. I wish those in Government would act on what you suggest.

Anonymous said...

I felt Grayling's argument was flawed. He claims the woman said she wasn't fit for work and is now applying for part time jobs and volunteering once a week. To my mind this proves she is NOT fit to work as you cannot make a living applying for part time jobs and volunteering one day a week. Plus what's to say this woman's health won't worsen?

Simon Stevens said...

As you make yourself out as a self appointed god for sick people, by admited you can work, I can assume you are deliberately refusing to work as you demand public medical model pity and make every excuse not to work, mainly because it is your human right to be spoon fed by the government. stop stealing the voice of real disabled people and its pity seekers like you who are killing real disabled people with your middle class liberal prejudices where your movement of fakes and wantabees think people like me, who you call profoundly disabled, better off dead so you can look helpless as well as the only people allowed to talk about disability without being arrested for hate crime since you have made the truth about disability a crime. If you can work as miss arrogant, get a job or shut up and stop moaning how awful my life is to make you look disabled. You have made a career from being a victim as you destroy the social model as you want cold hard cash over any inclusion as you want rights with no responsibiliies.

Pissymiss said...

Simon, can you please tell me who exactly has upset you - I cant make out your message in amongst the incoherent rantings.

Bob Castle said...

Simon i am shocked by your comment. while i do not know what condition you have or what work you do for disabled people i have found the work bendygirl does to be helpful and supportive.

i question what condition a person would need for you to class them as real disabled.

if someone doesn't or didn't take a stand over the treatment of disabled people then we would all be in a worse place.

Spannered said...

Simon, you do Bendygirl and yourself a disservice with your unfounded accusations - having read this blog for years it is clear BG has strived for nothing but the best for all people with disabilities. At no point has BG sought glory for herself, rather she has demonstrably made her own health worse by fighting for the rights of all people with disabilities. You should withdraw your accusations as they are incoherent, unfair and simply untrue.

Anonymous said...

I too would like to know the level s of disability. What do have to have in order to be really disabled? Now does this mean physically? Mentally ? Both. Please let me know Simon so i can manage"label" myself correctly!

Anonymous said...

My personal opinion? In case you're wondering, I don't think you're a Troll. It's a valid way of looking at things.

Actually, Simon we're all angry. That's why we're here, from whatever political persuasion, to try and right that we perceive as wrong.

It's called freedom mate, and having a voice is what freedom is all about. You know that, otherwise you wouldn't be confident your post would be displayed.

Seems you're central question is "Why overtly portray yourself as disabled and how it affects you?"

Because if you are able to achieve, it encourages others to try like wise. To let others know their not alone, and there's the faintest chance you can communicate with others, you can.

And it's obvious that whatever the obstacles, the authors of this blog have achieved on behalf of others. Shouldn't that be something to celebrated?

Life in Deep Water said...

Simon, I'm sorry mate, but I can only echo the thoughts of others.

Bendy Girl and others seek, in my humble opinion, only to bring the problems of those with a disability - whether mental, physical or both - to the public arena.

We, as a community of those with a disability, desperately need people like Bendy Girl - and scores of others - to fight in our corner.

Some of us can't make our voices heard - because we don't have energy, the will or - as in my case - the self-confidence to help others.

A coward? Yes, but it's part and parcel of my mental health problems. I can't do it, I simply can't. I do what I can but it will never be enough.

We, the disabled community as a whole, need people like Bendy Girl because they are prepared to go all the way. They are, quite simply, magnificent advocates for us all.

So please, please don't have a go because, as I've said, we truly do need people like Bendy Girl.

Damn! That's more than I've written in a month.

Keep up the good work Bendy Girl and others - we need you!

Robert said...

Miliband knocked on a door, saw a disabled man and he could work, now we have meeting people with depression, we are lucky then depression can be cured by working in a charity shop, the ones I tend to get work in do not pay wages.

I'm now going through my WCA, went to see my GP six weeks waiting list to see him, then contacted my consultant for evidence, stated my file is massive the cost of taking this into letter form would cost upwards of £1500.

Phone call from GP standard letter £75 evidence based letter would cost £400.

So I will go without evidence.

WE all know these changes are not about getting people back to work but reducing benefits down to the lowest level of £68 a week, one benefit across the board.