Monday 7 September 2009

Hypocrisy and the death of the welfare state

You know that something's rotten in the state of Labour when you read about a Tory welfare proposal – that’s a Tory welfare proposal, written by the Tories - and find yourself thinking, 'that's actually the first vaguely sensible idea I've heard for a long time. It might improve things.'

The plan in question involves decentralising the benefits system - giving individual councils a lump sum of money to spend on welfare howsoever they choose. Provided that safeguards were put in place ensuring a minimum amount of benefits and housing support were offered to the needy, this would actually be an improvement on the current system, which involves a great deal of overheads for very little positive return. JobCentrePlus, incorporating the new Pathways To Work scheme, currently spends £3.36 billion a year on administration costs alone which, when you consider that the total amount the state spends on Job Seeker's Allowance handouts is £5 billion, is not an inconsiderable figure – especially as much of this money is currently spent on finding creative ways to deny people state support.

I understand, of course, that the Tories are about as likely to really have the best interests of the poor and unlucky at heart as I am to be a contestant on the next series of Strictly Come Dancing. The reason that this plan looks good is that it would be hard to envision a welfare system more punitive, more cruel and illogical, than the one we currently have, reworked under the expert supervision of former Work and Pensions Secretary, James Purnell MP for Stalybridge and Hyde.

One of the founding principles of the welfare state, laid out in the Beveridge report and part-quoted in a poor-bashing article by Michael Portillo in the Times this week, is that the state "should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual to provide more than that minimum for himself and his family". The current system both forbids other work ‘to provide more than that minimum’ and stifles incentive – not, as the received wisdom runs, by providing benefit recipients with a cushy lifestyle that they don’t want to relinquish, but by making it so bloody hard to access benefits that by the time you’re luck enough to receive your £50.95 a week, you’re terrified of giving it up.

Having lived with and financially supervised young jobseekers for a year, £50.95 a week isn’t much – in London, it’s barely enough to cover a basic, unhealthy diet of frozen pizzas, travel costs and heating bills. Britain has the stingiest welfare system in Europe – if you’re on jobseeker’s allowance, you can’t afford to buy a newspaper or take the bus into town to meet your parents, and you certainly can’t save any of it. But it’s the difference between poverty and absolute destitution, and despite the weeks and weeks of beauraucratic faff it takes to access it, as soon as you get a job, the benefit stops. Not only do you have no money to live off until you get your first paycheck, but if you lose the job at the end of your trial period, you’ll have to wait another couple of months before you get any money from the state, and you risk being turfed out onto the streets.

Centralisation of services should, in theory, streamline and speed up the welfare system. Instead, deliberate lack of communication between the DWP, the Jobcentre and the National Health Service makes it as difficult and as taxing as possible for people to access the benefits they need, an operating principle which punishes the sick and the mentally ill disproportionately harshly. Consider the case this month of the terminally ill hospice resident who was ordered to attend the jobcentre before he would be allowed to receive any benefits, and died without receiving a penny of state support. Or the woman with mental health difficulties who was so badly bullied by JobCentre staff and agencies that she was tipped into a major health crisis [reported by wimvisible, the campaign for women with non-visible disabilities]. There is currently no way for doctors and healthcare workers to ensure that vulnerable people get the support they need – instead, as many barriers as possible are thrown in the way of claimants, ensuring that it is the most doggedly persistent, rather than the most needy, who get state support whether they deserve it or not.

After helping my partner go through the agonising and humiliating process of filling out a form for Disability Living Allowance, we waited over four months to hear back from the DWP – four months of watching my partner get thinner and thinner through stress, poverty and persistent lack of proper food, whilst he came to terms with having to abandon his dream job because he could not walk well enough to sustain it. Four months at the end of which we were both sure that he would be given at least some money to improve his circumstances, because his is a clear case of not being able to walk without agonising pain and the use of crutches. Instead, we’ve just received a letter informing us that the DWP does not consider my partner disabled, and that he is well enough to work in any job immediately without any adjustments.

The sublime hypocrisy of all this, of course, is that JobCentrePlus – which employs nearly 700,000 staff and spends billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money telling disabled people, in the words of shoutyporn victimblaming Channel 4 hatefest Benefit Busters, that they can "walk down the street and get a job tomorrow" - has a very poor record itself on employing people with mental or physical disabilities. Despite being one of the only companies currently hiring, just 1.26% of the thousands of people taken on by JobCentrePlus in 2007-2008 had any sort of physical or mental disability, compared with15% of working-age people. I know a young man, a graduate with a degree from a top university, who got to the last stage of interviews for a benefit adviser job– the only interview he had been offered in six months of jobhunting – only to be turned down after disclosing that he had bipolar disorder.

You may have surmised that all of this makes me unspeakably angry. This is not how the welfare state is supposed to work. It's meant to help people, not punish people. It's meant to listen to people and work with them, rather than shunt them between departments and use any excuse to reject their claims. It's meant, in short, to be a welfare state, not a special circle of hell for anyone unlucky enough to lose their job, which these days could be anyone. In a few days, I'm going to tell James Purnell that to his face.

Turns out that contributors to this blog have finally shouted loud enough for the former Work and Pensions Secretary to hear - so on Wednesday night I'm due to have a personal meeting with Mr Purnell to discuss our differences. If anyone has a story or an issue they want to raise with him, post it in the comments and I'll print it out and take it along. Keep it clean, he's apparently a sensitive flower. I shall report back on my return, presuming I make it back unscathed; if not, I'll be locked in a basement at Demos, and I'm relying on you guys to send a vanload of heavily armed banjo-playing junior socialist feminists to rescue me.


  1. I'd like to ask him about his views on the set of figures I worked out a few months back, during the expenses scandal. It's up on my LJ at, but I can reproduce here if necessary.

    I'd like to know how he justifies taking more money away from people who can claim, in a whole year, only 1/20th of what he claimed in expenses in a whole year. How he expects someone to live, find a job, travel to the job, pay their bills, sometimes see their loved ones, on just 5% of the costs he claimed ON TOP OF his Minister's salary of £144,520, or when not a Minister, his MP's salary of £64,766.

    Particularly if they live in inner London, where costs are so much higher than anywhere else. Moving to somewhere cheaper is, of course, not an option because that takes time out of job hunting and costs a great deal of money.

    Figures taken from and from the directgov information on available benefits.

  2. Excellent article.

    On a more practical note (and apologies if you know this already) If your partner wants to appeal/apply again for DLA, it might be a good idea to go to the Citizen's Advice Bureau and get help filling the form in. They are very good.

  3. I'm a little worried that the Tory idea would in practice mean that a low minimum would be set, and a lot of councils would not pay more than that in the end since they'd want to cut welfare costs.

  4. I can only send ones playing ukeleles, I hope that's ok.

  5. I'm pretty sure that the Conservatives' proposals will just result in councils denying people benefits instead of the nice people at JCP.

    I've been doing a job recently involving calling people up who have recently stopped/been denied a benefit.

    Some of the stuff that is quite terrible is the amount of people taken off DLA or another type of incapacity benefit and told they can work. Anecdotally, a lot of the people I spoke to complained that their GP had not supported the decision - which had been taken by a second doctor who didn't know the person or their medical history. This is something that has been written about quite a lot recently as well.

    Other problems were people, especially mothers who have been told they have to 'prepare for work' coming off Income Support only to find that they couldn't get decent affordable childcare to look after their children whilst they worked.

    It would be nice as well if the Jobcentre had more of an employment agency aspect to it. When I was receiving JSA I didn't really ever receive any help as such, and just got in with applying for jobs myself.

    The other problem is the job market in general, I suppose. JCP comes under a lot of political pressure to get people off benefits - and this results in people being shunted into any shit job (which they will usually take anyway even if they may be working on a zero-hour contract with irregular hours, poor conditions, no job security etc).

    Good luck with Purnell!

    Banjos armed.

  6. Gosh - that really is serious.

    But how to solve it? I'd say the Conservative proposals are still inadequate.
    There must be ways of reducing the amount of means-testing needed.

    One solution is to get rid of means-testing altogether and use a Citizen's Income or something similar, as it eliminates the bureaucracy, and gets rid of the benefit trap that is currently keeping people from work.
    However, there's the problem of its huge potential cost.

    Another possibility could be to use a Chile-style unemployment insurance, run privately (thus getting rid of the conflict between government-run agencies), involving 0.6% of wages per annum into an individual account, supplemented by 1.6% of wages paid by the employer, as well as a further 0.8% into a joint account which can be drawn upon by those who have exhausted their individual accounts. It would work much in the way that National Insurance was originally intended (before it sort of morphed into a tax on employing ppl, contributing to unemployment, particularly now!)

    Looking at the delays as well (which seem particularly serious), I wonder if there's a way of shifting the process online as well by telephone and mail in order to speed the process up.

    Just some thoughts to put out there for debate and criticism, as it's a particularly complex issue to which I don't think anyone has the answer.

    And who says Conservatives don't care about the poor?

  7. Thank you for writing this.

    I spent much of the past six months dealing with Employment and Support Allowance, which would be cut off immediately any time a medical certificate ran out (including for two months when I started to claim, had just got out of hospital,hadn't been able to see an outpatient consultant yet, and before I'd received any money for the time I was in hospital for which they did have a medical certificate). It was also cut off as soon as I passed a medical, with no guidance on how to claim other benefits (which I couldn't claim, as I'd deliberately passed the medical in order to be suitable for a job for which I was applying) other than a sheet of paper directing me to Jobcentreplus.

    That was the direct interaction with Jobcentreplus, I got some mildly more helpful advice from Reed In Partnership but there's another kettle of fish there.
    I was directed to them for a "Work Focused Interview" before any details of my medical examination were told to me, it happened to be two days before it as it turned out. In the time before the Work Focused Interview I was worried that I would be pushed into getting an unsuitable job, so applied for a series of apprenticeships. I got an interview for one of them, before my Work Focused Interview.

    I went to the Work Focused Interview at Reed In Partnership, and told them that I was applying for work and was waiting to here from a position for which I was applying, which was in the area in which I wanted to work and part time, which suited me because of my mental health difficulties. I was told that apprenticeships didn't qualify as "Employment" and that they would prefer if I applied for/went into a full time job of their suggestion. There were Data Entry positions that were specifically looking for people with mental health difficulties. They said that they (Reed In Partnership) would not recieve their payment if I took this apprenticeship.

    I argued my case, and my caseworker had gone with me to the meeting, and backed me up. I went home and found out that I had got the apprenticeship.

    When I went in to show Reed-In-Partnership my contract they worked out that it did count as employment under their definition, and that they would be paid for me taking this job, despite the fact that they'd discouraged me from taking it. But they did also tell me I was entitled to Return To Work Credit, but that I couldn't apply until I started my job (by which time my Employment and Support Allowance had been stopped).

    I was lucky in that I had financial support, and general support, from other sources. It was still unpleasant and difficult, and did cause some considerable financial worry, and not help with the existing mental health problems

  8. I'm still suspicious of the Tory benefit proposal, this was more a rant about the Pathways to Work scheme, and the current system.

  9. The Tory welfare plan is the Essex County Council idea, and is
    apparently based on the American devolution of welfare services from
    the federal government to the states, and the subsequent "success" of
    Wisconsin etc.

    Essex Tories have been pushing for this so that they can introduce
    workfare schemes. If you think that the current welfare system is
    cruel, go and interview a few Essex Tory councillors - devolution
    would let them try out ideas like replacing benefits for lone parents
    with food vouchers to stop them spending it all on booze and fags.

    And for a Tory government it is a brilliant wheeze - devolve the
    budgets (or, rather, the budgets minus 10%, year-on-year, according to
    their current spending plans) and all of a sudden they are not
    accountable for anything to do with unemployment or poverty any more -
    that's all the responsibility of local councils.

    As for less admin - just think about what happens if you live in one
    borough and go to work/training in another - two sets of every kind of
    form to fill in / for them to lose / whatever.

    A devolved system with minimum national standards plus greater local
    autonomy in service delivery was the David Blunkett plan, and if
    introduced by someone like Blunkett (who for all his faults knows a
    lot about local government and about poverty) could have been quite
    good. But a system developed by Lord Freud, Theresa May and the
    leader of Essex County Council - not even a vaguely sensible idea.

    Good to hear you are meeting Purnell, though - give him what for :)

  10. It's not that hard to imagine a welfare system more punitive and cruel than the one we currently have.

    If, as you have, you take a trip to the US, you can see one in action.

    The system we have isn't vicious in theory. The problem is that there's such a wild obsession with stopping people from cheating the system that there's little or no thought put into how to deliver a service that works - with working meaning providing help to people who need help.

    What's the best way to stop people lying on benefit forms? Maybe one way would be to create a system where people can easily can the help the need by telling the truth without needing a degree in jargon.

    Turning applying for benefits into a bureacratic nightmare is a very bad way to deter benefit cheats - they're doing it professionally, they can and will raise their game - but it's a very successful way of failing vulnerable people.

    It won't get better if Tory Councils are taking the decisions, though. In many cases it will get much, much worse.

  11. Completely what Don P said, especially about the Tories devolving their savage cuts to someone else.

    I know you only use support for the Tories' plans as a rhetorical device, but don't get sucked in to their rhetoric, which conceals plans for far, far worse tha NL have given us.

  12. Excellent article.

    It is frigtening when tory policy sounds like a holiday. Obviously though would be practically hugely flawed - not least because some councils preside over more priviliged citizens than others. In deprived areas in which there are a disprportunatly high leval of people incappacitated, often with ill health realted to ingrained and extented poverty, councils would have to argue their need for a larger 'lump sum', to a government who wishes to target theses communiteys particulaly punitivly.

    I was personally shocked by the openly contrary nature of dissability benefit forms.
    My own application for DLA (for incapacitating m.e when 17)was farceicle. These forms are clearly designed to prevent success; without an obvious and clear cut 'dissability' (as the form keeps saying - 'were you born without hands or feet?') you are buggerd. Any hint of disease or unpredicable 'syndrome' and you can piss off. If you can't measure how much your life is ruined in feet and inches then you will not get your £20 a week. I was wrong footed; if i, as a reasonably well educated middle class woman, the child of a trained barrister with the support of my consultant and welfare rights officer, cannot access due benefits, who the fuck can? .
    My support worker admitted that there is in fact an actual code to be cracked in these forms - specific and mysterious key phrases without which the applicatiion will be denied.
    The idea that anyone could be arsed to apply for benifits to 'beat' the system is mental; the tabloid machine that propogates this noxious myth sicken me .
    As reacent outcrys after show, this country DOES support the nhs and thus automatically MUST support a proper welfare state. This is not one.
    My late father, brilliant and angry man that he was, was himself a victim of this shit and was forced into an appeals nightmare whilst battleing the arthritus that eventually killed him. We both should have beeen concentrating on our health.
    Excuse my dyslexic english.
    Best of look to your parter in his orwellian nightmare.

  13. RE the ease of getting disability benefit, I'd also like to direct you to this:

    Sure, it's a speech, but what else can we go by? And let's remember that he's experienced this directly - so I wouldn't be too cynical about a subject so close to Cameron's heart.

  14. Ask him what on earth possessed him to get Freud to do the welfare reform paper?

    Point out to him Freud admitted knowing nothing about the benefits system.

    Point out Freud made numerous incorrect statements about how the system operates, such as claimaints on incap are only assesssed by their own gp.

    Point out to him that fraud on ib is 0.5 percent, and freud reckons its 2/3rds of claimaints.

    Research freud, and his errors, and ask why

    1 - the welfare reform was not scrapped as it was based on a pile of junk.
    2 - Freud still is allowed within a mile of the welfare system?

    Ask him why the DWP puts profit over natural justice, and will not allow ANY member of the public, press, charity, MP or politician to get a copy of the LIMA software used at the DWP medical assessments (see my site for more details re the FOI request about lima)

    Ask him why they are targeting the sick and disabled in such a big way?

    Ask him why people have to appeal multiple times (and win) re benefits, and the system has been critised many times over the years, but it never improves.

    Ask him why bullying is so rife at the DWP.

    Ask him why the press continuously put out false statements, and the DWP never corrects them.

    Ask him if the previous promise given by the government (details on my site again) re existing claimaints on IB moving to ESA will not suffer any cash loss at all, will be hounoured, or if it was a blatent lie.

    Oh I could go on, and will probably come back tommorow with more questions.

  15. and ask how he can reconcile "no one written off" with the ESA impact assessment published by the DWP that admits a significant number of people will end up having to leave the benefits system, with only SOME going into work, in effect the rest ARE WRITTEN OFF.

    And how he can justify putting people in that situation, more specifically, the sick and disabled?

    Ask him if they found the plans for the welfare reforms in some dusty corner of a museaum in a box marked "Third Reich Historical Documents"

    Ask him if he will go on the various benefits and disability forums and answer questions and explain to people who have been unfairly turned down for benefits why that happened?

    Ask him how much some common items cost, and see if he knows the cost of living.

    Ask him how he would survive on benefit money.

    Ask him if he can sleep at night, despite the misery people are put through at the hands of the DWP and ATOS.

    Ask him why he wants to make that misery worse with ESA.

    Ask him why the exemptions on ESA were removed, after all can he explain to me what jobs someone in a 'persistant vegatitive state' can actually do? (read money saving expert forums, a thread on their about incapicity has many other points like that in it)

    I will be back with morelater.

  16. Ask him if he has any plans on how the government will deal with all the orphaned children and pets that could result from people committing suicide due to his nice caring welfare reforms? (no its not a joke, it a serious question)

  17. Ask him what his current views are on the welfare reforms.

  18. Ask him why its good for someones health to put them back into the workplace, when the workplace made them ill in the first place, and they are being put back in, before they are well again, and under threat of sanctions - it can happen.

  19. ask him when this country was granted the right to use slave labour (work for your benefits at below min wage) and his views on this.

  20. Dear Penny,

    Could you ask Purnell whether any private company has asked him to work for them as an advisor or board member concerning welfare reform? How much money is involved if yes is the answer?

    Paul Hereford

  21. Hi there

    Please ask Mr Purnell why - when Professor Gregg who designed the new ESA system for sick claimants which has sanctions and threat of losing benefits to people not deemed to be complying with back to work activity - and when Professor Gregg tells us he designed a 'support' group to give protection to the really seriously sick and disabled - why this government is putting almost no one in the 'support' group.

    So all seriously sick and disabled people including people with severe and enduring mental illness such as schizophrenia and bi polar - are under threat of sanctions which is very hard for them to cope with and basically cruel. Severe illness is hard enough to cope with - threats are a step too far.

    Professor Gregg tells us that all back to work help is available in the 'support' group on a voluntary basis but no sanctions and threats. Surely that is the respectful way to treat people with severe disability.

    As far as mental illness is concerned no sanctions are a nonsense because no sanction is fair because any non copliance may always be due to the illness.

    CarerWatch are campaigning to get people with schizophrenia and bi polar put in the 'support' group but many other severe illnesses deserve the same respect.

  22. This article sums up all the other articles that you written on this subject. It indicates your own hurt at how the system has treated people that you know. My heartfelt sympathy to you as I can tell it hurts you.

    The welfare system isn't just about its creation by successive governments. You have also got to think how it has been treated by the public. The system will change in its response to its treatment especially if people have been known to defraud. There are in fact many far worse welfare systems in many other countries. I know this is no comfort and of course 'one should expect a country of Britain's calibre to have a first rate welfare system.' But so many things never get to where people want them to be.

  23. Something about unpaid internships, maybe.

    1) unpaid internships somehow (I don't really understand why) manage to avoid to get round the minimum wage requirements but
    2) If you take an unpaid internship, you are not allowed to continue receiving JSA.

    So these posts automatically select for people with large amount of savings/independent income/money from parents/living near the job (usually in London) etc.

    Personally I'd prefer to see (1) resolved than (2), I don't see why the state should need to subsidize private companies to exploit workers. But it does tie in to welfare questions a bit!

  24. Humble Economist's right - ask him if he's familiar with the Citizen's Income proposal, which costs more in direct payouts, but saves on the bureaucracy (largely, as you say, designed to make it hard for people to claim) and removes the 100% marginal tax rate for people on benefits, i.e. the complete disincentive to work.

    It also would boost the economy and help get people out of unemployment gradually, which is far more likely to work.

    Actually, perhaps you could ask if the DWP ever commissioned any research into it too?

  25. ukbix has rightly offered up many important facts & questions. I'd love to see Purnell squirm as he tries to blag his way out of answering truthfully.

    My question would be; "Why sanction ANY disabled or sick person & single mum's with mouths to feed?"
    Sanctions against ANYONE on benefits is surely against human rights.
    When you get a letter from DWP stating how much your benefits are, It always states;
    "This is the minimum the law says you need to live on"
    So please ask our 'delicate flower' Mr Purnell;
    If we're only getting the MINIMUM we need to survive & the Govt sanctions us with non-payment, then how do we survive & how is that not an abuse of human-rights???

    Also, a disability doesn't have to be severe for it to impact greatly on a persons ability to function in the workplace. A mild to moderate learning difficulty, hearing or visual impairment, for example, can be very distressing in many situations.
    So while it's laudable that people are campaigning for those with severe & enduring illness' & disabilities, I'm worried that those more able yet still considerably impaired are being left out of the equation. Sanctions are sanctions after all & as such will cause great suffering.

    Lastly, IB allowed many who wanted to work, & many do but can't do so full-time, to work up to 16hrs on minimum wage. It used to be called; "Therapeutic Work" then became known as; "Permitted Work" & was backed up with specialist support in the workplace.
    It was indeed "therapeutic" to step into the world of employment, with support, at a level they could cope with & with the hope that in time, they may be able to hold down a full-time job.

    So my last question would be; "What was wrong with that system?"

  26. Col Bloodnokk (ex MI5)8 September 2009 at 14:50

    World's running out of money Penny.

    Can hardly afford the brandy and cigars myself these days.

    After a lifetime of devoted service and all.

  27. I agree with Ben, its despicable that industries like the media both exploit people desperate for a career whilst at the same time excluding the most talented. I think the profile you seem to be developing is an excellent exemplifies the shabby state the media is in.

  28. Ask him for his comments on the three seperate episodes of benefits busters, and also for comments about saints and scroungers.

  29. You could always ask him about the lie detectors (have a look over at Ministry of Truth). Better still, make him use one for the interview.

    Meanwhile, I'll just cross-post what I initially said at Liberal Conspiracy:

    The potential for gaming this idea is enormous:

    – It centralises the allocation process, making it subject to whatever whims the government of the day is prone to, especially in defining the ‘minimum amount of benefits and housing support’

    – It risks political favouritism, depending on the methodology used

    – It risks over/underestimating the extent of welfare need (methodology again)

    – It depends on who’s in charge of the budget: Labour, the LibDems, Tories, Barnet EasyCouncil or the Mayor of Doncaster

    – It could be subject to ‘taxpayers’ revolts’ against either more generous levels of support or any support at all

    In short, it’s the old trade-off between localism and the ‘postcode lottery’, a genuine progressive reform or a modern version of ‘going on the parish’.


  30. I like the lie detector question, remind him any time he answers a question, if he sounds a little stressed, it can be counted as he is lying, just like the DWP have been doing to claimaints over the phone (a completely unscientic method, which is highly unreliable and you may as well toss a coin instead to get a result)

    Ask him why, considering the high ratio of people that win appeals (so many people who are turned down are genuine) when they are turned down, they are thrown to the wolves.

    Considering many of them are suffering from mental problems, why does the dwp just send a letter saying your benefits are stopped (usually way after they stopped them), and does not offer any help at all.

    In fact, you can go down to the job center, in a depressive state, and *BEG* to speak to someone face to face to find out what your options are, but they just give you a piece of paper with a list of benefit line numbers on and tell you to go away and ring them.

    Why do they not pay benefits until the appeal is heard? Even if they just do that in cases where people have had to appeal and win multiple times?

    Why do decision makers (and ATOS) not look at previous evidence (dont let him come out with, oh they should be, they obviously are not) that a claimaint consistently wins at appeal and save everyone the hassle by properly assessing the reports and granting benefits.

    Ask him if any of the decision makers can actually read.

    Ask him if he agrees a person be placed on trial in a court, and after someone asks that person a few questions,and inputs answers into a computer, the computer then prints out (based on software algorithms) a report to the judge that the judge should use to find the person guilty or not guilty.

    As that is what is happening, in effect, at medicals - and we are not allowed to examine that software.

    Ask him why people with mental health issues are forced to do everything by phone with the DWP, when one, thats against the DDA (disability discrimination act) and two, even the dwp has a descriptor in the IB rules acknowledging some people have problems using a phone..

    Ask him if he can see the similarity between the governments actions on benefits, and those during the third reich.

    Ask him if he is concerned at all by that.

    Ask him why the government wont give the thousands of pounds that is given to a private company to get someone into a low end, dead end job, to a claimaint to start their own business instead, or to use for whatever training they require.

    Ask him why a french firm is allowed so much power in the UK (atos not only do the medicals for the dwp, they do them for royal mail, prison service etc) and they run ticketing systems for train networks (the germans would have loved a company like that during the war) and they run many stock market systems, and so much more, as well as numerous NHS contracts - are they getting special favourable treatment or something, as their track record is not very good...

    Ask him why even the tribunal service will not accept Jobcentre/DWP customer leaflets/pamphlets for use as evidence
    - as per quote from Tribunal bench book
    "16. DWP leaflets should not be relied on as evidence; although their reliability has
    improved in recent years they are not authoritative and can sometimes be
    misleading; "
    and if a tribunal can say that,customers are being obviously misled?

    Ask him why the latest benchbook is *apparently* no longer available for the public to view? How can they ensure fair and due process, natural justice, if the rules are denied to them? How can they prove an error in law at tribunal if they are not allowed access to the law?
    If it is available, ask him for the link...

    Ask him why ATOS doctors are not FORCED to attend tribunals to give evidence if the claimaint requires it, or would that result in too many doctors being struck off from the GMC registrar?

    more to come...

  31. ask him if saving money is so important, and we all have to cut back, and the sick and disabled are being targetted especially for cut-backs, why MP's are not leading by example and demanding their pay is cut to that of say a part time nurse on the NHS, and expenses apart from office expenses are stopped completely.
    Especially considering MP's often have multiple jobs, and large second incomes...

    Ask him if he is willing to live of a state pension only, in order to demonstrate the system is as fair as the government say it is.

    Ask him why claimaints are not allowed to tape record medicals, unless they comply with excessive rules (that are far in excess of even the police rules for recording interviews), which price claimaints out of natural justice.

    And why ATOS doctors are not allowed to sign notes taken by a claimaint or their witness during the medical assessment as a accurate representation of what was said.

    And why claimaints are not allowed to view the medical report at the END of the assessment, whilst still with the assessor in order to query and mistakes (dont let him fob you off with its impossible, of course its possible, they could just turn the screen around and let them read it!)

    And why their is no procedure in place whereby a claimaint who has just cause (and evidence) to prove that the atos assessments are unfair, is forced to go to another assessment with the same company, when all previous ones a claimaint has had were proven inaccurate and overturned at appeal.

    And why every claimaint is not sent a independant questionaire about the medical when they receive the result, instead at present only a tiny number of people are sent a questionaire.

  32. Ask him what his favourite book, movie, and tv show is.

    He will need a break at this point, so thats a nice easy one for him.

  33. Ask him which idiot suggested, and which idiot authorised the use of nurses (as opposed to heightening the existing GP level criterior and propsing that specialists in mental health should do mental health assessment) to conduct mental health medical assessments by the DWP.

  34. Ask him why as a taxpayer funded organisation, the dwp will not release any details of how much is paid for individual medicals, nor will the release details of how much they recieve in royalties from ATOS for the reselling etc for the ATOS lima software.

    Commercial interests should not be a problem, its a public body, that should be accountable to the taxpayer, and they should not enter into a contract that restricts information like that, ask him for his views on the secrecy.

  35. Ask him what happens when the contract with ATOS runs out if its not renewed, for example will they continue to recieve royalties from the software, or will it be 'given' or 'sold' to atos, and if so for how much.

    If he cant tell you as its commercial interests etc, last question will apply - why? this is a public, tax payer funded body, and its actions should be *fully* accountable.

  36. Ask him for the list of medical qualifications each and every software developer, analyst and tester that worked on lima had to have.

  37. Ask him, to raise all the questions he is unable to answer himself then and their (or even shortly afterwards after he has checked and found he is unable to get the answers) in parliament, or if he is unable to do so, to get someone else to do so on his behalf.

    Ask him to ensure this is done, as the public have a right to know, and if they are going to go after the sick and disabled, it is only right they are accountable, and the process is fair.

  38. Thank you for describing EXACTLY what my experience of being on JSA has been like!

    It's got to the point where the only question i feel like asking the people who devised this system is the plaintive,

    "Why do you hate me so much!?"


    If the rescue mission is needed, I'll be ready to bring my banjo and ukulele and a kazoo (and any other weapons of musical destruction I can lay my hands on!)

  39. Try not to spit.

    People on benefit are assumed to be guilty unless they prove themselves innocent on a regular basis.

    I saw them interview that dreadful Hayley woman from "Benefit Busters" on TV and wanted to strangle her with her own scarf. (I'm surprised she still wears it, surely I cannot be alone in thinking this?) They only briefly mentioned people on incapacity benefit, but apparently what is needed is "encouragement". Not, actually, services aimed at making people less ill, or actual jobs for them.

    I believe the Rowntree Foundation did some work about the amount of charity work done by people on incapacity benefit, and it is a lot, yet the government has the nerve to portray us as on a sliding scale from malingerers to parasites.

  40. PS The whole idea that paid work = useful and unpaid work = inferior and possibly not actual work is extremely sexist as well as being a capitalist myth.

  41. Strayed and Disappointed Labour Member9 September 2009 at 17:32

    I'd really like to know why James Purnell is a member of the Labour Party at all?

    Surely Purnell's amoral and political views are those of an extreme right-wing Tory? - which sodality forms his most ardent band of cheerleaders and supporters.

    Does he believe that his vicious attack on the sick, disabled and unemployed, mounted during the worst recession in living memory. has been helpful in retaining or winning new support for the Labour Party in respect to the next general election?

    Die he have any inkling how offensive millions of previous Labour Party supporters and voters find his welfare reforms?

    Try not to hurt him, Penny.

    I say that because my elderly and disabled grandmother could take that arrogant weedy little shit with one hand tied behind her back!

  42. Ask Purnell if he was born a fucking arsehole or is a self-made man?

  43. Ask how someone with history of ill health can ever hope of gaining employment again - what employer will give a job to someone who has a history of taking regular sick leave? And why would they when there are so many healthy people to chose from.

  44. Christopher Grayling predicted that there would be a back bench rebellion in the Labour ranks when Purnell introduced his welfare reform bill. In fact the resistance to Purnell's perfidy was token at best.

    Was James Purnell surprised to discover how few Labour MPs opposed him in the vote and how few Labour MPs still believe in striving to establish the compassionate society ruled by social justice that the Labour Party once espoused?

    Also, ask him if he's homosexual. There's been loads of rumours floating around to this effect and, as they say, it's probably better (to be) out than in!

  45. Ask him if Euthanasia of the sick & disabled is next on the agenda. Hitlers "T4 Program of Euthanasia" was largely about saving money. His panel of 'experts' interviewed people under the guise of 'assessment of fitness for work.'
    Ring any bells? For Atos, DWP read Nazi Regime.
    When this first hit me, I thought; No, it can't be" but these past weeks I've noted I'm not the only one seeing the connection. Not by a long chalk.
    The Welfare Reform Bill & Social Care Green Paper is a real tightening up of who gets what. Who gets the medical treatment, care & support they need. Who lives & who dies.
    This is the beginning of the end for sick, elderly & disabled people & we have a long fight ahead of us to stop this looming Dictatorship & the erosion of civil liberties & human-rights that millions have fought & died for throughout history.

    Hitlers Genocide of disabled people was based on the British & American model of Euthanasia being developed at that time btw, so please don't think it can never happen here.
    The mantra of the Jewish people is "NEVER AGAIN!"

  46. the tory proposal is actually pretty terrifying. there's definitely a problem with administration of benefits, and its not inconcievable that decentralising that might work. but allowing local councils to set benefit rates and work search conditions is really really scary, and will probably imply some kind of race to the bottom, as all the councils desperately hope that if they make their system punitive enough, everyone poor will go and live somewhere else.

  47. The t4 medical assessment form that was filled in by doctors, and then assessed for points by a decision maker (so similar to the dwp scheme) is remarkably reminiscent of the ATOS style reports....

  48. @Vanilla Rose
    I think you are absolutely right to point out the importance of unpaid volunteer work. Value doesn't have to be measured in monetary terms alone.
    I hope that your weekend will see great happiness.

    Your soulmate


  49. The Uncivil Servant11 September 2009 at 18:42

    A friend of mine in the civil service told me that Purnell is a flaming queen! When Purnell was Minister for the Creative Industries and Tourism, his staff used to jokingly call him the "Minister for the Arse" behind his back!

    With his sexual proclivities such an open secret, why does James Purnell not once and for all come out of the closet?

  50. Might be best to avoid the carerwatch link, they pass peoples details to other less trustworthy carer forums, they also seem to think they speak for all carers when they do not, some of us carers hate who they mix with

  51. Have you had the meeting with him on wed, or is it next wed?

  52. To anonymous - re carerwatch, I have never experience any issue using the carerwatch site, and have no reason to believe what you say is true.

    You are anonymous, and have posted zero proof of your allegations, if you have proof - post it.

    Otherwise, people can see its just malicious rumour.

    For what its worth, I have seen carerwatch do quite a lot of good campaigning /bringing together people etc.
    Never heard any complaints about them until your comment, and have never had any problems with them myself.

  53. The person who (anonymously) made unfounded allegations about Carerwatch anonymously has a history of doing so.

    Carerwatch is full of good people who are passionate in their endeavours to secure a better deal for Carers & are equally determined in their campaign against the WRB sanctions on Disabled people.
    They are not in the Govt's pocket, unlike Carer charities who don't campaign aggressively enough on our behalf. Hence Carerwatch came into being & thank God they did.

    I've never understood why "Anonymous" who I believe is a Carer, attempts to do what he/she does. You only serve to belittle the cause & yourself & people can easily tell by visiting Carerwatch that their intent is genuine.

  54. Hi Penny, I live in Australia and we have had a similar system slowly implemented here as well. It just makes no sense to me even on a fiscal level as you have pointed out. As a single mother, I found it really hard to study part time, raise two kids one of whom has a medical disorder and look for work that just wasn't there. I also do alot of voluntary work which I felt should count for something as it is relevant to my career path and makes up for services the government isn't supplying. Anyway, I'm glad some people are aware of the systemic problems, it's not a hot topic in Australia unlike regular poor bashing by the media who I feel should take some credit for the misconceptions of "dole bludgers".

  55. What happened, Penny??????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

  56. PS I am relieved the term "bludger" has not caught on over here. It sounds even worse than "scrounger" because it sounds like "bludgeon". Small mercies, eh? (In many ways, however, Australia sounds a very nice place.)

  57. Penny - please let people know what happened,
    did the meeting go ahead, or did he cancell it after seeing what was in store for him?
    If it went ahead,what did you ask?
    And what was his replies?

    Its not going to do your credibility any good if you run a story like this and dont follow it up, it will make people think your just a time waster, or a windup merchant.

  58. I have written up my experience and I have contributed to the House of Commons, Work and Pensions Committee and their inquiry on "Decision making and appeals in the benefit system". It has been over 5 months and I am still waiting for information from Atos Healthcare and that is before an appeal is allowed to be handled by the DWP. You can see what the Minister says. I decided to publish the main extracts of every piece of correspondence so that others can use as templates if appropriate.

    I thought the state had a duty of care to the dying, the sick, the disabled and their carers. I was wrong. It seems to me that people are denied their entitlements by subterfuge. The Government does not have the courage to put a bill through Parliament to say "it is tough, when you are ill that is it, you are finished". My experience is that this is the reality. I feel Atos Healthcare have set up a "benefit denial factory" as instructed by the DWP. The Atos Origin UK operation that they run for the DWP has the highest profit margin of all their European operations. For shame.

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