WARNING: This blogpost will contain swear words in the last paragraph.
As regular readers of this blog will know, I've spent the past three months taking quite an interest in disability welfare issues. Specifically, I wrote a motion which was passed at Lib Dem conference, becoming party policy, and which called for the government to scrap their planned arbitrary time limit on how long disabled people could receive benefits for and for the government to fix the utterly broken assessment system that was bequeathed to them by the last government.
One of the things that has come from that is that I've learned quite a bit about how the DWP reaches decisions and who advises them when they make those decisions.
And the picture that's emerged is rather disturbing. All the way back in 1994, the DWP hired the Vice-President of the US insurance company Unum, Dr Le Cascio, to sit on the group responsible for designing and enforcing new medical tests for disability benefit claimants.
Now, according to Private Eye:
At the same time, the UK wing of Unum was launching what it boasted was “aA year later Private Eye questioned Le Cascio about a potential conflict of interest, which was denied. Fast forward ten years and:
concerted effort to harness the potential” from predicted cuts in benefits,
urging people to protect themselves with a “long-term disability policy from
Unum was found guilty in the US of “systematically violating” insurance regulations and fraudulently denying or “low-balling” claims using phony medical reports, misrepresentationBut despite this, despite Unum being described as an "outlaw company" by the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, and despite a BBC report in 2007 which revealed that internal Unum documents stated that they were driving governmnet policy, Unum's executives have continued to be heavily involved in advising the DWP.
and biased investigations
In 2006 Unum executives sat on the panels that devised the Work Capability Assessments introduced in 2008 and which have an failure rate of 40% (according to official figures). Not only that, but, along with Atos (the company that conducts the assessments) they were the only for-profit companies on the panels. So even if you believe that private companies should be included in governement policy making then why was this cartel of two massive organisations the only companies listened to by the DWP?
In 2001 our old friend Le Cascio:
was a key player at a ground-breaking conference at Woodstock near Oxford, titled “Malingering and Illness Deception”. Malcolm Wicks, Labour work minister at the time, and Mansel Aylward, then chief medical officer at the DWP, were among the 39 delegates.And, at the same time Unum set up a lobbying group to try to further influence DWP policy.
Then, in 2004, Unum set up a £1.6 million research centre in Cardiff which subsequently received £300,000 of taxpayer's money from the DWP.
According to the Private Eye article from last year:
Unum has been lobbying, sitting on expert groups and hosting meetings at party conferences of all colours ever since. And lo and behold, in May this year, Unum’s then medical officer Prof Michael O’Donnell jumped ship to become chief medical officer at Atos. He barely had time to catch his breath before giving evidence to the Commons committee looking at the welfare reform bill.Despite all of this, the DWP has repeatedly brushed of enquiries about the relationship with Unum, including one from Norman Lamb, Nick Clegg's health advisor, and has continued to involve Unum with policy making - something which is still happening at the moment. It appears that it doesn't matter which government is in power as the DWP seems to pay more attention to private insurance companies than ministers when making policy.
Meanwhile, the DWP has continued to publish misleading statistics (which are then picked up with glee by the tabloids) such as the claim that 75% of claimants are fit to work - something which was reported by papers as "75% of claimants are scroungers". The DWP has been repeatedly rapped over the knuckles for this by the Office for National Statistics (partly because only 0.5% of claims are deliberate attempts to defraud the benefit system) and yet employment minister, Chris Grayling says he is "bemused by it". Given the recent dramatic rise in disability hate crime then I'd call that criminally irresponsible and callous.
But this attitude isn't surprising when you consider who advises his boss, Ian Duncan-Smith. His two key Special Advisors are both, shall we say "questionable". Susan Squire is one. Until just after the general election she worked for the Taxpayers Alliance, an organisation which fully signs up to the "all disability claimants are workshy scroungers" and which is so right wing that it makes Margaret Thatcher look like a bleeding heart liberal.
Still, Susan Squire seems perfectly normal when you compare her to IDS's other advisor, Phillipa Stroud. This woman is a politician who believes that homosexuality is a "demon" which must be driven out of people through prayer and who set up a church dedicated to doing just that.
Meanwhile, disability charities and organisations such as the CAB are generally only given lip service by the DWP when it comes to involving them in policy making. It's not surprising that the DWP thinks that arbitrarily cutting benefits off to disabled people after 12 months, regardless of their condition, is a good idea when the main people driving policy are right wing nutters and rogue companies with vested interests in milking the public purse for all they can get.
Words cannot easily describe how horrifically DWP policy making seems to be. But perhaps if people like Chris Grayling and IDS actually spoke to some disabled people occasionally, instead of listening to religious and political extremists, then they might actually start to treat sick and disabled people with some basic compassion and dignity, rather than acting like the idiotic, incompetent, heartless cunts that so many tory ministers seem to be.