Sunday, 14 August 2011

Case #6: Pass It On...

The figures for all benefits as of February 2011 will become available in the next month or so and the DWP tabulation tool data has kept to a pretty consistent schedule so far. Today it has been reported that twelve doctors working for Atos Healthcare are under investigation by the GMC for conducting Work Capability Assessments in a way that it not in the best interests of people who were for at least one hour- their patients. Because of this I wish to highlight something that came to my attention a while ago but as far as I'm aware has only been talked about on The Files.

As of November 2010, just over half of all Employment Support Allowance claimants were in the Assessment Phase. Breath deep, take that in and seize hold of that slither of doubt in your mind saying there's something not right with that figure. This is not because a large number of claims have suddenly been processed (the influx from the Incapacity Benefit to ESA transfer began in April and solid data won't be available on that until February 2012 at least), because these are claims which are months, some even 2+ years old and they are still labelled as if they haven't yet had an assessment. Bare this in mind the next time a DWP press release and the tabloid cheerleaders say "X number of claimants closed their claim before or during assessment". If large numbers of people are kept perpetually in the Assessment Phase, of course that is going to make that much-hyped 'quit before assessment' figure more inflated and it is used to suggest a large proportion of claims are frivolous or fraudulent.


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When the February 2011 figures become available, I'm expecting little change. In fact I'm pretty sure the purple Assessment Phase line in the second image above will never go as low as the Support Group one. Ever. I have no idea why this figure is like this and how it's gone unnoticed, especially as the last DWP press release to boast (and that really is a good way to describe the ever-triumphalist tone; they deliberately opt to write these as tabloid dog-whistles) about the results of Work Capability Assessments had this to say:
  • Support Group – 7%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 17%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 1%
How come the press release says one thing and the publicly available data says something drastically different? Well maybe Atos suddenly got their fingers out their asses and got a lot of people assessed between November 2010 and July 2011 when that press release came out. So let's dig up one of the press releases from around November then. The earliest release since the Coalition came into office is from July 2010 and it says:

  • Support Group – 6%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 14%
  • Fit for Work - 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 37%
  • Assessment still in progress - 4%
You don't need to compare that with the graph to know it doesn't seem credible, it's certainly not based on the same source for the tabulation data. The next one is January 2011 and strangely leaves the fifth figure out completely:

  • Support Group (for those who cannot work now or in the foreseeable future and need unconditional support) – 6%
  • Work Related Activity Group (for those who cannot work now but with the right help could work in the foreseeable future) – 16%
  • Fit for Work - 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete or assessment still in process–39%
You might start to notice a pattern now. Ministers said a few weeks ago in response to strong criticism about these press releases that they have a statutory duty to make the figures public. I haven't checked if that's true, but even if it is the case; that can not possibly extend to making any kind of press releases about them, never mind overtly political ones. Not only did the Coalition enthusiastically put them out, but the pace at which they did quickened. April 2011:

  • Support Group – 6%
  • Work Related Activity Group – 16%
  • Fit for Work – 39%
  • Claim closed before assessment complete – 36%
  • Assessment still in progress – 2%
Then the next of course came in July. At no point is any effort made to explain what is meant by 'Assessment still in progress' nor 'Claim closed before assessment complete or assessment still in process'. These are points that are crucial.

Atos by the way may be contracted on £100 million a year, but the actual payments are on a per assessment basis. As a private company they are immune to freedom of information requests even if they are contracted to provide a public service, so we can't really demand to know from their end why 53% of claimants, most of which must have had an assessment because Atos would not have been paid as much as they have so far for them, are still in the Assessment Phase. I'm personally suspecting (irresponsible as I am) that they are feeding claimants back into the Assessment Phase in order to assess them again, from which they claim a repeat fee. I have not otherwise been able to establish if Atos can be paid for assessing the same claimant more than once.What ever the truth may be, this has 'huge scandal' or 'monumental statistics cock-up' stamped on it and should be investigated widely.

I have expanded Case File #6 to include the private sector involved in any form of welfare or employment service, not just the Work Programme providers. The Work Programme only just started recently and it will be a while before really useful data on that is available. The interesting stuff is happening with Atos and the Work Capability Assessment right now.

2 comments:

  1. I also suspect they are feeding people back into the assessment phase again to claim a repeat fee, otherwise there would be no motivation for doing so.

    The investigation by GMC of the ATOS doctors does raise the issue of whether they could be held personally liable for any injury they inflict during the assessment whether physical or psychological. A few lawsuits might make these people reconsider working for ATOS, after all ATOS will pass the buck to those carrying out the assessments.

    My husband's ESA50 arrived this week, we haven't looked at it yet, we need to build up to that.

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  2. MDA-maybe of interest

    http://www.straightstatistics.org/article/uksa-calls-clarity-incapacity-benefits

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