Welfare reform and the US insurance giant Unum.


The extraordinary announcement that GPs may no longer be able to sign their patients off work for periods longer than 4 weeks, offers an insight as to corporate involvement which underpins the policy decisions of neoliberal governments. There are doubtless many shades of understanding and levels of cynicism amongst both the supporters and the protagonists of these policies, but there are certainly those who know exactly how to deliberately spin the narrative to achieve the desired financial outcome for the ‘markets’. This post attempts to draw out some of the strands.

Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, has announced a new way in which this government can potentially deter the disabled and long-term sick from claiming benefits.  No longer would the GP be able to sign patients off work for longer than 4 weeks.  After that period, the professional expertise of the medic would be subject to an independent assessment, presumably by the highly questionable tick list/points system used by a private contractor such as ATOS.  Furthermore, according to a Guardian report  People who are signed off sick would also be put on to jobseeker’s allowance, rather than employment support allowance, for a period of three months. They would receive less money and have to prove they were looking for work.

So yet another tranche of ill and disabled people would have to comply with an inappropriately structured assessment with all the attendant worrying, potential exacerbation of symptoms and travel expenses; not to mention additional costs to the tax-payer, that such a superfluous assessment entails.

Labour MP Dennis Skinner said: “Last year, the government said GPs should be accountants in charge of the money that is spent in the NHS. This year they want assessors to be GPs. It’s crazy. No wonder the country is going to the dogs.”

So why are we being told that, on the one hand, the GPs are the right people to determine the spending of billions of tax payer’s money on health commissioning, notwithstanding their lack of expertise, but that they cannot be trusted to use their professional judgement in assessing a patient’s health and/ or the need for a referral to occupational health?

One answer is to ‘follow the money’.  The medical profession diagnose some patients with intractable long-term illnesses like Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Lyme Disease, Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME), and so on…  all of which could prove ruinously expensive for private health providers like the US employment protection insurer Unum.

‘Unum’s 1995 ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Management Plan’ sounded the alarm: ‘Unum stands to lose millions if we do not move quickly to address this increasing problem’


Unum (www.unum.com) is one of the leading providers of employee benefits products and services and the largest provider of group and individual disability income protection insurance in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Unum’s close involvement with Welfare Reform, politicians, psychiatrists, academics and think tanks is well documented, and arguably can be likened to the tentacles of the Goldman Sachs squid extending across European governments. https://think-left.org/2011/11/07/the-market-has-a-name-it-is-goldman-sachs/

Unum’s UK activity since the 1990s is referred to in:



But in addition, Private Eye has also raised questions about Unum’s involvement with the DWP (Department of Work and Pensions).

The Eye first questioned Unum about the possibility
of a serious conflict of interest back in 1995… Tricky questions are again being asked about the profits American insurance
giant Unum stands to make from its massive media push on income protection
cover, promoted as the answer to the latest tough welfare
reforms …..

Meanwhile disability activists who have fallen foul, and been forced to appeal
cuts in DWP benefits based on flawed Atos assessments, and campaigning groups
like Black Triangle, think the whole thing stinks and are urging MPs to


It is clear that there is a ‘happy match’, a common objective, between the neoliberal political view of benefits, and the interests of private health insurers.  The neoliberal politician wants to shrink the State and reduce public expenditure via privatisation, and the private health insurer wants to maximize profitability by not having to pay out for any claims.  Both, therefore, want to remove people from benefit entitlement and, to that end, working collaboratively within the DWP would clearly make ‘sense’.  Unfortunately, neither the agenda of the politician, nor the health insurer, address or include the actual reality of diverse problems of ill health and the myriad of difficulties faced by sufferers … and as has been described there are several million sufferers of intractable long-term illnesses and permanent disabilities. In effect, the DWP agenda is motivated towards denying ‘illness’ and associated legitimate need, wherever possible.

In order to bridge this gap between the policy makers and reality, a narrative must be constructed which is both compelling and achieves the common objective without it being obvious that the real agenda is privatization and withdrawal of public expenditure.  The narrative chosen usually attributes some innate characteristic to a particular group.  For example:

‘GPs are our most trusted members of society and know what is best for their patients…  therefore they should do healthcare commissioning for the NHS’

‘GPs are too emotionally involved and do not know what is best for their patients … therefore, we need an ‘objective’ assessment.’

However, the underlying assumptions about illness upon which the DWP predicate their actions seem to have slipped out in the following quote:

Justifying the new proposals, UK’s national director for health and work, and the former head of the British chambers of commerce David Frost, said when people were off sick for longer than four weeks they started “to lose the will to work” 

Anything more than cursory consideration, indicates that this is a ludicrous and totally unsubstantiated statement.  All people become work averse after 4 weeks of being so ill that the GP considers them unfit to go to work? Where is the evidence for such an assertion? It is not even clear how it would be possible to validate such a claim scientifically.

However, this statement is consistent with the biopsychosocial model of illness which needs to be explored more fully in another article.  Suffice it to say that this Orwellian model redefines ‘illness’ and was created by ‘psychiatrists and academics … happy to draw on their moral authoritarianism and neo-liberal policy prescriptions (and unmentioned links with Unum) to produce a monograph, The Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits (TSO, 2005, Waddell and Aylward) which was published by the DWP, and provides the intellectual framework for the 2006 Welfare Reform Bill (1).

The proposition, “to lose the will to work” amply indicates one of the moral panics of authoritarianism that human beings only behave ‘properly’ if offered ‘the stick or the carrot’… ie. people will pretend to be ill to get out of work if given the opportunity.

This view of humanity or ‘model of man’ underpins both neoliberal policy decisions and the justification for the so-called ‘free-market’.  The nature of ‘Man’ is perceived as innately self-interested, greedy, and wanting to ‘pull a fast one’, unless they are restrained by laws or offered incentives.  That it is considered to be innate, and therefore immutable, justifies both taking advantage of others to get the best deal, and the imperative to punitively control the other to prevent having that advantage taken away.  Hence, we have a one-sided neoliberalism.

‘..neoliberalism has not so much been about increasing wealth, but about redistributing it.


Unsurprisingly, given the lack of fit with reality:

‘The work capability assessment programme, which assesses benefit claimants to see whether they are fit for work is “teetering on the brink of collapse” as the system becomes clogged up with appeals.’



Appeals have quadrupled, and Citizen’s Advice Bureau’s are inundated with people seeking advice on how to appeal.

It is clear that the changes and cuts made to the benefits system are based on the interface of ideological, psychological, political and financial factors, and are simply not tenable.  The appalling impact of these ‘welfare reforms’, ungrounded in reality, are only now beginning to come to light with tragic reports of suicides http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.com/2011/11/latest-disability-news-roundup.html but little reported in the mainstream media are the increased levels of hardship, worry and deprivation for the disabled and long-term sick whom the overwhelming majority of the population would wish to support.

Somewhat horrifyingly, these facts are used to the advantage of Unum UK in their advertising ploys:

chief executive at Unum UK, earlier this year warned: “The
 government’s welfare reform bill will seek to tighten the gateway to benefits 
for those people unable to work due to sickness or injury. Each year up to 1m 
people in the UK become disabled and the reforms mean that working people will 
be able to rely less on state benefits to maintain the standard of living they
were used to prior to their illness.”


So, Unum warns people to get insured against the cuts in benefits … of which they, Unum, were major architects …. either directly as advisory consultants, or through their funding of psychiatrists who created the intellectual framework, the funding of think tanks and academics who in turn recommend policies to the DWP, and  by offering ‘jobs for the boys’.  For example, by funding the 1.6m  UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, and appointing Mansel Aylward (the former DWP Chief Medical Officer and co-author of the DWP  biopsychosocial monograph) Director of the unit..

It is hard to believe that there are not some very hard-headed individuals in Unum who are not fully aware of the heist that they have perpetrated.

It should be noted that there are many other private health providers who have doubtless played a similar role in creating Lansley’s new model for the NHS…

However, it cannot be avoided that many of these policies stem from New Labour’s period in office.  It is particularly noteworthy that a common link is provided by Lord Freud who switched from New Labour to the Conservatives in 2009, having been appointed by Tony Blair to provide an independent review of the British welfare to work programme in 2006, and then rehired as an adviser to the government when James Purnell was appointed Secretary of State for Work and Pensions in 2008.  A former journalist for the FT, Freud became the vice-chairman of investing banking at UBS AG until his retirement in 2003.  His expertise in disability or long-term illness is rather notably absent but his background in asset management and financial structures is clearly impressive.

UBS AG (SIXUBSN, NYSEUBS) is a Swiss global financial services company headquartered in Basel and Zürich, Switzerland, which provides investment banking, asset management, and wealth management services for private, corporate, and institutional clients worldwide, as well as retail clients in Switzerland.  (Wikipedia)

In order to become Real Labour, Ed Miliband and his team must draw a clear line away from New Labour’s policies, and devise a programme of Welfare Reform which is fit for purpose, and which really meets the needs of some of the most vulnerable people in society.  The present arrangements should be rejected because they are dangerous, punitive and would be completely unacceptable to most of the population if their true impact was exposed.  Philip Gould, one of the architects of New Labour, advised Tony Blair in 1997 to ‘Reassure, reassure, reassure’.  Ed Miliband explicitly needs to ‘Reassure, reassure, reassure’ the population of the UK, that they will be appropriately protected and helped if they or their family are, or should find themselves, vulnerable and in need due to long-term illness or disability.

(1) https://think-left.org/2011/08/04/welfare-reform-and-mecfs/


50 thoughts on “Welfare reform and the US insurance giant Unum.

    • There is no lack of logic once you understand what there objectives are. They intend to move wealth of all kinds from the grasp of ordinary people and into the hands of those with a pathological desire to acumulate disgusting amounts of money and power. These people are there natural associates and have been raised with the view that it is there entitlement. So no they dont really care if we all starve and you wont see any long tem action to prevent it.


    • I remember my Gran died of bowel cancer, the NHS had just come about, my Gran was in her late 50s, there was no meds to make her well just painkillers and she suffered tremendously. Her Dr then..1948, gave her free painkillers until she died months later, she worked up to the last week that she died, she said working was helping her get through each day, she had an awful time but died content to have still been with her work mates to the end.sad but true story..before the NHS we had to pay for our own problems and there were no money in the coffers as is today.


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  2. Labour must as you say distance themselves from the coalitions attempts to end our welfare system, people are suffering, there have now been 15 suicides that can be directly linked to the governments new welfare plans.

    Some of the most vulnerable are suffering…Good post…


  3. An excellent summation of our current predicament re the privatisation of the NHS and the abolition of welfare. This needs to be circulated widely, particularly among MP’s if only they would read it and act upon it.

    To that end please support Pat’s epetition to force the MP’s to re-engage with a debate in Parliament about saving disability benefits and services.




  4. is it the two card or three card trick ? – apparently in the States people would see vagrants and winos on the streets which would frighten them to death , they’d sign up for Health Insurance and then when they claimed , they’d be knocked back by the outlawed UNUM Provident , the ” all in the mind ” pseudo science / psychology / sociology one is a favourite and has allegedly been parroted out more than once by ATOS ” HCP’s ”

    The original Conference subject in 2001 was ” Malingering and Deception ” , I know like many others that ATOS Origin apparently work on the basis that ” you’ve a ” good ” doctor , we don’t believe you and will infer you are swinging the lead ” in Occupational Health – it doesn’t matter how vague , curious or contradictory the ” justification ” is – it ticks all the right boxes .

    This was Lord Freud’s reasoning for using ” Independent ” Doctors , apparently NHS staffers were too frightened of the General Medical Council , Ambulance Chasing Claim Farms and such like to be ” objective ” .

    A person with no apparent experience of the Welfare system whatsoever , but allegedly had a bad reputation for pushing share issues in the City , I’m sure it was purely coincidence that the firms subsequently crashed .

    My experience is that they were not really interested in Hospital Reports from Specialists and Consultants etc unless there were ” inconsistencies ” , the Employer had a ” removing the barriers ” approach to sickness absence , again I’ve heard some unbelievable ATOS Origin horror stories about ” cures ” for Downs Syndrome and AIDS from what appear to be reliable sources re DWP Trial Areas – unfortunately I’m at least inclined to believe them .

    …the Graunaid has been advertising UNUM so they’ll be up to the same tricks in the UK ? ….there may well be method in the madness with all these depressing horror stories that seem to have the same ring to them doing the rounds ?

    The hysterical lurid headlines demonising claimants in the likes of The Sun , Daily Mail , Express , Star and Telegraph are based on very deceptive and disingenuous statistics from DWP Press Releases . Iain Duncan Smith’s SPAD is ex far right The Tax Payers Alliance Susie Squires , apparently not the only ex TPA staffer either . Again with all the hostility and hate stirred up will frighten people to death – Trebles all round !

    I’ve also noticed the same old allegedly TPA trolls whenever the Guardian does an article on Welfare , talking of ” responsibility ” , not relying on ” Nanny UK ” , tax cuts , welfare should be abolished and replaced by the American system .

    This has also spread to Facebook , the Labour Party page has been trolled to death , it’s not just Tory Trolls and wind up merchants – it’s now plagued by the EDL and what appears to be the Tax Payers Alliance .


  5. of course – Cameron allegedly gave the orders that Polly Toynbee was to be targeted , she goes back to stamp on the trolls in her own articles on saturdays .

    Then there’s Central Conservative HQ , Conservative Home – Lord Cashcroft’s personal play thing edited by Tim Montgomerie , Guido Fawkes AKA Paul Staines and Iain Dale rounding up all the trolls , it’s so obvious multiple identities and avatars and the usual hackneyed cliches and platitudes cut and pasted from The Daily Mail .

    Still it’s a nice break from playing ” Call of Duty ” or pretending to be a 16 yr old girl on line in their mothers basement …….allegedly ! for them ….better to be fleck foamed and swivel eyed with rage ? .


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  24. Excellent article. No doubt the government and the insurance companies would like the whole of the population of working age to have an income protection policy so they could avoid paying benefits at all. Then no doubt we would see the same abuses being carried out as has already happened with PPI,with people being refused payment for all sorts of dubious reasons.


  25. I have lived on this earths for 54 years, and have travelled the world and seen many bad things inflicted on people, but this unelected government is proving to be up there with the er, best of them; no compassion, and no respect or dignity to the most vulnerable in our society. I’m afraid their is nothing ‘Great’ about Britain any more. I am truly ashamed of the country to which I served for 14 years…a disgrace to us all.


  26. A year ago I had a heart attack. As I live in France I was whisked off straight away from the doctor’s surgery where they did an ECG. A specialist ambulance crew checked i was well enough to make the trip to hospital and I am now carrying on living a normal life, however, my examination showed that I had had a previous heart attack and that my main artery was atrophied and completely beyond repair. I know exactly when that happened. It was when I lived in England. I had to go through the appeal process because I wasn’t fit for work when I had never had the attack treated or properly diagnosed in spite of being hospitalised for a week.
    So let’s get down to brass tacks. I want to be responsible for my own health as I consider I am the expert in my body, having lived with it for over sixty years, however, the quality of any decisions I make depends directly on the quality of information I receive. Tale after tale of double dealing over research statistics, millions are suffering from cancer unnecessarily because cancer research has become big business and they can’t make money from telling people about vitamin D. It PAYS them to keep you poorly. There are six drugs they want to get you on for life, so then people suffering from iatrogenic diseases are being told, along with others, to get back to work.
    I want to meet the employers who are prepared to employ cancer sufferers and people who have had strokes and heart attacks or people enfeebled by constant long term pain or toxic exposure of one sort or another, to employ those within a year of retirement or those single parents with three children at or under school age.
    There are not enough paid jobs to go round, although there is always work to be done. Spend less on useless drugs and insurances then there would be enough money. The richest people in the world have more than enough money to wipe out poverty worldwide. I am not against people being rich and I do not believe all rich people are corrupt but where is compassion? I suppose nothing will change until their families catch some nasty plague from the lives of those infected by their blight.


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      • Thanks very much for the information Colin. Exposing these links is not always easy (which apart from tax avoidance is a primary purpose). I have read that ultimately only a handful of people own and control 70% global financial/corporate transactions.. maybe 170 (mainly male) who comprise a majority of those controlling the WB, IMF, WTO and IBS.


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