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Archive for September 2011

The law as it applies to common folk

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I am intending to include an account of my (failed) tribunal eventually, which will be extensive. Currently I am waiting for the Statement of Reasons which will explain why my appeal was ‘disallowed’ as they put it. In fact that was all they put. And is why I am making this post and why it is entitled such.

My hearing was on 13th September, and I received the judgement by post the day after, the clerk having indicated that this would probably be the case.  I had spent months acquiring research evidence about my condition (from peer-reviewed medical journals), had obtained a letter of support from my GP and also included advice from authoritative sources including the DWP itself, and Atos Healthcare’s own Evidence Based material.  Alongside this I submitted an extensive, detailed account/criticism of the HCP’s report pointing out its poor quality, the errors and the instance of the HCP’s blatant misuse of my statement which misled the Decision Maker. I had expected that the panel would consider all that I had presented to them in an impartial and objective way, and fairly. We are all equal in the eyes of the law, they say, so expectations would be that my evidence would be weighed thoughtfully against that provided by the DWP, and a well reasoned  judgement would ensue.

To receive the tribunal’s verdict and find it contained simply a statement that my appeal had been disallowed, with no further exposition, was to experience myself as someone who is therefore insignificant in the eyes of the law. The hidden message behind this lack of entitlement to an explanation is that I am simply not important enough for them to need to justify  their conclusion. This troubles me.

I wrote asking for a Statement of Reasons the next day, which apparently was received by the clerk and forwarded to the tribunal judge on 16th September. In my innocence of the process I expected that it would simply be a matter of printing me off a copy of this document, which I assumed already existed. As the appeal constituted a legal procedure I imagined that records of judgements would be filed with reasons attached as a matter of course.

It seemed to be taking longer than expected, and it was unclear whether a Record of Proceedings was automatically included, so I wrote again requesting this and impulsively queried whether a Statement of Reasons exists outside of an appellants request for one. I truly did not expect to hear back: “You suppose correctly that a statement is only prepared when requested.”  If the panel only produce this retrospectively what form did their judgement take materially at the time, and how long did they deliberate over it, the two of them?

We common folk who bring these cases to them, how readily do we accept what seems to be a final word on the situation from these two authorities, the medical and the legal, united in judgement against us? Especially when it comes in the form of ‘the law says no and we don’t have to tell you why’.

This effect is further compounded by the fact that if you do not feel that the tribunal have awarded a fair judgement you need to ask permission of the judge to be able to take it further. Oh, and the extension of benefit entitlement you had while appealing is removed. So… quite interesting the way law works for us commoners isn’t it?

 

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Written by bigleyma

September 27, 2011 at 8:52 pm

Unum Influence Exposed in 2007 (yet still it goes on…)

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It’s quite difficult to comprehend that its four years since Jonathan Rutherford so completely detailed the process by which the disgraced Insurance company Unum had inveigled its way into a position from which it could determine the course of Welfare Reform in this country. How many sick and disabled people since then have been cheated out of their benefits for the profits Unum are anticipating from their playing of this ‘long game’? From the lack of action on this it would seem that no-one who matters cares.

And yet in the same year the BBC also cared  enough, as Rutherford notes, to run with this story on the Ten O’Clock news. What has happened in the meantime?  A recent Freedom of Information request to the BBC is attempting to find out whether, in light of even greater evidence of the corruption of our democratic process in service of private profit, the BBC are willing to revisit the subject. We all fund the BBC, let’s hope our trust in their stated independence and integrity is borne out by their response.

14.1

The BBC’s reputation, in the UK and around the world, is based on its editorial integrity and independence.  Our audiences must be able to trust the BBC and be confident that our editorial decisions are not influenced by outside interests, political or commercial pressures, or any personal interests.

The FOI deadline for their reply is next Wednesday, October 5th.

Its such a shame that the BBC’s initial exposure of this story, greeted as it was with such hope for change by those who were suffering then, did not manage to ignite a full enquiry into this scandal. Who can the vulnerable, sick and disabled in this country turn to for justice?

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September 25, 2011 at 11:48 am

A Rant About Social Policy and Some WCA Horror Stories

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One of the depressing aspects of researching into the WCA and all its associated material, such as the connections between Big Insurance and our welfare system, and how academics have willingly lent their credentials to a pseudoscientific base for it, has been to discover just how long it has been going on. A fairly recent example at DWP Examination ‘Another Horror Story’ has comments spanning over two years from July 2009 to September 2011. Each time the story is virtually the same. And those are not by a long chalk the earliest accounts on the net.

The WCA is just the latest instrument that the government has dreamed up to cut the welfare budget, but what an instrument! The process has been refined, adjusted over time to make it increasingly hard for the sick and disabled to be considered so. It has been necessary for an accompanying ideology to justify those changes, the overarching notion of which has become: ‘There is some form of work that impaired people can do, even if it is just pressing a button’. This concept is underpinned by an unquestioned assertion that ‘Work is always good for you’. Both these ideas are so weak that they do not even stand up to common sense understandings, let alone sociological interrogation.

Due to my academic background it is not difficult for me to visualise the form that a really robust criticism of the WCA, the ESA regulations and the political ideologies that have ‘informed’ them would take. There is some personal irony for me in the fact that I bloody hated Social Policy as a module. Why? Because it is an abuse of reasoning, the misuse of so-called statistics towards a pre-set agenda that has been informed by a political ideology. Social Policy arises from biased motivations and is scientifically unsound yet declares itself valid on the grounds of certain ‘evidence’ provided by academics who already partake of the ideas that the government wish to propagate. It is untruth and I am sociologically allergic to it. The Orwellian aspect is that these policies are always enforced under the guise of being the best solution to a problem, or will lead to a positive outcome for the greatest number of people, when in fact, as we are seeing with the WCA, they often lead to increased suffering.

So… while I can conceive of a vigorous intellectual savaging of this Welfare policy there are one or two hurdles, not least of which is my anger, and the fact that it is a demanding thing to take on and do justice to. I made a start early on in my exposure to all this,  in the form of a critique of the WCA from a social science perspective. That was before I knew as much as I do now and is just a sketch of the main flaws. To be an acceptable academic piece it would of course need strengthened by inclusion of statistics, references etc. Anyway, it is here.

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September 24, 2011 at 11:14 am

The Work Capability Assessment: A Personal Account

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The following is an account of part of my experience of the WCA which highlights the gap between reality and the report that was produced by Atos’ HCP. I wrote it in response to reading others’ stories at the victimsofatoscorruption blog’s  register of shame: A### the Truth. I must add that I do not publish this lightly, but in order to add to the evidence against this morally repulsive process. I know that it has made me feel better to have read other’s stories.

 

When I had my WCA I was less than three months out of hospital, and still getting accustomed to the change in my health after two emergency hospitalisations within a month. I had a diagnosis of COPD:Emphysema. The sudden termination of ESA came as a shock and I did not think it was a fair decision, so I appealed. When the copy of the report came I gave it a quick glance, felt ashamed (as I think you are meant to) that I had been judged fit when I claimed not to be, and put it aside. The appeal date was estimated so many months away that I decided to face it later.

Ever since, I have been reading about and discussing the WCA, and from time to time considering how to argue the case for my ill health. I started to do some medical research, as I have academic access at the moment, about the work I had done and its effects on the respiratory system, also authoritative opinion on certain environments and other factors that should be avoided if my condition is not to worsen.

It was only recently in anticipation of my appeal, whose date had been brought closer, that I had the nerve to analyse the HCP‘s report. I have never seen such poor quality work from a supposed ‘professional’ (whom Atos claim has received specialist training in ‘disability analysis’ which makes their opinion superior to that of a GP or consultant). Why I feared that I would be unable to contest it I don’t know. Just that – Fear. It was conducted by a Nurse Maureen Bluer, who I remember being so laid back as to have almost been asleep. But at the time I felt quite unwell, and was not really sharp about things. It was just another ordeal. She was lax, though, and very, very disinterested. It was a strange experience in that respect. She never smiled once, nor I think did she ever really look directly at me. (Guilt, I expect). Which makes it all the more odd that she claimed I was “not breathless on examination”. In fact she uses the word “examination” at least twice without having actually done anything that could be regarded as such.

Her demeanour, however, explains the unseemly number of inconsistencies, discrepancies, misrepresentations, irrelevancies and omissions the ‘report’ contains. Though English, her writing was of a poor standard: Sentences had no punctuation, were badly worded or just plain sloppy. Example 1: “The client is not on ant medication and has not seen a mental health professional” (Ant medication, I should hope not!) Example 2: “The client was unable to breath properly.”

I was further exasperated by: “Lives alone” followed immediately by “Lives with their adult son and daughter”. A fair portion of the ‘report’ was composed of sentences which had no relevance to my condition and I don’t know why she put them, except in an attempt to use anything which discredited my claim to be ill.

Abusively, she had taken a statement I made out of its context, and used it against me: I had explained that a significant bereavement had added to the depression and anxiety that accompanied my illness. (A common co-morbidity to COPD, I have since learned). Six months BEFORE becoming ill I had graduated from university. It had been an awful time as I had also been caring for my cancer stricken brother and he died the month before I graduated. I confided this to her in discussion of my mental health, to indicate some of the source of my anxiety and depression. What she did was to put: “The client states that she has been doing a social science degree she finished this just after her brother died”. So she had removed it from the timescale and used it as evidence of my mental health NOW. The worst thing about that was that it was picked up by the Decision Maker who put, under ‘Coping with Social Situations’: “Has been doing a social science degree. Coped well at interview”.

Regarding the ‘coping well’ I had in fact broken down and spent the last half of the WCA in tears due to talking about my brother. She airbrushed this out of her report stating that I “Behaved normally”. Well I suppose it is ‘normal’ to break down when you’re depressed and anxious and talking about the most traumatic period in your life!

As I have put in my appeal, of even more concern is that the Decision Maker uncritically accepted this poor quality document, without questioning any aspect of it. Worse still, on initiating my appeal, someone on behalf of The Secretary of State had then reviewed *that* and found nothing wrong with it at all.


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September 23, 2011 at 11:42 pm

Coerced, bullied and fighting back: Rachel Gladwin’s story

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The Independent View: Coerced, bullied and fighting back: living with Multiple Sclerosis and Welfare Reform

Rachel Gladwin, a Multiple Sclerosis sufferer, writes about her fears that, despite winning her appeal against her WCA decision, she is likely to be subjected to unceasing ‘retesting’ to make sure she is still one of the ‘deserving’ sick.

I’m too ill to be coerced, bullied or frightened into compliance by a flawed and maladministered welfare system.I also feel that much worse is in store if we are subjected to a deeply questionable American style insurance-based regime. Those who are currently ill or disabled cannot access this insurance and will become a sacrificial generation, caught between the dissolution of the Welfare State and the implementation of birth-to-death private health and income protection insurances.

Increasing numbers of us are putting the pieces of this puzzle together now. The connections between our government and Big Insurance. The propagation of the insubstantial  and thinly supported ‘Work Is Always Good For You’ mantra by those holding ‘Chief Medical’ positions within that industry or stepping sideways across from government office into corporate employ or funding. ‘Intellectual’ substance provided either by psychiatrists pimping for trade or acquiescent medical academics who seem to have forgotten the overriding first principle of their discipline: “First do no harm”.

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September 21, 2011 at 11:25 am

Professor Michael O’Donnell – A Man With A Mission

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♥ Bigleyma’s been a little busy preparing for her WCA appeal hearing, so she’s had to postpone her research on the movers and shapers behind this new test of people’s fitness for work.

‘It’s not a test! Not about ‘passing’ or failing!!’ disclaim Dr Gunnyeon and  Mr Grayling – then the latter forgets and refers to it as one   (*wink*):

“The final test for DLA has not been designed – I have used the word test(Oops!) the final assessment for DLA…”

Ref: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201012/cmselect/cmworpen/uc1015-iii/uc101501.htm

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But now…onwards : Professor Michael O’Donnell >>>

  • Chief Medical Officer UnumProvident – March 2000 – Sept 2010.
  • Chief Medical Officer Atos Healthcare – March 2011 – current.

No real surprise that he is a peddler of the ‘Work Is Good For You’ propaganda (or, as The Black Triangle Campaign prefers, ‘Arbeit Macht Frei’). Well, it does pretty much amount to the same thing, wouldn’t you say, when it’s applied in a hegemonic way, and particularly towards those who are weakened by sickness or disability?

Theories: Well I already quoted Mr O’Donnell suggesting that when people are suffering from stress their GPs should (correct me if I’m wrong) not validate this or offer understanding, but rather put the responsibility for dealing with this square on the shoulders of the patient. Interesting idea that an already stressed out person should have inner resources to draw upon for this but, hey, I’m not an expert like  Mr O’Donnell.

So what is his expertise? Dunno! (As that rather fabulous ‘social entrepreneur‘, ‘Dr’ Emma Harrison CBE of A4e fame would say. D’you think I’m a sort of genius or something?!  As she did in fact say at this exact point in the ‘Benefit Busters’ series.

This is my first find. It’s from 2005, produced by the Health & Safety Executive from a ‘Review of Health Models‘ Workshop. O’Donnell was halfway through his stint as CMO at UnimProvident at the time. There’s another couple of interesting names on the delegates list: Gordon Waddell, from Cardiff Uni‘s (formerly Unum) Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, headed by Mansel Aylward. Aylward and Waddell collaborated on a government publication: “The scientific and conceptual basis of incapacity benefits” in 2005 (While the department was in the early stages of funding by Unum.) and a previous book in 2002, “Back Pain, Incapacity for Work and Social Security Benefits: An International Literature Review and Analysis.” And secondly, the now almost notorious Mr Simon Wessely (Google him and ME/CFS and prepare to be appalled).

Quotage:

“Mike O’Donnell called for a new way of looking at health. He pointed out that many of the risk factors for back pain and work stress were similar, and could be said to be part of everyday life. Denying people the opportunity to stretch themselves by avoiding any stress could be harmful – overcoming obstacles gives us a sense of achievement, and should be seen as a natural and positive part of life. He expressed concern that undue concentration on work as a health hazard may implant harmful beliefs and lead to unhelpful behaviours.”

The intention seems to be to pull ‘back pain’ away from being a concept that connects it to a physical (and therefore in most people’s eyes legitimate) source to situate it alongside ‘work stress’, which has closer connotations to an emotional/mental imbalance. The concept of stress itself receives a reconfiguring, transforming it into a positive factor, ‘positivising’ it so that the encountering of it becomes now an ‘opportunity’ to ‘overcome obstacles’ and therefore experience the thrill of achievement. The last sentence is sinister to my mind – ‘undue’, ‘harmful’ and ‘unhelpful’ applied to the notion that work can be a ‘health hazard’, which quite evidently it can. Heavy ideological stuff going on there.

Second find, this from the Unum website: “Sickness absence falls for third year in a row”. Good news, one would think. But not enough, as it seems the ill-health of workers is still a “major headache for employers”.  This might have been a cue for employers to examine pay and conditions of their workers to ensure that work was not in actuality contributing a negative effect. Sadly, our ‘Work Is Good’ ideologues would rather ignore the illness and focus on ways of keeping people at work, regardless. One means for this has been the introduction of the ‘fit note’ whose potential for reducing sickness absence, Mr O’Donnell states:

 “can help reduce the duration of absence for people recovering from treatments or operations.  Doctors may previously have been overcautious in advising return to work when the only option they had was to declare full fitness.”

Ah, those overcautious GPs. Curse their perpetual inability to assess a person’s capability for work!!  Apparently their medical short-sightedness traps them within a binary system which can only conceive of their patients as either sick or well…and  until it is pointed out to them they will be unable to perceive their patients health as lying somewhere on a continuum between the two poles, or be able to take into account whether this patient or another would be better off recuperating longer or re-entering the workplace. Its rather patronising really, isn’t it? Suggests your average GP is not very bright in that respect.

Recommendations from the HSE document turn on a quote from Mr O’Donnell,  and reveal a deliberate intent to ‘reframe’ how people regard illness, to introduce a ‘New Model Of Health‘, and remember, this influence is not from an impartial health professional, but the employee of a discredited Insurance Company: and subsequently of the private company now processing health benefit claims for the DWP:

Framing Health Messages – ‘From the evidence presented, we can conclude that LIFE is
hazardous!’ (Mike O’Donnell)   (I expect this was met with a knowing ripple of laughter from the other delegates)Health messages should be framed carefully and appropriately and the positive benefits of work should be promoted…. We need to take a balanced approach to the relative risks and benefits. The basic message underpinning the biopsychosocial approach is that understanding and management of common health problems must take account of the individual, their health problem, and the context in which they live and work. In order for this message to be successful a need exists to identify what aspects of a job or workplace make it ‘healthy’.

Although that all sounds fairly reasonable, when they talk of balance what they mean is there has been a gradual but persistent trend of raising consciousness about the adverse effects of modern working practices. People have been falling sick in droves due to such factors as intensification of work, unhealthy unsociable hours, and having succumbed to pressure to sign away their right to not have to work an excessively long working week. The employers are now suffering (as well they should) in terms of profits and productivity as they finally face the consequences of all this.

So it is possible to see this intent to ‘reframe work’ as a form of backlash against gains made by workers in having their work conditions acknowledged. Now work must be conceptualised as the ‘saviour’ of the working man, it’s healthful properties promoted by ivory tower ‘experts’ who haven’t the vaguest idea of what a hard day’s work entails for most people.

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September 6, 2011 at 2:36 pm