PIP INVESTIGATION: Assessment reports show widespread dishonesty by nurses

Healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of benefit claimants have lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations, according to a two-month Disability News Service (DNS) investigation.

The investigation has compiled evidence from more than 20 disabled people who have contacted DNS over the last year or have commented on previous DNS news stories to claim that their assessors – usually qualified nurses – lied repeatedly in reports they produced for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The evidence compiled during the investigation suggests a far-reaching, institutional problem that stretches across DWP and the two private sector contractors – Atos Healthcare and Capita – that assess eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) on its behalf.

The alleged dishonesty includes assessors: refusing to accept further written evidence from medical experts; wrongly claiming that detailed physical examinations had been carried out during the assessment; refusing to list all of a claimant’s medications; ignoring or misreporting key information told to them during the assessment; and reporting that a claimant had refused to co-operate with a physical examination, when they were unable to complete it because of their impairment.

Eight PIP claimants have given their permission to have their cases shared with DWP, Atos and Capita. Five of those cases concern Atos and three relate to assessments carried out by Capita.

DNS has also offered to send anonymous details of at least 15 more cases, but DWP, Atos and Capita have shown no interest in seeing that information.

DWP has made it clear that it does not believe there is any dishonesty at all among its PIP assessors, and its press office has confirmed to DNS that the department will take no action in response to the investigation, but that it was “committed to providing a high-quality, sensitive and respectful service by conducting fair, accurate and objective assessments”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Independent audit is in place to ensure advice provided to DWP decision makers is of suitable quality, fully explained and justified.” (See separate story, ‘Politicians call for action over widespread dishonesty by assessors’,  for more detail on DWP’s response.)

Both Capita and Atos refused to answer questions about the evidence DNS has compiled, and Atos refused to comment at all, although Capita produced a brief two-line 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”.

But DNS has also received new figures released under the Freedom of Information Act by the Nursing and Midwifery Council which suggest that the regulator receives hundreds of complaints about nurses who carry out face-to-face benefits assessments every year (see separate story).

The assessment reports are used by DWP to decide eligibility for PIP, the benefit the coalition introduced in 2013 to replace working-age disability living allowance (DLA), as part of reforms aimed at cutting the benefits bill by at least 20 per cent.

As a result of the lies, misreporting, omissions and other dishonesty included in the reports, nearly all of those disabled people DNS has heard from saw the benefits they use to pay for the extra costs they face as disabled people reduced or removed completely by DWP, and had to rely on independent appeal tribunals to reinstate some or all of that support.

Nearly all of the assessors were nurses, although one was a paramedic.

Among the PIP claimants who have passed their details to DNS is Abbie Marshall, from South Yorkshire, who has described how the Atos nurse who assessed her wrote in her report that she had carried out a full physical examination – when no such test took place – and missed out all but one of her medications and a list of side-effects.

As a result of that report, Marshall was found ineligible for any PIP at all, when she had previously been receiving DLA middle rate care and low rate mobility.

Following an appeal, she was granted the PIP enhanced rate of mobility and standard rate of daily living (worth more than £110 a week).

The brother of another PIP claimant, who recorded the home assessment carried out by Capita without the nurse’s knowledge, described how, although his sister explained that she had not been to her local shops since October 2013, the assessor wrote in her report that she visits her local shop every day.

The nurse also said in her report that the claimant spoke to family and friends on the phone every day, even though she does not possess a mobile phone or a landline.

As a result of the assessment, she was awarded zero points for both daily living and mobility, and therefore found ineligible for PIP by a DWP decision-maker.

It was only after her brother sent DWP a transcript of the assessment that she was awarded enhanced daily living and standard rate mobility for PIP (worth more than £100 a week).

The nurse who assessed Celia Cullum at an Atos assessment centre, again in South Yorkshire, described in her report how the claimant was lying down on a couch and then lifted her legs as part of an examination, even though there was no couch in the assessment room.

Cullum took her orthoses and prostheses and walking aids to the assessment, including an ankle foot orthosis (AFO) which wraps around her leg and has a carbon fibre plate that fits in her shoe to support her foot so she can walk.

She told DNS: “I can’t wear it for too long as it is too uncomfortable for the sole of my foot and causes diabetic foot ulcers.”

But the assessor failed to mention any of this in her report and wrote instead that she was able to dress and undress unaided, even though she needs to use the AFO, an orthotic insole or a prosthetic foot to be able to wear shoes.

The nurse also wrote in her report how Cullum, who has a part-amputated right foot, crouched down to the floor and then stood up as part of a physical examination.

But she said she was never asked to do this, and that it is an action she is unable to do because of the amputation.

She told DNS: “I was shocked when I read a copy of my assessment at so many things left out and things made up. I thought it was dishonest.”

She had previously been receiving PIP standard daily living and enhanced mobility, but as a result of the assessment, she lost all of that support. When she appealed to a tribunal, she was awarded standard rate daily living but no mobility support.

When she complained to Atos, she said, the company admitted that “some errors occurred in regards to documenting accurate information and this will be fed back to [the nurse] for future professional development”.

Another PIP claimant, Mary*, who had a home assessment carried out by Atos, said her assessor “lied about almost everything” in her report.

The nurse claimed that Mary had had no contact with the specialist NHS service she receives treatment from for three years, whereas she had had at least 16 contacts with that service during that time, as a result of severe and debilitating ME.

When she tried to explain this, the nurse “dismissed anything I tried to say” and cut her off when she was speaking.

The nurse described Mary’s appearance as “well kempt” and wrote that she had been wearing “soft trousers, top and a cardigan”.

In fact, she had been unable to wash her greasy, straggly hair for over a week, and was wearing pyjama bottoms, a vest she wears in bed and an old cardigan that was two sizes too small and had two buttons missing (having had to spend much of the last three years in bed she has put on weight, so few of her clothes now fit her, and she is rarely well enough to do any clothes shopping, even online).

Mary said: “Almost the entire Atos report is lies. Or things being twisted. Wilfully misunderstood.

“I have so much anger from the way I was treated by this process. The ‘nurse’ from Atos should be struck off from working in any sort of healthcare job.

“She was very fast and hurried. I couldn’t keep up – and kept telling her this.”

She said the nurse was “bullying and heavy-handed” and “kept twisting things and putting words in my mouth”, and “dismissed anything I tried to say”.

She was found ineligible for PIP and had intended to appeal but “overwhelmed by the level of detail requested by DWP” and its impact on her impairment, she conceded defeat last summer.

Patricia Wohl’s husband, Gerhard, witnessed the PIP assessment carried out on his wife by a Capita nurse in their home in Bridgend.

When his wife was asked to stand up, he said, she “struggled to get up, she needed help from her walking stick and the arm rest of the settee, then she needed to stand for a time (30 seconds to a minute) to find her balance, then after two steps she fell forward to the right against the stone wall in our living room.

“I jumped up to stop her falling to the floor because I expected something like this.”

When his wife tried again, the same thing happened, but in the report the Capita assessor said she had risen and walked six metres in a straight line without any help.

She had previously been claiming the higher rate mobility and lowest rate of care under DLA, but lost all support under PIP as a result of the assessment report. A tribunal eventually awarded her standard PIP rates for both mobility and daily living.

Peter’s* wife has told DNS how both she and her husband told the Atos nurse who assessed him several time that he needs someone with him when he leaves the house, because he becomes confused and can easily get lost, but this information was omitted from her report.

When Peter was asked to stand and make various movements, he was unable to do so, and fell against the wall. But the assessor stated in her report that Peter had a full range of movement in both his upper and lower limbs.

His wife said: “Her levels of honesty in compiling the report were, on a scale of 0 to 10, 0.

“She came across as very helpful and trustworthy, approachable and friendly. No reason not to trust her, until we saw the report, which I did initially think was someone else’s.”

Peter had previously claimed middle rate care and higher rate mobility under DLA, but now receives standard rates for both with PIP. Their appeal was unsuccessful. They say the tribunal ignored their claims that the assessor had lied in her report.

Another claimant, Fazliabbas Raffiq, was assessed by Atos in his home in London, but in her report, he said, the nurse ignored his visual impairment, his fibromyalgia and his depression.

He told the nurse that he has to take 23 different medications every day, and handed her a repeat prescription form to prove it, but she referred only to five in the report.

He had previously received the highest rate of care and mobility under DLA, but following the assessment he was awarded just the PIP standard rate for both daily living and mobility.

One of the cases that sparked the DNS investigation was the assessment of Sarah Goldstein, from Derbyshire.

The Capita nurse who assessed her wrote that Sarah could go to the shops and bring back shopping, when in fact she has to shop online, with help from her husband, who puts away the shopping when it is delivered.

As a result of the assessment, Sarah was found ineligible for PIP, a decision approved by DWP’s mandatory reconsideration process. When she appealed, a tribunal awarded her the standard rate for both daily living and mobility (more than £75 per week in total).

None of the facts above from the eight cases have been disputed by DWP.

There are further disturbing cases in which assessors have apparently lied in their reports, but the claimants have asked for their details not to be shared with DWP, Capita and Atos.

Neither DWP, nor its contractors, have shown any interest in seeing this anonymised information.

One claimant, Elizabeth*, who had been lying in bed at home during her assessment, said the Capita assessor had written in her report that she had been “observed to be able to sit down and stand up from a chair during the assessment without difficulty”.

Elizabeth said: “I have only the one chair in the living room and she was sitting in it!”

She told DNS that the assessor watched as she “took two to three steps from my bed to the foot of the bed… I was dizzy and held onto the foot of the bed and then I stumbled back into bed.”

This was translated by the assessor as having been “observed to be able to walk unaided at the assessment. Two to three metres at a slow pace but with normal gait… but stated she felt dizzy”, before concluding: “It is likely she can reliably stand and then move more than 200 metres aided for the majority of the time.”

Elizabeth previously received higher rates of DLA mobility and care, but as a result of the assessment now receives just the PIP standard daily living rate. A mandatory reconsideration by DWP upheld the original decision, and she is now appealing to a tribunal.

Another PIP claimant, a retired police officer, described how he twice tried to bend down and touch his toes during his assessment – watched by his wife – but was unable to do so; the Capita assessor then wrote in her report that he had refused the test.

He said: “The assessor refused to look at or take copies of my medical tests, which would have highlighted my disability.

“They continually prevented me from talking, saying that there was insufficient time.”

He added: “It was quite clear that the assessor had an agenda: to restrict or not award the benefit that my condition warranted.

“She told such blatant lies, left out all the evidence I mentioned and included things I didn’t say.

“She ‘constructed’ a dishonest report in which she told blatant lies and twisted words to suit their needs. Giving some information but not all that was discussed.

“It was a ‘cherry picked’ constructed report putting in what she wanted to go in and at the same time leaving out evidence on my behalf.”

Another case was that of a nurse, Mrs A, whose GP husband witnessed her assessment at their home in south Wales.

Their claims were reported by DNS in September, but they have asked not to be named.

Among their many concerns was that the assessment report stated that there was no evidence that Mrs A was wearing hearing aids, when a brief check would have shown they were in place behind her ears.

The report failed to mention her painfully swollen leg, and said that Mrs A refused to stand, when in fact the assessor had recognised she was in too much pain to stand and so did not ask her to do so.

Among many other concerns, the report failed to point out that Mrs A was clearly “distressed, in pain and anxious”, and failed to note the forgetfulness and slowness of thought she showed during the assessment.

Dr A said the report was “an absolute fabrication”, and added: “The actual examination was laughable. It took a few moments.

“My wife couldn’t even stand up… yet somehow she was able to infer that she could walk more than 50 metres but less than 200.

“How do you infer that from someone who wasn’t even able to get up out of the chair?

“She said she couldn’t see the hearing aids. She didn’t even look to see if the hearing aids were in place. How difficult is it to move a couple of hairs?”

He added: “It was appalling. Every single sentence in that report can be torn apart. ”

Another female PIP claimant, who was assessed by Atos in Salisbury, was another who discovered the lies that had been told by her assessor after requesting to see a copy of the assessment report.

She said: “He lied and said [I] had transferred from chair to bed independently when in fact I used my crutches and handed them to him and he had to give me them back when physical examination was completed.”

Another claimant said that his Atos assessor had described the strong medication he takes for both his physical and mental health conditions as “like Smarties”.

Other disabled people have told him how their reports included the same phrase.

He said: “Everything I said she ignored, even how I was breaking down in front of her, [she] even said ‘not suicidal’ when she never even asked. I was suicidal.

“She was dishonest on everything. Wrote down ‘mental health OK’ but said in front of me I need greater mental health support. She totally contradicted herself.”

*Not their real names

26 January 2017

PIP INVESTIGATION: Politicians call for action over ‘widespread dishonesty by assessors’

Labour, the Green party and the Liberal Democrats have called for the government to act on claims of widespread dishonesty by the medical professionals paid to compile benefits assessment reports, following a two-month investigation by Disability News Service (DNS).

The three parties spoke out after DNS shared the findings of the investigation with key opposition figures.

DNS has examined more than 20 cases in which claimants of personal independence  payment (PIP) – which is replacing working-age disability living allowance – have described how the healthcare professionals who carried out their face-to-face assessments subsequently produced dishonest reports.

The dishonesty includes assessors refusing to accept further written evidence from medical experts; wrongly claiming that detailed physical examinations had been carried out during the assessment; refusing to list all of a claimant’s medications; ignoring or misreporting key evidence told to them in the assessment; and reporting that a claimant had refused to co-operate with a physical examination, when they were instead unable to complete it because of their impairment.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, called for an independent investigation.

He said: “This investigation reveals that is not sick and disabled people who are lying but those who are assessing them.

“The shocking prevalence of inaccurate assessments which are denying desperately needed support obliterates any remaining pretence that PIP assessments are fair.

“The system should be looking after those who need help and acting with their best interests at heart, not working against them and making things worse.

“Behind each of these stories and the hundreds of complaints are people who are suffering, whose lives have been disrupted, turned upside down or in some cases destroyed.

“It is clear these cases are not isolated incidents. There should be a full-scale investigation as a matter of urgency to reveal the full extent of what is going on, and that should ideally be carried out independently of the DWP, to avoid any cover-up, as we saw over the deaths of benefit claimants.”

Debbie Abrahams, Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, said the evidence produced by DNS was “truly shocking”, and she repeated last year’s call by Labour to investigate the conduct of assessors.

She said: “We have seen from this and other investigations, including the [Channel 4] Dispatches programme in April 2016, that there are significant flaws in the PIP assessment process and with the conduct of many assessors.

“Last year, Labour called for the department to undertake an investigation into the conduct of assessors, yet ministers refused to take action.

“Unlike the work capability assessment, the government plans to continue assessing all disabled people for PIP, regardless of their condition and the fact that 65 per cent of PIP appeals are successful.

“The impact on disabled people of having to fight the DWP for support to which they are entitled cannot be underestimated; causing distress, anxiety and negatively impacting on their health.

“It is clear that the assessment process is wholly inappropriate and, in light of this investigation, ministers must take action now.”

The disabled Liberal Democrat peer Baroness [Celia] Thomas, who speaks for her party on disability, said the investigation and its findings were “timely” and called for DWP to audit all of its assessors.

She said the claims reflected the letters and emails she and other disabled peers receive about PIP assessors “who do not take proper notice of medical reports, do not listen properly to claimants and do not remember to ask about the reliability criteria which governs all descriptors”.

She said: “DWP needs to conduct a thorough audit of all assessors to make sure disabled people are not being penalised by assessors who are not up to the job.”

DWP has been handed eight cases of named claimants who have come forward to make allegations that healthcare professionals working for the outsourcing giants Capita and Atos lied in the reports they wrote after carrying out face-to-face assessments.

But DWP also turned down the opportunity to see many more cases, in which claimants have asked DNS not to reveal their personal details to the department.

Despite the findings of the investigation, DWP has refused to accept that there is any dishonesty at all among the medical professionals paid to compile assessment reports, and has refused to take any action to address the concerns.

Asked why there were so many cases of dishonesty involving assessors working for Capita and Atos, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We do not accept this is the case.”

She added: “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.”

Asked whether DWP would act on the information provided by DNS, she 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.”

She added: “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.

“If ICE upholds a complaint against the provider, the provider incurs a penalty charge and is also required to pay the claimant any financial redress recommended by ICE.

“PIP customer satisfaction is up by more than 10 per cent since last year, and we expect these trends to continue following new improvements.

“We continue to work with disability stakeholders to ensure the PIP assessment process is working well.”

Asked if there was a serious problem with Atos and Capita assessors lying in their assessment reports, she said: “No, our providers are committed to providing a high-quality, sensitive and respectful service by conducting fair, accurate and objective assessments.

“Independent audit is in place to ensure advice provided to DWP decision makers is of suitable quality, fully explained and justified.

“Both Atos and Capita are required to ensure that the health professionals carrying out assessments have knowledge of the clinical aspects and likely functional effects of a wide range of health conditions and impairments.

“All health professionals undertaking assessments on behalf of DWP must be registered practitioners who have also met requirements around training and competence.

“They must be: an occupational therapist, level one nurse, physiotherapist, paramedic or doctor.

“They must also be fully registered and have at least two years post full-registration experience.”

She added: “All health professionals receive comprehensive training in disability analysis which includes a functional evaluation as to how medical conditions and the long-term medical treatment of those conditions affect an individual’s ability to perform day-to-day activities.

“Prior to carrying out an assessment, the health professional routinely refreshes their knowledge of any condition with which they are not fully familiar.”

She added: “We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments, and work closely with them to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.

“We work extensively with the PIP assessment providers (Atos and Capita) and disability representative groups to make improvements to guidance, training and audit procedures in order to ensure a quality service.”

Capita refused to answer any questions about the allegations, including how many complaints it had received during 2016 about assessors not being truthful in their assessment reports; whether it believed this was a serious problem; and why it believed there were so many cases in which assessors were apparently failing to complete their assessment reports honestly.

Instead, it delivered the following statement: “We expect all of our assessors to undertake assessments as outlined by DWP and in-line with our comprehensive training.

“We expect all assessors to behave in a way that meets both our high professional standards and those of their professions.

“We are not involved in the decision making process or informed of claimants’ outcomes.”

Atos acknowledged receipt of an email from DNS detailing the investigation, but refused to respond further.

26 January 2017

 

 

‘Cuts to support killed my neighbours,’ MPs are told

A disabled campaigner has told MPs that he believes cuts to support have contributed to a quarter of his neighbours in the sheltered housing development where he lives dying in just one year.

Larry Gardiner told the communities and local government select committee this week, as part of its inquiry into adult social care, that five of his neighbours had died in the last year.

He said that to lose so many neighbours in such a short period of time was “absolutely unprecedented”.

He said: “Some of those deaths were expected and anticipated… but there were others which I think were premature, unexpected and for which there should be an investigation, and there hasn’t been.”

Gardiner, who campaigns for the rights of other people with dementia and volunteers as an independent advocate, said that his local authority, Oxfordshire County Council, will “only fund something for which there’s a statutory duty”.

He said that services he was previously receiving no longer exist, and the sheltered housing units where he lives no longer have a council-funded visiting service, which previously provided support for older people such as his neighbours.

The sheltered housing flats also no longer have a live-in warden, while the communal lounge and kitchen can no longer be used because there are no staff available, and although there is a bathroom with a hoist, there is no-one trained or insured to use it, he told the committee.

Gardiner said: “We live in a building with lots of amenity but no service, with no actual tangible support for residents.

“The result of that has been in the last year I have lost five of my neighbours.

“Old people die, and sick people die, and in sheltered housing it is expected that people will die, but there are 20 units where I live and in the space of a year I have lost Cath, and Michael, and John, and Chris, and Dorothy.”

Disability News Service has so far been unable to contact Gardiner to discuss his evidence further.

Although Oxfordshire County Council failed to answer detailed questions about Gardiner’s comments by noon today (Thursday) – including whether it was concerned about the number of deaths, and whether it had investigated his concerns – it has produced a statement, in which it admitted that it stopped providing the visiting support service last March.

A council spokesman said: “The council does not fund support in sheltered housing schemes.

“These support services are generally provided by landlords and are funded through a service charge to individual tenants.

“Overall, the Oxfordshire market moved away from [a] residential warden model of care to [a] peripatetic warden model of social care a decade ago.

“The council funded a visiting support service for older people with support needs for six years – but not since March 2016 when that service ceased. The council was never legally obliged to provide such a service.”

He added: “We are happy to give advice on daytime support grants to Mr Gardiner and anybody else in Oxfordshire who feels they would need such advice.

“As would be the case in any scenario where there is potential unmet eligible social care needs, we are happy to speak to local people to make clear ways to request social care assessments.

“The council is fully committed to meeting eligible social care needs and has invested in better information and advice on how to request social care assessments and in direct support for people who need it most.

“Oxfordshire has a diverse mixed market of housing and we do fund extra care housing services.”

Gardiner, who himself receives 28 hours of council-funded support a week through direct payments, also told the committee that his care package had been written “to keep me hydrated, fed and watered and hygienic and doesn’t go beyond that”, with no provision for help with shopping or keeping his flat clean.

Anna Sevenwright, another service-user who gave evidence to the committee, who receives 23 hours a week of council-funded support, said her council had already made £100 million in cuts to its spending, and is having to make another £55 million.

She said she knew people “who have had their care either stopped completely or drastically reduced and I do consider myself quite fortunate”.

She said: “My main worry [is that] if my condition gets worse, and I don’t know what’s going to happen in the future, that the care won’t increase to even be dignified, really.”

She said her package keeps her “clean and fed, and my flat clean and tidy, and the practical needs are met”, but that it “does not promote my wellbeing”.

She added: “I get six hours a week for socialisation, whatever that means.

“That has to include my food shopping, my hospital appointments, which average one a week, going to church, and if I want to go swimming, because none of those things… get covered otherwise.

“There are times when I have to make a choice, so I will say I won’t have a shower or I won’t cook a meal… I will use the time [with my personal assistant] to do the socialisation.

“Otherwise you become extremely isolated and that’s quite distressing. I’m a 31-year-old and my friends who were at university with me are out doing all these things and my life looks extremely different to theirs and it’s a lot emptier in a way.”

She also said that she had been told by her council that there was no service-user involvement in how it planned services.

She told the committee: “If services were co-produced with the people using them, you would get better value for money.

“They would actually be providing the service people want.

“People know what they need to stay well and to stay part of society and that I think would help.”

A third service-user who gave evidence, Isaac Samuels, who receives 17 hours of council-funded support a week, said he was constantly aware that his package could be cut.

He said: “I’m really mindful that most of my peers have either had a dramatic funding cut or have lost their services, so I’m really conscious… that that is a potential.”

He said he already has to use family and friends to fill the gap between the support he is provided with and the support he needs.

He said that although local authorities talk about the need to ensure “wellbeing” for disabled people, the funding is not available to provide the necessary support.

Samuels said: “We have care plans that talk about wellbeing and prevention and social aspects but in reality people aren’t able to do that because they aren’t even able to access their basic needs.

“For me, there’s a real disparity between what the local authority says they are doing and what people actually experience.”

He added: “I’ve never felt so isolated as I do. I live in my own home; my own home is becoming more like an institution.”

He said he was grateful for the practical support provided by the council but “sometimes I feel as if I’m just a function of dress, wash, eat”.

Samuels also told the committee that user-led organisations had been a “real asset” to him and his support network.

Meanwhile, Surrey County Council has announced that it is considering holding a referendum on 4 May on plans to increase council tax for 2017-18 by 15 per cent in order to fund more spending on social care.

The Tory-run council said that central government had cut its annual grant by £170 million since 2010, while “demand for adult social care, learning disabilities and children’s services is increasing every year”.

A Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) spokeswoman said: “The government has protected local residents from high council tax rises by allowing local people to veto them through a council tax referendum.

“If the council sets this proposed budget, then the taxpayers of Surrey will have the final say in a referendum in May. We should trust the people.”

DCLG also announced that the government was no longer considering devolving spending on attendance allowance – a non-means-tested benefit which supports older people with care needs – from the Department for Work and Pensions to local authorities in England and Wales as part of its reform of business rates.

And Rochdale council this week withdrew plans that would have seen some people with learning difficulties forced out of supported living and into residential care as a cost-saving measure, following legal action by one of its service-users.

The council said (see agenda item four) that it would now launch a fresh consultation on its future plans, but that the proposed measures would not be part of its budget for 2017-18.

26 January 2017

 

 

Coroner orders inquest into ‘fit for work’ man who collapsed after leaving jobcentre

About 100 activists and their allies have taken part in a protest and vigil to mark the death of a disabled man who died minutes after leaving a jobcentre… six months after a government contractor found him “fit for work”.

Lawrence Bond is said to have collapsed on the pavement shortly after leaving Kentish Town jobcentre, following a back-to-work appointment.

He was reportedly awaiting the result of an appeal against being found fit for work and therefore ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA), the out-of-work disability benefit.

Disability News Service (DNS) has confirmed with the London Inner North coroner’s office that there will be an inquest into his death later this year.

The inquest could be heard by the same coroner, Mary Hassell, who found in January 2014 that a disabled man, Mr A*, had taken his own life as a direct result of being found fit for work and ineligible for ESA, following a work capability assessment (WCA).

That verdict, and the “prevention of future deaths report” that Hassell sent to the Department for Work and Pensions – warning that other disabled people with mental health conditions could die if DWP failed to take urgent action to make the test safe – have proved hugely significant in the continuing campaign to scrap the WCA and hold ministers accountable for their failings, and for the deaths of other benefit claimants.

Although the circumstances of the two deaths are different, DNS understands that Lawrence Bond was found fit for work in July 2016 following a face-to-face assessment at the same examination centre that found Mr A fit for work in 2013.

He was assessed by Maximus, the discredited US outsourcing giant that took over the WCA contract from Atos in 2015. Mr A was assessed by Atos.

This week’s protest and vigil was organised by two local activist groups, Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible.

Among those who spoke were Lawrence Bond’s sister, Iris; Gill Thompson, whose disabled brother David Clapson died after having his benefits sanctioned; Labour’s shadow chancellor, John McDonnell; and Mr A’s daughter.

Claire Glasman, from WinVisible, said friends of Lawrence Bond had travelled from as far as Brighton and Somerset to attend the protest.

She said: “We wanted to pay our respects to Lawrence Bond first of all, so his death didn’t get passed over. Every life matters.”

But she added: “We have just had it with people dying like this.”

She said WinVisible had supported many disabled women who have either been unfairly found fit for work, or have lost their benefits because of a failure to attend a WCA.

One woman, with the chronic lung condition COPD, lost her ESA for several months after Maximus rejected her excuse for being 10 minutes late for an appointment: that she couldn’t run to catch a bus because of her COPD.

Glasman told DNS: “It all took months. Meanwhile, she lost weight, her only income was disability living allowance, and she was having to go round to someone else’s house for food.”

Film director Ken Loach also spoke at the protest, and was among those to have drawn a comparison between Lawrence Bond’s death and the main character of his film I, Daniel Blake, which was released last year.

The film features a man with a long-term health condition who is found fit for work through the WCA process, and eventually collapses and dies while trying to appeal that decision.

Asked whether DWP was concerned about Lawrence Bond’s case, and whether it had launched an internal investigation, a DWP spokeswoman said: “The local jobcentre had been supporting Mr Bond and our sympathies are with his family at this difficult time.

“ESA decisions are made following a thorough assessment and after considering all of the evidence, including that provided by a claimant’s doctor or other medical professionals.

“Anyone who disagrees with a decision can ask for it to be reconsidered, and if they still disagree they can appeal.

“The details of Mr Bond’s death have not yet been confirmed and there has been no inquest.”

Maximus had not responded to requests to comment by noon today (Thursday).

* Andrew’s family have requested that DNS does not publish his real name

26 January 2017

 

 

MPs hear of activists’ anger and frustration over ministers’ response to UN report

Disabled activists have told MPs and peers of their frustration at not being able to hold the government to account for its “grave or systematic” breaches of the UN disability convention.

The UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities (CRPD) found in November that the UK government had discriminated against disabled people across three key parts of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD), following a lengthy inquiry sparked by disabled activists.

But the UK government dismissed the report’s conclusions and all 11 of its recommendations.

Because the convention has not been incorporated into UK law, the government cannot be held accountable for the breaches in a court.

But disabled activists told a parliamentary meeting organised by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and Inclusion London this week that they would continue to push for the UN to do more to highlight the UK’s continuing breaches of the convention.

Linda Burnip, co-founder of DPAC, said the government tried hard to bury the CRPD report in November, but she insisted: “It isn’t just fizzling out. It isn’t just going away.”

Instead, she said, DPAC – whose activists triggered the UN inquiry – has produced a report for the UN that rebutts the government’s response.

And as members of the Reclaiming Our Futures Alliance, DPAC and Inclusion London are compiling a new report that will be submitted to CRPD as part of the “periodic review” of the UK’s progress in implementing the convention as a whole.

The government is expected to be questioned in public in Geneva about its overall progress in implementing the convention this summer.

John McArdle, co-founder of the Scottish-based anti-cuts group Black Triangle, said: “We as campaigners just find it incredibly frustrating that you can’t hold ministers to account.”

He added: “One of the things we would like to see is politicians of all stripes put aside their party political differences on the issue of the fundamental human rights of disabled people.

“People are dying and being made destitute. It is time we all united.”

Tracey Lazard, chief executive of Inclusion London, said the “damning” report had exposed the “misery and the hardship we know disabled people are experiencing right now”.

She said: “The position of the government in their response is one of blanket denial… it denies there is a social care crisis, yet we all know just a few months down the line that this position is now politically untenable.

“We see the same equally unconvincing denial from the government to the inquiry’s other findings.”

She said the situation for disabled people was “getting worse”, with imminent cuts to payments for some new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA), removal of the severe disability premium through the introduction of universal credit, a freeze on many benefits and huge cuts to social care budgets.

And she pointed to research – reported by Disability News Service (DNS) earlier this month – that shows NHS bodies introducing policies that give them the right to “shunt disabled people deemed too expensive into residential and nursing homes against their wishes”.

Lazard said the government must “stop dismantling our rights”.

Baroness Deech, the crossbench peer who chaired the meeting, said the government had “brushed aside” the CRPD report, just as it had brushed aside the report produced last year by the Equality Act 2010 and disability committee, which she chaired.

No government minister attended this week’s meeting, with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) instead sending a civil servant.

Stephanie Harvey, a senior policy adviser for the Office for Disability Issues, said: “I understand some of the feelings expressed here as regards the inquiry and its response.”

She said the government wanted to “engage with stakeholders” through the periodic review process and then “work together” to address the issues raised.

But Baroness Deech told Harvey that the message coming through from disabled people was “already quite clear”.

She said: “I don’t know how much more consultation we need. We know the message. It’s the government’s response we are waiting for.”

She also criticised the Labour party, which has been repeatedly questioned in recent months over its commitment to disability equality.

It has failed to appoint a shadow minister for disabled people, failed to follow through on a promised letter to Labour-run councils on the Independent Living Fund, and withdrew an invitation to a disabled people’s organisation (DPO) to speak at a disability equality consultation launch because the DPO said it wanted to speak about independent living.

And last month, most of Labour’s peers abstained on a vote that would have forced bars, shops and restaurants to ensure their premises obeyed laws on accessibility when renewing their alcohol licences.

Asked by Baroness Deech why Labour had “sat on its hands”, shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said she was unaware of the vote, but added: “That’s disappointing.”

And asked by DNS why Labour had not yet called for a Commons debate on the CRPD report – as promised more than two months ago by shadow chancellor John McDonnell – Abrahams said: “We will bring it forward as soon as we can.”

Among those who spoke at the meeting was Nichole Drury, who gave evidence to the CRPD inquiry.

She told the CRPD investigators how her mother’s out-of-work benefits had been removed because she had twice been too unwell to attend a work capability assessment.

Her mother, Moira, had a number of serious health conditions, but spent the last six months of her life fighting DWP over its decision. She was only finally awarded employment and support allowance after she died.

Jonathan Bartley, co-leader of the Green party, praised the “landmark” and “absolutely damning” UN report and criticised the “entirely inadequate response” from the government, which he said was “an absolute scandal”.

He said: “We absolutely support the recommendations and the findings of the UN report.

“I think we need to be calling very much for them to be implemented.”

He called for a dual strategy of campaigning both inside and outside parliament for the report’s recommendations to be implemented.

The Liberal Democrat president, the disabled peer Baroness [Sal] Brinton, said: “I am going to be quoting the CRPD at length to make sure the government hangs its head in shame when it clearly breaches it.”

She said there was a need to highlight individual stories and persuade the government to move away from the approach of the work and pensions secretary Damian Green, of “complete denial that there is a problem”.

Abrahams said she was “disappointed” with the government’s response to the UN report, and that she believed there should be “repurcussions”, while the report had “certainly influenced the position the Labour party is taking with our policy development process”.

Backbench Tory MP Heidi Allen, who has spoken out against the ESA cuts, said she believed that the new minister for disabled people, Penny Mordaunt, “genuinely wants to get it right” and has “a real energy and determination to genuinely engage with disabled communities and to not assume she has all the answers”.

The SNP’s disability spokeswoman, Corri Wilson, said the report “should have sent shock waves to the core of this government”, and she criticised its “insufficient response”.

26 January 2017

 

 

DWP report confirms fears over impact of ILF closure

Former recipients of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in England experienced a loss of support, a greater reliance on unpaid care and an “adverse” impact on their physical and mental health after its closure, according to a government report.

The research, published by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), confirms many of the warnings and concerns raised by disabled activists who campaigned against the decision to close the fund, before it shut in June 2015.

Researchers only spoke to 50 former ILF recipients – or their relatives – out of nearly 17,000 disabled people with high support needs that the fund had been helping to live independently at the time it closed.

But they concluded that those former recipients who saw their support “heavily reduced” as a result of the closure – which saw non-ringfenced funding passed by the government to local authorities – “experienced multiple changes” to their lives.

The report says: “They argued that reductions in care were unfair and denied them opportunities to participate fully in society.

“They encountered changes and restrictions to daily activities, including less support for engaging in leisure activities, work and volunteering.”

Among those changes, they experienced a loss of paid care and support, an increased reliance on unpaid care, and less support for engaging in leisure activities.

Some of those who took part in the DWP study said that the “heavy reduction in care” they had experienced had damaged their physical and mental health, with effects such as loneliness; weight loss; and frailty “due to worry, or due to the physical demands of having to perform everyday activities without the support of a carer”.

Last September, a report by Inclusion London – One Year On: Evaluating The Impact Of The Closure Of The Independent Living Fund – concluded that there had been vast differences in the proportion of former ILF recipients whose packages had been cut after the fund’s closure.

In one borough, 68 per cent of former ILF-users had had their support reduced, a year on from the fund’s closure, while in all about 185 former ILF recipients in London – about one in seven – had had their care packages cut, the Inclusion London report found.

Former recipients interviewed for the new report said they found council accounting procedures and spending rules to be “more restrictive” than under ILF, with some of them reporting how their level of choice and control had been “compromised” by its closure.

The report says: “Former recipients had to prioritise their needs, typically prioritising personal care and attending medical or official appointments over social activities and participating in activities outside their home.”

Some had to stop volunteering or even give up paid employment.

One told researchers: “I won’t be able to make myself any food without help, so basically they’ll just help me to get up in the morning… what am I meant to do in the daytime?

“I don’t want to be a prisoner in my own house. I’ve got a mobility car outside but I can’t drive it without a driver.”

Only one of the 50 former ILF-recipients who was questioned for the study had been moved into a residential home, but the researchers pointed out that they may not have reached other former ILF recipients who had been forced into residential settings.

Some of those they interviewed had been told by social workers during the reassessment process that they “could move into residential care as a cheaper alternative to living in the community”.

Some of the participants in the research described the process of being reassessed for their support needs by their local authority as “smooth”, but others said the transition period was “acutely stressful” and “taxing and detrimental to their wellbeing”.

One former recipient described how their social worker had told them: “Well, our criteria is different. We look at survival, the ILF look at qualify of life.”

Participants in the study said they experienced “an overall sense of sadness and loss” once ILF’s closure had been announced in 2014, with one participant in the study saying it had felt “like running into a brick wall full pelt”.

The research did find that the transfer of funding from central government to local authorities had been “smooth”, with former ILF-recipients experiencing “no major disruptions to receiving payments”.

And those former recipients who had been awarded an improved, matched, or slightly lower support package told researchers that they had maintained the level of support and care they received before ILF closed, and had a similar level of choice and control over their care.

This group also reported limited or no changes to their independence.

26 January 2017

 

 

Minister warned over rights after launching residential special school review

Continuing to fund residential special schools is a breach of the human rights of disabled young people, campaigners have warned the government after it launched a review of provision.

The Department for Education (DfE) this week launched an independent review to examine the “outcomes and experiences” of children and young people attending residential special schools and colleges.

It has appointed Dame Christine Lenehan, director of the Council for Disabled Children, to head the review.

Dame Christine has issued a call for evidence, seeking the views of past and present pupils and students, their parents and carers, as well as staff, local authorities, representative bodies and academics.

The new review was launched on 23 January, just three days before Dame Christine published a highly-critical review into the care of disabled children and young people with challenging behaviour and complex mental health needs – including those in 52-week residential special schools – on behalf of the Department of Health (DH).

The review, These Are Our Children, published today (Thursday), calls for “urgent action at a national level to prevent these children being institutionalised at an early age, at huge cost to the taxpayer and with low ambitions for improving their lives”.

Dame Christine concludes: “There’s a well-worn path for this group of disabled children, away from their home communities into long term placements that often act a last resort.

“Hidden and separated from the rest of society, these children become ‘special cases’, for whom the aspirations we have for other children and young people don’t apply.

“We urgently need a shift in thinking, so that ‘these’ children are recognised as ‘our’ children, as members of our communities with exactly the same rights to health and education, and family and community life.”

She called for the rights of disabled children with complex needs and challenging behaviour to be recognised by the NHS constitution, DfE, DH and local commissioners.

She said there were an estimated 170 under-18s with learning difficulties and/or autism in inpatient care, and 635 aged 18 to 25, while more than 1,000 children (1,129) were in 52-week residential special schools.

DfE made no mention of the review Dame Christine had been carrying out for DH in its launch of her call for evidence.

Among the questions she is asking for the DfE review are why students came to be placed in residential institutions, “what good quality support looks like”, and the experiences and outcomes of children and young people who have attended residential schools and colleges, and how they could be improved.

But The Alliance for Inclusive Education (ALLFIE) said there should be no place for residential special schools and colleges.

It said the government should instead “fully fund local inclusive education and support services for disabled children as a matter of urgency”.

And it called on the government to fulfil its obligation to promote disabled children’s rights to inclusive education and to family life under the UN Convention for Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights.

Last August, the UN’s committee on the rights of persons with disabilities published new guidance that made it clear that all segregated education should end, and should be replaced by “inclusive classroom teaching in accessible learning environments with appropriate supports”.

The UN guidance said that the right for disabled students not to be discriminated against “includes the right not to be segregated”.

And it pointed out that countries that have signed up to the UN convention have “a specific and continuing obligation” to move as quickly as possible towards “the full realization” of article 24 of the convention, which describes the right of disabled people to an inclusive education system.

ALLFIE said the “vast majority” of pupils and students were placed in residential special schools against their own and their parents’ wishes.

Simone Aspis, ALLFIE’s policy and campaigns coordinator, said: “We know of parents being forced into accepting a residential school placement because of the local authority’s systematic failure to provide good quality local support and inclusive education provision.

“We want the review to highlight the real and negative impact that residential special school provision has upon disabled children’s and adults’ life opportunities as a result of their being taken out of their local communities and placed in residential special school institutions often hundreds of miles away from home, and how it undermines family life and social cohesion.

“Austerity cannot be an excuse when the government allows local authorities to pay hundreds of thousands of pounds per residential special school placement which could be used to fund an excellent local inclusive education placement.

“Continuing to fund residential special school provision is a breach of disabled children’s human rights to inclusive education and family life.”

She added: “Residential special schools typify the outdated view that disabled children should be hidden away from society, a mentality that is the foundation of prejudice, ignorance and discrimination, and we know that institutional settings leave disabled children vulnerable to abuse.

“These schools have no place in a society that values the lifelong equality of disabled people.”

The Office of the Children’s Commissioner for England said in a report two years ago that there were more than 6,000 children boarding at 277 residential special schools in January 2014, with more than 15,000 children attending such schools in total.

The new review was ordered by Edward Timpson, the minister for vulnerable children and families.

Dame Christine will be supported by Mark Geraghty, chief executive of the Seashell Trust, which runs a residential special school and college.

A Department for Education spokesperson said: “Every child, no matter the obstacles they face, should have the same opportunities for success as any other.

“This independent review will look at how the experiences of children and young people attending residential special schools and colleges can be improved, to ensure the right support is in place.”

The call for evidence runs until 17 March. Dame Christine will report back to the government later this year.

26 January 2017

 

News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com