Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Case #3: Digging Our Own Graves

I was contacted by the National Autistic Society concerning the testing trials for the PIP assessment; I had procrastinated and delayed my response so much that the deadline is in just two days and was just contacted again today. I have considered the subject carefully and sent a reply, which is as follows.
Hi, I'm sorry for not responding to your earlier e-mail although I really meant to. My name is ************** and I was diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome between schools in 1995. I also came to the NAS lobby at Portcullis House in March and met with my MP *************** (Conservative, ***********), Sadiq Khan (Labour, Tooting) and the Minister for Disabled People Maria Miller (Conservative, Basingstoke). I was very worried about what effect the lobby would have (or wouldn't have specifically) and I think events since then have confirmed my fears.

I do not wish to participate in the trials for the new PIP assessment, which is disturbingly similar to the Work Capability Assessment for ESA, a test one of it's own designers and the Citizens Advice Bureau described as "not being fit for purpose". I would also hope that the NAS reconsiders co-operating with the DWP and does not send them a list of names at all. I want to advance the following points-

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

Case #3: Objective Lies Are Not Better Than Subjective Truth

I did not go to war and die for a government that believes the poor, sick and disabled are better able to pay for deficits and recessions than the Treasury can. I mean every word of it; I've never been to war, let alone died in one.

So why should I help them? They would have me rotting in a mental institution (if not for them being cut back) or dying of hunger on the street. My mother fears for what will happen to me when she is gone. Parents of Autistic children and adults across the land share her dread. I don't think that far ahead.

The Department of Work and Pensions has asked the National Autistic Society to help them fine-tune the draft assessment criteria for the Personal Independence Payment that will replace Disability Living Allowance in 2013. This will result in the caseload or expenditure being reduced by 20%. Given how ministers have been shamefully unclear about this, saying different things to different people, I think they will cut which ever brings the highest savings. The NAS believes the DWP are doing this in response to concerns expressed by the NAS. I think they are fooling themselves in believing any kind of concession has been secured and they have been naive to believe what Maria Miller has probably told them. It was always the intention of the DWP to test the draft criteria because that is what they always do with all draft criteria for benefits. Still they've been sending out e-mails asking for people who may be interested in doing trial assessments to get in touch by this time next week.

They will then hand a list to the DWP who will select from it how they like and contact people to arrange assessments. The public service contractor with no experience in diagnostics, disability or medicine that has been selected to run this is G4S. The assessments will run for one hour. My DLA assessment ran for three and a half hours the first time and two hours the second, so alarm bells are ringing for me already about the accuracy of the test and the quality of the personnel being used. This is what is meant by a 'more objective assessment'.

Most people don't know what subjective and objective mean, so they assume subjective is something to be suspicious about and is opinion-based and objective is more factual and evidence-based. No. That isn't what they mean and isn't how they are being utilised here. Something that is objective tends to be simple, empirical and observational. Subjective is complex, theoretical but most importantly: advanced and insightful. Data entry is a job that is inherently objective; a child or PE teacher could do it. The person who has to interpret that data is more qualified, on higher pay and talented even though their job is subjective: they are relying on years of experience and study to make determinations. When the Coalition said they were going to make assessments more objective and scoffed at the subjectiveness of what is currently in place, they were playing to prejudices among populists and anti-intellectuals in their political base and the wider population. It's why the Work Capability Assessment for ESA does not require an actual medical practitioner to run it, but it would be madness to overrule the experience and education of doctors and nurses in hospitals and replace their diagnostic methods with anything like 'an objective assessment'.

If I volunteer and get selected for a trial assessment, I'll be assisting in one of the most malicious attacks being committed in the Welfare Reform bill. On the other hand I'll have something to write about and will have scared the daylights out of a G4S employee with tales of my day-to-day living. But at this point I'm inclined to believe that giving the DWP data to help them tune the criteria will simply allow them to do it to serve their intentions, not alter what those intentions are. If they see a lot of Autistics being paid less benefits, they will be delighted, not shocked.

Thursday, 16 June 2011

Case #4: The League of Shameless

Not only have they started conflating benefit fraud with fraud throughout the public sector after being caught conflating it with error, it hasn't made them apologise, it hasn't made them accept responsibility. It just gave them another excuse to cherry-pick something else, which in this case is to make an issue out of customer error costing more than fraud or official error.
Not both together you understand, that would be something tangibly real to be concerned about. No, it's higher than them both....separately.

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Case #4: The Atos Cycle

Did you know that ninety-million percent of those trying to claim ESA dropped their claim before they could be assessed? Isn't that just the smoking gun (of a Texas Sharpshooter no doubt) that shows a huge number of claimants for disability and sickness benefits are fake? I mean you see in the figures how they run when they see an objective assessment of their supposed 'condition' is coming at them.

Note: some of the press releases which earned Chris Grayling a referral to the Cabinet Office for misconduct have disappeared from the DWP website, but aren't we lucky The National Archives are often over-looked and probably would have refused a request to remove stuff. No wonder Tim Berners-Lee suggested that everything the government has, they should put online. This is the missing press release for January, but the one for April is currently unobtainable. The difference between the missing January and April press releases and the February one (apart from it being only about the Aberdeen and Burnley IB-ESA transfer trials rather than nationwide figures) that is still available is that the missing two are the ones that attracted complaints. The Cabinet Office response to The Broken of Britain was that "Chris Grayling is the very model of a modern major general...".

EDIT: I make a terrible mistake and apologise. The links I had to the press releases were correct when I first had them but don't work any more. Further speculations I make about why the 'press releases are missing' are an epic failure to apply Occam's Razor on my part as I was unable to spot the press releases in the list on the DWP website after my links failed. The major point of the post, regarding the natural out-take of claimants coming off benefits not being factored in official claims of 'people who stopped their claim before or during assessment' and of the extraordinary number of ESA claimants in the Assessment phase- remain unchanged. Read on. 

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Case #3: A Brief History of This Week

The Work Programme has begun. Across the land the DWP press release is being regurgitated in the mainstream media, the same outlets who came so very late to the far advanced debate on welfare reform. Scrutiny has been small and confined to Comment pieces, with their limited influence on public awareness and opinion. There are so many Facts that should have been reported as News long ago but haven't. The Work Programme is presented as revolutionary, as new and by extension: well-intentioned.

I wrote a piece for Comment is Free, angrily rebutting these notions. The Work Programme is not new, it has no innovative ideas behind it, just tired old ones and it most certainly is not built upon goodwill towards those seeking work. It is little different to the model the Labour government used for the Flexible New Deal, which Chris Grayling vaguely but passionately criticised and I emphasise the 'vague' here because if he had gone into specifics they would have equally applied to the design of the Work Programme.