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Archive for October 2011

UNUM: Putting A ‘Playful’ Spin On Loss Of Livelihood

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Only the most Sociopathic of companies would think it appropriate to take a light-hearted approach to the threat of destitution. But in the context of the widespread fear that people are experiencing in today’s financial climate – not to mention those who have actually been thrown into desperate times by the removal of health-related benefits – that’s just what Unum have done.
Most decent people would find the idea of profiting from conditions which have brought people misfortune or distress repugnant. Not Unum, for them it is an opportunity to be capitalised on and, as is the current trend, they are seeking to hawk their wares around the social networking scene.

Their facebook page is called ‘Back-Up Plan UK’ (echoing their new advertising motto ‘Unum: Because everyone needs a back-up plan’). They have adopted the typical modern ‘cool n’ cute’ style complete with colourful arrows, childish font and faux-immature graphics icons emulating the facebook ‘like’ button and so on. The oversized block letters of the title serve as ‘shelves’, whose contents colourfully depict various ‘lifestyle’ aspects of modern life through tokens such as lightbulbs for home energy, sand & ball for holidays, and, presumably, weights representing leisure activities. The overall appearance is one of playfulness. It is a style that we have become familiar with now as, particularly those who deal in financial products, seek to cast off their, at best stiff, at worst predatory, image through tv ads that effect a whimsical, often fairytale, approach to selling. It is an appeal not to the rational side of the self, which makes judgements on facts, but to the imagination and our escapist tendencies. Not a battle to win over people’s minds but to tap into their dreams. Sadly dreams are the last things that most people can afford to be indulging in under today’s insecure employment market conditions, and encouraging a light-hearted approach to losing your livelihood strikes a rather tasteless chord.

Which is why I find Unum’s ‘Penny Jar’ section on their page so offensive. It is a ‘cute’ calculator of how long you would survive without your salary, adjusted according to various inputs to do with the level of your ‘lifestyle’. Alongside the invitations to input monthly income (minus your wage which is crossed out) and outgoings, there is a scale to click along for ‘Everything else’, which is the nub of the calculation. Choices for ‘Groceries’ range from (offensively) ‘Rummaging bins’ through shopping in the ‘Reduced Section’ all the way up to having a ‘Personal Chef’. The other categories offer similar ridiculously reductionist items, riffing on a comicalisation of social stereotypes. The overall effect is that of a ‘spoof’, or parody. The payoff, equally as cheerful and ‘lolmaking’, is the ‘Penny Jar’s result. Your sides are presumably expected to split with laughter as you discover that at the top end, those with the personal chef, the Haute couture wearing, champagne and caviar swilling, island owners with a snow leopard for a pet would only survive four hours without income. Contrariwise, against all expectations, the naked, food bin ratching, holiday-less hermits fare little better under the Unum assessment of their prospects managing just four weeks and being advised to “Eek. Try cutting back on the luxury items”!!

With this attempt to tap into the spoofing techno zeitgeist Unum have done no more than achieve the double effect of being both ridiculous and offensive at the same time, exposing their lack of empathy for the real circumstances of ordinary people’s lives. Good work, Unum. Keep it up. With luck you’ll dig your own graves, saving the rest of us any further hard work.

I’m not providing a link to their facebook page as it would gall me to think that Unum would interpret this as working to their advantage. If you want to see it you’ll find it, yeah?  :/


Written by bigleyma

October 29, 2011 at 1:14 pm

Posted in Unum Provident

The News Media’s Negative Bias Against the Disabled

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Black Triangle have reported on an academic study carried out by the University of Glasgow, undertaken on behalf of Inclusion London, in order to assess the  ways that disabled people are being portrayed in the mainstream print media. The results are not too surprising for the masses of disabled people who have watched, powerless, the steady stream of thinly veiled propaganda against the sick and disabled that has flown directly  from government offices  into the right wing press, acquiring a generous smear of poisonous prejudice along the way.

The University’s full academic report is here: Bad News For The Disabled: How The Newspapers Are Reporting Disability.

I was reminded of a famous quote that goes something like: ” The measure of a society is in how it treats its weakest members”. I went looking for the source and found to my surprise that among the great and good of ancient and modern history there appears to be a universal consensus around this idea. (Similar sentiments being attributed to such disparate figures as Christ, Confucius, Ghandi, Churchill, U.S Presidents/Vice Presidents and on…). Such a pity there is no contemporary figure with the conviction to restate this in our country right now…

Here’s a quote from a man who has been able to accumulate his billions through living in a country that has not taken care of its weakest members, one that prefers to foster the ‘every man for himself’ ethos. He belongs to a new wave of  ‘philanthrocapitalists‘ that are beginning to gaggle around Gates.

“Let’s say that it was 24 hours before you were born, and a genie appeared and said, ‘What I’m going to do is let you set the rules of the society into which you will be born. You can set the economic rules and the social rules, and whatever rules you set will apply during your lifetime and your children’s lifetimes.’ And you’ll say, ‘Well, that’s nice, but what’s the catch?’ And the genie says, ‘Here’s the catch. You don’t know if you’re going to be born rich or poor, white or black, male or female, able-bodied or infirm, intelligent or retarded.’ – Warren Buffet

Good as far as it goes, but a little ingenuous about the ‘luck of the draw’ accident of birth, rich/poor angle which tends to obscure the significant fact that a minority have become disgustingly rich at the expense of the masses of poor, via exploitation, or through the appropriation of what should be the communal resources of a country. Not a lot of people know that :/


Written by bigleyma

October 28, 2011 at 10:04 pm

Smile Or Die…

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With thanks to ShowalterdontlikeME 🙂  for pointing me towards Youtube, this is one of those wonderful RSA animations. Barbara Ehrenreich’s ‘Smile Or Die’:


Written by bigleyma

October 18, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Posted in General

Regarding Professor Wessely’s Reply

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I am honoured to find that my humble blog has had a visit from the esteemed Professor Wessely. I had been going to comment on his comment, but found myself wishing to elaborate further so I shall address what he said in this post.

His comment:

always flattering to be the subject of a blog, even though it is wrong in almost every detail. However, am honoured to be quoted in the blog as barbara ehrenreich, one of my heroines for many years. Anyone who knows me or has heard me speak will know very well that i am sceptical, to put it mildly, of the current vogue for positive psychology. On the other hand, you are correct, i have long been of the view that it is better for your mental health to be in work than out of work.

best wishes

Simon Wessely

My response:

Thank-you for your comment Simon. It must have been surprising indeed for you, as a longtime fan of Barbara’s writing to see your own work compared so unfavourably to hers. I believe however that the most significant indicator of a person’s influence on society has to be the outcomes that result, the effects that are wrought upon everyday people. Those in a position of influence or power bear a greater burden of responsibility in that sense.

In Barbara’s case she is so furiously on the side of the disadvantaged in society, the sick, the low-paid and abused that I think she would be outraged at what is happening to people in this country as a result of welfare reforms that at least part of your work has contributed to, however indirectly.

I am aware that you yourself are no proponent of Positive Psychology, but you have certainly associated with those who are. You favour its more respectable cousin Cognitive Behavioural Therapy I think? I am unable to view that particular treatment strategy as anything other than a form of mind control which seeks to change ‘negative’ patterns of thinking into more positive ones.

What marks the difference between your approach and that of Ms Ehrenreich’s is that she believes society is in great need of change in order that a more equal and fair society can be constructed, whereas your discipline seeks to mould the individual to fit into what she and I consider to be a currently inhumane system.

Ideas from psychology filter through into the mainstream (especially when given a little push by rich corporations who are positioning themselves to benefit from them). Some of the ideas that have been released from your neck of the woods have influenced how people now consider the relationship between ill-health and work (to the detriment of the sick or disabled). I used to respect psychology until the moment that it lost its independence in service of the agendas of corporate sector profits, or in justification for the state’s cutting of welfare expenses. Not something Barbara would be pleased with at all.

Your ending remark really requires a post of its own, and I hope to address it at a later date. But unqualified terms such as ‘Work’ and ‘Mental Health’ are abstract variables until given meaning by specific reference to real world situations, and the many and complex ways in which they manifest and are given meaning. It is like saying ‘Food’ is always a good thing, without taking into account volume or quality, or frequency of ingestion. Same thing with ‘Work’.

Written by bigleyma

October 18, 2011 at 5:02 pm

“The Cold Grip of Psychiatry”: Simon Wessely

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There are many people now who are trying to locate the source of the ideas that our government has taken up with respect to how illness/disability is regarded in the current social and economic climate. Since it forms the basis and the justification for their ‘reforms’ of welfare in the sphere of ‘health-related benefits’ it is quite evidently the most important factor that is affecting the lives of those who would seek support of this kind.

As ever with issues of human/social effect there is often a complexity which needs to be unravelled in order to identify streams and themes of thought and activity which have contributed to those effects. This blog, as I’ve indicated, is an attempt to work out those factors which have brought us to the situation we experience now, the matters detailed elsewhere on the blog under the ATOS Healthcare category. (Much more material can be found via my (unfinished) Blogroll links).

One theme that can be identified is the input that Psyciatry/Psychology has had on the new thinking surrounding incapacity and the relationship between health/ill-health and work.

Relatedly, Barbara Ehrenreich has written a wonderful (and darkly funny) account of the Cult of Positive Thinking that constitutes part of this psychology, I strongly recommend it for the insight it gives into how these people think. It’s an eye-opener not only for the present day but also as to the historical origins of the perspective, which are surprising. She illustrates how this idea, that by taking a positive slant on your life you can overcome everything from cancer to physical reality itself, has permeated western culture, often for the purpose of profit. I recommend everything Ms Ehrenreich has written, actually, she’s like a sharp breeze of reason amid the clammy fog of disinformation we’re constantly drenched in.

So my idol aside 🙂 let’s turn to Simon Wessely:

Professor Simon Wessely MA, BM BCh, MSc, MD, FRCP, FRCPsych, F Med Sci.

On the internet there’s a huge amount of information about this man, specifically in connection with the struggles of sufferers from ME/Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, to combat the campaign that he has led to have their condition designated as a ‘mental problem’, and the terrible consequences this has had for some people. I’ve held back from covering him due to this fact as I feel that people should read these accounts, and view the videos, and the reports by medical professionals first hand. It is a scandal, the worst aspect of which is the length of time it has been going on. I plan to assemble all the associated links that I’ve encountered in a separate post, later. For now I’ll just post one link as an introduction. It’s by Margaret Williams and was written in 2007 and published on the ME Action Org UK site. It’s entitled “Wessely, Woodstook and Warfare?”. As I seemed to have some problems loading it in I have also saved a copy to my dropbox, here, just in case anyone has trouble accessing the original.

I think what this piece, and many similar ones available online, demonstrates is that there is a web of connections between what would seem to be disparate personnel acting independently and impartially. At the heart of this, though, there is one central idea that they all share. This, for diverse reasons of varying advantage to their vested interests, is a motivation to transform the way that the public, and the medical world, thinks about health, illness and work. It is not difficult to perceive the slant that this unified group wish to impress upon the consciousness of the masses:

“In November 2001 a conference assembled at Woodstock, near Oxford. Its subject was
‘Malingering and Illness Deception’. Amongst the 39 academics and experts was
Malcolm Wicks, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Work, and Mansel Aylward,
his Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). What linked
many of the participants together, including Aylward, was their association with the giant
US income protection company UnumProvident”.

Aylward himself has embraced the tenets of ‘Positive Psychology’ having spent many years researching it at both Cardiff and Harvard Universities.

There can be no confusion about the advantages that would accrue to Wessely’s profession should there be widespread mainstream medical acceptance of this new illness paradigm, based on the ‘bio-psycho-social’ model. Clearly it strongly serves the interests of the psychiatric/psychology professions to ‘pry open’ what has previously been the province of biological medicine, and insert themselves therein.

Coming soon: The rise of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy.

Written by bigleyma

October 17, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Peter Dewis: Steppin’ Sideways from Government to Unum

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This is Peter Dewis BSc MB ChB DDAM MRCP, UNUM’s UK Customer Care Director.

‘DDAM’ is the Diploma in Disability Assessment Medicine, a qualification whose training and accreditation is delivered by ATOS ORIGIN.




For sixteen years prior to taking up his current position at UNUM (which commenced in 2000) Dr Dewis held a post with the UK Government’s Department of Social Security (the precursor to today’s DWP). He seems to have worked his way through levels of the DSS, as UNUM describe him as having held ‘claims management, managerial and policy roles’ there. (I would link to the Unum web resource for this, but like quite a lot of their ‘old’ publicity material the hyperlink has disappeared, so the account only remains as an excerpt within a Nexis search result.)

In their (2008) description of his place in their  Executive Committee UNUM also position him as a ‘recognised expert in the developing discipline of Disability Assessment Medicine’. One would hope so, seeing as he co-authored, with Mansel Aylward, the DWP commissioned ‘Disability Handbook’ (2nd Ed) in 1998 – the book that tops the list of ‘Essential Reading’ for those taking the DDAM. As the string of letters after his name include DDAM I hope he really aced that course, considering that he himself helped provide its academic underpinnings!

I’m joking. I imagine its some kind of convention that when you devise a course you’re entitled to award yourself the qualification. Rather messes with your mind, though, that idea….

So, to sum it up: Here is a man who has extensive (one might say ‘insider’) experience of the way government works with respect to our Social Security/Welfare System, someone used to shaping policies. During his time as a public servant he laid the foundations for disability assessment through compilation of the Disability Handbook, following that up in 1999 by being ‘instrumental’ in setting up the training course designed to turn the medically qualified into Disability Analysts. Though working for UNUM since 2000 he has also been a practicing examiner for the DDMA (certainly as late as 2008 according to UNUM’s account), and therefore simultaneously in the pay of  ATOS who deliver the course (see link above).

Evidently the connections between UNUM and ATOS are much more symbiotic than either they or our government are willing to admit. The DWP constantly try to downplay the influence that UNUM have had on our welfare policies (positioning them as one among many holders of expertise that they have consulted), yet once again this is belied by the patterns of shared executive employment across the two companies.






Written by bigleyma

October 13, 2011 at 10:52 pm

The Working Sick: A Hidden Transcript in New Welfare Policy

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I think the first response of those who ‘fail’ the WCA tends to be ‘But I am ill, how can they find me fit?’ Most will then get caught up in attempts to prove this fact. Appeals, tribunals, gathering evidence, pleading your case. Most of the stories on the net revolve around failing then passing, successful or unsuccessful appeals, success then apprehension of future fitness tests.

In engaging in this battle to prove our ill health we fulfil a certain intention (one embraced by the media), a public transcript, which centres on the notion of the supposed separation of the deserving from the undeserving sick. This is a misdirection, in that we are failing to catch a more radical message inherent in the policy that underpins the WCA. This message has been quite overt, Grayling and Gunnyeon have acknowledged that people being moved off ESA onto JSA are indeed sick. That is the point of Grayling stating it is not about ‘failing’. He quite readily, and contradictorily, admits that people ‘found fit’ are to some extent sick. What he is saying, and it is a message that is a departure from previous public conceptions of illness, is that the sick must work.

This message has been overshadowed by the understandable outcry over extremely sick people being found fit for work by Atos Healthcare’s medically qualified servants.
But it is at the heart of this government policy. The sick must now work. Of course it is only the poor sick who must work, because those with financial resources, those who are the least in need of any support, have the luxury of being able to accomodate their illness, take care of themselves and live an adapted life. The poorer sick must ignore their physical/mental impairments, ignore their bodies’ messages and strive to overcome feelings of discomfort, pain and malaise in order to put themselves to work.

The glib idea culled from one literature review assessing the ‘benefits of work’, that Work Is Good For You, does not have sickness as its focus. It proves nothing other than that a lack of income is bad for you, which is to statethebleedinobvious. It in no way demonstrates that sick people in work are better off for forcing more activity out of an impaired body. Reason tells us this. But what this government is doing is not reasonable. It is a blatant attempt to change people’s attitudes to the relationship between (ill) health and work. It is not for the purpose of, as some have genuinely attempted to do, removing barriers to work for the sick and disabled. It is an attempt to remove conceptual barriers that acknowledge limits to what a sick person should be forced to do in order to survive in their society . It is to remove support, both financial and social, from the sick, by removing any obligation on the state to provide this, their side of the social contract.

Written by bigleyma

October 4, 2011 at 9:25 pm

Black Triangle Campaign: Are Unum all set to benefit from ‘insider’ knowledge of UK welfare?

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The Black Triangle Campaign today highlighted the conflict of interest that is at the heart of Big Insurance firm Unum’s relationship with our Government, illustrating how their knowledge of, and influence on, the benefits system has positioned at least some of their executive/ex-executives as ‘insiders’ with respect to the company’s commercial behaviour.

It is The Black Triangle Campaign’s understanding that it is illegal to use any influence that any individual or company has on Government policy and benefit financially from that policy so how come the totally discredited US insurance giant Unum, Government advisors on welfare reform for over a decade now are blatantly being allowed to push their Income Protection insurance policies, (that all past evidence shows they will do their best to wriggle out of paying out on when a claim is made), onto the British public with them even quoting the fact that the current welfare reforms, (that they have advised the government on), do not even meet the basic day to day needs of the disabled in the UK in what they describe as their Master Class to Financial Advisors, (their policy salesmen)

Written by bigleyma

October 1, 2011 at 11:20 am