Inquiry call after ‘fitness for work’ firm ‘admits it has no safeguarding policy’
The government’s “fitness for work” contractor appears to have no written policy on how to protect the safety of people claiming out-of-work disability benefits, despite years of evidence linking the assessment with deaths and serious harm.
Only last week, it emerged that ministers have omitted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) from a new cross-government plan aimed at reducing suicides, despite ever-mounting evidence linking such deaths with the work capability assessment (WCA) and social security reforms.
Now a senior executive from Maximus appears to have admitted to a disabled campaigner that the company does not have a safeguarding policy, nearly four years after taking on the WCA contract, although it claims it is in the process of creating one.
The admission came after the latest in a long series of serious safeguarding failures linked to the WCA process.
Shocking pictures emerged of a Liverpool man who was found fit for work by DWP following a WCA carried out by Maximus, even though his serious health problems had seen his weight plummet to just six stone. DWP later apologised for his ordeal.
But there have been years of similar cases, many of which have led to the deaths of claimants.
Among them was Mark Wood, who starved to death in 2013 – before Maximus took on the WCA contract – after being found ineligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) following a WCA, even though he had never been able to cope with the demands of a job and his GP had said he was completely incapable of working.
Among concerns raised about the way Maximus carries out the assessments are that it has frequently asked claimants with mental health conditions who have spoken of having suicidal thoughts why they failed to take their own lives.
This week, both Maximus and DWP did not deny that the company had no safeguarding policy, although DWP insisted that its contractors all had “robust safeguarding processes in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk”.
Maximus, which has a long history of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud in the US, would only insist that “any safeguarding issues which arise during an assessment are referred to the customer’s GP or the appropriate authorities”.
The company’s apparent failure was discovered by Mike Owen, from south Yorkshire, when he spoke last week to the company’s national customer service manager and asked to see its safeguarding policy, having grown increasingly concerned about the way Maximus carries out the DWP contract.
Owen, who has himself been through the WCA process with Maximus and currently receives ESA, was told the company did not have a safeguarding policy, although it was “in the process of creating one”.
Owen said he was appalled by Maximus’s failure to have a written safeguarding policy.
And he said he believed there was now an urgent need for an inquiry by the Commons work and pensions committee because it was clear that “Maximus doesn’t have a robust safeguarding policy or process in place”.
He said DWP should have asked Maximus for such a policy during the process of tendering the WCA contract five years ago.
Owen said: “Maximus and the other assessment providers [Atos and Capita, which assess eligibility for personal independence payment] cannot be allowed to continue to supply these services to the DWP without proper regulation any longer.
“The regulator should be independent from government and investigate the companies and also – in conjunction with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, the General Medical Council and the Health and Care Professions Council – investigate concerns about safe practice and fitness to practice of those working within these organisations.”
John McArdle, co-founder of the grassroots Black Triangle Campaign, said the failure showed that both DWP and Maximus were “playing fast and loose with disabled people’s lives”.
He also said he could not understand why DWP had not insisted on a safeguarding policy during the WCA tendering process.
Maximus took over the contract nearly four years ago, from another discredited outsourcing giant, Atos, and the assessments are now carried out by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), which is a subsidiary of Maximus.
McArdle said that, even though Atos had run the contract “catastrophically”, he had seen no improvement in performance since Maximus took over, and he said the company should now be “stripped of the contract”.
A Maximus spokesperson refused to tell Disability News Service whether CHDA had a safeguarding policy, and if not, why it had failed to introduce one.
But he said in a statement: “We aim to provide a sensitive, fair and dignified service to everyone we assess.
“All our doctors, nurses and physiotherapists go through extensive pre-employment background checks and are trained to identify safeguarding concerns.
“Any safeguarding issues which arise during an assessment are referred to the customer’s GP or the appropriate authorities.”
A DWP spokesperson refused four times to say whether Maximus had a safeguarding policy, and if it did not, whether ministers were concerned by this failure.
But she said: “The safety and well-being of claimants is paramount.
“We require all our contractors to have robust safeguarding processes in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk – this includes Maximus/CHDA who have processes in place if any safeguarding concerns arise.
“CHDA have in place a process agreed with the department to inform a customer’s GP if any safeguarding concerns arise.”
She added later: “To be absolutely clear – safeguarding is in place to ensure claimants are not put at risk.”
And she said: “Extensive checks, including Disclosure and Barring Service checks, are carried out on all clinical staff prior to employment and a significant event and serious complaint procedure is in place.
“All healthcare professionals must meet standards set by their regulatory bodies.”
But Owen said he was “astounded” by the complacency shown by DWP in its response and was also concerned that it suggested that all safeguarding concerns about claimants were passed by Maximus to over-stretched GPs and not to social services.
7 February 2019
‘Shocking’ PIP death figures ‘show assessment process is unfit for purpose’
About 1,600 working-age disabled people are dying every year after having their claim for disability benefits rejected, the government has been forced to admit.
The Department for Work and Pensions figures (DWP) reveal that 7,990 disabled people who lodged a claim for person independence payment (PIP) in the five years after the new benefit was launched in April 2013 had died within six months of registering their claim, while also having that claim rejected.
These figures mean that more than 130 working-age disabled people a month have been found ineligible for PIP following an initial assessment by government contractors Atos and Capita but were still so unwell that they died soon afterwards*.
Another set of figures released by DWP shows that 3,680 disabled people – or more than 60 a month – died within three months of their initial PIP applications being rejected by DWP.
Marsha de Cordova, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, said: “These shocking figures show that the cruel and callous PIP assessment is unfit for purpose.
“That thousands of people die three months after being denied vital social security payments is disgraceful.
“Ill and disabled people are being failed [with] the most tragic consequences.
“Labour will end the hostile environment in the DWP and replace the PIP assessment framework with a system that treats disabled people with dignity and respect.”
The figures were released to Labour MP Madeleine Moon by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people.
It was Moon who secured other figures last month which showed that more than 17,000 PIP claimants – out of a total of more than 3.6 million – had died during the five years while waiting for DWP to make a decision on their claim.
Newton also told her last week that 11,790 of these undecided claims were dealt with under “normal rules” and so had not been fast-tracked because they were terminally-ill.
The Bridgend MP said this week: “These shameful figures reveal how gravely ill people, eligible for benefits, have tragically fallen through the cracks of a failing system as they approach the end of life.
“Questions to the DWP have uncovered many cases where terminally ill people have had their PIP applications rejected when applying under normal rules** and have died within six months.
“It is disgusting that people who are dying have not been treated with compassion and support and their claim fast tracked.
“When you only have a short time left to live you must not be let down by a callous system which is not fit for purpose.”
Moon has introduced a private members’ bill, which would remove the current “arbitrary” time limit which means claimants can only be treated as terminally-ill if they have less than six months left to live.
She said: “My bill will bring the changes needed to ensure we bring dignity and some financial security to the terminally ill and their families.
“All terminally ill people should be able to access the special rules for terminal illness (SRTI) process.
“The clinical judgement of a healthcare professional should be enough to determine when someone has a terminal condition, without reference to a six months prognosis.
“Removing the arbitrary time limit provides medical professionals with greater clarity, and more importantly, ensures the terminally ill receive support with the speed and compassion they deserve.”
There are similarities between the new figures secured by Moon and statistics released by DWP in 2015, which showed that about 100 disabled people every month who had applied for employment and support allowance (ESA) were dying soon after being found fit for work.
As with the ESA figures, it is not currently possible to draw clear conclusions about how deeply flawed the PIP assessment process is because of DWP’s failure to release comparable statistics for the general population.
Disabled People Against Cuts researcher Anita Bellows, who has previously carried out widely-praised work examining the PIP contracts awarded to Atos and Capita, said: “Once again, the spotlight is on disability assessment contractors, Atos and Capita, and on the DWP, after the release of figures showing the number of claimants dying after their PIP were disallowed.”
She said the figures should be viewed in the light of around 70 per cent of claimants appealing a PIP decision having the initial decision overturned by a tribunal.
She said: “So it can be said with certitude that some of these people who died were denied the support they were entitled to, or they might have died because of this lack of support.
“DWP, Atos and Capita have shown time and time again that they are not fit for purpose, and neither are the tests supposed to assess disability and fitness for work, which have lost all credibility.
“It is time to overhaul the whole system to prevent it doing further harm.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to say whether Newton agreed that the figures showed that the PIP process was failing a substantial number of very ill people.
But she said in a statement: “DWP decision makers take into consideration all the evidence provided, including from their medical professionals, when determining eligibility for PIP.
“Meanwhile, we fast-track the claim process for people who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
“We are determined that people get the support they need and under PIP 31 per cent of people get the highest possible support, compared with 15 per cent under DLA.
“We are also stopping unnecessary reassessment for PIP for people with the most severe and life-long conditions.”
She also said that new SRTI claims currently take an average of six working days to process.
She said: “We are absolutely committed to improving the overall PIP claimant experience as this is what claimants rightly expect and deserve.
“Our thoughts are with the friends and family of anyone who has passed away but there is no evidence in this data to suggest someone’s reason for claiming PIP was the cause of their death and it would be misleading to suggest otherwise.
“People claim PIP for various reasons, the majority of which are non-life threatening.”
Meanwhile, DWP has published the results of its annual benefits satisfaction survey, which show that the percentage of PIP claimants who had been in contact with DWP in the previous three months and were satisfied with the service they received plunged from 87 per cent in 2016-17 to 82 per cent in 2017-18.
The proportion who said they were dissatisfied rose from 12 to 17 per cent, and the proportion who said they were very dissatisfied almost doubled, increasing from five to nine per cent.
Newton also released figures this week to de Cordova which showed that the number of complaints received by Atos and Capita about the PIP assessment process increased from 8,900 in 2017 to 9,400 in 2018.
Newton said: “Both of these figures equate to less than one per cent of the total number of assessments carried out that year.”
*The cause of death may be unrelated to the condition or impairment for which the claimant was seeking PIP
**Those expected not to live longer than six months, as opposed to those applying under Normal Rules, should receive PIP more quickly
7 February 2019
Newton forced to apologise after misleading MPs in WOW debate
The minister for disabled people has been forced to apologise to MPs after Disability News Service (DNS) caught her misleading MPs about support for disabled people for the fourth time in less than a year.
The misleading comments by Sarah Newton about disability poverty came in December when she was responding to a House of Commons debate on the impact of eight years of cuts to disability support.
But it was only on Tuesday this week, four days after DNS had drawn the attention of her press officers to her misleading comments, that she sent a letter apologising to MPs.
December’s backbench debate was the result of months of lobbying of cross-party MPs by the disabled-led WOWcampaign, which has been pushing for six years for the government to carry out an assessment of the impact of all its cuts to disabled people’s support.
The government has repeatedly refused to carry out a cumulative impact assessment (CIA), even though the organisations that have called for one include the UN committee on the rights of persons with disabilities, the government’s own social security advice body, and peers on the House of Lords Equality Act 2010 and disability committee.
But in her response to a motion calling on the government to carry out a CIA, Newton told MPs in December that Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures showed that “poverty for people in families with a disabled person has improved since 2010 on three of the four measures, and there was no change in the fourth”.
DNS subsequently submitted a freedom of information request to DWP, asking for the data she relied on in making these claims.
The DWP response, which includes a link to the relevant statistics, has revealed that Newton’s claim was wrong.
Although three measures do show disability poverty has improved between 2009-10 and 2016-17, the fourth measure – showing relative low income after housing costs – shows the proportion of individuals in households with a disabled member who were in poverty rose from 25 per cent to 26 per cent (an increase of four per cent, or 1 percentage point).
A DWP spokesperson said: “Immediately after being made aware she had been provided with incorrect briefing for the debate, the minister sent a letter of apology to MPs that will be published in the House of Commons library.”
In the letter, to Labour’s Debbie Abrahams, who secured the debate, Newton blamed an “inaccurate briefing” for her error.
She said: “I sincerely apologise for the mistake. I will be placing a copy of this letter in the House Library, and making a Ministerial correction to Hansard.
“I will also be providing a copy of this letter to Mr Speaker.”
“This government have lied when they say the WCA and austerity have not killed thousands of disabled people.
“WOWcampaign believe this pattern of lying can be extended to show that this government is also lying when they argue their policies are doing no harm to disabled people.”
Michelle Maher, also from WOW, said the campaign had “fought for the truth” about the impact of multiple cuts on disabled children and adults over the last eight years, to demonstrate how they had hit “one section of society harder than any other group”.
She said: “That mistakes have continuously been made around disability cuts statistics to the House of Commons demonstrates that a formal cumulative impact assessment is needed so all parties and the public know the true impact of austerity… and with the aim that our rights as citizens of the UK be protected.”
Abrahams told DNS: “It is extremely disappointing that the minister for disabled people made such an error on the number of disabled people living in relative poverty (after housing costs).
“These are not just abstract numbers; living in poverty for disabled people means living in isolation, unable to properly heat their homes or feed themselves.
“My debate, at which the minister made this error, was on understanding all the factors contributing to disabled people living in poverty and she should heed our calls for an independent cumulative impact assessment of government cuts to disabled people, their families and carers.”
It is the first time that Newton has apologised for the various misleading statements highlighted by DNS over the last year.
In January 2018, she misled MPs about a court of appeal judgment that was highly critical of her new boss, Esther McVey, just a day after McVey’s appointment as the new work and pensions secretary.
Last June, Newton told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”, even though the main component of employment and support allowance (ESA) and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, continue to be frozen.
The following month, Newton misled MPs yet again, this time about the origins of the government’s much-criticised Disability Confident employment scheme.
7 February 2019
‘Ill thought out’ bill needs stronger safeguards, minister told after meeting
The government must introduce “stronger and more effective safeguards” to protect the rights of service-users who face having their freedom restricted by health and care providers, disabled campaigners have told a minister.
Inclusion London wrote to care minister Caroline Dinenage yesterday (Wednesday) about the government’s mental capacity (amendment) bill, which is currently awaiting its Commons report stage.
The letter followed a meeting between Dinenage and representatives of Inclusion London and People First (Self Advocacy) this week, and an open letter to Inclusion London published by the minister last week.
The two disabled people’s organisations have headed campaigning efforts aimed at persuading the government to rethink the “potentially dangerous” bill that is set to affect the lives and welfare of hundreds of thousands of disabled people.
The bill will introduce a new system, Liberty Protection Safeguards (LPS), which will replace the crisis-ridden Deprivation of Liberty Safeguards (DoLS) and will apply to service-users who are said to need to have restrictions placed on their liberty as part of their care but are considered to be unable to consent to those arrangements.
In her letter, Dinenage says she believes ministers have addressed Inclusion London’s concerns, by building in protections against conflicts of interest for those making decisions about a person’s deprivation of liberty; ensuring entitlement to independent advocacy; and making sure the necessary information is provided to those subject to the LPS process.
She says the government will also develop a wide-ranging code of practice to “bring the new system to life”, and she invites disabled people’s organisations and self-advocacy groups to work on the code of practice “to ensure that the Bill does promote and protect Disabled people’s liberty”.
But despite her letter and some government concessions in the last few weeks, Inclusion London said yesterday in its own letter to Dinenage that many of its key concerns remained.
Tracey Lazard, Inclusion London’s chief executive, says in the letter: “We recognise there is a need to reform the current DoLS system but this cannot be used to justify pushing through what we still believe is an ill thought out bill that weakens people’s rights and was developed with very little consultation – next to none with Disabled people.
“The bill is continuing its rapid passage through Parliament without pause, despite a very broad and strong consensus among professionals, advocates, Disabled people, lawyers and academics that there are serious flaws in the Bill and the proposed system that must be addressed.”
Lazard says in the letter that it is “utterly unacceptable” that “repeated requests for accessible information about the bill were ignored over the last six months”, leading to the conclusion that “people with learning difficulties have simply been disregarded as a valid stakeholder in this process”.
She says that the publication of an easy read summary of the bill on 31 January “can only be viewed as a tokenistic gesture given the very little time remaining to influence the bill and the lack of any detail in the document to enable people to have a meaningful say”.
Lazard’s letter includes some of the “stronger and more effective safeguards” that are needed to ensure the protection of people facing a deprivation of liberty.
They include the need to address conflicts of interest faced by independent hospitals and care home managers; to ensure access to advocacy and the right to accessible information; and to make sure that less restrictive living arrangements that could potentially be put in place are considered as part of the LPS process.
Nearly 200,000 people have now signed a petition drawn up by Inclusion London that calls for major changes to the bill.
7 February 2019
DPO welcomes ‘ground-breaking partnership’ with elected mayor
A ground-breaking new partnership between disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) and Greater Manchester’s elected mayor could become a “template” for future work with local authorities across the region, according to one leading DPO.
Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP) said this week that it believed that Greater Manchester was the first combined authority in the country to establish a formal partnership between DPOs and the elected mayor.
The authority, led by Labour’s Andy Burnham, is now set to approve funding this month which will ensure that the lead of a new disabled people’s panel will be a paid position.
That will contrast with last month’s announcement by Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, who said that the chairs of nine new regional groups that will make up her new Regional Stakeholder Network would not be paid.
GMCDP is now asking disabled people to apply for the new part-time post, which will have a pro rata salary of £31,100 a year.
The successful candidate* will lead on work to set up the disabled people’s panel, which aims to “strengthen the voice of disabled people and their organisations in shaping, challenging and influencing strategic policy issues that are important to disabled people across Greater Manchester”.
Brian Hilton, GMCDP’s digital campaigns officer, said: “We are really pleased to be working with the mayor’s office on this important piece of work.
“We hope this can become a template for future work, not only with the mayor’s office but across all Greater Manchester authorities.”
He said the debate around how much disabled people should be paid for their labour, skills and expertise was “not a new phenomenon”.
He said: “The government is not alone in trying to devalue disabled people by paying us peanuts or, in the case of the regional disability network, nothing at all.
“The current political climate allows such things to happen.”
He pointed out that MPs from both sides of the House of Commons, including Philip Davies and Frank Field, have in recent years suggested that paying some disabled people less than the minimum wage would be a positive move forward.
He said: “The reality of course would be that it further divides our society into Us and Them.
“Often the rationale for paying us less is that we are less productive and that firms are doing us a favour in the first place by employing us and by doing so keeping us occupied.”
But he said that paying disabled people less – or nothing – was “not the answer”.
He said: “The only long-term solution is to remove the barriers that prevent us from gaining employment, retaining our jobs and advancing in our chosen careers.
“Not only is it important that disabled people and DPOs are recompensed for their time and expertise, but it’s also important for and benefits the mayor’s office.
“Paying for our expertise allows the mayor’s office to make demands on the work we do and the input we provide.
“Similarly, we are more focused, invested in the work being undertaken and committed to making the ongoing engagement a success.”
The partnership is likely to be seen as a campaigning success for GMCDP, which said before Burnham’s election as Greater Manchester’s first elected mayor in 2017 that it hoped to persuade the successful candidate to make the region a trailblazer for disability rights in England and “develop ground-breaking initiatives to tackle disability”.
In contrast with the Manchester post, Newton made it clear last month that all those taking part in her new regional stakeholder network – including the nine chairs – would have to work for free, apart from travel expenses and funding for disability-related costs.
Newton also made it clear that non-disabled people and charities and other organisations not run and controlled by disabled people would be invited to join the network, potentially even as some of the regional chairs.
*For details of the post and how to apply, visit the GMCDP website. The closing date is noon on Monday 18 February
7 February 2019
New charter aims to put dignity and respect at heart of local services
Disabled campaigners have launched a new charter that aims to persuade organisations – and individuals – in their local area to treat people with dignity and respect.
Ken and Tracy McClymont have spent four years working on the Dudley Dignity Charter, which lists 10 key principles for how people should be treated, focusing on areas such as communication, privacy, choice, control, advocacy and fairness.
The McClymonts, both key figures in Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living (Dudley CIL), have worked on the charter with another local disabled people’s organisation, Disability In Action, with support from Dudley Metropolitan Borough Council and Healthwatch Dudley.
The couple have spent years seeking the views of disabled people in Dudley on what should be in the charter, by visiting council-run community forums, day centres, youth clubs for disabled young people, libraries and the local hospital.
They were told how disabled people were being rushed by care workers who had to hurry to their next appointment; how service-providers were failing to listen to what service-users were telling them and not giving them time to explain their needs; and how schools were failing to provide support to their disabled pupils, among many other examples of disabled people not being treated with dignity and respect.
Patterns soon began to emerge from what they were being told, which they worked into the charter’s 10 key principles.
The McClymonts now plan to take the charter “out on the road”, explaining its 10 principles by running stands at local events and locations such as supermarkets and libraries.
They also hope – by setting up a new Dudley Dignity Council – to be able to monitor the implementation of the charter, hold service-users to account, and even award dignity charter marks to organisations that show a commitment to the 10 principles.
Ken McClymont, who chairs Dudley CIL, said: “Dignity is something we all want, along with respect, but it is a very hard thing for people to explain and define.”
He said he was “buoyed up” by the launch event, which was attended by three of the four local MPs, the council’s deputy leader and chief executive, and representatives of the local transport authority, mental health trust and the three emergency services.
He added: “This charter is unique in that it has been created by the local people themselves.
“We do hope that many local people, businesses, voluntary groups and others with connections to the borough will sign up to the charter to encourage everyone to make dignity a thing of importance.
“We all want to be treated with dignity and respect, and hope that this charter will start a conversation.”
Cllr Judy Foster, deputy leader of Dudley council, said: “It is an honour and a privilege to have joined those at the Dudley Dignity Charter launch event today.
“By working together, we can rightly put dignity at the heart of care here in Dudley borough.
“The charter has been over four years in the making and it is a testament to the dedication and hard work of everyone at Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living and Disability in Action.”
7 February 2019
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com