Wednesday, 11 January 2012

The Snivel Service

Ministers need to be seen as far away from actual stuff as possible. Departments put out press releases, newspapers get briefed by aides and internal reports get written and moved about according to how on-message they are. As time has gone by some of them have got less careful (Maria Miller) and others started out that way (Chris Grayling) and it becomes a bit obvious when they are pressing their faces right up to the one-way mirror they stare at us through. When they do this, things written by civil servants stretch the bounds of impartiality to which they are bound and cabinet ministers are expected to not ever put them in that position. The use of departmental resources for overtly party political purposes is expressly forbidden by the Ministerial Code. The Broken of Britain have made complaints but it's not possible to conclusively prove wrong-doing.

On Monday the DWP press office over-stepped their bounds and posted the following messages on Twitter including a link to their information page for Personal Independence Payment, which is perfectly fine, but then(in reverse order):
"Introducing new face-to-face assessment & regular reviews to make sure support going to those who need it most."

"This has led to hundreds of millions of pounds in overpayments. We’re replacing DLA with Personal Independence Payment"

"DLA an outdated benefit. Vast majority getting it for life without systematic checks to see if condition has changed."
Every single one of them is overtly partisan, no civil servant could write them and not be in breach of their service. There is not one that has not been used by Maria Miler and there is not one Miller has not been challenged on but she has refused to engage and respond to campaigners about them. All are misleading. As this was about disabled people, it fell on Maria Miller's head alone and she also appeared on Radio 5 Live in the morning to evade questions and generally be wretched. They didn't go directly head-to-head and I doubt that Miller would have made an appearance if Sue was allowed to actually argue anything with her. That is largely how we have been treated this past year although Sue has been doing this longer than I have. But these tropes need to be answered now decisively or we won't hear the end of them until it's too late, they should not be allowed to gain any traction with the public.

1. New face-to-face assessment and regular reviews make support going to those who need it most.

The government have made no reports, speeches or had any conversations with anyone anywhere in public or on the record about underpayments for DLA, which must not be confused for DLA being under-subscribed. The underpayments come from existing DLA recipients who are in the wrong bracket and should be on a higher one. £190 million is a lot of money for underpayments when it is only counting existing DLA recipients; what about all those who should be getting DLA but aren't claiming at all? Getting benefits to people who need them and are eligible is not a priority for this government- the only reference ever given to it has been by Miller and Freud citing underpayments but only as figures. They have made no press releases or speeches about the issue and certainly not briefed any newspapers about how benefits could solve problems if only they weren't under-claimed: all £16 billion worth of them according to Citizens Advice.

2. DLA is outdated, majority get it for life without systematic checks, conditions change.

The length of time is never a problem: Invalidity Benefit worked fine and lasted 25 years before it was replaced for political reasons(with some Unum associates advising the Major government) with Incapacity Benefit in 1995. By 'outdated' they mean that the world has changed for disabled people, which is something many responses to the sham DLA reform consultation profoundly disagreed with. Most places are still not wheelchair accessible, many mental and cognitive conditions poorly understood, employers do not hire and we struggle. A profound ignorance of actually having disability and few resources to manage with have directed the course of reforms more than our feedback has.

As for the 'majority getting it for life without systematic checks'; no one gets systematic checks if the government says there is no systematic checks. This was a slip: anyone who does not get a 'lifetime' DLA award is systematically checked on schedule once their period of entitlement ends. Up until 2008 this was 70% of claimants but the last government changed eligibility and now only around 30% get 'lifetime' awards, the rest get it for fixed periods after which they will be checked. This point was impressed on David Freud during the Lords Grand Committee debating amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill, it made him uncomfortable. I'm curious about the 'majority' though because the statistic for this includes pension-age claimants. As the reforms only affect working-age claimants at this time only a figure specific to them is relevant. But Labour's tightening of the eligibility applied to all.

3. This led to hundreds of millions(£600 million) in overpayments.

Based on the National Benefit Review for DLA conducted in 2004 and published in 2005. Labour changed DLA since then so to actually know what the overpayments and underpayments are now there would have to be another review. Because Labour tightened criteria, the ministers didn't want to risk a new review revealing any large drops in overpayments. So they went with the 7-8 year old report.

Remember: out of date benefit = bad, but out of date reports = good.

Now some Miller quotes I pulled from her radio discussion:
"For the most part, DLA is a benefit for life with no in-built re-assessment"
I regard this as slightly different from the claim about 'lifetime' awards and systematic re-assessments; Miller is known for having one overall claim and then using different versions of it which can be interpreted differently. She is trying to encourage audiences to comes to their own conclusions after planting misleading ideas. She qualifies with 'for the most part' but this is not a very clear indication of the exceptions to her statement. DLA is not a benefit for life and is why I use 'lifetime' to describe it: I have a 'lifetime' award and was still re-assessed to check if I was still Autistic. You can get a fixed period award where you are re-assessed absolutely once the time is up and you can get a 'lifetime' award where you can be re-assessed any time. When Labour altered the parameters for 'lifetime' awards they even contracted Atos to deal with the large upsurge in assessments(yes, Atos don't just do the ESA work capability assessments). EDIT: Atos may have been contracted for DLA assessments earlier than this, will investigate and correct if necessary.

The key thing is that because there have always been fixed period awards and these have been hugely expanded for any claims since 2008, there is a systematic assessment, David Freud has been told about it meaning Maria Miller now knows about it(I speculate she did before though): when she says there is no systematic assessment she is blatantly lying.
"That has been a problem for us over the last 18 years and has left us with a situation with 600 million pounds currently going out in overpayments to people whos conditions have changed.."
Something I've talked about before but want to re-iterate; not only is the report old but it's flawed. The study works by getting trained interviewers, probably from Benefit Integrity Centres, to visit claimants and question them thoroughly. They do this with hundreds of people and compare the new information with what they were given when the recipient first claimed. A measurement for possible fraud is also taken and if fraud is strongly suspected it triggers a full investigation. Otherwise inconsistent claims are flagged for referral to DWP decision makers and this is where the problem is: the data gleaned from the decisions is not quality-controlled. It does not factor in appeals or reconsiderations, no control group is mentioned nor correct for two different decision makers possibly coming to different conclusions about the same case. It would take just one in ten split decisions to produce a phantom £600 million in overpayments attributed to 'unreported changes in circumstances'.

Another reason not to do another review before making legislation, better to base policy on weak and old data. Oh it also doesn't separate working-age claimants from over-65s.
"We want to make sure the right support is getting to people when they need it, that is why we're continuing to spend 40 billion pounds a year to support disabled people"
Unpaid carers save the government £119 billion a year as of last year. It has grown every year without changes to the estimating method. This only includes carer's that look after someone else, not those with significant limitations who must look after themselves, yet that sum alone would swallow the working-age welfare budget twice over and it's only the outer shell of a grim, bloody and dangerous planet of medications, procedures, sterile equipment, medical diaries and at it's worst: legal battles against people that talk like Maria Miller. The paltry sums from social security barely cover these and don't even make up half of Miller's £40 billion: most of that comes from NHS, Social Services and funny enough the Social Fund her government is abolishing, so they aren't really 'continuing' to spend that much it's just that they'll find something less worthwhile to waste the cash on in our name.
 "We want the Personal Independence Payment to take a modern view of disability and deal with some of the problems Sue's talking about there.."
Blatantly obvious they should have actually paid proper attention to the consultation then. I don't need to post more; many who took part know exactly what is wrong with what Maria Miller is stating here.
"I can't comment on her particular case, what I can say is that the higher-rate of Mobility, the Mobility component of DLA, is for people who are virtually unable to walk whereas Sue rightly points out many other people with many other disabilities who have immense problems getting out and about but at the moment, DLA won't recognise them."
I realise I haven't posted a picture yet. Here's one that sums up how I feel about this.

Background: in the 2009 Welfare Reform Bill there was a clause that changed DLA conditionality so that Blind people could claim the higher-rate of DLA Mobility, this came into effect in April 2011. Here's the RNIB creaming their pants and explaining some details. Here's the DWP issued guidance on it for detail fetishists. This was a simple change to make for government even though it came after years of lobbying and campaigning; it just needs the will to be done. What else happened in April 2011 and the month before that? Maria Miller played silly-buggers by saying that more alcohol and drug addicts claim higher-rate DLA Mobility than Blind and Deaf people, knowing full-well the reason why and that for Blind people this was about to change. Remember though that when she makes a claim, she often uses several different versions of it so when confronted she falls back on the original one which is usually correct only on technicality: the change to the higher-rate hadn't come into force at that time. But elsewhere she was saying addicts claim more DLA without the specific qualifiers that it was just Mobility and just the higher-rate and she never ever stated the reason why when she knew.

The crucial thing is that reforms of DLA are not needed to address these matters. In a letter to my MP which he forwarded to me she confirmed that she knew about the April changes and re-assured me that it would not be reversed when PIP was introduced, even though I had asked a completely different question about case law history. Mason Dixon, Autistic is like quick-sand: the more you wriggle about the more trouble you get yourself into. That might come off a bit wrong. Don't care. Moving on.
"Now there's been no changes made to DLA so I'm not sure why Sue's claim will have changed.."
Aside from the changes that came into effect since the 2009 reforms, the one thing that has changed is the government. Miller incorrectly assumes that criteria had anything to do with the decision Sue received when it clearly wasn't- Sue precisely described what happened, that the criteria was not applied properly. The allegations are widespread that the government has told DWP staff to reject claims, but there have been no whistleblowers yet. Claimants have frequently said that staff told them but don't want to lose their jobs. It's not an allegation a serious journalist can put to a minister unless the whistle is blown but the data collected by Citizens Advice allows for no other conclusion. CAB said back in 2006 (PDF) that DLA rejections were ridiculously high and now they seem to have got higher, coinciding entirely with a change in government. CAB haven't published it yet as far as I can see but staff at my bureau say the problem is nationwide. Miller goes on to say that people not recognised for higher-rates on DLA will be recognised under PIP, she provides no supporting evidence, we can only take her word for it.
"So making sure that there are regular, but appropriately regular, levels of re-assessment that will be different for everybody depending on their condition and that will be dealt with by a health professional and that we also have face-to-face assessments because at the moment we expect people to fill out self-completion questionnaires, to analyse themselves; what their problems are in terms of  living an independent life and I actually think that having a health professional involved in that process will be helpful to the disabled person themselves."
Miller does not say how the assessments will be different for everybody. As it is in the Welfare Reform Bill and the current draft criteria, the assessment will be like the WCA: the same for everyone. I want to note that Miller avoided using the term 'doctor' because ministers leave it to the newspapers to inaccurately describe the WCA as a 'medical test' and the assessors as 'doctors' and they will likely do the same for the PIP assessment. Miller is also implying that face-to-face assessments do not happen regularly for DLA. They do, it's just that they are currently done by real doctors. Even if they don't know bugger all about what condition you've got, at least they are actual MDs. Miller often plays lip-service to the idea of the social model for disability but in this case is outright rejecting it: the 'health professional' knows best, better than you, better than your own doctor, better than your counsellor, your therapist or social worker all of whom will have known you longer than the assessor. In the consultation, there was strong opposition to Miller's warped ideas here.
"We have £190 million underpaid which should be being claimed but isn't."
I reiterate that this is insincere; ministers never refer to underpayments outside of the context of deflecting criticism. They never speak about it nor in the case of DLA is it acknowledged this figure only counts current DLA claimants who are being underpaid, not all who are eligible. Miller then ran through a pre-rehearsed set of sound-bites to pad out the time(she did this at the NAS lobby last year) and no one can get a word in and it's only towards the end you realise she hasn't said anything. It works and Miller is allowed to get off. One thing she did say was dismiss rejections under the premise that the means for appeal are 'extensive', so no one would have been able to challenge her at the time that her government is scrapping legal aid for them.

Left Foot Foward deal with it here.

But listening or watching the Minister for/against Disabled People in action is like watching the second Matrix film badly translated into Chinese.


  1. Just as a matter of interest when did "lifetime" become "indefinite"?

  2. Sorry-may be relevant to reassessment /review regimen.

  3. I think the terms are used interchangeably.

  4. OK thanks,I thought they might have changed the terminology with the latter being more "flexible" in reassessment/review attached to it.