The minister for disabled people has again misled MPs, after she claimed that the UK had “volunteered” to take part in a public UN examination which concluded that her government’s disability policies had caused a “human catastrophe”. Penny Mordaunt was responding to Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people, Marsha de Cordova, who told the Commons this week that the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities had “condemned” the government’s progress on disability employment. De Cordova had asked Mordaunt if the government would respond to those concerns. The committee’s “concluding observations” report, in August, examined how the UK had implemented the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD). Among more than 80 recommendations for improvements – a record number for any country being examined by the committee – it was heavily critical of the UK government’s failure to take action to close the disability pay gap and the disability employment
Activists ‘horrified’ by universal credit rules forcing sick claimants into work activity
“Very dangerous” rules are forcing severely-ill people applying for the government’s new universal credit to look for jobs and take part in training, even though their GPs have said they are not fit for work, “horrified” disabled activists have warned.
The rules – which have never been announced or publicised by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – apply to new universal credit claimants who are waiting for an assessment of their “fitness for work”.
And they mean they could have their benefits sanctioned for up to three months if they fail to follow strict instructions from a job coach with no medical training.
They are forced to take part in work-related activity, such as a work-focused interviews and “work preparation”, which could mean training or employment programmes.
They could also face sanctions if they fail to show they have searched for a job for up to 35 hours a week, and have not made themselves available for paid work.
Potential sanctions will continue to hang over their heads until their fitness for work is eventually tested through the notorious work capability assessment (WCA), which could take months.
Dr Stephen Carty, medical adviser to the Scottish grassroots campaign group Black Triangle (BT), who
Labour’s new shadow minister for disabled people has spoken about her new role, and the access problems she faces as a disabled MP during prime minister’s questions. Marie Rimmer, one of parliament’s few disabled MPs, was appointed to the role on 1 February, less than two years after she was elected for the first time as MP for St Helens South and Whiston. Born in St Helens, she is a former trade union shop steward and became a Labour councillor in 1978. She led St Helens Council for a total of nearly 20 years over three spells. She told Disability News Service that she does not under-estimate the importance of her new position as shadow minister, or “the magnitude of the role”. “We have got a government that since 2010 has systematically burdened , taken away from finances, affected their housing, their independence… “They seem to have very little understanding of disabled people, and the fact that they are human beings,” she says. Although she did not speak out frequently in the
Ministers have been accused of ignoring a public consultation and ploughing ahead with plans that will make their “fitness for work” testing regime even more stressful and unfair for sick and disabled people.
A presentation delivered by two senior Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) civil servants earlier this month suggests that ministers have decided – as many disabled activists feared after the publication of last year’s green paper – to introduce new benefit sanctions for sick and disabled people with the highest support needs.
The presentation at a DWP “Operational Stakeholder Engagement Forum” appears to confirm that the government had decided how it would reform the system of out-of-work disability benefits before its “consultation” process had finished on 17 February.
The government had claimed that it wanted to make the work capability assessment (WCA) less of an ordeal for claimants, with work and pensions secretary Damian Green telling last October’s Conservative party conference he wanted to support those disabled people who cannot work, and “sweep away unnecessary stress and bureaucracy which weighs them down”.
But slides from the presentation appear to show that his new regime will be even harsher, and that many employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants with the highest support needs and barriers to work will for the first time face having their benefits sanctioned if they do not co-operate with the regime.
The slides show DWP has already begun introducing a compulsory, face-to-face “health and work conversation” (HWC) with a jobcentre work coach that will apply to nearly all new claimants of ESA, weeks or even months before they go through the WCA process to decide whether they are not fit for work and eligible for the benefit.
Disabled activists have welcomed “timely” new research that concludes that the government’s “fitness for work” process has caused a deterioration in many people’s mental health which they have failed to recover from, and has even led to thoughts of suicide.
The research, Mental Health And Unemployment In Scotland, was carried out by academics at Scotland’s Heriot-Watt and Edinburgh Napier universities*.
Researchers spoke in-depth to 30 people across Scotland with mental health conditions who had experienced the work capability assessment (WCA) system, as well as staff from advice and advocacy organisations.
They concluded that the assessors, employed by the US outsourcing company Maximus, “do not appear to have appropriate expertise in mental health”.
And they added: “The WCA experience for many, caused a deterioration in people’s mental health which individuals did not recover from.
“In the worst cases, the WCA experience led to thoughts of suicide.”
Professor Abigail Marks, one of the report’s authors, said their research showed that WCAs were “fundamentally discriminatory to people with mental health conditions”.
The research emerged as disabled people’s organisations gave evidence this week to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities about the UK government’s failure to implement the UN disability convention.
Nobody should believe for a single moment that a Conservative Government will pay any attention to the advice of the experts – especially when the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is doing precisely what it was meant to do – clearing sick and disabled people off the benefit books with no regard for their future health.
That being said, the analysis of the WCA provided by the British Psychological Society, the British Association of Counselling and Psychotherapy, the British Psychoanalytic Council, the British Association for Behavioural and Cognitive Psychotherapies and the UK Council for Psychotherapy in a joint response to the Government’s consultation, ‘Improving Lives’, is very useful information.
So here it is:
We urge the Government to reform its approach and the assessment process. We also strongly recommend that this be
About 100 activists and their allies have taken part in a protest and vigil to mark the death of a disabled man who died minutes after leaving a jobcentre… six months after a government contractor found him “fit for work”. Lawrence Bond is said to have collapsed on the pavement shortly after leaving Kentish Town jobcentre, following a back-to-work appointment. He was reportedly awaiting the result of an appeal against being found fit for work and therefore ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work disability benefit. Disability News Service (DNS) has confirmed with the London Inner North coroner’s office that there will be an inquest into his death later this year. The inquest could be heard by the same coroner, Mary Hassell, who found in January 2014 that a disabled man, Mr A*, had taken his own life as a direct result of being found fit for work and ineligible for ESA, following a work capability assessment (WCA).
Government ministers failed to show secret reports into the deaths of benefit claimants to the independent expert they commissioned to review their much-criticised “fitness for work” assessment, new evidence suggests. A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) response to a Disability News Service (DNS) freedom of information request shows that seven of its secret “peer reviews” should have been shown to Professor Malcolm Harrington as he was preparing his final report into the work capability assessment (WCA). Peer reviews have to be carried out whenever “suicide is associated with DWP activity”, as well as in some other cases involving deaths of disabled or “vulnerable” claimants. DWP only started collating the peer reviews centrally from February 2012 and Professor Harrington published his final report on the WCA in late November of the same year. DWP admits in its freedom of information response that “there were seven peer reviews, from February 2012 until Professor Harrington’s
A disabled activist has told a parliamentary committee that the Scottish government should “speak out more forcefully” about disabled benefit claimants who have died as a result of the “fitness for work” test. John McArdle, co-founder of the Scottish grassroots campaign Black Triangle, was giving evidence to the Scottish parliament’s social security committee as it weighed up its priorities for the next session. McArdle appealed to the committee to the look at the issue of social security reform “through the lens of human rights”. He highlighted the harm caused by both the work capability assessment (WCA) – which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA) – and the eligibility test for the new personal independence payment (PIP). And he told the committee: “The Scottish government must reject the underpinning of both these tests, and it must speak out more forcefully about the number of people who have died and committed suicide after a WCA.” He pointed to the inquiry