UK politics

Recent UK politics articles and one about abuse in Florida.

“I want to use this election to raise awareness of the imminent danger posed to the NHS by the EU/US trade agreement which will allow American companies to carve up the NHS and make the privatisation process irreversible.

“I also want to alert the public to the gravity of the threat to the NHS from this government with its programme of cuts, hospital closures and privatisation and to send a powerful message to politicians in Westminster and Brussels that people will not stand by and let their NHS be destroyed.

“If elected, I will strive to ensure that EU regulations don’t adversely affect the NHS and are always in the best interests of the health of British people. The health of the nation spans all areas of policy from the environment to the economy”.

 

 

Continue ReadingUK politics

David Cameron says Atos decision-making must improve

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-politics-24548738

David Cameron has said the company that carries out “fitness-for-work” tests on disabled benefits claimants has to improve its decision-making.

But he rejected an angry call by Labour MP Dennis Skinner, at Prime Minister’s Questions, to “get rid of” Atos.

The Bolsover MP dubbed Atos a “cruel, heartless monster”, referring to a constituent with cancer who had to wait 11 months for an appeal.

The man, a “butcher and farmer in Bolsover”, had now died, he told MPs.

The veteran Labour MP, his face red with anger, told Mr Cameron: “Isn’t it time we put an end to this system, where people that are really suffering should not be allowed an appeal, having to live on £70 a week? Him and his widow.

 

Continue ReadingDavid Cameron says Atos decision-making must improve

ATOS DWP appeal :: The appeal hearing

This is the third and final article in the ATOS DWP appeal series. Earlier articles were ATOS DWP appeal :: How it works and ATOS DWP appeal :: How to appeal.

My client was successful at appeal and was awarded 15 points and a recommendation to DWP that she is not reassessed for 2 years. This appeal hearing may well be very different to others since it was clear beyond any doubt that my client has serious mobility and other issues. In any case where it was marginal or where there was a need to argue the case I would be looking at case law for application of the descriptors.

The appeal tribunal was composed of a judge and a doctor. I was told by the clerk that there is hardly ever a presenting officer present.

The appeal panel had absolutely no interest in either the ATOS WCA medical report or the Decision Maker’s submission. I was also surprised that they were also not that concerned about the descriptors and their precise definition. They were interested in whether my client was sufficiently disabled to merit ESA looking at the whole picture. Once they had established that, they awarded points so that she would get the ESA award.

My client was questioned at a very fast pace by both panel members. They seemed to follow my client’s appeal request so this and further submitted evidence are important. There were ‘opaque’ questions. I suspect that it’s likely that the opaque questions derive from the appeal tribunals: the Decision Maker and the Work Capabilities Assesment’s HCP will follow the appeal tribunal’s lead.

Driving a manual car is about being fit enough to walk. Going to the supermarket is about being fit enough to walk, reach for and carry quite heavy packages if you do it without assistance. Keeping a cat is about reaching low for feeding and watering. Wearing a t-shirt is about reaching over your head. One that I really haven’t understood and that they’re really keen on is watching television. It suggests that you can stay still for a while but it’s only a suggestion. That you have time to watch television because the rest of your life is settled? I think that watching television is about wasting time but how is it interpreted?

[03/08/13 (UK notation)

Watching television is a vast subject that the tribunal panel would want to investigate in depth.

If you do nothing except watch television, I think that the panel will have little sympathy for you and even suspect illnesses to be self inflicted i.e. idleness, laziness and no exercise or interaction cause illnesses. Although superficially the tribunal panel and the whole concept of the Work Capabilities Assessment shouldn’t be concerned with causes, it will be.

Following a soap opera suggests that you’re able to keep appointments and function mentally fairly well at that low standard needed for soaps i.e. you’re able to understand, remember and follow a simple narrative.

Owning but not watching a television supports a claim of depression i.e. having no interest in anything through depressed emotional state. I suppose that only watching serious news-type programmes would also support a claim to depression.

The panel will be interested in the times that television is watched. If it’s late in the evening and early morning they may conclude laziness and idleness.

etc … ]

Although I was representing my client I said very little during the hearing. At the end of the hearing I tried to make some points. The panel were totally uninterested in my input to the point of being rude and shouting me down. This made me aware of the pressure that my client had been under: the pressure to conform.

The panel may have had no interest in anything I had to say because they had already decided and had time constraints. It’s a quick process that took us about an hour in total.

Continue ReadingATOS DWP appeal :: The appeal hearing

ATOS DWP appeal :: How to Appeal

The sequel to an earlier article ATOS DWP appeal :: How it works, this article suggests ways of appealing against ATOS and DWP decisions that disabled people do not have limited capability for work. A final article describes the appeal hearing.

Citizens Advice Bureaus, Welfare Rights Officers, Legal Advice Centres are all overwhelmed by the demand for their services. It is very unlikely that anybody is able to help you. You have to do it yourself with the help of a few friends, family or colleagues. This is where being a member of some group helps.

There are now many resources on the web e.g. this one. If you’re not able to use the web yourself, ask somebody who can. For previous decisions just enter the reference into a search engine.

Once you’re told that you’ve been found to have failed the Work Capabilities Assessment you have a month to appeal. The article linked above gives good advice on a general request for appeal. Also ask for reasons for the decision if they have not been sent with the decision.

When the bundle (the Decision Maker’s response) arrives you need to go through it carefully. It’s detective work piecing together the arguments employed.

I personally find that missing documents are very revealing – it’s worth being suspicious of the Decision Maker instead of assuming that they’re absent accidentally. In my friend’s bundle two documents are missing: the notification of the decision with reasons attached and a simple sick note by my clients GP that accompanied her request for appeal.

There are many errors in the missing notification letter e.g. stating that you need to score 15 points and therefore providing misleading legal advice on the issue of exceptional circumstances. However, I think that the real issue is that there is a list of descriptors – admittedly with inaccurate, summarised descriptors – which is both helpful to the claimant and highlights quite clearly one descriptor which should have but has not even been considered.

The missing simple sick note is missing because it’s medical evidence from a qualified, experienced GP that is familiar with my client’s condition that has a named medical diagnosis. The Decision Maker is supposed to consider all evidence. To include this document would highlight the fact that the Decision Maker has totally disregarded my client’s GP’s medical evidence without providing any justification or reasoning.

My client has been awarded 6 points for having to raise from being seated because of significant discomfort or fatigue after 15 minutes. The Decision Maker agrees with Atos Health Care Professional that my client can sit for between 30 and 60 minutes without having to move because of significant discomfort or fatigue despite having to move after 15 minutes! This is what you’re up against.

That should be 9 points not 6.

Looking at the HCP’s descriptions of my clients abilities we notice that she should have been – but has not been – awarded 6 points for failing to raise either arm above head height.

Then there’s 9 points for failing to climb two steps with the help of a handrail. Hold on, it says my client can climb two steps where there are two handrails. How many steps or stairs do you see with two handrails? The descriptor’s definition is a handrail, that’s one handrail not two. They have these definitions to be precise.

The score so far looks like 9 + 6 + 9 = 24. That’s 9 more than the 15 needed and this is on Atos’s medical report as it stands. I wonder why the Decision Maker didn’t notice this – he is trained, professional and experienced after all. Perhaps he just didn’t notice by accident again?

What really pisses my client off is that she’s been awarded nothing for mobility (moving with or without a manual wheelchair or other aid on a level surface). The Decision Maker has decided that she can repeatedly walk 200 metres without stopping because of significant discomfort or fatigue). The distances vary: less than 50 metres, 50 to a 100 metres and 100 to 200 metres. Over 200 metres repeatedly is nothing. This is the same descriptor as the steps so the 9 for the steps would go if she was awarded 9 or above.

My client’s problem is that she completed the ESA50 very poorly with many “It varies” and incomplete lengthy answers to questions. For the walking she’s said it varies but then failed to say why she had to stop to rest. The Decision Maker should have asked for clarification but for some unknown reason decided instead that she had absolutely no problem repeatedly walking over 200 metres. The reasons for this? She drives a manual car and shops at a supermarket!

So at the appeal we have to point out that my client’s right hand side is her weak side, the side that she really has trouble with and manual cars have clutches and gearboxes on their left hand sides. We will also be pointing out that it’s a very small supermarket involving about 100 metres walking accompanied by a friend who does the reaching and emptying of the shopping trolley at the checkout, the packing of bags, loading and unloading of car, etc and that it doesn’t really indicate that you can walk 200 metres without stopping because of significant discomfort or fatigue because when you go shopping you are continually stopping. This is not rocket science is it?

As I mentioned earlier the Decision Maker has not considered my client’s GP’s evidence preferring BS like this instead. I also said that my client had answered the ESA50 badly with many “it varies”. Look at what my client’s GP says: “VERY VARIABLE SYMPTOMS, SOMETIMES COMPLETELY IMMOBILIZED” and “SEVERE BACK PAIN ON BAD DAYS IMMOBILISED”. There is more but I don’t expect any real problems at appeal.

 

 

Continue ReadingATOS DWP appeal :: How to Appeal

ATOS DWP appeal :: How it works

This article describes how the Atos Work Capabilities Assessment (WCA) and associated appeal system works and how the system is unfair and biased. A further article will look at how to appeal against a decision and use the appeal that I am doing soon as an example. A final article describes the appeal hearing.

Firstly, you have to realise that there is nothing fair, balanced or just about Atos assessments and appeals. They are about attacking the most vulnerable and least able to defend themselves people in society – the sick and disabled. They are not about ensuring that only ‘real’ disabled people who deserve it get benefit – they are all about denying benefit to those that deserve those benefits and are very seriously ill.

Larry, was found fit for work after an Atos assessment. After a long career in work, he had developed a serious lung condition, his weight had dropped from 10 to seven stone and he had trouble walking and breathing. In order to qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new sickness benefit worth £95 a week, he needed 15 points in the test; he was given zero. He was dismayed to note a number of significant inaccuracies in the Atos report, and decided to appeal, but died from lung problems, before the appeal was heard. One of the last things he said to his wife before doctors put him on a ventilator was: “It’s a good job I’m fit for work.”

Last year the Guardian reported on the case of Ruth Anim, who was told after an Atos assessment that she was capable of finding work in the near future, despite the fact she needed constant one-to-one care, had no concept of danger and attended life skills classes to learn practical things like how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. She was also described in the Atos report as a “male client”. Atos apologised for “any discrepancy in our report and any distress this may have caused”.

source

How it works

Disability benefits claimants are regularly reviewed and are therefore repeatedly subjected to Atos assessments and subsequent appeals – even in cases where their medical condition is very unlikely to improve. Vast sums of money are wasted on this unnecessary harassment of vulnerable and disabled people. Clearly, people with serious conditions which are not going to improve do not need to be repeatedly assessed every year or so.

The procedure starts with a questionnaire about medical conditions and activities of ‘daily living’. The claimant has a month to return the completed questionnaire.

The questionnaire is mostly ignored and an appointment is made for an assessment by Atos within a further month or so.

Atos conducts the Work Capabilities Assessment. It is mostly a question and answer affair with the Health Care Professional (HCP) inputting answers into a computer. There are a few physical examinations of the stand up, lift your arm above your head, touch your toes type. The HCP is often foreign and hard to understand. Foreign doctors and nurses who are not qualified to practice in UK are acceptable as HCPs.

The Work Capabilities Assessment consists of categories of activities for which points are awarded. For example there is not being able to stand or sit still for so long because of pain or discomfort. Less than 30 minutes is 9 points, less than 60 minutes is 6 points. Another example is walking within a reasonable time with the assistance of aids or a manual wheelchair. Less than 50 metres is 15 points, less than a hundred metres is 9 points, less than 200 metres is 6 points. 15 points are needed to be awarded – or continue to receive – a disbility benefit.

How can the Atos HCP decide that you’re able to walk over 200 metres without stopping due to pain or discomfort within a reasonable time? They ask you ridiculous, ‘opaque’ questions and draw ridiculous conclusions. How did you get to the test centre? You drove? Then you can walk over 200 metres without stopping due to pain or discomfort within a reasonable time. What’s your favourite television programme? Eastenders, eh? Watching Eastenders means that you can sit for 30 minutes and can even concentrate! or focus your attention! for 30 minutes. How many people just have the television on in the background?

The Decision Maker is advised of Atos’s conclusions and usually stops or refuses benefit.

The claimant has within a month to appeal. Asking for a statement of reasons for the decision extends the time to appeal to a month from receiving the statement of reasons. [28/07/13 1.40pm Looks like this has changed & you have to appeal within a month of the decision. Check for yourself.]

The claimant must appeal within a month. The claimant can ask for a paper appeal or an appeal in person.

The appeal is delayed for many months. A month or two before the appeal date the appeal ‘bundle’ of papers will be sent to the appellant. This is the Decision Maker’s legal argument and all relevant papers on which the decision was based.

The appeal is heard. Appeals are nowadays heard by a tribunal which is part of the Court Service. The tribunal is supposed to be independent and impartial and follow the rules of natural justice (procedural fairness). The Decision Maker’s position is argued by a practising solicitor or lawyer. [30/07/13 10.10pm This appears to have changed now. Often there is no Presenting Officer present. The Presenting Officer nowadays seems to be a different Decision Maker to the one that made the decision.] The claimant has the opportunity to argue against the Decision Maker’s case.

I haven’t been to an appeal for over a decade and the system has changed since. The Appeal Tribunal may tell you their decision on the day or make you wait. I have been to one appeal with such good legal argument that it was unchallenged. You need to argue law and on the basis of previous decisions.

If you win at appeal you look forward to doing it all again soon.

How it’s unfair

I’ve got a few ideas about how it’s unfair and biased against the claimant. No doubt I am also missing many.

It’s unfair because it’s intended to be unfair. The Decision Maker and the Atos Health Care Professional are not about being fair. Their whole purpose is to refuse benefits. They might pretend to be fair but they’re not.

Everybody involved except the claimant is trained, professional and experienced. There is nobody to assist or represent the claimant while he or she may be very ill and unable to prepare his or her own case.

The case is decided on the basis of law while this is not even made clear to the claimant. While claimants are advised to seek assistance from Citizens Advice Bureaus, Law Centres or Welfare Rights Advisors there is actually no help available. A claimant will be very lucky to even have the near useless help of a law student.

The Decision Maker can prefer Atos’s Health Care Professional’s opinion over that of the claimant’s GP. How on earth can that be fair?

[28/07/13 3am

The strange conclusions drawn from ‘opaque’ questions seem very unfair.

[28/07/13 12.30pm

There is a problem with the ‘opaque’ questions since they are taken to mean something other than what they actually mean i.e. they are interpreted in a certain way like a topic-specific discourse, a subset of language, a mini-language if you like (I’ll probably return to improve this when I have the correct term or phrase). Tribunal participants other than the claimant will be familiar with these alternate meaning while e.g. “can sow and knit” may be taken by the claimant only to mean that he or she can sow and knit.]

In the appeal I’m looking at both the Decision Maker and Atos’s HCP have avoided assessment of one descriptor completely. This is because my client didn’t complete the questionnaire very well. It is quite clear that this descriptor applies but it’s raised as an answer to a different question. It’s also blatantly clear in the request for appeal.]

If you have an appeal

Essential resources are the Welfare Benefit Handbook, the Decision Makers Guide and previous decisions. Use the web.

May be revised

 

I can do that. Gizza. Gizza.

Continue ReadingATOS DWP appeal :: How it works

Coming soon: ATOS DWP appeal

Yes, I will soon be doing an appeal. I haven’t done one for years or to be more accurate a decade. I find it very strangely different now. I used to go to appeal with the whole day allocated to the appeal. This one’s scheduled to start at 3.30 p.m. That’s crap, it’ll take me an hour or so to even get warmed up…

I will be representing a friend who is disabled at an appeal soon.

I intend to publish some before the appeal. It will be along the lines of how to do an appeal …

 

Continue ReadingComing soon: ATOS DWP appeal