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-

1. That Maria Miller is largely the source of inaccurate and misleading information among MPs, demonstrated by Conservative MPs in particular at the lobby including my own. She should not ever be taken at her word.

2. That the DWP is asking for the co-operation of many charities on false premises.

3. That the trial data will not alter the goals of cabinet ministers responsible for welfare reform; they will use the data to calibrate the PIP assessment for the very purposes which the NAS and participants of The Hardest Hit rally were protesting and lobbying against. As you are looking for people who specifically gave feedback in your DLA survey, this includes many of them: they are being asked to assist in something that is against their interests.

When I first met the Minister for Disabled People I arrived at a personal judgement very quickly; I do not normally do that, but Maria Miller was very domineering and wouldn't let anyone get a word in. She arrived for the last fifteen minutes of the NAS lobby and used rhetorical techniques I am familiar with to prevent direct questions being asked of her. Everyone else in the room was always 'on the back foot'. She was very polite and put forward a lot of concern, seeming to listen without listening. She started to leave dot on 5PM and I got a chance to ask her one question in the corridor. I have a blog and posted on it the day after describing what happened:

My question revealed that Maria Miller was very well informed about the history of welfare policy, but not concerned by it. She was also not forthright. Before I had a chance to say goodbye to my MP and make my way into the room where Maria Miller had been talking for nearly ten minutes she had made some spectacular claims that were impossible to check on the spot but I would have been able to challenge had I been there because I frequently use the DWP Longitude Survey data from their website, which forms the basis of all figures released by the DWP and used by ministers. I wrote about one of the unusual claims here:

Maria Miller has also frequently claimed to the media that more people with alcohol and drug addictions claim higher-rate Mobility DLA than Blind and Deaf people. As of April this was no longer the case because of a change initiated by the last government that just came into effect, she knew about this change but insisted on using this talking point rather than bringing forward the change as she would have done if it really was a concern for her. Even then, the statement relies on exceptional cherry-picking: it applies only to Mobility and only the higher-rate, but she has not always stuck with that version.

I am guessing that the minister is also responsible for the claim that the DWP are asking for a list of names of people who could participate in trial PIP assessments in response to concerns voiced by the NAS and others. The briefest look at the history of newly introduced benefits reveals that trial tests have always been a feature of those that require testing for eligibility: Incapacity Benefit did, Invalidity Benefit did before that, as did DLA and Mobility Allowance before that. The DWP have taken something they were always going to do anyway and selling it as a concession. This is a false premise: no concessions have been made and further interactions with the DWP should not assume good faith or a reciprocal relationship. The implication is that once the trial testing is over the DWP will look at the data and realise a WCA-based test is a mistake and plans will be altered to make sure there isn't the excessive 'collateral damage' that the WCA test has inflicted on legitimate and desperate claimants. The government insists in spite of the complaints and evidence against the WCA that it is doing it's job and "is fit for purpose", there is no reason to believe that the PIP assessment will not be regarded in the same way in spite of the harm it is likely to cause. It is more likely the data gathered from the trial will be used to insure the goal of a 20% reduction in claims/costs no matter the outcome for people on the other end.

I have seen no justification why the government plans on welfare from this point onward should be co-operated with. They have shown incredible duplicity and bad-faith. I urge the NAS to reconsider any co-operation and every charity involved with The Hardest Hit rally to do the same.

Thank you.

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