Are you more or less likely to fight Maximus since it hired Sue Marsh?
This is a question that all disability activists need to ask themselves and need to answer.
But before that, let’s review the situation:
The WCA is in a state of virtual collapse and the last WCA review undertaken by Dr Lichfield raises more questions than it answers. Having access to all DWP statistics, Dr Lichfield is at loss to explain the huge increase in the number of claimants placed in the Support Group, which has now reached 70%. When the WCA was introduced in 2008 under Labour, this figure was 8% and nothing has been done in the meantime which could explain such an increase. Most recommendations from Dr Harrington and Lichfield dealt with the claimants’ journey, the quality of communications, the training of assessors, but they never addressed or attempted to modify the descriptors which have been failing so many claimants, especially those with mental health or fluctuating conditions. Moreover, some of the first recommendations made and accepted by DWP are still waiting to be implemented.
So what is happening? One clue can be found in the minutes of a meeting of Manchester Welfare Advisers in Manchester in July 2014 (salford-gmwrag-minutes-2014.docx), highlighting how the Decision Makers were overturning decisions at the stage of Mandatory Reconsiderations to ‘avoid appeals at all cost’. This does not mean claimants are not entitled to ESA or to be in the Support Group, but that the outcomes of MR are fed into the data system much earlier. Remember that there has always been an 8 month timelag in the publication of ESA statistics, but this timelag is 14 months for appeal outcomes, so the picture we are now getting is a more accurate one as confirmed by a recent DWP press release boasting of a huge reduction in benefit dispute waiting times, from 6 months to under a fortnight on average (to be taken with a pinch of salt as coming from the DWP). In the same meeting minutes, it is highlighted that DWP holds on to the appeal outcomes for 14 months, if found in favour of DWP. This confirms the suspicion that DWP has always been able to manipulate the ESA statistics by selectively releasing or withholding data. Faced today with a UN inquiry and a General Election, DWP wants to give the impression that the WCA is working well, that the number of appeals has drastically dropped (around 90% from the previous year), while not giving any information on the number of MR which have led to an overturned decision, and maintaining a backlog of around ½ million claimants in the assessment phase (a rough estimate as no figures have been published), which is also one way of keeping the number of JSA claimants artificially low.
Coming back to Dr Lichfield, he is challenging the notion that the WCA is the right instrument for determining benefit entitlement, but recommends sticking to it in the absence of any off-the-shelf alternative.
Much has been said about Maximus, and even its new Head of Customer Experience said when the choice of Maximus for disability assessments was announced: It’s as though the DWP actively searched out the worst provider they could find. Many have commented that perhaps Maximus were the only company willing to take on such a poisoned chalice. Ultimately, changing work capability assessment provider will do nothing to address the very significant flaws of the employment and support allowance system itself – 700,000 people are now stuck in limbo waiting for an assessment. If this was another issue the public would be up in arms.”
This is a company which defrauded the US government in 2007 by creating documents for non existant state debt or medical expenses (for good examples of this, follow this link to open the pdf documents ), which got the contract in 2013 for the Independent Medical Review programme in California, leading to four out of every five cases reviewed by Maximus being denied treatment, which in British Columbia, Canada, under the name of Themis, is running the Family Maintenance Enforcement Program, which manages the collection and enforcement of child support obligations under court orders. These enforcement actions range from monetary penalties, credit reporting, passport revocation, drivers license suspensions, bank account seizures, wage garnishment and the threat of jail time and have caused hardship, emotional injury, instability and in some cases suicides.
Maximus is also contracted by the Australian government to provide independent observers for unaccompanied minors in the immigration detention centre where Serco guards used force on minors while providing care and support services to unaccompanied minors in other immigration detention centres, but it is one of the major players in the Welfare for work programmes in Australia.
Which leads us to its membership of ALEC (American Legislative Exchange Council) until at least 1995. After this date, the name of the corporate funders of ALEC are not known, but ALEC has been instrumental and a major force in the privatisation of the most profitable aspects of government, in particular areas in which Maximus has direct interests.
But there is at least one story with an happy ending, in Illinois,: where Maximus’ contract was terminated in 2013 and returned to state employees because it was found that in assessing benefit eligibility, Maximus recommendations were rejected in 25 percent of cases where they found recipients ineligible; in cases where they recommended changes in benefit levels, fully 50 percent were found to be in error.”
This is the company hired by DWP to assess benefit eligibility of claimants in the UK.
Which brings us back to the initial question: Are you more or less likely to fight Maximus since it hired Sue Marsh?
If the response is less likely, it is fair to ask whether that was Maximus’ intention all along. Another question which needs to be asked is how long Sue Marsh will be given a chance to succeed where 5 independent WCA reviews and endless Parliamentary debates and public pressure have failed. What will be the success criteria and at which point will suffering and deaths of claimants become too much and too many for a conscience to bear?
I can already hear the argument of the monkey and the organ grinder about Maximus, which is a valid argument. But it is the withdrawal of Atos under the pressure of activists and direct action which led to the collapse of the WCA. Maximus identifies as one of its main corporate risks:
“Negative media coverage could adversely affect our reputation and our ability to bid for government contracts.”
So let’s go for Maximus and make its brand as toxic as that of Atos. Support the 2nd of March mobilisation of DPAC.
For more information about Maximus, see DPAC previous post: ’The private provider which not only denies benefits but also treatment’