Party Lines

By DeusExMacintosh

An open letter to Angie Gray, Conservative MP, in response to her press release on the Reassessment of incapacity benefits.

Dear all,

From April this year a national reassessment of incapacity benefits will begin and letters will start arriving through letterboxes from the local Jobcentre Plus. Of the 2.6 million on incapacity benefits around 1.5 million people will be reassessed over a three year period. Fundamentally, this process is born of the Coalition Government’s desire to work out, once and for all, just who is in need of permanent support. It will also help address the burgeoning costs of providing incapacity benefits, which now stand at £13bn a year.

It is a very simple, straightforward process that will finally identify who might be able to return to work and hold down a job and those who genuinely cannot. The Work Programme that this reassessment will be a part of, will offer personalised support for those found able to work as they attempt to find a job.

The Government’s ambition is to get as many people back into work as possible – something that can only be beneficial for everyone. So, this process is also driven by the view that work is good and that people everywhere benefit from having a job if they possibly can.

However, people who are genuinely in need of permanent support will continue to receive support. Moreover, people who already claim Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and people due to reach state pension age before April 2014 will not be affected – and those who are subsequently offered ESA after their assessment will find it a more generous payment than is currently available.

I thought it might be helpful, in anticipation of the national reassessment, to set out how the procedure will work:

Jobcentre Plus will write to claimants to inform them that reassessment of their benefit is due. Phone calls will be made to follow up these letters with additional information and, for those with English as a second language, a letter in their native language can be requested;a medical assessment questionnaire will then be sent out, from which a Work Capability Assessment meeting may or may not be arranged, depending on the answers;if arranged, they will then be asked to attend a Work Capability Assessment meeting at which they will be asked a series of simple questions about the nature of their incapacity to work and about their ability to carry out simple tasks. a decision will then made on whether or not they should be offered ESA, or given support in finding a job. For those for whom work is not immediately possible, but may be at a later stage after recovery, continuing support will be offered until such time as they are able to transfer on to Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA).

Those deemed capable of work will be invited to apply for JSA. Those who are entitled to may also claim for Income Support. Those who really cannot work or have limited capability to work will move to ESA.

It is interesting to note that the process has been piloted in both Burnley and Aberdeen where 29% of those reassessed were deemed fit to work immediately while 39% could consider working with the right help.

This is not a process that should unduly worry anyone. It is a simple, straightforward procedure, built around a fair assessment with several tiers of appeal, with a final appeal to an independent tribunal. If anyone has any questions, I would be more than happy to discuss the reassessment further and can be contacted by email…

Best wishes,

Angie Bray MP
Ealing Central and Acton

RE: Reassessment of Incapacity Benefits

Dear Ms Bray,

I enjoyed reading your press release on the Reassessment of Incapacity Benefit – it made me laugh like a drain which is much needed amusement as I face the migration process from Incapacity Benefit onto ESA.

Recently my Care DLA was raised to the Higher Level which used to mean my needs were considered a) severe enough and b) well enough catalogued to be exempt from the Personal Capability Assessment for IB, now it actually means I’ll be dragged in for the Work Capability Assessment that replaces it as part of the earliest migration group.

Fortunately I have a neurological condition which means I’m actually guaranteed to see a qualified GP, most other people have to make do with Bulgarian midwives and foreign physiotherapists as their “health professional”. That’s if I’m able to get to the assessment centre – many aren’t wheelchair accessible and whilst I’m mostly housebound at the moment, home visits are routinely declined even when your GP can confirm that one is necessary. More likely I’ll be too ill to attend and simply have my benefits cut off. Nice and simple.

At the moment I’m practicing on the ESA50 form that will be sent out, and those questions are indeed in nice clear language that’s easy to understand… pity that ATOS is looking for completely different answers. To find the specific keywords and turns of phrase they want you to provide you actually have to go to the law – ‘usually’ may mean more or less often than you think – or find a professional welfare rights worker. I do sometimes wonder if they use a version of the software that big law firms process graduate resumes with. I’ve studied at degree level and even *I* find it a challenge to complete the form independently. So far, not so very straightforward.

When called for an appointment (by phone, after spending a couple of hours on hold – ATOS seem to have an aversion to letters and chronically understaff their call centre), I’ll make sure that I take all my medical references from GP and Neurologists plus medication packets to show the assessor AS REQUESTED, even though they routinely refuse to look at them. If I’m really lucky the doctor will make eye contact. The LiMA software they use is a bit fiddly with all the drop-down boxes and quite a blunt instrument (if they haven’t put you in the Support group within the first few questions it won’t let them later) so I imagine it must be difficult to use when your grasp of English isn’t great. I won’t have any right to see their report until weeks after a decision has been taken (for a proper DLA medical you used to read and sign it before they left your home), and that’s done later by the DWP ‘decision makers’ who were criticised even in Malcolm Harrington’s report for simply rubber-stamping the ATOS results and ignoring any additional medical information that patients supply from NHS staff and support workers. These are apparently no longer considered ‘independent’ – though if YOU can manage to browbeat a Senior Consultant more credit to you, I say.

So then I’ll be turned down entirely or put in the wrong group and can use the year-plus wait for an appeal to prepare my case for the Tribunal hearing and the chance to have someone FINALLY look at the medical evidence. 40% of appeals have been successful for new ESA applicants, rising to 70% if you can obtain representation from the Citizens Advice Bureau or Welfare Rights office of the local council, but THOSE figures haven’t been released for the Burnley and Aberdeen trials. They’re likely to be lower than for the 1.5 million rest of us because IB claims in the trial areas were migrated ‘on paper’, the actual IT system that will be used remains untested so there’s plenty of scope for a “Student Loans”-style collapse.

Chances are that I will win, and if my indefinite awards of Higher Rate care and Mobility for DLA are considered any guide (and until now they were) I’ll get put into the Support group… for a whole five months until (in the name of “dynamic benefits”) I will be sent another ESA50 by ATOS and expected to start the entire process from scratch again. I have heard of people actually being sent their second ESA50 whilst still awaiting an appeal of the first!

With the additional stories of people dying before their appeals are heard and being passed as ‘fit to work’ despite Parkinson’s Disease and broken backs plus sundry other terminal illnesses (you’ve got to die within six months to qualify for Employment Support Allowance), this process duly worries EVERYONE with any sense as we recognise that if Incapacity Benefit can be summarily abolished and the contributions-basis of the National Insurance fatally undermined, then all the government of the day is likely to do in ten-years time is declare our pensions similarly “unsustainable” – which they are, but that in itself is NOT reason enough to abolish them. If we tolerate this, then the pension will be next.

In three years time, your government plans to apply the same messy, unfair and unclear system to Disability Living Allowance so the 1.25 million of us who currently receive both IB and DLA will be tested twice. Given that DLA has had “objective” medicals by DWP doctors for over a decade now, perhaps you can explain why creating an entirely new benefits bureaucracy from scratch in the form of ESA and in the future PIP, is going to cost us less than simply rolling out the existing DLA assessment system to everyone? This country does have quite a large deficit to tackle you know…

Yours faithfully,
DEM, Citizen Blogger of Britain

ps. The guinea pigs may actually be better off than the rest of us as the rules of the Work Capability Assessment change at the end of this month to be even tougher. Previously if you’d been unable or virtually unable to walk 50 metres on crutches for example, you would have qualified for the Support Group. Now you’ll be assessed as if you have an ‘invisible manual wheelchair’ (I’m not joking) and won’t qualify for ESA on the basis of “mobilisation” AT ALL!!!

UPDATE 23/3/11: BendyGirl explains to Guardian readers what “ability to mobilise” actually involves.

21 Comments

  1. Posted March 23, 2011 at 6:43 am | Permalink

    I’m wondering if there are similar hoops, with the need for regular justification, for business expenses written off against profits for tax purposes:

    (a) Each business expense claim must inlucde a business case listing alternatives (e.g. Instant plain-wrap coffee in the boardroom, color v black and white printers, pay-for v free software, second-hand downmarket cars sans CD players rather than more luxurious company cars or buses in the CBD…)

    (b) Your claims will be assessed by people with some accounting training (seconday school) who are on a performance bonus for reducing government expenses.

    (c) If your company is deemed to be able to stay in the black with lower tax write-offs or without government grants, those write-offs and grants will be withdrawn until you can prove you are unprofitable. If you go into liquidation an administrator (again, with at least secondary-school accounting) will be appointed for you.

  2. Posted March 23, 2011 at 7:28 am | Permalink

    The bit I love in her letter is the claim that this new process with “finally identify” people into a particular category, once and for all, for ever and ever – as if this was a static thing. The bureaucracies have so much trouble with the fact that human beings are not fixed little widgets, to be assigned to categories and left there, forever. But they waste so much moeny in this effort to ‘regularise’ people that could be better spent in using personalised assessments.

    And then they don’t even follow their own rules!

  3. kvd
    Posted March 23, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Permalink

    Well, I downloaded the ESA50 form, and had a close read of it, and as DEM says – it’s all quite easy really. Except if your sole source of support depended upon it, and in which case I think I would find it quite demeaning, mostly subjective, and very threatening.

    Just a couple of thoughts on the way through: (1) “if you receive housing benefit” – so this means all the MP’s are filling out this form? (More seriously, has any politician actually gone through the process of filling out this form? Somewhere in Whitehall there must be an MP with a relative, friend or neighbour directly affected by this review process, surely. A couple spring to mind) (2) Not much emphasis on the carer need; a few mentions by way of “with/without assistance” makes me think this sometimes lifelong role is not sufficiently noted/recognised. (3) I don’t like the open-ended right of the government to use the information in this form for “any other benefit I may claim in the future” (4) justice must be seen to be done, and done in timely fashion. But there doesn’t seem to be any undertaking on the part of the government for reasonable response time; just penalties for the claimant if a) you are late and b) you got something wrong.

    Still, governments work with forms, and consigning people into boxes, and making decisions “in the broad”. I suppose you can’t blame them for that. Forgive cynicism, but it is really all about the money, and all about the softest targets. Nothing at all about need or societal fairness. Doesn’t matter which party you vote for; sometimes it just gets embarrassing.

  4. Posted March 23, 2011 at 8:08 pm | Permalink

    Well it’s budget day today, kvd so we’re hoping for a bit of good news and a further upping of the personal tax allowance (which went up a whole £1000 last time…) closer to the £10,000 I’ve been asking for.

    Interpreting the questions correctly is a real fiddle. Can you do something? Well the actual rules say that unless you can do something reliably and repeatedly the answer should be no, but that’s not something the form will tell you. And “can you do ‘x’ without help from someone else?” What if you can do it as long as you have a walking stick/mobility aid rather a person? Is that a yes or no answer? I know Black Triangle is keeping tabs of stories where disabled people seem to have committed suicide or died because of benefits pressure, but it’s going to be Citizens Advice volunteers soon!

    About the only thing making this whole process personally bearable is the fact that I’ve never got less than a perfect mark on a comprehension test since Grade 6.

  5. Posted March 24, 2011 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    DEM, seeing the headlines about the UK government claiming to kick-start the economy, it seems like kick those who are down and kick-backs for those at the big end of town.

    It seems that an “incentive” has two meanings:

    a) for the poor, diminishing resources and more paperwork;

    b) for the rich, lower imposts and cutting of red tape.

  6. Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:01 am | Permalink

    DEM: any comments on the following details which suggest holding contradictory assumptions about incentive psychology? From The Age…

    In a boost to the private sector, Osborne cut corporation tax paid by businesses by two percentage points, after earlier announcing that he planned a reduction of one point.

    In a lift for the beleaguered property market, he unveiled financial assistance for people struggling to buy their first home… .

    The government will cut fuel duty by one penny per litre in a move which took effect hours after the announcement.

    The measures were welcomed by the Confederation of British Industry, a powerful business lobby group representing employers.

    It seems policy is designed to created a bimodal distribution of belt lengths.

  7. Patrick
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:18 am | Permalink

    Dave, you subsidise or provide incentives for things you want more of.

    I don’t think anyone claims that we want more disability benefit as an end in itself – rather, the argument is that we want more of what more/easier disability benefit is claimed to produce in the particular case.

    So whilst you may hold inconsistent and incoherent understandings of an incentive, I don’t think you are anywhere near making a case that Mssrs Cameron or Osborne have any difficulties with the idea.

  8. Posted March 24, 2011 at 7:20 am | Permalink

    We are now at least, within £2000 of the £10,000 personal tax allowance. As a non-driver and non-business-owner I have no other good news to tell you. 🙁

    Ah, but Patrick your example is only one of a positive incentive (give them money), there is also the negative incentive (put a gun to their head or blackmail them).

  9. Patrick
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    DEM, there are undoubtedly positive and negative incentives.

    But that isn’t the point. The point is that making disability support more generous or easier to access are both incentives for people to get it, and of course vice-versa. And people react to incentives.

    Whether there are other factors which should in the particular case be of greater weight does not in the slightest change the incentives.

  10. kvd
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 2:31 pm | Permalink

    The point is that making disability support more generous or easier to access are both incentives for people to get it

    I missed that bit of the budget, and the earlier review. Can you give me a pointer to this proposed generosity Patrick?

    and of course vice-versa.

    You are saying making it harder or less generous is a disincentive to claim. I suppose that’s somewhat true at the extreme. But tell me Patrick – does this theory have some sort of baseline allowing for basic stuff? I mean food, clothing, shelter, dignity – with or without quality of life. Never mind the ability to, unaided, lift and move an empty cardboard box from one position to another.

    I need an xkcd graph; I’ll store it with my other one plotting certainty of opinion against age. 🙂

  11. Posted March 24, 2011 at 3:24 pm | Permalink

    Ever see mainstream political parties, including those once left-of-centre, issue the following statements:

    “Increasing corporate or high-end tax will create productivity gains and incentive to work harder for the same profits”

    Ever hear the big end of town argue, like they do for wage claims, that a tiny extra burden will cause catastrophic failure?

    How much government cashflow (either tax write-downs or benefits) go to different mobility aids – those for the disabled, versus up-market company cars? Do you reckon a benefit or expense write-off would be allowed for a dolby stereo or leather seats in a wheelchair?

    Now, if sticks and carrots were used equally for all groups, there’d be less of a problem.

    But there are expensive procedures for low returns trying to find welfare cheats, (little saving, if any for the budget), while there is a two-percent revenue cut from business. Selective austerity… Oh well, some people are more experienced with belt tightening than others, so they are obviously the best candidates to provide MORE belt tightening the economy needs.

    Can DEM indicate how much of her spoon reserve is required to jump over these extra hurdles placed in front of her?

  12. kvd
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    The thing I don’t get in all this is why for instance here in Australia the devastation caused by our recent floods, and in NZ the quake, likewise Japan, are viewed as stimulating the economy – but handing out an extra hundred quid to welfare recipients is not?

    As far as I can see, the money just circulates round the economy with the government picking up its third share every time the cash changes hands. It’s just a roulette wheel, with the house taking its percentage on every spin.

    We are not talking about great slabs of money disappearing into the Bahamas; just lots of little economic effects like food, or clothes, or bus tickets.

  13. Patrick
    Posted March 24, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Permalink

    Guys, you all appear to be reasonably intelligent people – you can’t mean these comments??

    [email protected]
    Apologies, I slightly mangled my terminology there. I’m not an expert in this area.

    To explain, I’m not talking about what is in the budget, I’m talking about the background in which budgets are formulated. A relevant factor in designing disability pension or indeed any scheme for distributing money is that the money is a powerful incentive. The easier it is to get the money the more people will apply and get it. The more there is to get, the more people will apply and the more they will get when they apply.

    So whilst there might be great reasons to make welfare payments accessible and straightforward, there is a clear immediate cost to doing so.

    As for the extremes, I used to think that way too. But actually people react very strongly to even the tiniest of incentives – Cass Sunstein wrote a book on this.

    The baseline for basic stuff is beside the point. You might want to provide that, but you just have to be conscious of the incentives you are creating when you do, and think accordingly about how you do it. Bolsa familia is a case study par excellence (just search it, if I start linking I will get spam-binned, and then fat-fingered LE will dump my comment for ever (/joke!)).

    [email protected]
    You are right, but sort of on different planets at the same time. First, flood repairs are described as a stimulus, but that is because they are, economically, not because they are intended to be. They are intended to be repairs to flood damage.

    But yes, both are a stimulus. If your intention was to provide a stimulus (as opposed to rebuild flood damaged areas) you might indeed just give the bloody money away, like Rudd did. But that is not, fundamentally, the intent here.

    However, you are clearly underestimating the scale of most countries’ fiscal crises. Whilst pensions and unions are far bigger problems than disability claimants, most governments in rich-world countries are on a collision course with bankruptcy.

    [email protected]
    If you think our tax system is stupid you are right..oh wait, you meant a different set of ‘expensive procedures for low returns trying to find … cheats’. 🙂

    Also, you may be interested to know, for example, that Australia has a luxury car limit, or that entertainment is generally non-deductible or if it is deductible it is taxed (to the company) at the top personal marginal rate. Other than such interventions, the cost (and just for the heck of it, the incentives) of having government try and dictate what was and wasn’t worthwhile business expenditure would just be, literally, unbelievable.

    Exceedingly few companies buy anything more luxurious or extravagant with tax in mind. Really they don’t.

    Also, cutting the corporate tax rate is very efficient. It doesn’t mean significantly cutting progressive taxation, but it does increase investment (i.e. foreigners paying Australians to work). Increasing wage costs is a very bad idea, and is indeed sometimes catastrophic. If you employ 20,000 people, and extra $10 a week is about $10 million a year. If that means you sack even just 5 people, well yes, that may well be 5 catastrophes. If you sack 450, for example, then so much the worse. Surely, the one thing that a labor-minded lefty wouldn’t want the government to do is increase the cost of employment??

    Finally, welfare, for the umpteenth time, is fundamentally different to corporate tax. First, in corporate tax, the government is taking, not giving. The dominant incentive is to not give. OTOH, welfare is giving, and the dominant incentive is to take. So governments go to considerable length (they really do) to make you give tax but conversely to considerable length to stop you taking.

  14. kvd
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 3:25 am | Permalink

    [email protected] sometimes I find I take so long to prepare a reply that the discussion has moved on, entering pastures so wildly differing from the initial point of the post that my comment then appears irrelevant. Thus, we arrive here.

    To recap, I thought the post was about the present UK government push to reduce and/or restrict the ability for incapacity benefit claimants to be treated as members of the human race, UK sub branch. Don’t get me wrong – I also enjoy playing “if I ruled the world” occasionally, but not today.

    Therefore, doggedly sticking to the point of the post, I would ask you to address a point I raised: do you see no requirement for some reasonable base level of government assistance for people unable to work by reason of physical or mental disability?

    With or without your permission, I’ll leave discussion of world peace, dwindling oil reserves, and interplanetary travel for another occasion.

  15. Patrick
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 4:47 am | Permalink

    Fooled me, kvd! My only point in all this, btw, is not about whether I ruled the world. It is about whether we live in the real world where people do respond to incentives in exactly the way that most of you seem to think that they don’t.

    No, I do not see any such ‘requirement’. I am not sure what might be required of Government, really. Perhaps the members of a government are morally required, as people, to try and provide an adequate ‘safety net’.

    I do, however, think that Government would be wisest to try and achieve the following:
    1 mitigate the potential suffering of those who are for various reasons unable to support for themselves;
    2 support the mentally or physically disabled in a ‘capacity-enhancing’ manner; and
    3 focus, with respect of the above, on supporting finding gainful employment of whatever kind they are able (probably not much point DEM training as a brickie, for example).

    Going briefly back to if I ruled the world, my personal preference would be probably quite to your liking – devolving responsibility right down the chain and giving local welfare officers and charities far more discretion, but rewarding them on outcomes like sustained partial or full employment for the people they supervise.

    But back to this UK government, I can see why they would see it as desirable/good policy to make the claims process more onerous. It certainly appears that they have over-reached on the punitive side, but for all the reasons outlined in a few comments above they do have to strike a balance. They aren’t trying to treat claimants as sub-human, I assure you, they are just trying to avoid claimants who can readily work claiming disability benefits.

    I don’t know whether this is a particular problem in Britain, btw. But in some countries it certainly is, there was a staggering statistic about the number of ‘disabled’ Greeks at some point recently. So there is a valid motive for the government.

    A more useful debate, it seems to me, and the debate that DEM seems mainly about, is whether the government has achieved the correct balance between preventing fraudulent claims and supporting those in need.

    A debate about whether incentives are real, or whether the government believes that the disabled are sub-human, doesn’t strike me as very pertinent.

  16. kvd
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 5:11 am | Permalink

    Thanks Patrick for a rapid and fairly concise response. Sticking to the subject, I think the only point where we might differ is in your rejection of the word ‘requirement’ – although your following summary points seem to indicate you feel otherwise.

    I’d actually be fairly comfortable with your “world rulership” because from this and many earlier posts I believe our differences are quite small. And also it might be fun to watch you blazing quickly through the black and white issues, then get bogged down in the grey and fuzzy bits; the remaining 98% of problems in other words.

    But I can’t leave unremarked your use of ‘sub-human’ as in any way representing my own view. That is not the case.

  17. Posted March 25, 2011 at 8:56 am | Permalink

    Patrick:

    …incentives…incentives…incentives…

    I’ve got a few questions about these incentives:

    What is the cost of the outcome of these incentives to not work that are created by easy to access and ‘generous’ welfare and assistance?

    How does this compare to the direct cost of the bureaucracy to minimise the incentives?

    How does it compare to the cost of compliance imposed on all those requiring welfare?

    Can we as a society afford to provide a high enough standard of living for the working disabled such that there is significant financial incentive to seek work, without unreasonably limiting the standard of living of those who don’t or can’t?

    Are there other, non-financial incentives available that could be just as effective but without the bureaucratic or punitive costs of those currently proposed?

  18. Patrick
    Posted March 25, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Sorry kvd, I misread your bit about UK sub branch! Oops! If it reassures you at least I wasn’t imputing the view to you as such, I was under the impression that you had suggested that the UK Tories felt that way..

    Desipis, there are probably good answers to all of those questions. Absolutely I would probably support a very different policy myself.

    All I want is for everyone to acknowledge that the incentives are what they are. People WILL rort the system. It is odd that the DB’s of this world take is as a working assumption that ‘bankers’ and other ‘fat cats’ are rorting the system but assume that poorer folk are too dumb to do so.

  19. kvd
    Posted March 26, 2011 at 5:00 am | Permalink

    [email protected] I will leave the very capable DB to frame his own reply, but the fact remains the he is correct that the opportunity, means, and incentive to ‘rort’ (your word) the system is far greater than anyone whose sole source of support is a grudgingly given, heavily monitored welfare benefit.

    So I’m happy to acknowledge that ‘incentives are what they are’ (whatever that means to you) if you will extend the same courtesy to Dave’s point.

  20. Posted August 21, 2011 at 11:02 am | Permalink

    This post rather nicely encapsulates the burden people with disability suffer from too many people having experience of what appears to be simple fraud.

    I happen to know people who are on disability benefits for good reason, so I have some insight into that difficulties therein: but if I think back, the “normal conversation” commentary on disability benefits does seem to have been rather dominated by dubious cases.

    Somehow, that happy medium of well-focused disability support seems elusive.

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