Tag Archives: sickness

Basic standard of living vs. Long-term Incapacity Benefit

Do you earn enough for a basic standard of living?

The Minimum Income Standard for the UK shows how much money people need, so that they can buy things that members of the public think that everyone in the UK should be able to afford. Take the test at the link: http://www.minimumincome.org.uk/

Screen Shot 2013-04-05 at 08.28.42Now compare ‘minimum income standard’ with what someone on long term sickness/disability benefit actually gets. The hypothetical person has no realistic prospect of returning to work in the near future, yet their compensated income isn’t even subsistence income.

But whilst the public may think that someone on a wage should be able to afford these things, you may not. It could be said that they can do without alcohol and they don’t need to spend money on social activities because there are things that can be done for free. Someone can quite rightly claim that clothing isn’t something that has to be purchased every month either, especially if you’re careful with your clothes.

It is often mis represented that the case for higher benefits (in this context) is wanting parity with an earning standard of living. This was an exercise in demonstrating the current wide disparity by showing that £115 per week is the gap at two extremes (within the context). However the figures proposed at minimum working/earning standard of living are not wild or fanciful. The reality for all disabled and long term sickness benefit recipients is that the benefits are barely meeting their needs, let alone even partially their desires.

I think that the debate should be where between the two extremes should the income be set. So what is appropriate substance levels, bearing in mind that the disabled person has no fair reason to be excluded from normal participation in society? Also bearing in mind the difference between an Able bodied job seeker, vs what we are talking about: incapacitated through sickness/health or disability.

For the job seeker, a temporary exclusion from normal participation is acceptable due to the temporary nature of unemployment relative to employment, and the motivation that exists there in; however the long term sick/disabled faces exclusion from participation in cultural activities, or from affording enough variety in food and social activities, and the motivation factor is redundant in this respect.

The disabled or long term incapacitated person will also have generally higher costs of living associated with their incapacity. There also comes a point where all clothes eventually do fall apart, no matter how careful one is, or become tatty/ragged, yet the less than substance existence provides not much leeway for replacement of items clothing or household that break or wear down.

For international comparison, the income for disabled/sickness benefit in UK is 1/4 of that in Canada, and 1/2 of the European average.

And final, all social security will be uprated at 1% for next three years. As the benefits barely cover cost of all essentials, this means a very real drop in income as inflation increases.  Compared to someone on median wage of £21k, someone on the income provided here has currently £96pw. In fixed cash terms, after three years that will be equivalent to £66pw.

The point being: there is very little “fat” left to cut. Literally in some cases!

Urgent petition to halt damaging changes to the work capability assessment #esaSOS

Re-blogged from: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/esasos.html


On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that –without even asking your opinion!
However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.

Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work and made to take behavioural therapy in the hope of improving his condition. He will lose his disability benefit, without the assessor having to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to contact a psychiatrist? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to?

“How individuals are assessed to receive ESA could give rise to large numbers of legal claims being made against them. These changes immediately puts the government at risk of breaching article 9 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights, which preserves an individual’s right to ‘thought, conscience and religion’. The new rules provide for an individual to be refused ESA if they do not take any medication or accept an aid which Doctors believe could aid their condition. Essentially, they can impose a financial penalty on individuals who refuse treatment on religious. Given the very recent decision involving the Christian, Nadia Eweida and the court upholding her right to wear a cross – the government is on very rocky ground with these changes.” Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Unity Law www.unity-law.co.uk

If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.
This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead toboth physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain sufferers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet because these new problems are cognitive, they would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision!

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty. We cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

  1. Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/);
  2. Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK
  3. Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. Sign here http://wowpetition.com – and ask all of your friends to sign too!

Atos Healthcare: Still profiting from misery

By Nathan Akehurst and Amy Dunne
Original article published:

Whilst the Olympic opening ceremony, quite fairly, glorified our National Health Service, it is nonetheless worth remembering the real state of affairs for a significant number of Britain’s sick. In April of this year, around 3400 people in Oxford and 10,000 in the county of Oxfordshire were subsisting on Incapacity Benefit (the allowance for those physically unable to work, which ranges within the modest bounds of £88-£105 weekly. Of that number, roughly two in three were told they were fit to engage in some sort of work. Employment Minister Chris Grayling would hail the figures, calling the current system ‘a waste of human life’- supremely ironic given that an average of thirty-two people nationally died every week after failing the new incapacity benefit tests in 2011. Between January and August 2011, 1,100 claimants in the ‘work-related activity group’ alone died. Clearly, mistakes are being made (and have been made since New Labour let the likes of assessors Atos Healthcare loose on the disabled community). In Oxfordshire, when the cases finally reach a full appeal, around nine out of ten benefit removals have been rejected. Nationally, the figure is 40% (hitting 70% when advocacy groups are representing the claimants.)

The question then remains, why on earth do Atos continue to be able to handle vulnerable people, with a failure rate of almost forty per cent? Why do Atos assessors have to complete courses in disability healthcare a mere eight or seventeen days long, and are not required to have any prior experience in that field? What’s more, they are actively encouraged by government to aggressively remove people from the benefits system, along with a program of direct assaults from the state. Their tests are based on ticking boxes (a frequent complaint is the refusal of assessors to make eye contact with claimants) that distil complex issues into black and white statements, and the experience even for those who do not lose the money they subsist on is degrading and disablist. For instance, the Department of Work and Pensions are appealing against a court ruling which stated (from the June edition of Inside Housing) that ‘The Housing Benefit Regulations 2006, which restrict housing benefit for private renters according to property size, were found to be discriminatory because they do not allow benefit for an extra room where two children cannot share because of disabilities.’ In short, they are defying the courts for the right to make vulnerable people homeless.

In April, I was involved in a flash occupation of the Atos assessment centre on St Aldate’s in Oxford. Despite making every effort possible to minimise distress to those undergoing Atos’ draconian ‘assessments’, the administrator there had the gall to accuse us of potentially causing harm to the disabled people in the office- as if that is not what their organisation exists to do. Extensive criticism of the role of assessors has originated from the medical community, with doctors claiming (quite correctly) that the position is one incompatible with the medical duty of prioritising the patient. Meanwhile Atos made £102m in profit in the first half of 2012, and their poor decisions turned over at appeal, leaving aside physical distress to patients, has cost the British taxpayer £60m. Yet statistics and the national picture, whilst gritty and relevant, somewhat obscure the personal stories, and the impact they have on real people. Thus I present the story of one victim of Atos, told by the patient’s niece (Amy, a nineteen-year old woman due to start at Ruskin College in Oxford in 2012.)

“I’m going to begin this story with a question. There’s a person with severe dyscalculia, dyslexia, cerebral palsy, arthritis and a club foot: what job could this person possibly do? Neither manual labour nor service or administration work would be viable. I came to the conclusion that there were absolutely no jobs available that could be suited to her- however, this is not what that Atos decided at their assessment.

After the examination to assess her claim, Atos declared my aunt perfectly fit for work, despite the fact she can’t count, read, write and can barely look after herself without support. She was informed that if she had not found a job within the next year, her Incapacity Benefit would be stopped and she would be forced to go on Jobseeker’s Allowance (starting at £55/wk) or be put on a ‘welfare-to-work’ course- the courses have been next to useless thus far. In any case, because my aunt was in no fit state to even understand how to challenge this decision, she would have been forced to accept it- she was only able to make the challenge because unlike others, she had supportive family members willing to fight the case.

When she told my father that her claim had been revoked, he immediately wrote to the Atos headquarters in Belfast to explain that his sister wished to appeal against her placement in the ‘working group’ –as it was called –and that she was indeed completely unfit to work. However, within six days of the letter being sent, a response from Atos came through saying that her appeal had failed. Whilst processing thousands of decisions, and taking into account mail from London to Belfast, this seems a ludicrously small amount of time (the subsequent tribunal wait took six months) and casts doubt upon whether the case was even read by Atos.) It fell upon her brother and sister to appeal through the courts and the case came to tribunal. During this time, she was expected to collect large amounts of evidence to prove she was indeed unfit to work, and this involved calling the relevant clinics at the relevant hospitals, a letter from her GP and numerous reports on her health and wellbeing from specialists. How, in her condition –a woman who cannot even spell her own niece’s name –is she expected to achieve all this when she can barely look after herself? The answer is, if she did not have the support of her brother and sister who were willing to take time out of their own busy lives and dedicate the time to making sure their sister had the relevant information to challenge this disgusting claim that she was perfectly fit to work from Atos, then she would be languishing on an insecure and tiny Jobseeker’s Allowance right now. During the time between the failure of the appeal to Atos and the tribunal, the mere stress of it caused my aunt to develop alopecia (symptoms include extreme hair loss). Perhaps due to the restructuring of the NHS under Lansley, the medical reports took some time to come through. Meanwhile my father had to dedicate considerable time going through the bureaucracy of chasing them up (since he wasn’t the claimant, stringent approvals and checks were involved, despite the fact my aunt had given express permission for her brother and sister to talk about her medical conditions on her behalf). Within a few hours of the deadline, the GP still had not written a letter backing up the claim that she was indeed entitled to incapacity benefits, and the letter had to be hand delivered to the court by my dad on his way to work.

The judge and attending physician at the tribunal was apparently fairly convinced that the Atos ruling was incorrect even before proceedings had begun, but they were nonetheless obliged to question my aunt, her twin and my dad in order to make sure they were right. Her responses during the tribunal made her unfitness to work patently clear –when asked a question, she answered what would seem to be a completely different question, and my dad and other aunt had to take over. My aunt was acquitted, and allowed the maximum period (24 months) on Incapacity Benefit before reassessment (six months of stress, illness, time-wasting and taxpayers’-money wasting later).”

It is shocking as a society to think that ordeals like this not only happen, but are a regular occurrence, and indeed even one of the milder ones. It compares (in 2011) 5,300 deaths of people who were put in the “support group” – which accounts for 22% of claimants – for the most unwell, who get the full, no-strings benefit of up to £99.85 a week. 1,600 people died before the completion of their assessment. Meanwhile repeated delays have led to claims the system is in “meltdown”, and in the largest twist of horrible irony, Atos are sponsors of the Paralympic Games. In 2010, Atos’ boss drew a salary of £800,000. This is nothing short of profiting from misery. The scandal of Atos, and the criminality of other firms which the government has outsourced welfare claimants to, has been allowed to exist not by chance but by the long-running structural demonization of benefit claimants. Decades of slander from the tabloids and politicians in all the main parties has led to the impoverished and disabled being stripped of their humanity, and led to a climate in which the behaviour of Atos’ assessors has become the mundane and commonplace. Britain should be thoroughly ashamed of itself.

Image credit: Socialist Worker