DWP ‘failed to show WCA reviewer evidence of links to benefit deaths’

The Department for Work and Pensions appears to have admitted failing to show vital documents that linked its “fitness for work” assessment with the deaths of benefit claimants to an independent expert it hired to review the test.

Dr Paul Litchfield published the final two independent reviews of the work capability assessment (WCA) in December 2013 and November 2014, but neither of his reviews mentioned key documents that linked the WCA and the deaths of claimants.

The existence of the documents was only revealed publicly by Disability News Service (DNS) in the years after Litchfield’s final report was published.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has previously admitted possessing all these documents, including letters written by two coroners and a number of secret internal reviews into deaths linked to its WCA regime.

Litchfield declined to say this week whether he was shown these documents, but DWP said that it provided information to his review “on request” and that “any evidence used was referenced in the review”.

This suggests that the documents were not shared with Litchfield, as he made no mention of them in his reports.

The DWP statement adds to steadily mounting evidence that ministers and senior civil servants failed for years in their duty to address major flaws in the WCA, and then covered up their failure to do so.

Neither of Litchfield’s reviews mentioned the coroners’ letters, which followed the deaths of two men with mental health conditions in 2010 and 2013 and each warned of further such deaths if changes were not made to the WCA.

The call for evidence for Litchfield’s second review was issued on 10 June 2014, just five months after coroner Mary Hassell had written to DWP following an inquest into the death of Michael O’Sullivan, who had had significant, long-term mental health problems.

Hassell had told DWP that the trigger for his suicide had been the conclusion by civil servants that he was fit for work, and she said that neither DWP nor the Atos doctor who had assessed him had asked his GP, psychologist or psychiatrist for information about his mental health.

Hassell told DWP that it needed to take action “to prevent further deaths” like Michael O’Sullivan’s.

But despite that urgent call, Litchfield’s second review failed to mention Hassell’s letter, and a similar letter sent to DWP by another coroner in 2010 following the suicide of Stephen Carré.

Litchfield’s two reviews also failed to mention the secret internal reports, known at the time as peer reviews.

Peer reviews – now known as internal process reviews – must be carried out by civil servants into every death “where suicide is associated with DWP activity”.

One of the aims of the reviews is to “determine whether local and national standards have been followed or need to be revised/improved”, so DWP would find it hard to explain why they would not be shown to the independent experts commissioned to review the WCA.

DWP has admitted that at least seven peer reviews written in 2012 mentioned the WCA, and there are almost certainly many more that were written by the time Litchfield wrote his final report in late 2014.

Professor Malcolm Harrington, the independent expert who carried out the first three reviews of the WCA in 2010, 2011 and 2012, has already told DNS that he believes he was shown neither the first coroner’s letter (the second letter had not yet been written by the time he completed his third review) nor any WCA-related peer reviews.

He told DNS in December 2016: “I have NO recollection of seeing any of the reviews you mention.

“Maybe my brain is failing, but such damning indictments of the system – if seen – should have triggered a response from me. It didn’t.”

When approached the previous year about the 2010 coroner’s letter, he had told DNS: “If I had known about that coroner’s report, I would have said that this was something else we need to look at.

“I am a doctor, I know about coroner’s reports. Coroner’s reports are something that you don’t ignore.”

Now DNS has asked the same questions of Litchfield, who is BT’s chief medical officer.

DNS has asked him if DWP showed him the two coroners’ letters and any peer reviews that mentioned the WCA while he was working on his two reviews, and if they did, why he failed to mention them in his reports.

This week, more than three weeks after DNS put the questions to him, a BT spokesman said Dr Litchfield had declined to comment.

A DWP spokeswoman failed to confirm if the department showed all the WCA-related peer reviews and the two coroner’s letters to Dr Litchfield but appeared to suggest that it did not.

She said in a statement: “This was an independent review, and DWP provided information alongside other stakeholders – on request.

“Any evidence used was referenced in the review.”

DNS asked last night, after receiving her statement, if DWP was suggesting that Litchfield should have requested to see documents that he would not have known existed.

She had not responded by noon today (Thursday).

26 April 2018

 

 

DWP’s ‘disrepute’ contract clause ‘is proof charities cannot be trusted’

The decision of some disability charities to sign contracts that prevent them criticising the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is proof that they cannot be trusted to speak up on behalf of disabled people, according to grassroots activists.

Last week, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that – in exchange for lucrative government contracts under the Work and Health Programme – some organisations have promised to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey.

They have also promised in the contracts that they will never to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey or her department.

So far, Shaw Trust, Leonard Cheshire Disability and RNIB have confirmed that they have signed contracts – either with DWP or with one of the five main Work and Health Programme contractors – that include clauses that prevent them bringing DWP and McVey into disrepute.

Shaw Trust is itself one of the five main contractors and has signed up to DWP’s contract and its “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause.

RNIB has signed agreements as a subcontractor with Shaw Trust that say that it must have “regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP, do nothing to bring McVey and her department into disrepute in delivering those contracts, and must not “attract adverse publicity” to them.

But it is unclear whether the wider clause agreed by Shaw Trust and the other main contractors – which applies to all their “affiliates” – also applies to all their sub-contractors, including RNIB.

Leonard Cheshire said this week that its involvement in the programme was “extremely limited” and restricted to providing support in two London boroughs, but admitted that there was “a clause in our contact with Ingeus related to actions that brings Ingeus/DWP into disrepute”.

It insisted that the clause “would not affect what we say publicly on issues related to the DWP or wider campaigning” and that it had no other contracts with similar clauses.

It has so far declined to share the clause with DNS.

Other disability charities that appear to have agreed to act as key providers of services under the Work and Health Programme, such as Action on Hearing Loss and the Royal Association for Deaf People, have refused to answer questions about the contracts and clauses they might have signed up to.

Another, Turning Point, said that it had “in principle partnership agreements with a number of organisations delivering the programme to provide specialist support when and if needed” but had “not been presented with nor asked to comply with such a clause”.

By noon today (Thursday), Turning Point had failed to say if it expected to sign contracts at some point, which contractors it had agreements with, and whether it was concerned about the presence of the clause in contracts signed by the main Work and Health Programme contractors.

Other charities mentioned in the contract documents, including Mind, Rethink and Carers UK, made it clear this week that they had not signed any Work and Health Programme contracts.

But a spokesperson for the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance – a network of disabled people and their organisations across England, whose members include Sisters of Frida, Equal Lives, Inclusion London and Disabled People Against Cuts – said the clauses were “further proof that disabled people cannot trust the charities to speak up for our best interests and that they put their financial interests ahead of the people they purport to represent.

“Since 2010 the charities have consistently let themselves be used as cover by the government while they have continued to systematically dismantle our rights.

“They have failed to speak out in any way that is appropriate given the severity of the situation we are facing.

“Disabled people have many criticisms of the Work and Health Programme and the dangerous policies associated with it.

“We can now add to that list that it is being used as a tool to buy silence.”

There are major concerns about the Work and Health Programme, which is part of the government’s much-criticised Improving Lives work, health and disability strategy, with its “cruel and disastrous” emphasis on “work as a cure”, the placement of employment advisers in health services, and the continued use of benefit sanctions to “punish” disabled claimants.

In the wake of last week’s report, DNS was contacted by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO), both of which were keen to examine the clauses.

But the Disability Benefits Consortium, whose 80-plus members include Action on Hearing Loss, Leonard Cheshire, and RNIB, and which often speaks out on DWP issues, failed to raise any concerns.

Its co-chairs refused to say this week if they were concerned that the clauses could harm the ability of the consortium or its members to criticise the government.

Laura Wetherly and Phil Reynolds, DBC’s co-chairs, insisted that the consortium was “independent” and does “not hesitate to call for change when it is needed”, and that the coalition itself “is not signed up to these clauses”.

They added: “The DBC cannot speak for or comment on behalf of individual members.”

When asked whether they and the consortium were concerned about the clauses, they refused to comment.

Kristiana Wrixon, head of policy at ACEVO, said she had been concerned to read the DNS report, and said that her organisation was now seeking clarification on the purpose of the media clause from DWP.

She said the clause in the contracts signed by the main providers was “ambiguous and therefore open to wide interpretation”.

She said: “The Department for Work and Pensions should clarify the purpose of the clause and publicly reassure those involved in the delivery of the programme that it is not meant to restrict campaigning and advocacy activity.”

NCVO refused to say if it was concerned about the clause but said that it would be talking with its members “about how they’re working with the clause”.

*An earlier version of this story said that Down’s Syndrome Association had refused to answer questions from DNS. This was not correct. The charity did not receive two emails containing questions about the Work and Health Programme, due to a mistake made by DNS. The charity has made it clear that it does not have formal links with the DWP and has not been asked to sign any Work and Health Programme contracts. Apologies for the error.

26 April 2018

 

 

Regulator chaired by former minister resists probe into DWP’s ‘disrepute’ contract clause

A regulator chaired by a former Tory minister is refusing to investigate charities that have signed contracts that prevent them criticising the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its secretary of state Esther McVey.

The Charities Commission – a non-ministerial government department – is chaired by Baroness Stowell, a former Tory communities and local government minister and a former work and pensions spokeswoman in the House of Lords, who resigned the Tory whip when she was appointed to chair the regulator.

This week, the commission has refused to express any concern or take any action after it emerged that disability charities had signed up to contracts that include strict clauses preventing them from criticising McVey or DWP.

The commission said yesterday (Wednesday) that it was “not aware of any specific regulatory concerns regarding charities and the Work and Health Programme”, despite being shown one of the clauses.

Both the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) and the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations contacted Disability News Service (DNS) this week so they could examine the clause, after reading last week’s news story.

So far, charities including Shaw Trust, Leonard Cheshire Disability and RNIB have confirmed that they have signed contracts – either with DWP or with one of the five main Work and Health Programme contractors – that include clauses that prevent them bringing DWP and McVey into disrepute.

Other charities linked to the Work and Health Programme, such as Action on Hearing Loss and the Royal Association for Deaf People, have refused to answer questions about the clauses.

The clause in the DWP contract signed by Shaw Trust says that the charity and its “affiliates” must “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of work and pensions secretary Esther McVey and must promise not to do anything that harms the public’s confidence in McVey or her department.

And the clause warns that these promises apply whether or not the damaging actions relate to the Work and Health Programme.

Other charities, including RNIB, have signed agreements with the main contractors that say they must have “regard to the standing and reputation” of DWP, do nothing to bring McVey and her department into disrepute in delivering those contracts, and must not “attract adverse publicity” to them.

A Charities Commission spokeswoman said in a statement: “Decisions on whether to enter into a contract and accept specific terms are a matter for a charity’s trustees.

“They must ensure that any action they take is in the best interests of the charity and its beneficiaries.

“They should also consider whether it is necessary to take professional advice before reaching a decision.

“The commission is not aware of any specific regulatory concerns regarding charities and the Work and Health Programme.

“However, it would consider on a case-by-case basis any evidence that might suggest that a charity’s trustees were not fulfilling their legal duties.”

*An earlier version of this story said that Down’s Syndrome Association had refused to answer questions from DNS. This was not correct. The charity did not receive two emails containing questions about the Work and Health Programme, due to a mistake made by DNS. The charity has made it clear that it does not have formal links with the DWP and has not been asked to sign any Work and Health Programme contracts. Apologies for the error.

26 April 2018

 

 

Social care ‘citizens’ assembly’ set up by MPs omits DPOs from panel of experts

A consultation event set up by MPs to produce recommendations from members of the public on the future funding of adult social care has failed to ask any disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) to provide them with “expert” opinions.

DPOs have raised “deep concerns” about the way the Citizens’ Assembly on Social Care has been organised, and its failure to ensure that disabled people and their user-led organisations will have the chance to influence its conclusions.

The assembly will take place in Birmingham over two weekends, 27-29 April and 18-20 May, with up to 50 members of the public brought together to consider the best way to fund adult social care in England.

It is part of an inquiry into the long-term funding of adult social care being carried out by the Commons committees on housing, communities and local government and on health and social care.

But although the members of the Citizen’s Assembly will “reflect the wider community” and will include disabled members of the public who are users of social care, there are no DPO representatives among the “expert lead”, advisory panel and expert contributors who will address the Citizen’s Assembly on the first weekend.

Those experts set to address or advise the assembly include representatives of Mencap, Policy Exchange – the centre-right thinktank co-founded by government minister Michael Gove – Carers UK, Alzheimer’s Society, Reform (another centre-right thinktank), the Local Government Association, and – possibly – the Centre for Social Justice (founded by former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith).

There will also be a representative of the Care and Support Alliance (CSA), a network of almost exclusively non-user-led charities, but she also works for Alzheimer’s Society.

The event has been organised on the committees’ behalf by the charity Involve.

The Citizens’ Assembly’s findings will be published on the committees’ websites this summer, and its findings will be considered alongside other evidence submitted to their inquiry.

The inquiry’s conclusions are set to be published ahead of the government’s planned social care green paper.

After being contacted by Disability News Service, the event’s organisers approached Inclusion London, a leading DPO, to ask it to take part, but only on the second weekend and only as part of a panel that will be asked to give “the wider social and political context of social care in England”.

Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the national service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said the “list of so-called experts and advisers is a list of the usual suspects”.

He said: “Where are the disabled experts, the mental health service-user experts, people with learning difficulties experts, etc?”

He said citizens’ assemblies had “well evidenced limitations” and “tend to reflect the usual exclusions and biases of mainstream society”.

He said: “This is a top-down initiative, so from the start it is difficult to see how they will reflect the concerns of the diversity of social care service-users and disabled people.

“Of course, there might be an argument for such a body if there weren’t local and national user-led organisations which have already made clear what they think is needed for social care: a service offered on the same terms as the NHS, committed to supporting the philosophy of independent living.”

He said the “predictable result” of the assembly would be “a safe mess, but a costly and wasteful one.

“We actually already have the evidence for decent social policy, [but we also have] an ideological and political unwillingness to take any notice of it on the part of this crumbling government.”

Linda Burnip, co-founder of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “We are deeply concerned about the Citizens’ Assembly that is taking place on the future funding of adult social care.

“Any attempt to involve the voices of grassroots disabled people has been very last minute and yet social care is an issue that is having a very immediate and detrimental impact on our lives.

“Assembly members are ‘asked to make trade-offs and arrive at workable recommendations’, but without the views and interests of adult social care users at the heart of the process, we are concerned that those recommendations will not reflect the best interests of disabled people, yet through the assembly formation they will attain cross-party legitimacy and be seen to represent an electable policy on social care.

“What we need are politicians who are not afraid to stand up for bold solutions that will protect disabled people’s rights to independent living and to equal participation in society.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said: “Inclusion London welcomes the opportunity to speak about the wider social and political context of social care in England at the second weekend of the Citizens’ Assembly.

“We are disappointed that there hasn’t been greater engagement of Deaf and disabled people’s organisations and that the organisers have worked predominantly with charities to shape the assembly and select speakers.

“However, it is important for us to take this opportunity to put across the urgency of the situation facing disabled people who need social care support and to ensure that the needs and interests of disabled people of working age are heard.”

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, also said she believed there should have been representatives of DPOs among the advisers.

She said: “I’m sure such an assembly will make a useful contribution to the debate but the way in which it has been set up means that it can only ever be a partial contribution.

“I have no doubt that the advisory panel have a great deal of experience on the workings of care funding but what is missing is the expertise on the impact of care costs on individuals and their life chances.

“For that you would need to include, as advisors, representatives of people using social care services and their organisations.”

Brian Hilton, digital campaigns officer for Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People, said: “The fact that the voice of disabled people’s organisations are not represented on the advisory panels diminishes both their legitimacy and the knowledge base they draw upon on the important issue of social care funding.

“It also calls into question whether it was simply an oversight not to seek the involvement of DPOs, which is alarming in itself, or even more worryingly, is it that the knowledge, skills and experiences of disabled people are simply judged to be of no importance?”

A spokesman for the committees and Involve said the “recruitment criteria” for the expert panel had been “to ensure that the assembly’s plans and materials are factually accurate, comprehensive, balanced and unbiased”.

He said: “The Citizens’ Assembly on social care is considering alternative options for funding social care in the long term – for example taxation and insurance-based models.

“The first weekend covers different funding mechanisms, so speakers have been recruited for their specific expertise and perspectives on particular models.”

He said that recruitment of speakers for the second weekend was “beginning this week” and would be announced after the first Citizens’ Assembly weekend.

The second weekend will begin with a panel giving “the wider social and political context of social care in England”, and he said they were “approaching speakers from a user-led disability organisation for this”.

He said that CSA, which was “an umbrella organisation which includes DPOs”, had “been supportive in helping us shape the Citizens’ Assembly, including its advisory panel and speakers”.

He said that a CSA representative was contributing to the first weekend of the assembly, but when it was pointed out that that representative worked for Alzheimer’s Society, which is not a DPO, he declined to comment further.

Citizens’ assemblies have been used in the UK and in countries such as Australia, the US and Canada – with one currently taking place in Ireland – and aim to give members of the public the opportunity to learn about and discuss a topic before reaching conclusions, with members “asked to make trade-offs and arrive at workable recommendations”.

26 April 2018

 

 

Letter calls on GP body to denounce DWP’s ‘fit for work coercion’

The national membership body for GPs is facing calls for it to denounce government attempts to persuade doctors to “coerce” patients with serious health conditions back into work.

More than 90 campaigners and concerned health professionals have sent a joint letter to the Royal College of General Practitioners (RCGP), asking the organisation to distance itself from the latest move by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

DWP already sends a form – known as an ESA65B – to GPs to let them know when their patients have been found fit for work through the controversial work capability assessment (WCA).

The previous version of the form – headed “Help us support your patient to return to or start work” – already told GPs that they should stop providing the patient with the “fit notes” that detail the advice they have provided to them about their fitness for work*.

But DWP has now updated the form, by adding the line: “In the course of any further consultations with… we hope you will also encourage [the patient] in [their] efforts to return to, or start, work.”

Disabled activists and campaigning health professionals – led by the grassroots group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) – say the move will “gravely impact” the relationship between doctors and benefit-claiming disabled patients.

Among those who have signed their letter are members and representatives of the Mental Health Resistance Network, Psychotherapists and Counsellors for Social Responsibility, Black Triangle, Inclusion London, Recovery in the Bin, and the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, and more than 50 psychologists, psychiatrists, psychotherapists and GPs.

The campaigners who have signed the letter say the addition to the form adds to DWP’s continued insistence – based on “the thinnest veneer of evidence”, which was commissioned by DWP itself more than 10 years ago – that work is good for health and should be recognised as a “health outcome” (a measure of whether a patient’s health has improved).

They point to cases such as that of James Harrison, whose GP was told by DWP through an ESA65B form in 2016 to stop providing him with fit notes, after he was found fit for work.

His GP then repeatedly refused to provide him with new fit notes, even as his health deteriorated, and he died months later.

Dr Jay Watts, a consultant clinical psychologist and activist, says in the DPAC letter that health professionals will be “horrified at this latest interference from the DWP”, which “undermines clinical expertise and threatens the safety of patients”.

She says the new paragraph places the expertise of DWP’s contracted WCA assessors above that of GPs, “despite the fact GPs are more qualified to assess mental health, and can do so with the benefits of having known the patient for years, often decades (as opposed to in a one-off assessment)”.

She says the form also ignores research that shows that work can damage mental health, with “poor work environments a frequent trigger to mental breakdown”, and she adds: “Economic evidence shows that rushing people back into work increases the likelihood of long-term illness.

“How then can it be right to encourage GPs to coerce patients back to work, a pressure likely to increase the feelings of shame, despair and anxiety at not working that have been exacerbated by the government’s relentless and damaging campaign to associate worklessness with worthlessness?”

The letter to RCGP says the new version of the form risks a situation where disabled people are unwilling to make appointments with their GPs, with “damaging and potentially life-threatening effects on the physical and mental health of claimants”.

And it calls on RCGP to tell its members about the risks to patients from the new version of the form and to ask them to “use caution and discretion when following DWP instructions”.

Neither RCGP or DWP were able to comment on the letter by noon today (Thursday).

*Further fit notes can be issued if the claimant appeals against the result of the WCA, or if they make a new claim because their health condition or impairment has deteriorated or they develop a new medical condition

26 April 2018

 

 

Activist celebrates after Welsh Labour backs independent living campaign

A disabled activist who has campaigned to save the Welsh Independent Living Grant (WILG) is celebrating after the Welsh Labour annual conference voted to back his campaign.

Nathan Lee Davies has led a campaign to force the Labour-run Welsh government to reverse its decision to scrap the grant, which was introduced to support disabled people with high support needs in Wales to live independently after the UK government closed the Independent Living Fund in 2015.

An estimated 1,300 people in Wales receive support through the WILG scheme.

And this week, at their annual conference, members of Welsh Labour voted in favour of a motion that called on their government to maintain WILG, at least until the next Welsh assembly elections in 2021.

Before the vote, Davies had also secured support from Labour’s UK leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who posed for a picture holding one of the campaign’s “WHERE THERE’S A W.I.L.G. THERE’S A WAY” tee-shirts.

After the vote, Davies posted a blog in which he described his “emotional day” following a victory he said was “key for disabled rights across Wales and throughout the UK”.

He added: “We should all rejoice while remembering the fight is far from over as we need to ensure Welsh Labour listen to the will of their members.”

Davies has previously described his terror at the prospect of his cash-strapped local authority taking over full responsibility for providing his care package, having been told that without WILG his own care package would be reduced from 86.5 hours to just 31 hours a week.

He has described the campaign as a “life or death” fight.

He told Disability News Service yesterday (Wednesday) that the passing of the motion was “obviously the high point of our ever-growing campaign” but that it “does not mean that we have succeeded in securing WILG”.

He said: “We must continue with our campaign and ensure the Welsh government listen and act upon the wishes of their members.

“One thing is for sure, we won’t rest until we preserve and improve the Welsh Independent Living Grant.”

He thanked the cross-party and union support for his campaign – including the “wonderfully supportive” Clwyd constituency Labour party, which proposed the motion – and the other recipients of WILG.

He particularly praised members of Welsh Labour Grassroots – which represents the Momentum movement in Wales – who he said had “worked tirelessly to ensure independent living remains an option for those with high care and support needs”.

Davies is hoping that the Welsh government – which will have a new first minister in the autumn after Carwyn Jones announced that he would be standing down – will now reverse its decision to scrap WILG.

A spokeswoman for Welsh Labour said: “As with all motions passed at conference, this will now be considered by Welsh Labour’s policy process ahead of the next assembly elections.”

The Welsh government announced in 2016 that, after a two-year transition period, it would transfer all the £27 million-a-year provided by the UK government to support former ILF-users in Wales directly to councils.

It decided there would be no continuation of the interim WILG scheme it had been running as a stopgap since the Department for Work and Pensions closed ILF in June 2015, and would not set up a new Welsh ILF, even though such a scheme had been set up in Scotland.

All the £27 million-a-year funding is set to be transferred to Welsh local authorities this year, and they will be solely responsible for meeting the support needs of all former ILF-recipients by 31 March 2019.

The Welsh government’s new Social Services and Wellbeing Act is supposed to provide new rights for people to access a re-assessment of their support at any time, with local authorities under new legal duties to support independent living.

It believes that this is a more progressive system than the one operating in England.

But Davies has said previously that the decision to transfer the £27 million to councils and close WILG meant the Welsh government had “sold disabled people down the river” and was “washing their hands of all responsibility for social care to former ILF recipients and transferring the pressure onto local authorities”.

26 April 2018

 

 

DWP agrees to record PIP assessments but response to MPs’ report still ‘falls far short’

The government has given a mixed response to a report by a committee of MPs that concluded that the disability benefit assessment system was being undermined by a “pervasive culture of mistrust”.

Ministers have agreed in their response to make the recording of personal independence payment (PIP) assessments “a standard part of the process”, because of the “lack of trust in the assessment process”.

They said they were “currently exploring potential options to test the recording of assessments, including video recording”.

The pledge was made in the government’s response to the work and pensions select committee’s report on disability assessments, which was published in February.

But they did not offer a similar promise with the work capability assessment – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – where claimants can already ask to have their assessment recorded, although such requests are only “accommodated where possible”.

Ministers have rejected another recommendation, that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should provide written copies of their assessment report to all claimants of PIP and employment and support allowance (ESA).

The committee had called for a copy of the reports to be sent to every claimant alongside the decision on their claim.

An investigation by Disability News Service (DNS) during 2017 produced hundreds of accounts from PIP claimants who described the dishonesty of written reports produced by healthcare professionals from government contractors Atos and Capita.

But those claimants only discovered how dishonest the assessors had been after they requested a copy of their reports.

Ministers say that providing claimants with the points they scored on each part of the WCA and PIP assessments, and “a summary of the reasons that informed our decision”, was “the best way to explain to claimants how a decision has been reached”, rather than “providing claimants with material that they do not want”.

Despite the sheer weight of an “unprecedented” response to the inquiry from claimants who had submitted evidence, with nearly 4,000 submissions from ESA and PIP claimants, the committee still backed away from concluding that there was dishonesty in the system.

Of 11 recommendations made by the committee in its February report, DWP appears to have rejected five, accepted four and partially accepted two more*.

Another recommendation ministers accepted was for DWP to commission and publish independent research into the impact of the ESA and PIP application and assessment process on claimants’ health, focusing initially on improvements to the claim forms.

Ministers say they will now commission research to identify “whether, how and what aspects of the ESA/PIP claim forms could have the potential to cause distress” and will then revise and amend the forms “in light of these findings”.

But they have rejected a key suggestion that the government should consider ditching Atos, Capita and Maximus – which delivers the work capability assessment – and move the assessments back “in house”.

Rejecting that suggestion, DWP said it would instead “continue to work closely with our current providers, and with any future providers to ensure we continue to make improvements”.

Philip Connolly, policy manager for Disability Rights UK, said: “Confidence in the assessment process for disability benefits is scant and threadbare.

“Given that, we welcome the government’s commitment to recording PIP assessments, which will help disabled people feel more positive about the accuracy of them.

“But we were very sorry to see the government refuse the recommendation that all claimants should be sent a copy of their assessment report as a matter of course.

“This would be a huge step forward in helping disabled people understand what is being said about them, and why, in relation to benefit claims.

“Overall, the current assessment providers offer poor value for money for the tax payer and we urge the government to consider very seriously the option of returning the assessment process in house, given the contracts are up for review.”

He also pointed out that PIP and ESA were “not well-designed benefits, and fail to meet the needs of many disabled people” and that there are “wider issues which need to be addressed” other than the assessment processes.

Margaret Greenwood, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said the government’s response “falls far short of the urgent action needed to end the unnecessary stress and anxiety being inflicted through both the ESA and PIP assessment processes”.

She said: “Under private contractors these processes are getting worse, not better, often damaging the health and well-being of the very people who need support.

“The government should scrap the current assessment regime, put an end to the privatisation and work to deliver a social security system in which people can have confidence.

“Labour will replace this failing system with personalised, holistic support, responsive to individual needs.”

Frank Field, who chairs the committee, said that recording PIP assessments as a standard procedure was “a tremendous step forward” and “should go a long way to restoring trust and driving up the quality of assessments”, while the commitment to improve the “gruelling” application forms was “also very welcome”.

But he said the government response “falls short in several areas”, including its refusal to provide assessment reports alongside all PIP and ESA decisions, and he said the committee was “concerned that the government lacks the levers to get value for money out of its private contractors”.

*DWP’s response was not always clear whether it accepted or rejected some of the recommendations

26 April 2018

 

 

Research shows huge postcode differences in NHS continuing healthcare

New research has shown that some people in England with complex health and social care needs can be up to 25 times more likely to get their care costs covered than those living in other parts of the country.

The new research by Which? magazine shows a postcode lottery in access to funding under the NHS Continuing Healthcare (NHS CHC) programme, which provides long-term NHS funding for care outside hospital.

The worst-performing clinical commissioning group (CCG) was South Reading (since merged with other CCGs into the new Berkshire West CCG), which funded 8.78 patients per 50,000 of the population, while Salford funded more than 220 people per 50,000.

In Stockport (31.76 per 50,000), service-users were almost seven times less likely to receive NHS CHC than those 10 miles away in Salford.

Which? also found that nearly all areas were failing to meet Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) national guidance, which says that in most cases people should not wait more than 28 days for a decision on eligibility for NHS CHC.

Disability News Service reported earlier this month that DHSC had quietly altered key guidance on NHS CHC, making it harder for CCGs to continue to discriminate against disabled people receiving funding by forcing them into residential care.

Sue Bott, deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK, said: “This disturbing report shows just how ridiculous the current funding system for health and social care is.

“It cannot be right that someone in Stockport has to pay thousands for care whereas someone in the same circumstances 10 miles down the road in Salford doesn’t have to pay anything.

“There is an assumption amongst the general public that care will be free. Sadly it is only when people encounter the ‘system’ for the first time that they realise just how much they have to pay.

“At DR UK we think health and social care costs should be covered by general taxation. This is the only fair way.”

A DHSC spokeswoman said: “We have updated the national framework to ensure the process for accessing funding is clearer so people with the highest and most complex health and care needs get the care they deserve and to help reduce variation.

“The department will publish a green paper setting out plans for reform of adult social care this summer – this will include issues such as quality, a sustainable funding model and the social care workforce.”

NHS England has a responsibility to hold CCGs to account if they are not following the framework.

26 April 2018

 

 

Four jailed over furniture scam that targeted disabled and older people

Four people have been jailed for their part in a criminal operation set up by a furniture company to target disabled and older people, many of whom were pressured for hours into buying substandard chairs and beds they did not want and did not need.

Life Comfort Products Ltd in Peterborough employed “very aggressive and misleading practices” to secure sales of rise-and-recline chairs and electric adjustable beds, said trading standards.

The company targeted parts of the country with higher proportions of disabled residents, and homes where their canvassing staff saw ramps and grab rails outside the property.

Sales representatives then subjected individuals to high-pressure demonstrations lasting up to three hours.

Seven directors and staff of the company were sentenced at Cambridge Crown Court last week after pleading guilty to breaches of consumer protection laws, while the company itself also pleaded guilty through its lawyer, with a sentence to be imposed later this year.

The sentences followed an 18-month investigation by Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards, with support from the National Trading Standards Tri Region investigation team.

Peterborough Crown Court had heard from the council’s lawyer at an earlier hearing how Life Comfort Products “knowingly adopted criminally high-pressure sales techniques as a core business strategy for their own financial gain”.

The company pretended that its products were “bespoke” pieces of furniture that had been manufactured at its factory in Peterborough, when in fact they had been made by another company.

The chairs and beds were sold with a considerable mark-up, with customers misled about the true price of the products and then refused requests for refunds, while the company dealt with complaints “aggressively”.

The aim, the court had heard, was “to maximise profits at all costs and with little or no regard to the feelings, circumstances and rights” of the people targeted.

The court had heard how the company used “aggressive and overly persistent” canvassing techniques, with its staff often ignoring clear requests to leave or stop.

Independent reports showed some of the chairs were not fit for purpose, had not been made to the individual’s measurements, and had manufacturing defects.

The chairs had been purchased for £550 and then offered at a price of £3,500.

One woman described how her 92-year-old grandmother, who has dementia, repeatedly told a telephone canvasser that she did not want a reclining chair, but the canvasser continued with the call until her granddaughter intervened.

Despite her intervention, a member of the company’s staff still visited her grandmother two days later to provide a demonstration.

Another customer, a woman with arthritis, tried to complain about the bed she had been sold, but was warned that “things could get very unpleasant” for her if she refused to pay for it.

A third customer, who had bought a bed that was supposedly “made to measure”, was left unable to walk around her bedroom and open a chest of drawers because the bed was too big for the room. When she tried to complain, she was threatened with legal action.

Citizens Advice received hundreds of complaints about the “aggressive and misleading” behaviour of the company’s staff on the doorsteps of homes across England.

Victims later described how the incidents had left them “shocked and distressed”, questioning their ability to live independently, and feeling “embarrassed, ashamed and humiliated”.

Peter Gell, head of regulatory services for Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Trading Standards, said: “These sentences reflect the seriousness of the offence and that this company was using very aggressive sales techniques against victims, many of whom were targeted because they were vulnerable.”

Lord [Toby] Harris, chair of National Trading Standards, said: “These criminals deliberately targeted neighbourhoods in ‘No Cold Calling Zones’ so they could prey on homeowners in more vulnerable situations, such as people with a disability or older people.

“They were aggressive on the doorstep and pressurised victims to buy products they did not want or need.”

Among those sentenced were company directors Geoffrey Bernard Turner, 64, and Jacqueline Turner, 60, both of Hall Lane, Werrington, Peterborough, who were sentenced to 12 months and nine months in prison respectively.

Sales manager David Turner, 62, of Swan Close, Spalding, was jailed for nine months, while national marketing manager Tim Clark, 43, of High Road, Wisbech, was sentenced to six months in prison.

Three sales demonstrators – Joel Henry, 54, of Furniss Close, Daventry; Ben Donohoe, 59, of Cogging Close, Newark; and David Perrow, 62, of Newick Road, Westvale, Liverpool – received suspended sentences, and were ordered to carry out rehabilitation activity, while Henry and Donohoe will each have to carry out 200 hours of unpaid work.

All seven were given five-year criminal behaviour orders.

A number of other canvassers and product demonstrators working for Life Comfort Products had earlier accepted cautions.

26 April 2018

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com

 

 

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com