The outsourcing company Capita offered freelance social workers financial bonuses – and put them up in luxury hotels – to encourage them to help a local authority cut disabled and older people’s care packages.
A whistleblower has told Disability News Service (DNS) that Capita has been piling pressure on its team of social workers – while paying them more than £1,000 a week – to cut social care spending, on the orders of Southampton City Council.
DNS revealed last September that the council had employed Capita to clear a backlog of annual reviews of the care packages of disabled and older people, in an apparent attempt to cut costs.
But DNS has now seen an email in which a Capita manager told her team members that they could earn a bonus of £200 if they increased the cuts to people’s care packages they achieved through those reviews by 20 per cent.
In the email, headed “Stop Press – Good News”, she passed on an offer from a senior manager at Capita, who suggested an “extra incentive” for her team if they could improve on their previous “performance”.
He suggested that the bonus “can be measured across both productivity levels and the savings achieved.
“If one person improves their productivity by 20 per cent and savings by 20 per cent they receive a £400 bonus.”
The whistleblower, Rebecca*, said she has been earning more than £1,000 a week – after tax – as part of the Capita team.
She said her bosses made it clear that team members would only keep their jobs if they produced enough cuts to the packages of the people whose care needs they were assessing.
Capita said this week that it did not “recognise” Rebecca’s claims, although it has not denied any of her specific claims.
But when it was later shown the “extra incentive” email, a Capita spokesman appeared to accept that it was genuine and claimed the incentive mentioned was “never introduced”, and that the company would not be “updating” its original statement.
Southampton City Council said the Capita project was part of its plan to “transform” adult social care in the city, and claimed that the emphasis was not on cost-cutting but on “carrying out a thorough review, supporting people to take up alternatives such as enhanced telecare and direct payments, if appropriate”.
It had not commented on the “extra incentive” email by 11am today (Thursday).
The council’s link-up with Capita was first trialled through a pilot project, which resulted in an average cut of seven per cent to disabled people’s support packages.
That pilot project has now finished, and Capita is being paid by the council to continue the work.
Disabled people in Southampton with continuing healthcare funding from the NHS have already seen their local clinical commissioning group (CCG) attempt to push them into institutions, by arguing that the needs of disabled people who need more than eight hours of long-term healthcare a day “would be more appropriately met within a residential placement”.
The city council has also been forced to scrap plans to review the packages of disabled people with high-cost support packages and try to force them out of their own homes and into residential and nursing institutions.
Now Rebecca, one of the freelance social workers who has been working on the Southampton project for Capita, has contacted DNS to describe the pressure she and her colleagues have been put under to cut people’s care packages during the day, while being put up in luxury, three-star hotels at night.
DNS has seen another email sent by a manager from the “Capita review team” late last year, complaining that their latest results showed that the cuts to care packages they had managed to find had “fallen dramatically”.
The manager adds in the email: “The senior managers [from the council] who are leading this transformation want to know why it appears we are failing to realise the results in service delivery and savings they anticipated by commissioning this project.
“They in turn are being asked to explain to Councillors of SCC [Southampton City Council].”
The manager then adds in the email: “I have stressed how hard you are all working – but we don’t appear to be getting the results we had during the Pilots.”
And she warns her team: “We don’t have very much time to turn this situation around.
“If we can’t/don’t do it all the hard work you have put in so far will have been for nothing.
“Not to put too fine a point on things WE ARE ALL ON THE WAY HOME.”
Capita’s freelance social workers stayed at plush three-star hotels such as the Bartley Lodge, the city’s Jury’s Inn hotel and the New Place, while they were being paid more than £1,000 a week to cut disabled people’s support to live independently.
Rebecca told DNS: “Capita know nothing about social care. They don’t care about social care. They only care about delivering or being seen to deliver the savings.
“You had to go hell for leather to produce these savings. A council manager told us: ‘You have to continue with this because there is no plan B.'”
But Rebecca said the project was “so badly monitored and managed that I suspect a lot of the team had never had it so easy.
“We often remarked it was one of the easiest social work jobs we had ever had and the pressure only came from them wanting savings where under social work values and ethics we were loathe to make those cuts.”
When she was interviewed for the job, she said, the questions focused on whether she would be happy to cut people’s care packages if needed.
She said: “I said if the care needs are not there, then yes. If they are there, then no.
“Many of the social workers have been sacked by Capita along the way because they weren’t making the savings, they weren’t cutting the cost of care.”
And she said that the service-users with no support networks to advocate on their behalf with the council were often the ones who were having their packages cut.
Rebecca said: “There was a huge emphasis on making savings.
“There were constant ‘thinly veiled threats’ that we must make savings.
“You were threatened with a glare or a glower if you questioned them, or if you reminded them of the correct processes under the Care Act.
“You knew you risked losing your job. One of the managers told us all the time, ‘If you don’t do it, I will throw you under the bus.'”
Rebecca said she and her colleagues were also put under huge pressure to replace the care packages of service-users receiving 15-minute care visits with “telecare” equipment.
This could mean handing electronic pill-dispensing devices that opened at set times every day to service-users who previously received short visits from social workers to ensure they took their medication.
She said the service-users would often struggle with the dispensers when they were left alone to use them in their homes.
Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said the latest revelations of the council’s “underhand behaviour” were “shocking”.
She said: “Southampton council and also the CCG seem to be trying their hardest to prevent disabled people living independently in the community with the right levels of support.”
She said Capita was “immoral, incompetent and obviously willing to stoop to any lengths to make money”.
Ian Loynes, chief executive of Spectrum Centre for Independent Living, a user-led organisation which is based in Southampton and supports many of the service-users affected by the review, said: “Every disabled person, every older person, every social worker and every human being who is concerned for the welfare of people who require care and support will be deeply disturbed by these allegations, if they are an accurate representation of what has been occurring.
“We understand the financial pressures and difficulties that social care managers are under; however there are better ways to deliver cost savings.”
The whistleblower’s concerns were raised in the same week that DNS reported how nurses carrying out disability benefits assessments for Capita – and fellow outsourcing company Atos – were guilty of widespread dishonesty in how they were compiling their reports for the Department for Work and Pensions.
After being told of the whistleblower’s allegations, a Capita spokesman said in a statement: “We do not recognise these claims, and nor do they reflect the culture and behaviour of the team who help deliver this service in partnership with Southampton City Council.
“We are not financially incentivised to deliver savings.
“Our performance is measured on the delivery of needs based assessments that ensure people are receiving the appropriate type and level of care as well as meeting the requirements of the Care Act.”
A council spokesman said: “The council is working on a joint initiative with Capita to address a backlog of overdue social care assessments and reviews, to ensure that individuals continue to have the care and support needed to meet their eligible social care needs and to meet its Care Act requirements.
“This project is part of the council’s plan to transform adult social care services and will help to ensure that timely and regular reviews are carried out going forward, which will help people to live full and independent lives wherever possible and ensure people get the care and support that best meets their needs.
“Reviews are being completed by qualified social workers who have been carefully vetted for their skills, knowledge and experience and are registered with the Health and Care Professions Council.
“The emphasis is on carrying out a thorough review, supporting people to take up alternatives such as enhanced telecare and direct payments, if appropriate.”
He added later: “The results so far confirm our view that this is the most cost-effective way of completing the reviews in a timely way, to the required quality.”
And he said that “so far, four out of five reviews have resulted in no change to the overall care package”.
But Rebecca said the reason that four our of five reviews had led to no change in a care package was because many of them covered residential or nursing placements, which refuse to accept lowered fees.
She said it was “understood, discussed and agreed that the biggest money savings” lay among older and disabled people living in their own homes.
*Not her real name
2 February 2017
An influential committee of MPs is to examine claims of widespread dishonesty by healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of disability benefit claimants.
Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) published the results of a two-month investigation that suggested a serious, institutional problem that spreads across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the two private sector contractors – Atos and Capita – that assess eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) on its behalf.
DNS included evidence from more than 20 disabled people who had contacted DNS over the last year or had commented on previous DNS news stories to claim that their assessors – usually qualified nurses – lied repeatedly in reports they produced for DWP.
Since publication, DNS has collected more than 20 further reports – some through comments on last week’s stories, and others with detailed evidence shared with DNS – from disabled people who say their assessment reports were dishonest and deeply misleading.
As a result of that evidence, the chair of the Commons work and pensions select committee, the Labour MP Frank Field, said today (Thursday): “The committee has been presented with some concerning reports about the operation of the PIP assessment process.
“I’m looking at those reports, and the issues they raise, very carefully. It will then be for the committee to decide how it wants to respond.”
The team reviewing PIP on behalf of DWP has also confirmed that it will accept evidence collected during the DNS investigation. Paul Gray’s second review of PIP is due to be published in April.
DWP has continued to show no interest in the results of the investigation and to insist that there is no dishonesty at all among its benefits assessors.
Meanwhile, a former Atos assessor has told DNS why she believes there are so many examples of dishonest assessment reports.
The former nurse worked for Atos for about six months in 2014 and 2015 before she left because she was not meeting her target of eight paper-based assessments a day.
Although she left before the period covered by the latest reports – which focus on the last 12 months – she said she believes the pressure on her former colleagues to reach their targets for completing reports left them little time to research the conditions they are assessing.
She said: “I know staff would make assumptions rather than facts… to get the reports done quickly and hope it didn’t get audited.
“Some were like me very conscientious and others banged them out for the financial incentive, with little compassion or research on conditions.”
She added: “The lack of knowledge on conditions, drugs and side-effects is shocking, but in reality assessors cannot know about every possible condition but have no time… to look them up and research the condition and effects.”
She particularly highlighted the lack of knowledge about mental health conditions, which she said meant assessors were often “totally subjective rather than objective with no time to look up the condition or read up the effects of the prescribed medication and side effects”.
She also blamed “target-driven management” and assessors “making assumptions rather than using facts”, while the risk of losing their jobs if they failed to achieve targets for the number of assessments they carried out meant assessors were “not always reading all of the evidence”.
And, she said, many assessors often wanted to finish their reports quickly “so they could be paid overtime”.
Atos has again refused to comment this week, while a DWP spokeswoman said of the former assessor’s claims: “We can’t respond on Atos’s behalf. I suggest you refer that question to them.”
In another development, one PIP claimant has provided evidence which may explain why so few complaints about assessors are upheld by DWP’s “independent” complaints body, the Independent Case Examiner (ICE), which is staffed by DWP civil servants.
He has shown DNS an email from a member of the DWP customer services team which makes it clear that he is not allowed to lodge complaints about his PIP assessor with ICE because his concerns were “regarding the decision making process so are not considered as a complaint and as such would not be signposted to ICE as a result”.
A DWP press officer responded to a question about the email just before this week’s DNS deadline to say that she could not comment because “we have not been given any details about the email or claimant you’re referring to”.
By the time she replied, it was too late to secure permission from the PIP claimant to share his email with the DWP press office.
Last week, DWP said: “Assessment providers have their own complaints processes in place, and if claimants are not satisfied with providers’ response they will be signposted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE).
“Over 1.9 million PIP claims have been decided since April 2013 to September 2016 and in this time only a tiny fraction of complaints regarding providers’ service standards have been upheld by ICE.”
2 February 2017
Welfare rights experts have produced evidence that backs up the findings of a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation into the lies told by healthcare professionals in their disability benefit assessment reports.
Last week, the two-month investigation revealed how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
The investigation suggested a serious, institutional problem that stretched across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractors, whose staff carry out face-to-face assessments of eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).
Now two separate welfare rights advice organisations say they have their own evidence that confirms many of the DNS findings.
Graeme Ellis, who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, said he and his colleagues are currently lodging up to 30 PIP appeals a week on behalf of claimants, and “20 to 25” of them involve assessors who have told lies in their reports.
Here2Support has now started requesting some tribunals to call the Atos assessors to give evidence at appeals so they can be questioned about the honesty of their reports.
But on the three occasions they have tried this so far, all have resulted in a DWP decision-maker reversing their decision and finding in favour of the claimant, despite the mandatory reconsideration – the internal DWP appeal – having already taken place.
He said this shows that DWP “know damn well that the assessors are not reporting accurately”.
Ellis said that he has been to many assessments in which the subsequent reports bore no relation to what the assessors were told by the claimant.
He said: “You read the report and your first thought is, ‘It’s somebody entirely different.’ And most of these cases are successful at appeal.”
Ellis and his colleagues do not have the resources to attend many face-to-face assessments themselves, but he has still witnessed this happening himself about eight times in the last three months.
Among the tricks played by Atos, he said, is to force PIP claimants to walk down a long corridor to get from the waiting area to the assessment room.
Even if they are able to make it – and he has seen claimants in such discomfort that they fall against the corridor wall – this does not mean that the claimant can do so “safely, reliably and repeatedly”, which assessors should take into account, he said.
He has also read reports in which the assessor said the claimant walked to the assessment room, even though they arrived in a wheelchair.
Another frequent comment is to say the claimant showed no signs of breathlessness or anxiety, even though they had been in tears during the assessment, he said.
Ellis points out that he has had some cases in which the assessor has produced an honest and accurate report, only for the DWP decision-maker to ignore what had been written.
Asked why there were so many dishonest reports, he said: “There have got to be some [assessors] doing it for kicks, but I think it is the pressure on the employer on how many people they let through.
“DWP deny it, but there is pressure from DWP on Atos and Capita to meet targets.”
And he believes that many of the problems with dishonest reports are the result of last year’s post-budget chaos, in which the government had to perform a u-turn over plans to tighten eligibility for PIP, following the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.
This left a hole in DWP’s spending plans, Ellis believes, that it has filled by somehow increasing pressure on the assessment regime.
He said: “Because they were unsuccessful in the budget last year with the plans for PIP, I think this is the aftermath.”
It was Ellis who, last spring, embarrassed the Tory party by resigning in disgust at George Osborne’s budget, after voting Conservative for nearly 50 years.
He had been managing the Conservative Disability Group’s website, and left a message on the site, stating: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”
Asked whether it was happy for PIP assessors to be questioned by tribunal appeal panels, a DWP spokeswoman said in a statement, released less than an hour before today’s final DNS deadline: “As you’ve not provided the details of these cases, we are unable to look into them.
“However, assessment providers work on behalf of DWP and it is DWP who have overall responsibility for making decisions.
“Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate for an assessor to attend a tribunal.
“In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.”
Evidence of concerns about PIP assessors has also come this week from Southampton Advice and Representation Centre (SARC).
Just before Christmas, SARC published research analysing the results of 100 appeal tribunals in which it supported claimants between August 2015 and December 2016.
SARC’s analysis found that it had been successful in 78 of those cases – although it only takes on cases where it has a reasonable chance of overturning the DWP decision – the highest success rate it has had for any benefit since it was founded 35 years ago.
It has also had three cases in which an initial Atos assessment report led a DWP decision-maker to award the claimant zero points for both daily living and mobility – they need eight points for the standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate – only for the tribunal to award the claimant the enhanced rate for both elements.
The most outrageous example was that of a claimant who had been awarded zero points after the Atos assessment, only for the tribunal to award them 50 points for daily living and 22 for mobility, while another claimant was awarded 35 points for daily living and 18 for mobility.
Gary Edwards, SARC’s manager, said: “Repeatedly clients tell us and indeed the tribunal panel, that the written records of the assessment do not accurately reflect what they actually recall saying to the assessor.”
He said earlier: “The results we have found raise serious questions about the ability of Atos and point to a wider system failure.
“We have real concern about the suitability in terms of professional experience of their assessors: can a physiotherapist or paramedic seriously understand complex mental health issues? Our research suggests this is improbable.”
2 February 2017
Many more disabled people have come forward to describe how the healthcare professionals who assessed them for the government’s new disability benefit lied in the reports they compiled.
Their evidence further confirms the results of a two-month Disability News Service (DNS) investigation, which revealed last week how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
Having read last week’s articles, more personal independence payment (PIP) claimants have come forward with their own evidence of dishonest assessors.
One PIP claimant, David*, who has impairments including ME, fibromyalgia and a heart condition, has described how his disability living allowance (DLA) award of the higher rates for both care and mobility was lost after his PIP assessment left him with zero points (a claimant needs eight for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).
He remembers his assessor telling him when she arrived at his home and he asked if she knew anything about ME and fibromyalgia: “I’ve dealt with a couple of people with yuppy flu before.”
He said: “When I received the assessor’s report I thought it was for another person as it contained so many omissions, inaccuracies and conjecture. There was also several instances of fabrication.”
Information from his previous applications for incapacity benefit, DLA and employment and support allowance (ESA), and his successful appeal decisions for DLA and ESA at tribunal, had been omitted from her report.
David told DNS: “The report states I carried out tiptoe and ‘balancing on each foot’ tests and had no problems walking. I did not walk a step and did not carry out the tests described.
“The report states that I turned around in my chair and picked up a bottle of medicine from the surface behind me – the surface behind me was an oven hob and all my medication was on the table in front of the assessor.”
When he described how his medication had sent him to sleep in his back yard, the assessor claimed that he said instead: “I wonder [sic] round the fields outside my house,” while being able to open a ring-pull can was interpreted as “able to prepare a meal”.
He is appealing the decision, and is complaining about his assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
David said: “Since receiving the report, the consequences of dealing with the complaints procedure and making another tribunal appeal have been a noticeable deterioration in my health and have put a strain on both my wife’s and my own mental health (loss of peace of mind, anxiety, knocks to self-confidence and a feeling of being discriminated against because of the nature of my disability).”
Rachel*, a former mental health nurse, requested a copy of her assessment report after she was awarded zero points by DWP, following a PIP assessment by an Atos nurse in the Brighton assessment centre, when she had previously been claiming middle rate care and lower rate mobility under DLA.
She said: “In the report, I found details about a physical examination that was allegedly performed. It ran to one side of A4 paper.
“No examination ever happened; the report is a complete fabrication.”
She is now appealing, and is hoping to lodge a complaint about the nurse with the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
Julie*, who has both a physical and mental health condition, said she had been claiming the highest rate for both care and mobility under DLA, but as a result of a dishonest Atos assessment report by a nurse was granted only the standard rate of both daily living and mobility for PIP, and lost her Motability vehicle in January 2016.
After she requested a review of her case in November, she was assessed again – by another nurse – and again received a dishonest report.
The whole process, she said, had been “humiliating and degrading”.
In both reports, the nurse said Julie had refused a physical assessment, which she said was not true on either occasion, and was witnessed by a third party both times.
She said: “When it came to care, she ignored a lot of what was said, just picking out the fact I could shower but didn’t mention that my husband has to help me, the same with cooking and taking medication.
“Even though my husband does all that and leaves me my lunch and phones me to remind me to take medication.”
Another claimant, Sandra*, said that the nurse who assessed her wrote in her report that she had no suicidal thoughts, even though Sandra had shown her copies of police incident reports written after her friends had expressed concerns for her safety.
The nurse also wrote that Sandra was in a “good mood and often smiling”, even though she had told her that her second dad had just died and she had spent a sleepless night crying.
The nurse wrote that Sandra can “manage medication/therapy unaided”, even though her flatmate helps her fill her tablets box and then hides the rest of the medication in his room to avoid her using it to overdose, as she has done previously.
Sandra had previously received the PIP enhanced rate for daily living, but as a result of the assessment report, received zero points and so lost her entitlement to £330 every four weeks.
She is now waiting for a tribunal to appeal that decision.
As a result of the problems this has caused, she has started to hear voices for the first time, and has been referred for urgent psychological treatment.
She cannot use public transport because of claustrophobia, and taxis are expensive, particularly because she has to travel to a neighbouring town for hospital appointments.
Michael* said that the stress of fighting his PIP case through a tribunal – and also having to take his ESA appeal to a tribunal – caused him to have a heart attack.
He said that both of the reports compiled by these assessors were “seriously dishonest, missing huge amounts of evidence I gave, some of which was extremely important to my case”.
He had been assessed for PIP by an Atos physiotherapist, who failed to mention the “multiple pulmonary embolisms on my lungs which though I had suffered with from my first heart attack two years previously had only just been diagnosed”.
He also claimed that Michael experienced only “mild pain”, when he had been told about his “neck and back injuries, a broken right kneecap, arthritis of the knees and angina, to name just a few of my problems”.
As a result of the assessment, he was awarded no PIP payments at all, and it took him 18 months to reach tribunal, where he was finally awarded enhanced mobility and standard daily living.
Another PIP claimant, Michelle*, said she was “devastated” when she received a copy of the “fictional” report compiled by the Atos nurse who assessed her.
She plans to lodge a complaint with the nursing regulator, the Nursing and Midwifery Council.
The report mentions the results of a hip rotation test, and a test to see if she could put a hand behind her back, neither of which she said she was asked to do.
The nurse also said that she “can raise arm within normal range”, something she cannot and did not do.
The report, she said, repeatedly states that she has “no significant restrictions in upper limbs and hands”, even though she has “severe cervical spondylosis and a deformed posture. My head is tilted and twisted. Obvious to anyone who looks at me.”
The nurse also claimed that she took the top off a sports drinking bottle with “adequate dexterity”, when that was done by her son, and that she “passed prescription across the desk”, again something that was done by her son.
Michelle had previously been receiving an indefinite award for the highest rates of both care and mobility under DLA for more than nine years.
Following her assessment, that was reduced to the standard rates of PIP for mobility and daily living.
She said: “This means I will lose [my] Motability car and won’t be able to get to hospital appointments, doctors or visit family.
“Devastated that a member of medical profession could set out to deliberately discredit my application and defame my character.”
Nicola* was assessed at home by a mental health nurse working for Capita. Even though the assessment was recorded, with the knowledge of both the assessor and Capita, she said he still “lied throughout the report”.
Among the lies, he wrote that she saw friends every day and spoke to them daily on the phone, visited her GP in a taxi, and did not know what one of her inhalers was for, all of which was disproved by the recording, she said, while he also ignored her depression and emphysema.
She said: “The whole system is corrupt and not fit for purpose. The DWP are fully aware of the lies that are told in the reports [but] they give their full support to Capita [and] Atos.”
Christopher Brogan told DNS this week how he accompanied his partner, Mandy Cooper, to her PIP assessment in Birmingham last November.
A Capita nurse assessor wrote that Mandy can visit a local shop on her own, even though she was not asked if she could do that, and cannot walk that far.
The assessor said she had climbed a couple of steps at the assessment centre, even though there had been no steps in the building for her to climb and she had entered the building via a ramp.
As a result of the report, Mandy’s higher rate mobility and care under DLA was changed to standard rate daily living and no mobility under PIP.
They are taking her case to a tribunal.
Barrie Davies told DNS this week that the Atos physiotherapist who assessed him in Wigan a few weeks ago told “lie after lie after lie” in his report.
He failed to mention in the report that when the assessor asked Davies if he could touch his toes, he replied: “No, because I have broken my back.”
Scans show two breaks in his spine, which is also “bulging, twisted and collapsing. I gave that evidence to him and it didn’t appear in his report.”
As a result of the assessment, he had to hand back his Motability car this week, 17 years after a previous dishonest assessment report by a doctor led to him having his Motability car removed.
He had previously been claiming the higher rate mobility and middle rate care component of DLA, but as a result of the latest assessment report, that was changed to the standard rate of PIP for both daily living and mobility.
Davies said: “He said I can walk down steps without crutches and that is a lie.
“I can’t move my neck at all. He said I have got good movement in it.
“He said rotation of my back was perfect and my specialist said I can’t move it at all.”
He is appealing against the decision, with support from the online welfare advice group Fightback4Justice.
One claimant, who commented on last week’s story on the DNS website, described how his assessment report had proved to be “not just a pack of lies but contained 19 spelling mistakes, three sentences that were complete gibberish and at least two contradictory statements”.
He said: “Among the lies, the report claims I’m taking a type of medication that I can’t swallow, one of the notes claims I’m doing all my own housework when it was made clear I had to employ someone to do this while another says I can use public transport, which I also made very clear was not the case.”
He now plans to report his assessor to his local police force for alleged fraud by misrepresentation.
Capita asked to see anonymous summaries of the latest cases this week, but then – after its media team had read them – refused to add to last week’s statement, in which it said it expected “all assessors to behave in a way that meets both our high professional standards and those of their professions”.
Atos again refused to comment.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments.
“We do not accept it to be the case that there is dishonesty amongst them.
“As we said, we are committed to making sure the PIP assessment process works fairly and effectively, which is why we welcome independent reviews such as the ones led by Paul Gray, the second of which is expected in April 2017.
“Anyone not happy with their benefit decision can ask for it to be looked at again, and then appeal to an independent tribunal.
“There is also a comprehensive complaints procedure in place for claimants who are not happy with the service they have received from providers.”
*Not their real names
2 February 2017
A crucial report submitted to the United Nations by three national disabled people’s organisations has been criticised for failing to speak out strongly enough on the links between the UK government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of benefit claimants.
The “shadow report” will be sent to the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD), which will question the UK government in public this year about its progress in implementing the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).
The report, which is likely to have a significant impact on the committee as it draws up the “list of issues” it will raise with the UK government in public later in the year as part of the “periodic review”, concludes that there is “little evidence that government is consistently taking account of the [convention] in developing policy and making decisions”.
It was drawn up by Disability Rights UK (DR UK), Disability Wales and Inclusion Scotland, with significant input from consultant Neil Crowther, who has worked at a senior level for both the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Disability Rights Commission.
The report says: “Since the [UNCRPD] was ratified by the UK in 2009 there has been a dramatic programme of reform and public spending decisions that individually and cumulatively have severely impeded the rights of disabled people.
“In some policy areas, practices are being encouraged or go unchallenged which are at odds with the principles and intention of the [convention], such as rising numbers of children attending special schools.”
The report includes 20 “top issues of concern”.
Among those 20 issues, the report points to how measures to reduce public spending are having a “disproportionate and retrogressive impact on the rights of disabled people”.
This echoes the conclusion reached in November by CRPD, which found – followed a lengthy inquiry triggered by activists from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – that the UK government’s social security reforms had led to “grave or systematic” violations of the convention.
Among the other 19 key concerns, the shadow report criticises the lack of an overall government strategy on the inclusion of disabled children, and highlights the failure to counter negative portrayals of disabled people in the media, as well as the government’s failure to secure an adequate supply of accessible housing.
The report also highlights the rising number of disabled people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties dying in state care, the absence of an independent system to investigate those deaths, and the significant increase in the number of people subject to compulsory detention and treatment under the Mental Health Act over the last decade.
And it says that the absence of a statutory right to independent living “undermines disabled people’s ability to exercise choice and control in their care”.
But the report says little about one of the key issues of last year’s UN report, which was fuelled by years of DPAC research and campaigning: the link between the UK government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.
The report merely states that it is “concerned by evidence that suggests that the administration of social security benefits may have been an attributing [sic] factor in the decision of some people with mental health problems to take their own lives”.
It says that this “may raise issues concerning the States [sic] obligation to protect people’s right to life”; and although it promises to “address this issue in more detail” later in the report, it fails to do so.
Over the last two-and-a-half years, Disability News Service (DNS) has built up a substantial body of documentary evidence linking government ministers with the deaths of benefit claimants, particularly those with mental health conditions.
Both DR UK and Disability Wales are paid subscribers to DNS, and so have received these stories throughout that period.
Among those reports, DNS has repeatedly described how ministers failed to act on a coroner’s warning in 2010 that disabled people would die if they failed to improve the safety of the work capability assessment (WCA).
Ministers also deliberately loosened regulations that had been drawn up to protect people with mental health conditions whose lives could be at risk if forced into work-related activity.
And ministers failed to show the 2010 coroner’s report and their own secret reviews into deaths linked to the WCA to the independent expert they hired to review the assessment.
Neither DR UK, Disability Wales, Inclusion Scotland or Crowther have requested any of that documentary evidence while preparing this week’s report, and none of those concerns are mentioned in the report.
There is also no mention in the report of Government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford, which concluded in late 2015 that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.
Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, criticised the shadow report, and said that an alternative report by the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance would ensure that these issues were properly addressed.
She said: “The direct human cost of the government’s welfare reform policy, as so damningly evidenced in the UN disability committee inquiry report, represents a deliberate and systematic attack on disabled people’s rights and quality of life: attacks justified by an economic ideology that seems to view the support disabled people need as an unnecessary cost that needs to be eliminated .
“The CRPD shadow report provides a key opportunity to publicly lay out an evidence base for the huge injustice disabled people are experiencing right now and no report can credibly claim to represent the voices of disabled people while overlooking the depth and impact of these attacks.
“The Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance shadow report will fully evidence the extent of the injustice and attacks our community has faced and continues to face.”
A DPAC spokeswoman said: “The UK government has repeatedly denied the causal link between benefit deaths and welfare reform and this shadow report presents no challenge to that disgraceful position.
“It is an extreme insult to all the hard work that individual disabled people and our allies have put into exposing the facts and creating a robust evidence base.
“If the authors of the shadow report disagree that the evidence base is strong enough then surely as organisations and individuals who purport to care about disabled people’s rights then they have a responsibility to put some effort into creating one.
“In fact, they have had years to do so.”
Asked to explain the lack of emphasis on the links between the government’s welfare reforms and the deaths of claimants, Crowther said he had worked as a consultant for DR UK and Disability Wales and so it was “for them to comment, not me”.
Sue Bott, DR UK’s deputy chief executive, said the issue was raised twice in the report, which also endorsed CRPD’s findings, which itself “raised the matter of deaths of people following benefits assessment”.
She said: “We chose not to reiterate the issues covered in the inquiry report, save to provide updates on some issues such as the [proposed cut to some claimants of employment and support allowance], in order to have space to raise other critical issues such as deaths in detention within the overall shadow report word limit.
“On the issue itself, it is not clear from a legal point of view that these deaths would amount to a violation by the state of the right to life, hence the language we chose to use and our cross referencing to the right to health.
“This should not be regarded as any downgrading of the seriousness of the issues raised.
“We think the reports provide a comprehensive and robust account of current challenges facing disabled people and our rights in Britain today.”
She added: “It seems likely that the [CRPD] will highlight the impact of austerity measures and benefits reforms when it selects its ‘list of issues’ in March and subsequently this will provide an opportunity to submit additional evidence.
“We will explore the opportunity to do so at that stage.”
She said the reference to providing “more detail” further on in the report was “a mistake that we overlooked during final editing”.
2 February 2017
The UK government is complicit in the disproportionately high levels of domestic violence experienced by disabled people, because of its welfare cuts and the failure to invest in support services, young campaigners have told MEPs.
Four disabled co-founders of the user-led group Disabled Survivors Unite (DSU) spoke about their work and their own personal experiences at a hearing on domestic violence and disabled people, in the European Parliament in Brussels this week.
They told the hearing that disabled people were often forgotten in conversations about domestic violence and other abuse.
The event was organised by the Swedish MEP Soraya Post, from the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats, and the campaign Europe Needs Feminism.
Alice Kirby, one of the founders of DSU, told the hearing that many of the services needed by disabled survivors of domestic violence could not afford to make adaptations to their buildings or services to make them inclusive and accessible.
She said: “The UK government urgently need to reverse the cuts that have left these services underfunded and they need to inject more money into them so they can afford to become accessible to disabled people.”
Kirby said that significant cuts to social security had left many disabled people poorer, and “we know that the poorer a person is the less likely it is that they will be able to escape abuse”.
She also pointed to the closure of the Independent Living Fund and cuts to social services, which meant many disabled people were forced to rely on their abusers for care, so were less likely to be able to leave that abusive relationship.
The acute shortage of accessible accommodation also “forces people to remain in abusive relationships”, she said.
Ashley Stephen, also from DSU, told the hearing that abusers often take advantage of the isolation of their disabled victim, withholding their food, care or medication.
They said that DSU was founded “on the realisation that disabled victims and survivors are often ignored in the fight against abuse and sexual violence”.
One male survivor told DSU that he believed that the court system often discriminates against disabled survivors of abuse, “using our disability against us, framing us as unreliable witnesses because of our conditions”.
Bekki Smiddy, from DSU, called for the recognition that disabled people experience domestic abuse “at a disproportionately high rate” to be “embedded in policy, legislation and services, rather than an afterthought”.
She described how one survivor of domestic violence, who was a wheelchair-user, had to be “shuffled from women’s refuge to women’s refuge”, and even carried up the stairs, because none of them were wheelchair-accessible.
Eventually, she was left with no choice other than to return to her wheelchair-accessible home – where she had lived with her abuser – against police advice.
Smiddy said there was only one specialist domestic violence service for Deaf people in the UK, and only one specialist service designed to meet the needs of people with learning difficulties.
DSU is now researching the number of accessible safe houses, because there is currently no data available.
She said that 17 per cent of refuges had been forced to close because of funding cuts, while local cuts to services had “fallen most harshly on people from minority ethnic communities, LGBTQ women and disabled women”.
Smiddy told the hearing: “We require a needs-led approach with user-led organisations at the heart of development.”
Her DSU colleague Holly Scott-Gardner said that the domestic abuse of disabled people was often not recognised by care providers, support services or even friends and family.
She told the hearing: “In the last few months alone, I have talked with countless survivors whose abuse was ignored or grossly misunderstood.
“They have told me about wheelchairs and other necessary equipment being damaged to prevent them from leaving the house, benefits money going to a partner, who withheld it from them, and being abused, and the physical effects of that abuse being hidden by their abuser, who blames it on their clumsiness, which is a symptom of their disability.”
She added: “We are often taught that our disabilities are inconvenient, that they cause all of our problems, and it can be easy to blame terrible things that happen to us on the fact that we are disabled.
“It can be hard to recognise that we are not the problem, that we are not the one to blame.”
Kirby told the hearing that the UK government’s welfare reforms had been “a targeted attack on disabled people” and that “not only do they perpetuate domestic violence by making it incredibly difficult for victims to leave their abusive partner, but these policies are themselves abusive”.
She called on the government to carry out an “urgent” assessment of the impact of its welfare reforms “and recognise how living in these circumstances prevents disabled people from escaping abuse”, and to invest long-term funding into accessible and inclusive support services.
Kirby pointed to November’s report by the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, which found the UK government guilty of “grave or systematic” violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities as a result of its programme of social security reforms and cuts.
She said: “The government needs to acknowledge the failings outlined by the UN report and follow its recommendations.
“Until these changes are made, our government will remain complicit in the abuse of disabled people.
“We want equality, nothing more or less, and we will continue to campaign until this is achieved.”
Eleanor Lisney, a founding member of the disabled women’s collective Sisters of Frida, and also representing the European Network on Independent Living, spoke later at the hearing about the barriers disabled victims of domestic violence face in accessing their rights.
She said disabled women face even greater barriers if they are from minority ethnic backgrounds and religions, or do not speak English as their first language, and particularly if they are immigrants.
She said research in 2014 found that only about 15 per cent of rapes recorded by police as crimes had resulted in rape charges being brought against a suspect, while more than 80 per cent of people reporting rapes to the Metropolitan police were vulnerable to sexual attack because of psychosocial impairments or because they had learning difficulties.
But she said that these impairments meant such cases were less likely to result in a suspect being charged.
Research also showed, she said, that nearly one in five women who report rape have a mental health issue, but such women were 40 per cent less likely to have their case referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for prosecution, while people with learning difficulties were two-thirds less likely to be referred.
She said: “This shows that disabled women are so much less likely to have access to justice.”
2 February 2017
A bus company forced to change its policies after a ground-breaking Supreme Court access case has been accused of treating disabled peple and the legal system with contempt, after it revealed the measures it has taken to comply with the judgment.
Last month, disabled activist Doug Paulley and other campaigners celebrated after the Supreme Court ruled that First Bus had breached its duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people under the Equality Act through its “first come, first served” policy on the use of wheelchair spaces.
It was the first case of disability discrimination in service provision to be heard by the country’s highest court.
The Supreme Court ruled unanimously that disabled passengers have a right to priority access over the wheelchair space on a bus, and that a driver must do more than simply ask a non-disabled passenger to move.
Until yesterday (Wednesday), First Bus had not revealed what action it would take to comply with that ruling.
But First Bus has now emailed Disability News Service (DNS) with its new “conditions of carriage” and said it was taking “immediate action to brief our 13,000 drivers across the UK about the changes”.
Those new conditions of carriage reveal that the company has changed just one sentence.
The relevant section of the old version stated: “If someone in a wheelchair wishes to get on and there is space elsewhere on the vehicle, customers will be asked by the driver to vacate the space, including repositioning small prams or mobility scooters where possible and folding any buggies and storing these in the luggage space where available.”
The new version states: “If someone in a wheelchair wishes to get on and there is space elsewhere on the vehicle, customers will be required by the driver to vacate the space provided it is reasonable for them to do so, including repositioning small prams or mobility scooters where possible and folding any buggies and storing these in the luggage space where available.”
It means the company has changed just one word and added nine others as a result of the Supreme Court judgment.
After being shown the new wording, Paulley said First Bus was “treating disabled people and the legal system with contempt, doing the minimum possible, trying to duck the issue, and in general behaving like ignorant, incompetent prats.
“I’m unsurprised and was resigned to such, so I’m not disappointed, but as usual, they’ve failed to do anything worthwhile or with integrity.
“I’ve come to expect nothing more from First Bus.”
He said the new First Bus conditions had “about as much oomph in them as a tickling stick”.
Paulley compared First Bus’s new conditions of carriage with rival bus company Stagecoach’s much stronger terms, which say that small prams and unfolded buggies can use the wheelchair space “only when it is not required by a passenger in a wheelchair or approved mobility scooter (passengers in wheelchairs have absolute priority by law)”.
Stagecoach also says that customers are “required by law to ensure that the designated wheelchair space is made available if a customer wishes to board with a wheelchair”.
The Stagecoach version also adds: “You are required to co-operate in allowing proper use of the designated wheelchair space by vacating this space if it is required by a customer in a wheelchair.”
Meanwhile, Paralympian Anne Wafula Strike has described a pledge by the rail industry that it will improve information on whether accessible toilets are out of order as “a step in the right direction”.
The announcement came only a few weeks after the Guardian reported how Wafula Strike was forced to wet herself on a CrossCountry train because the accessible toilet was out of order.
She said she had been “robbed of her dignity” but had decided to speak out in the hope that it would bring about improvements for other disabled people.
Following her decision to speak out, rail minister Paul Maynard, himself a disabled person, held talks with the rail industry, and yesterday the Department for Transport announced that work to improve access to accessible toilets on trains and at stations was now “underway”.
A spokesman for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), which represents train operators and Network Rail, told DNS that as a result of those discussions it would now “map” all of the accessible toilets at train stations and put that information on the National Rail Enquiries website.
It will also ensure that if a disabled passenger books assistance through the Passenger Assist service, she will be told before she boards the train if the accessible toilet is out of order.
The RDG spokesman said the industry was also looking at the feasibility of informing passengers if an accessible toilet was out of order through the electronic customer information screens at stations.
Told by DNS of the measures that had been agreed, Wafula Strike said: “It’s definitely a step in the right direction but they need to tell us what happens next if the toilet isn’t working on that particular train you are planning to get on.
“Do you turn back and go home and miss your meeting, work, etc?
“What measures have they put in place to ensure the journey isn’t aborted?”
She said she feared that rail staff would just take the “easy option” and “turn away disabled passengers because a toilet is out of order”, rather than take the more difficult option of ensuring that accessible toilets are “maintained and in working order”.
Maynard welcomed the RDG pledges.
He said: “I take the issue of accessibility on our railways extremely seriously and these commitments from industry are just one step forward to improve things.
“It is vital that all people, including disabled passengers, are able to use public transport and I will continue to push train companies on this matter.”
Later this year, the Department for Transport will be publish an accessibility action plan, which will address access to all forms of public transport.
In a third significant development on accessible transport, the Association of British Commuters (ABC) has lodged an application for a judicial review of the government’s failure to provide an accessible service for disabled passengers across part of England’s rail network.
ABC says transport secretary Chris Grayling has failed to enforce the terms of the Southern Rail franchise, which covers parts of south London and southern England, and is therefore discriminating against disabled people.
It is seeking a judicial review of the Department for Transport’s handling of the Southern Rail contract on four grounds, three of which relate to alleged discrimination experienced by disabled passengers.
ABC says that many disabled passengers on Southern services no longer have the confidence to use the rail system, as a result of excessive overcrowding, cancellations and a failure to provide assistance, even when booking in advance.
ABCs court action has been crowd-funded, and it will seek further crowdfunding resources if the high court gives the go-ahead for a judicial review.
Faryal Velmi, director of the user-led campaign group Transport for All, said: “It is totally unacceptable that Southern Rail have been allowed to treat disabled passengers as second class citizens.
“Transport for All has heard time and again from disabled transport users who feel Southern Rail’s network is now a no-go zone; impacting on people’s ability to work and often leaving them increasingly isolated.
“The Department for Transport and rail industry must act urgently to prevent the basic rights of disabled passengers being flouted in this way.”
2 February 2017
A government minister has suggested that the sharp fall in the number of disabled and older people receiving council-funded care packages is simply caused by local authorities no longer offering “non-statutory” services like meals on wheels.
David Mowat, the minister for community health and care, was giving evidence to the communities and local government select committee’s inquiry into adult social care.
He was asked by Tory MP Mark Prisk to explain figures which showed the number of people supported by Newcastle city council plunging from 9,780 to 5,200 since 2010-11.
Those figures were passed to the committee by the council at an earlier session of its inquiry, in October.
Tony Kirkham, the council’s director of resources, told the committee in October that the fall would continue, and that he had been told his council was now “trying to prevent deterioration rather than actually helping people thrive… we are asking people to do much more for themselves.”
Prisk told Mowat this week: “It reflects the wider pattern we have heard from people, which is that whatever the requirements are, the reality is they are just not being able to meet that demand.”
But Mowat told the committee that the social care system was not in crisis but was “under stress”, and he rejected any suggestion that councils were not implementing their duties under the government’s new Care Act.
He told Prisk that the act “clearly stipulates you must get care and it takes away the postcode lottery”.
Mowat said the only explanation for “significant unmet need” was either that local authorities were not implementing the Care Act properly, or that the criteria laid out in the Care Act were wrong.
He added: “I don’t think there is any evidence that either of those two things are in place.”
And he said the evidence from councils was that they were not failing to implement the Care Act.
He said: “So what is this unmet need…? The only answer I can give is that a large amount of it was in respect of services that were previously non-statutory and may to an extent have been withdrawn, things like meals on wheels, things that wouldn’t necessarily be picked up by a Care Act assessment.”
When Prisk pointed out that NHS England figures also showed a fall in the number of people receiving social care, Mowat said the number of care home places was “pretty much the same as they were 10 years ago”.
He said there was evidence that there was “a lot more” care taking place in people’s homes than 10 years ago, but he then admitted that it was difficult to get accurate statistics because much of this care was self-funded.
He added: “People working in care full-time has gone up by about 150,000 since 2010.
“So that doesn’t indicate that there’s been a great fall-off in the way that you’ve said.”
Mowat said there was a “massive disparity” between the performances of different local authorities and health authorities, while 42 per cent of local authorities had increased their adult social care budget last year.
He said: “I accept in many places there are difficulties. There is a huge disparity in performance.”
Meanwhile, the Liberal Democrat shadow health secretary Norman Lamb yesterday (Wednesday) led a cross-party delegation of MPs to meet prime minister Theresa May to discuss the “mounting crisis facing health and care services”, and “make the case for a cross-party convention on NHS and social care funding”.
2 February 2017
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com