Government Reviewer Opposed ESA Rollout

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Government Reviewer Opposed ESA Rollout

By Sue Marsh, also published here

In 2008, Labour introduced a new out of work sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance, to replace the old Incapacity Benefit.

The new system of application and assessments was much tougher, and politicians originally hoped that up to a million people could be moved from the benefit.

However, by 2010, it was clear there were significant flaws in the process. People with mental health and fluctuating conditions were not being fairly treated and successful appeals against “fit for work” decisions soared to 40%.

Professor Harrington was asked to review the new benefit and make recommendations for improving it. As the election took place in 2010, crucially, only new claimants were being assessed. ESA was yet to be rolled out to the more complicated, and often longer term, Incapacity Benefit claimants, though trials were underway in Burnley and Aberdeen.

Most people claim out of work sickness benefits for short periods – perhaps to get through a sports injury, accident or one off surgery – and stop their claims within 2 years. However, this will always leave a few people with serious, life limiting conditions who will need to claim the benefit for longer periods. Over the years, those claims build up, increasing the proportion who need long term support.

When the coalition came to power in May 2010, they immediately announced that they would go ahead and start to reassess those already claiming Incapacity Benefit.

I could never understand this decision. Why would you take a failing benefit and roll it out to almost 2 million of the most vulnerable claimants? Not only that, but at first, just 25,000 people per month were being assessed, but the government constantly increased and increased the numbers until today, nearly 130,000 assessments are carried out every month.

Why? Why would you rush this group through failing assessments, ever faster, when backlogs kept on increasing, tribunals were overturning 40% of decisions that went to appeal and even legally, courts were starting to judge that the test discriminates against certain groups?

Unless of course you don’t want the tests to be fair. If your aim is to remove a million people from the benefit, perhaps it suits you to make sure that as many of those existing claimants don’t face a fair test? Since 2010, the government have repeatedly delayed improvements to ESA. Out of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington in his Yr1 Review, almost two thirds have not been fully and successfully implemented. An “Evidence Based Review” using new descriptors designed by mental health charities and those charities representing people with fluctuating conditions was initially rejected, then taken on, but although results were due in June, still, tests use the old descriptors to decide who qualifies for support. *

The government repeatedly claimed that Professor Harrington had supported the national rollout of incapacity benefit claimants

“Professor Harrington went away and made his recommendations to us, which we accepted in full and have implemented. He told me, “I believe the system is in sufficient shape for you to proceed with incapacity benefit reassessment.” We set ourselves a goal to put his recommendations in place, improve the quality of the process and address many of the issues to which hon. Members have referred today by the end of last May, when the assessments in the incapacity benefit reassessment were to start alongside the existing process of assessing ESA new claimants. We did that, and we started.”

1 Feb 2012 : Column 289WH Hansard Chris Grayling
However, Harrington was clearly an intelligent man who had made thoughtful and intelligent suggestions for improving the assessments. I could never understand why he agreed to put the most vulnerable claimants through a failing test.

So I decided to ask him.

It took me a while to track down his email address, but after pulling lots of strings, I was able to ask him outright.

This was Professor Harrington’s reply :

“To your question:

I NEVER—repeat–NEVER agreed to the IB migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast.

I then said that i would review progress of that during my reviews.

The decision was political .

I could not influence it.

IS THAT CRYSTAL CLEAR?

Malcolm”

I’d say it was fairly clear, wouldn’t you?

Ian Duncan-Smith and others took the decision to push nearly 2 million people through a failing test as quickly as they could. Why? Was it so that they could remove as many people as possible from the benefit whether they needed it or not? Surely any failures to improve the test as recommended by Harrington, charities and campaigners couldn’t have been deliberate? Delaying improvements until the IB cohort had been rushed through, the cohort this government and others are convinced are simply “scroungers” and “skivers”?

Instead, as we now see, delays have increased, successful appeals have risen, lives have been lost to the sheer inaccuracy and flawed design of the assessments and the human suffering is now clear for all to see.

To have taken the decision through incompetence is bad enough, but if it was taken deliberately and cynically, I can only hope the responsible ministers will be held to account. Over 200,000 incorrect decisions have since been overturned in law and appeals are taking up to a year to be heard in some areas.

When David Cameron came to power he said :

“The test of a good society is how do you protect the poorest, the most vulnerable, the elderly, the frail.

That’s important in good times, it’s even more important in difficult times. People need to know that if they have me as their Prime Minister and they have a Conservative government, it will be that sort of Prime Minister

Iain Duncan-Smith said :

“I say to those watching today and who are genuinely sick, disabled or are retired. You have nothing to fear.

This government and this party don’t regard caring for the needy as a burden. It is a proud duty to provide financial security to the most vulnerable members of our society and this will not change. This is our contract with the most vulnerable.”

I look forward to them explaining what made them change their minds.

Today, we must be our own media. Please RT on twitter, share on Facebook and help me to make sure that as many people as possible see this news. *Coincidentally, the evidence based review was released yesterday, as I was writing this article.https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/265471/wca-evidence-based-review.pdf

Keep Social Media on the Street

For many decades power has been slipping from the hands of ordinary people.

For the last thirty years the power of global finance and big corporations has increased. The power of these giants even dwarfs most Governments , who often act as in intermediary between big business and the Mr and Mr Average, sadly taking the side of big business more often than not.

Against this backdrop many people around feel an increased sense of alienation and helplessness to affect their own lives. The decline in political party membership and voter turnout are testament to this,

Social media has been a revolution for street democracy. The use of Twitter and Facebook have united scattered people all over the country, and in places such as Egypt, Syria and Libya, where the Arab spring has emerged. While other media channels are very restricted like the BBC, or owned by global corporations such as Sky, social media is free to anyone with a modest amount of technology.

The power of the new social media was clear when News of the World became engulfed in a storm or popular public protest. Very quickly campaigns to protest about phone hacking spread. Lists of the main advertisers were quickly distributed, and soon these companies were inundated with emails. This resulted in the close of the paper. In an age when people feel powerless, the best selling paper in the UK was brought to it’s knees by ordinary folk with computers and smart phones.

Here is a quote from ‘A Brief History of Neoliberalism’ by David Harvey (2005):

“The state typically produces legislation and regulatory framework that advantages corporations, and in some instances specific interests such as energy, pharmaceutical, agribusiness etc. In many of the instances of public-private partnerships, particularly at the municipal level, the state assumes the risk while the private sector takes most of the profits. If necessary, furthermore, the neoliberal state will resort to coercive legislation and policing tactics (anti-picketing rules, for example) to disperse or repress collective forms of opposition to corporate power. Forms of surveillance and policing multiply: in the US, incarceration became a key state strategy to deal with the problems arising among discarded workers and marginalised populations.”

Quite clearly, social media represents a threat to the Government and corporations. They can’t censor it or control it.

Like any media, it can be used for good or for ill. Any limitations applied to it based the potential for ill should be rejected, as every media known to humans has the same issue.

Following the riots, it has been raised that blocking social media at times could help the police. I fully expect an attempt to control it.

We must stand up and not allow this to happen. Any attempt by Government to do this must be seen as an attempt to limit free speech and democracy.

With Twitter and Facebook in our hands, the people in the UK have a powerful democratic tool at their disposal. We must not give it up without a fight.