Mar 232014
 

Fit for Work or Survival of the Fittest? We need to Act Now to make our Voices Heard!

How can we restore dignity to disabled Welfare Benefits?

Market Hall, Assembly Rooms, Chesterfield Sat 29th 11am-4pm

Speakers

Richard Exell-TUC

Kate Green -MP Shadow minister of State for Equalities

Debbie Jolly -DPAC

Sue Marsh- Spartacus

Plus Dead Earnest Theatre Company

Food available

Ring or text Colin on 0787 387999

For info/access requirements

Unite Community membership

Welfare poster 2014

Oct 062012
 

A successful conference held in London on the 27th September called for a new UK network to challenge the attacks on disability rights in the UK. The conference supported by DPAC, Inclusion London, ALLFIE, Norfolk Coalition of Disabled people and the Joseph Rowntree Trust brought together leading Disabled Peoples Organisations and leading disability activists.

Key speaker Jenny Morris said that the ‘disability movement’ was more vibrant than ever, and that this Government had launched a number of attacks on disabled people and their rights. However others suggested that there may not be a disability movement anymore, but pockets of activity. What was clear was that challenges by disabled people and disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) must increase. Speakers also raised issues of how ‘the movement’ could be more inclusive in the speakers ‘from the frontline’ slots.

DPAC was there to add commentary and information on what was happening to disabled people under the regime of Atos and the ESA processes as well as the everyday crisis disabled people were facing under this Government. The whole day was brilliantly co-chaired by Tracey Lazard ( CEO of Inclusion London ) and Tara Flood ( director of the Alliance of Inclusive Education) . Speakers included Jenny Morris, Andrew Lee, Eleanor Lisney, Chris Edwards, Debbie Jolly, Linda Burnip and Geraldine O’Halloran, yet, there was also plenty of time for discussion.

Catch up on conference and presentations with the livestream (with BSL)

Catch up on all presentations and discussions through live stream and see Stephen Lee Hodgkin’s brilliant time-line at http://www.inclusionlondon.co.uk/

Read the excellent John Pring’s ( Disability News Service) account of the day at

 http://www.thefedonline.org.uk/federation-news/item/1828-new-network-aims-to-unite-disability-movement.html

Another option to keep up with what’s happening and have a chance to dicuss your views is to tune into Make Yourself Heard on Tuesdays 2-4p.m with Merry Cross  www.Reading4u.co.uk 

Join up to the new UK network: be part of the increasing outcry on our injustices!

Send an email to mail@dpac.uk.net with subject line ‘UK Network’ to be kept in the loop on this exciting and much needed new network of DPOs and activists.

We can also put you in touch with any local DPAC groups in your area or help you set up your own local DPAC group. We now have 26 DPACs across the UK and along with our sister organisation Black Triangle in Scotland we have made sure that disabled peoples’ issues are vibrant and will continue to be-never again must we allow our ‘movement’ to get sleepy- join the challenge!

 

Aug 272012
 

In spite of implicit claims in the Brindle article1 that there is no ‘fight back’ disabled people have stopped traffic in Oxford Street 2, Trafalgar Square 3, protested against and closed the offices of Atos, protested online through blogs and social media, provided briefing notes and researched and gained significant victories in publicising exactly what is happening -both DPAC and Black Triangle hope they have been an impetus, along with the growing network of allies, user-led disabled peoples’ organisations and key anti-cuts groups across the UK and in Europe –all of us recognise the severe harm that the ‘cuts’ are doing to large groups of ordinary people.

 In the very first DPAC protest on 3rd October 2010 disabled people came together to lead the march against the cuts proposed by this Government, liaised with unions and other anti-cuts groups- it poured with rain, but DPAC were the first to have a synchronised online protest too. Disabled people saw a need for early action at a time when many formal disabled peoples’ organisations (DPOs) made few public statements on spending reviews or cuts and when the big disability charities remained silent. From the 100 or so original October 2010 protesters and campaigners –there are now thousands, overall numbers are growing at rapid rate- contra Brindle, disabled leaders are emerging in their hundreds trained by anger and despair at what is happening to their lives and the lives of others under this Government.

 The reality of the impact of the cuts on the lives of disabled people are much worse than any of us imagined on that rainy day in October: framed by an apparent media campaign in some sections to demonise disabled people as ‘scroungers (despite administrative error and fraud at 0.04 and 0.5% for disability support) 4, we have seen a rising level of disability hate crime, increasing suicides amongst disabled people 5, more and more disabled people relying on handouts from family and friends because they are being left without any income, disabled people losing their homes, disabled people with paid jobs seeing those jobs removed in a clear ‘cuts agenda’ 6, basic support from local authorities being cut to the bone, a move back to the threat of institutionalisation and away from independent living[7], and a move away from inclusive education for disabled children[8]

 The UK was once a European example of how disabled people’s inclusion, support and equality could be applied. It’s now an example of how fast these basic human rights can be reversed. In two years we have witnessed: the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) to new applicants[9], disability living allowance (DLA) to pay for the additional costs of disability being stripped from individuals, DLA to be replaced by an expensive and unnecessary round of reassessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) with a pre-assessment criteria that 500,000 people will lose all support[10], cut backs and a steep fall in Access to Work applicants[11] with a tightening of criteria and more costs being passed to employers. We see that some individuals pronounced as ‘fit for work’ by Atos are dying days after leaving their assessment centres[12], while those with terminal illness and less than 12 months to live
are being told to seek work, and having income stopped[13].

 This regime is not about supporting disabled people nor is it about supporting disabled people into work – it’s about cuts. It’s about erasing the years that individuals have worked and paid national insurance for welfare support. It’s not about saying the social model has failed- it hasn’t, if anything it’s been made stronger. It’s about recognising the imposition of a bio-psycho social model- a model
that the Government and its partner companies use to provide a bizarre focus on denying disability, impairment and ill-health each of which are being reconstructed as individual failings brought about by individuals adopting the wrong attitude-thinking yourself ‘well’[14] is cheap-it’s also impossible.

 The recent Dispatches[15] and Panorama[16] television programmes on the work capability assessment (WCA) and the regime used by Atos exposed what many of us have known for too long to a wider audience: a system designed to remove over a million disabled people from welfare support that has caused misery, anxiety and the premature deaths and suicides of an estimated 32 people a week[17]. The WCA – a revolving door of Atos assessment, appeal, tribunal, and reassessment has produced horror stories of inhuman proportions. In one of the programs an Atos ‘assessor’ asked someone who had taken several overdoses why they weren’t dead yet. There are stories of people being forced to walk until they collapse and being declared ‘fit for work’ and those that Atos has signed off as unfit for work on employee schemes being declared ‘fit to work’ on the state schemes of cuts under the WCA. Atos have recently been awarded the PIP contract[18] and are official sponsors of the Olympics[19]. These are additional reasons why the Atos games: a week of activities for people to raise the issues of the inhumanity of these ‘tests’ and the callous removal of vital supports is happening.

 The use of Tom Shakespeare’s quote in the Brindle piece that ‘… the politics of disability seem to have run out of steam.’ is grossly misleading: disabled people are fighting back in every way we can: Black Triangles’ tireless campaign to secure a total condemnation of the WCA by the British Medical Association resulting in the call for ‘the WCA to end with immediate effect’[20], the Mental Health Resistance Network’s successful case for a judicial review of the WCA[21], the exposure of the ‘tampering’ with the Ministry of Justice’s You Tube video to help people through appeals against
Atos decisions’ by Government, the continuing evidence and fight back for Atos assessments to be scrapped[22], the continuing legal challenges, the use of social media to spread information, undercover work with and by researchers, Freedom of Information requests and gains from empathetic media, lawyers, and MPs are all part of the ‘steam’-This is not being led by well paid Charity directors, nor as Macrae suggests by those who see themselves as victims but by disabled people without any funds fuelled by a raging sense of injustice and the will to fight back.

 John McDonnell’s words from the opposition day debate on disability benefits and
social care in which he stated his support for DPAC, Black Triangle and the Remploy
workers warned:

…the Government should not think that this issue or these people are going
to go away because they are not: these people are mobilising. We now have
a disability movement of which we have not seen the equal of before…these
people are not going to go away. They will be in our face-and rightly so’[23] 

 The Atos games are an opportunity for all to show their anger at the disproportionate cuts being imposed on disabled people. They are an opportunity to mobilise against the carnage the cuts administered by this Government are causing.

 Details and resources including local actions pack and a minute menu of protest
activities on DPAC dpac.uk.net

 We want to thank the Guardian for publishing ‘The Atos Games will showcase disabled peoples anger at the Paralympic sponsers’ and all those that helped get the CiF piece online here

See you on the streets and online

 


 

May 102012
 

Lord Freud – The Benefit Fraud

With thanks to the ever brilliant Johnny Void for letting us repost this– for more of The Void go to http://johnnyvoid.wordpress.com/

Lord Freud, the toff banker, will be defending the Government’s savage welfare reforms at a conference called by the National Housing federation on May 23rd.  Freud has been one of the chief architects of the vicious Welfare Reforms as both a Labour and then a Conservative Party member.

Freud was asked by Tony Blair to review the benefit system way back in 2006, despite Freud saying he knew nothing about it.  This didn’t stop him from leaping at the opportunity to claim that single parents should be sent to work, lay the foundations for the Atos shambles and encourage the use of fraudulent bastards like A4e to run huge chunks of the Welfare State.

The great welfare rip off has seen companies paid billions of tax payers’ money to provide barely existent training courses or claim huge fees every time someone unemployed finds a job.  The likes of the now disappeared Emma Harrison formerly of A4e have awarded themselves multi-million pound dividends whilst their staff, under enormous pressure from above, have ended up cooking the books to pay for them.  Like all the best scams, the companies involved don’t even have to break the law to make off with the cash.  Training providers on the Government’s flagship Work Programme can be paid up to £13,000 for claiming to have helped someone get a job who has barely even met them. 

Private sector sharks have also been brought in to carry out assessments for sickness and disability benefits, another of Freud’s ideas.  The Atos assessment system has turned out to be a disaster, costing a fortune in appeals against their flawed decisions, whilst being devastating for those forced to undergo the stressful and demeaning tests. This hasn’t stopped Atos creaming £100 million a year off the tax payer.  And Atos, along with prison companies like G4s and national joke Capita, are set to pick up huge contracts for re-creating the exact same shambles to re-assess over three million people currently claiming Disability Living Allowance.

With George Osborne promising up to £5 billion in cash to Work Programme contractors, it seems the gravy train for private sector sharks infecting the Welfare State is far from over.  Meanwhile millions of people face poverty and homelessness due to ideas generated on the back of an envelope by Lord Freud and his chums.

Lord Freud is a member of the pervy Freud dynasty and went to Whitgift Public School and then Oxford.  On leaving university he just happened to be offered a job at the Financial Times.  After a few years he ditched financial journalism to begin work as a professional crook for stockbrokers Rowe & Pitman (later to be taken over by SG Warburg).  His first job was to compile research on companies he was also taking money from, a practice which was made illegal after analysts were found publicly backing clients whilst slagging them off behind closed doors.

During his career Freud cost the tax payer a fortune when he botched the Eurotunnel flotation in a deal he describes as a ‘shambles’ and claims he ‘sold the market a pup’.  He did a similar thing with the Eurodisney flotation, costing investors millions.  Asked to handle the flotation of doomed company Railtrack, Freud priced the shares at £3.50 despite them being worth over four times that figure.  Freud remained a senior figure at SG Warburg helping to oversee the collapse of the investment bank in 1995 when it was taken over by the Swiss Bank Corporation.

David Freud’s omni-shambles career is best summed up by himself:

“Nearly everything I’ve done has been total chaos. I cannot believe it’s just because of me.”

This is typical of arrogant little posh boys like Freud.  Believing they are born to rule, their old school chums will prop them up as they fail time and time again.  In return they offer kickbacks, like the multi-billion pound give away to the private sector that Freud has overseen whilst involved in welfare reform.  They really are all in it together.  A self-serving smug elite sharing around power and money like pass the fucking parcel whilst the rest of the country gets on with doing the real work that keeps them rich.

When Freud saw which way the wind was blowing under the Labour Government he jumped ship to the Tories where he was immediately made a life peer and given a Baroncy.  As Minister for Welfare Reform he has wasted no time in continuing the incessant lies about benefit claimants he began telling under Blair.  The man who’s worth millions is outraged that single mums should be paid a pittance to feed their children, or large families in cities should have somewhere to live.

If the fraud Freud had been born on a council estate he’d probably be banged up by now for flogging fake Armanis or nicked ipods down the boozer.  Instead he picks up huge sums of tax payers’ cash he doesn’t need to advise the Government on something he knows nothing about.  All that’s required for the rich to succeed is the old school tie and a commitment to staying on the right side in the class war.  Brutality and incompetence is the hallmark of the English ruling class and there has rarely been a better example than Lord Fraud and his chinless cabinet cronies.

Freud will be speaking at the National Housing Federation’s Welfare Reform Conference on the 23rd May.  Join protesters at 9.15 to tell him what you think outside the Commonwealth Club, 25 Northumberland Avenue,
London, WC2N 5AP

See also: ‘A Tale of Two models: disabled people vs Unum, Atos, Government and Disability Charities’ for more on Freud’s doings and the sell out of welfare http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/04/a-tale-of-two-models-disabled-people-vs-unum-atos-government-and-disability-charities-debbie-jolly/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Apr 212012
 

Politicians of all parties have rightly paid tribute to Jack Ashley after his death on 20th April aged 89. Not one of them mentioned the fact that he tirelessly pushed for an Independent Living Bill. These very same politicians blocked, delayed and ran out of time on dates at which this bill was to go through readings.  The Independent Living Bill set out the basics that disabled people should be entitled to, to ensure real independent living. When I spoke to him in 2008 on behalf of the European Network on Independent Living he said:

My Bill on independent living is designed to sweep away the scandalously inadequate system of services for disabled people and to replace it with one which is based on freedom, choice, control and participation. At present, independent living is a mirage. Consequently, the present system means there are very few rights to services. For example, the very notion that the right to merely being washed and fed provides independence is bizarre. These conditions mean that disabled people have to fight for every concession rather than have services provided as of right.

Today, disabled people have no rights in their choice of where they live and who they live with, no legal entitlement to advocacy, no right to communication support and equipment, no right to portable support. They are trapped in a system which is slow, cumbersome and inflexible.

The Bill sets out clear principles for the delivery of support to disabled people and their families. For the first time social care, health and housing support will have a clear purpose set out in law. This would guarantee disabled people the services they are deprived of today.

Every disabled person would be guaranteed minimum outcomes which would focus on delivering the means to live an ordinary life, rather than the current “feed and clean” only culture.

Disabled people would be supported to define their own needs through self-assessment which would save time and money. Disabled people would have new rights to communication support and equipment, to independent advocacy, to support mental health needs and to palliative care and rehabilitation. This is merely the flavour of the Bill and there are many detailed proposals, all of which combine to present a very different picture of independent living from todays. This Bill has the potential to transform the lives of millions of disabled people in Britain. They are entitled to it and it is up to us, working together, to provide it.”

He also said

Throughout my Parliamentary career, I have fought for all disabled people to have the same choice, dignity, freedom and control as every other citizen. These are the central principles of ‘Independent Living’.

One politician who will be sadly missed

See: http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2012/apr/21/labour-peer-lord-ashley-dies?newsfeed=true

Debbie Jolly

 

Apr 082012
 

One of the main advocates of the bio-psychosocial model, Lord Freud (Westminster’s Minister for welfare reform) claims that it is based on evidence. It is not. It is a right wing model led by profit and the market. It incorporates the worst aspects of neo-liberalism. It targets disabled people and ridiculously claims that we can think ourselves out of being disabled. Its underlying theme repeats the mantra that ‘work will set you free’. But this is not about work, despite the endless rhetoric; this model is an ideological cover for attacking disabled people and reducing every single right to financial support that has been achieved. Additional fringe benefits are provided to the insurance market of Unum, to the profits of Atos and to the big Disability Charities who all capitalise on the new notions of risk being imposed on disabled people. We can identify a clear pattern for the construction of the bio-psychosocial model, and its advocates. It features:

●‘Academics’ in the pay of the insurance company Unum

●The genesis of the Work Capability Assessment guided by Unum and Atos,

●Atos’ imposition of mass reassessments

● Successive governments

●Key players in the Department of Work and Pensions

● The big Disability Charities.

We can also identify a clear pattern for the construction and advocates of the social model of disability. The story features disabled activists some of whom  were institutionalised in a Leonard Cheshire home, disabled academics, disabled activists and disabled peoples’ organisations and groups run and controlled by disabled people who led the political challenges to individual models of disability and who continue to do so.  Which model seems better so far?

While successive governments were delivering a stream of white papers apparently dedicated to improving the life chances of disabled people the revenge of the bio-psychosocial model and welfare reform (read welfare destruction) was quietly being prepared behind our backs by the state and their market partners. The following explains why some disability campaigners were and are wrong to abandon the social model of disability and how the rhetoric behind the bio-psychosocial model is one of the keys to understanding the 21st century ideological attacks on disabled peoples’ lives.

Part One

The Social Model of Disability Basics: why it’s nothing to do with the bio-psychosocial model

The social model came into being through a letter to the Guardian from Paul Hunt[1], the early work of UPIAS (Union of Physically Impaired against Segregation) a document written by Vic Finkelstein[2] and other activists. They were institutionalised in a Leonard Cheshire institution. The UPIAS document and its premise were taken forward in the 1980s and 1990s by disabled activists and academics including Mike Oliver[3] and Colin Barnes[4]. Paul Abberley[5] also produced a seminal piece on  ‘The Concept of Oppression and the Development of a Social Theory of Disability’. The social model of disability was also taken forward by activists, campaigners and those who set up some of the first Centres of Independent Living (CILs).

The social model perspective has been used widely in the UK as answer to the sociological theories and common place mis-understandings on issues of disability being designated as entirely medical/individual attributes without reference to the environment, to the barriers that disabled people face, or the rights that they are being denied. Examples include: the American conservative sociologist Talcot Parsons who theorised the ‘Sick Role’ in the 1950s, and the International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH).  Parsons suggested that ‘the sick role’ gave individuals the opportunity to ‘opt out ‘of society, and elicit sympathy from others which brought them certain social benefits. However, this was perceived as a deviant role-according to Parsons the individual was at fault, merely exercising a form of deviance for particular rewards-they could quite easily change their attitude and function within society adequately. In addition, the first classification from the World Health Organisation (WHO) produced The International Classification of Impairments, Disabilities and Handicaps (ICIDH). This concentrated purely on medical factors and ‘handicaps’. It was later remodelled to include supposed interaction with social factors and renamed International Classification of Functioning, Disability and Health (ICF). Yet, it has never fully achieved the explanation of the interaction between impairment and disability.

In contrast, disability activists using the social model perspective argue it is how society treats disabled people that create the main problem. The experience of disability is not exclusively about the individual or the individual’s attitudes. The experience of disability is an interaction with actions of non disabled people, planners, governments, employers and others. People need educating on what it is really like to be disabled and the many barriers that disabled people face in their everyday lives. They need to understand those barriers which prevent disabled people having the same opportunities and life chances as their non disabled peers.

The social model does not focus on disabled people as victims of their physiology, whether physical, cognitive or otherwise, nor as vulnerable, helpless individuals but as people who are disabled by attitudes, the environment, design, working patterns and by those individuals who see disabled people as unworthy. The social model also offers a way to organise politically against the principles of social and economic exclusion, and oppression in a disabilist society.  It gives a critique of all that has gone before based on individualism and the market. It also argues that disabled people must be at the centre of voicing their own experiences. The social model was constructed by disabled people, not medical ‘experts’ , not policy makers, not social workers, not disability charities, not service providers, nor governments, nor private companies profiting from disability[6].

 

The Social Model: misunderstandings, misuse and other detractions

Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) advocates the social model as do many others. Yet, DPAC has received criticism for insisting on working from the perspective of the social model. For example, the coalition governments’ use of the term social model in consultations regarding the proposed change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) has caused some people to reject the social model: what’s the point of supporting something that is being used to limit our rights-but the coalition government don’t understand, care or really know what the social model is. This was evident to anyone that read through the questions in the first PIP consultation.

The social model has been rejected by some academics as being out dated or not quite fashionable enough: they claim it is better to write of discourse, and embrace the ‘subject’ (individual). From the ‘ivory towers’ it may be, but how can this version ever realistically contribute directly to social policy or to peoples’ lives? The social model is rejected because it is considered masculine, it talks about this thing called society, and it talks about ‘social oppression’-perceived as an outdated Marxist term. The social model is rejected because it talks about impairment, people don’t like to think of themselves as impaired, and anyway, some say: isn’t the social model all about physical impairments? What about mental health? What about learning difficulties? Disabled feminists also criticised the social model for what they suggested was the social model’s exclusion of the body, but it is in the body politic that this model has its greatest power. At times criticisms are academic (in both senses), overall it’s extremely damaging, as the criticisms are often based on misconceptions of the social model and miss what the perspective offers for changing disabled peoples’ lives (see Barnes[7]).

The Coalition and New Labour before them had some very fertile ground to make their attacks on a set of people who were divided on their own histories, who appeared to be against their own founding activists and their own collective political identity. At the same time, as noted, neither new Labour nor the Coalition understood, cared or really knew what the social model really meant. They did know that the social model was used as successful tool to establish rights for disabled people.

This is why recent governments and government departments have used the term without any notion of the motivation, history, or content nor any care for the outcomes. Governments claim they speak with some disabled peoples’ organisations, some disabled activists, but mainly governments’ speak with the multi million pound disability charities. The big disability charities also use the term social model to give the illusion that they understand disabled people and can speak on behalf of disabled people. They never could and they still can’t. It is for disabled people to speak for themselves individually, through their own user-led organisations and through their own grass root groups.

What the Social Model Perspective did for Disabled People

The social model perspective was used very successfully by campaigners, protesters, advocates, activists and Centres for Independent Living (CILs) to move disabled people in the UK to a position that was the envy of many European countries in terms of UK support for disabled people.

Was it this perspective and its promotion that brought us:

● The Independent Living Fund (ILF) –now closed to all new applicants since 2010 by the Coalition, while existing applicants are left wondering what will happen to their support

● Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to pay for the extra costs of being disabled -now being replaced by Personal Independence Payment and rounds of reassessment by the Coalition government

● Incapacity Benefit -now changed to Employment Support Allowance and rounds of reassessment by Atos put in place by New Labour and made more stringent by the Coalition government

● Access to Work to help with extra costs of working and to, in theory, provide extra support to those that needed it –recently we have seen cut-backs on Access to Work with the tightening of criteria and more costs transferred to the employer rather than the government under the Coalition.

● Direct Payments to pay for personal assistants to aid independent living through financial support from local authorities (L.A.s) -now cut back as L.A.s restrict access through more punitive eligibility criteria because of central government cuts of up to 40% to L.A. budgets

●The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) –now we have a diluted replacement including all discriminated groups called the Equality Act (2010) put in place by New Labour and further diluted by the Coalition government.

These things originally opened up independent living for disabled people; social model arguments affected social policy, housing, information, education, transport, design, peer support, advocacy and attitudes towards disabled people. Few would claim that the social model was a panacea for all the problems that disabled people faced, disabled people were still fighting for better rights, improvements on what we had, and better access before the current onslaught from the Coalition. However, to say that the social model and the social model perspective did nothing to change the lives of disabled people is an insult to the generations of disabled activists before us that fought for change. All those that pushed those extra rights forward were social model advocates who wanted more independence for themselves and for disabled people, they wanted to educate on a better understanding of the social and economic oppression that disabled people faced. Yet, New Labour, the Conservatives and a host of other actors were working on removing those gains and more from disabled people and disabled children from as early as 1992.

Those disabled people that now have a public platform and criticise or dismiss the social model are disparaging the very thing that gave them that platform in the first instance. We can identify a clear pattern for the advocates and history of the social model: disabled people, some of whom were institutionalised, disabled academics, disabled activists and disabled peoples’ organisations run and controlled by disabled people.  We can also identify a clear pattern for the bio-psychosocial model rhetoric and its advocates.

Part two

The Bio-psychosocial Model Basics: why it’s nothing to do with the social model

There are a few references explaining where the original version of the bio-psychosocial model came from. Some cite George Engel[8] others claim that it is an outcome of the International Classification of Functioning and Disability (ICF) [9] Gill Thorton[10] describes the model from a medical approach, while clearly identifying the vulgarisation of its later use as a tool in getting disabled people back to work

Briefly put, it is a theory that seeks to broaden the perspective on illness, by taking into account not only the biological, but also psychological and social factors which may have an influence on sickness, and consequently on the course that healing takes. The acknowledged value of this approach, when used for the benefit of the patient, is that it allows for the identification of non-biological influences which may interfere with an individual’s capacity to heal.

However, it seems that Parsons’ ‘sick role’ and of the disabled person as deviant comes closest to the rhetoric of the Coalition government. So rather than identify who or what the original source of the bio-psychosocial model might be, we need to look at its promotion and how it has been used to justify the rhetoric that ‘work makes you well’ and that ‘work is good for you’. A DWP Press release from October 2011[11] shows the ways in which Freud (Minister for welfare reform) justifies the new era of the bio-psychosocial. He is speaking from the perversely titled ‘Health and Well- Being’ conference.

Key speakers at the conference included Dr Catherine Hannaway trained in the U.S. in ‘improvement methodologies’ by the Institute for Healthcare Improvement whose former President and Chief Executive Officer was Donald M. Berwick administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services insurance. Dr Bill Gunnyeon CBE, Director for Health, Work and Wellbeing and Chief Medical Advisor DWP:a regular ‘expert’ in House of Commons groups, and like Freud an apologist for Atos testing and the change from DLA to PIP. Also Samantha Wortley, Health and Safety Advisor at the University of Derby: a university running accredited courses for Atos health practitioners, and Disability Charity RNIB’s Philip Connolly, Employment Campaigns Officer to name just a few.

Freud’s rendition was surely a case of ‘preaching to the converted’ as it was delivered to those connected to insurance, disability accreditation, disability charities (who are still using the language of rehabilitation) and various apologists for the current regime. He also uses academics Waddle and Burton who, like many others supporting this rhetorical model are connected with the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research directed by Mansel Aylward, (former Chief Medical Officer at the DWP) at the University of Cardiff: a department bankrolled by Unum. Freud happily declares:

Not so long ago employers were frightened of ill health. Good employers were concerned that being in work would cause some harm. Responsible employers acted to protect people, keeping them off work until they were fully recovered. But perversely they may have been doing more harm than good. We now understand that work is not necessarily bad for you.

People with physical or mental health conditions do not need to be protected from work and sometimes maintaining some form of working life can aid recovery. This understanding was first put forward by Aaron Antonovsky. It was expanded upon by Waddell and Burton. And helpfully formed an evidence base upon which I developed my welfare reform report.

Work provides more than just an income. Employment can also give people a sense of purpose, some structure to their lives. It can also be an important part of people’s social lives.

Quite simply good work is good for you.

Quite simply ‘good work’ is in short supply under the Coalition. Their promotion of the deeply unpopular workfair and the limited supply of temporary (including contract work), part-time, precarious jobs, and job insecurity for those in work have all been found to have adverse affects on mental and physical health. In addition, poor quality work can affect mental health in the same way as no work. The growing gap in inequality between the richest and the poorest affects the nation’s health and remains intergenerational.

The Construction and Deconstruction of a model for Private Profit

Aaron Antonovsky, one of the academics mentioned, put forward the idea of the concept of sense of coherence (SOC) in 1979[12]. It is not related to the bio-psychosocial model but ironically identifies one of the reasons why the current coalition regime imposed on disabled people will make them more susceptible to stress, anxiety and individual deterioration.

Collingwood claims[13]: The SOC is defined as: “The extent to which one has a pervasive enduring though a dynamic feeling of confidence that one’s environment is predictable and that things will work out as well as can reasonably be expected.” It has three components – comprehensibility, manageability, and meaningfulness. Comprehensibility is the extent to which events are perceived as making logical sense, that they are ordered, consistent, and structured. Manageability is the extent to which a person feels they can cope. Meaningfulness is how much one feels that life makes sense, and challenges are worthy of commitment. All these things are based on financial security, upbringing, social networks and natural ‘coping’ styles. Unremarkably, those in higher social classes who are more financially secure are deemed to have higher SOC levels, yet it also likely that they have better health outcomes too, as they are more likely to come from financially secure backgrounds.

As Antonovsky died in 1994 he will be unable to sue Freud for what seems to be a complete misinterpretation of SOC. Later we’ll compare the Antonovsky theory to the Waddell and Burton (Unum) scenario which exhibits a ‘blame the individual’ approach developing individualistic themes on illness and disability in which the social is completely erased.

Of course, the Health and Well- Being conference is just one in a long line of such conferences. In 2001 a conference with the charming title of ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’ was held at Woodstock near Oxford. It covered old ground for the insurance industries. Amongst the participants were Malcolm Wicks, then Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Work, and Mansel Aylward: Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and a number of academics like Waddell and Burton who would come to add academic credibility to Unum’s and government protestations on disability and illness.

What linked many of them together, including Aylward, was their association with the giant US insurance company UnumProvident (later Unum), represented at the conference by John Lo Cascio. The goal of the conference was the transformation of the welfare system[14] in particular the reduction of payments to disabled people which was perceived to be a key problem for successive governments. Unum were perfect for such a project as they had a very useful track record of reorganising exactly what health problems were in order to avoid insurance payouts. John Lo Casio was no stranger to such events or to working with Westminster governments. As second Vice chair of Unum he had been brought in by Conservative Peter Lilley (Secretary of State for Social Security 1992-1997) to ‘manage claims’ of incapacity benefit. Both Lo Casio and Alyward joined the government medical advisory group to devise the All Work Test, a forerunner of the Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) and a forerunner to the more recent Work Capability Assessment (WCA) used by Atos. The All Work Test awarded points for different descriptors and ignored GP evidence-Instead a set of adjudication officers who were trained in a theory set out by Mr Lo Cascio were employed to aid the management of claims – sounds familiar doesn’t it? Unum Provident was at the centre of UK welfare reform as early as 1992 under the Thatcher government, but they worked with New Labour too.

Unum Provident continued to build its sphere of power and influence, in 2001 launching: New Beginnings, a public private partnership between charities, including Disability Charities, NGO’s and government ministers with the express intention of furthering the company’s power in policy making. The New Beginnings advisory group included some of the academics from the Woodstock conference as well as major disability charities such as the Shaw Trust, Disability Alliance, and the Employers Forum for Disability[15] Unum went further stretching their tentacles into the university sector with the help of Mansel Alyward formally of the DWP.

Mansel Aylward, began directing the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University in 2004:a department that Unum Provident paid 1.6 million pounds for. A  department set up to provide an academic credibility and a new political slant to the bio-psychosocial model[16]  allowing Freud to claim that welfare reform for disability benefits was backed up by evidence that ‘work was good for you’. The department included Alyward, Professor Peter Halligan and Gordon Waddell. One year later Alyward and Waddell produced The Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits published by the DWP. As Rutherford[17] notes:

In their declarations of interest at the beginning of the text neither man cites their association with UnumProvident. This matters, because the monograph provides the unacknowledged intellectual framework for the 2006 Welfare Reform Bill [originally passed by New Labour]. And the methodology used by Waddell and Aylward is the same one that informs the work of UnumProvident. In a memorandum submitted to the House of Commons Select Committee on Work and Pensions, UnumProvident define their method of working: ‘Our extended experience … has shown us that the correct model to apply when helping people to return to work is a bio-psychosocial one’.

Peter Halligan, and Derek Wade of Oxford University (another Woodstock academic) explained the model in the British Medical Journal as something that needed to make a break from old understandings of the bio-psychosocial. ‘The old biomedical model of illness, which has dominated health care for the past century, cannot fully explain many forms of illness.’ What they really meant was that it was not helping reduce the number of applicants for incapacity benefit.

The old model ‘assumes a causal relation between disease and illness, (?) and fails to take into account how cultural attitudes and psychological and social factors shape illness behaviour. In other words it allows someone to report symptoms of illness, and for society to accept him or her as sick, without their having pathology’-a throwback to Parsons’ ‘sick role’ theory. They add that: ‘Personal choice plays an important part in the genesis or maintenance of illness’.

Alyward and Wadell moved this rhetoric up several gears: Arguing that adopting this new version of the model would lead to a ‘fundamental transformation in the way society deals with sickness and disabilities’ (p123). The goal and outcome of treatment is work: ‘work itself is therapeutic, aids recovery and is the best form of rehabilitation’. Work can set you free, in fact worklessness now transforms into a bizarre serious risk to life. It is announced as:

one of the greatest known risks to public health: the risk is equivalent to smoking 10 packets of cigarettes per day’ (p17).

Halligan and Wade also tap into theories of Talcot Parsons to argue: ‘Our model suggests that illness is a dysfunction of the person in his (or her) physical and social environment’. Like Parsons, they suggest that the ‘sick role’ is no more than an individual deviance: a choice. The solution is to change people’s behaviour by transforming the language and culture of welfare, and by using incentives as a ‘motivational tool’ to prise people out of their sick role (p166). The motivation tools were later renamed sanctions. That is sanctions to those people refusing to work for their benefits on programs such as ‘workfare[18]’, sanctions through which their benefits can be removed from weeks up to three years leaving them without income if they dare indulge in any ‘wrong thinking’.

 Influence and Profit: Unum, ATOS and complicit Disability CharitiesIn July 2007 The Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) was redesigned by two technical working groups, one for ‘physical impairment and another for mental health issues. Representatives from Unum and Atos were present in both groups[19]. The redesign would be one step closer to the hated and much maligned Work Capability Assessment to be delivered by AtosTechnical working groups on the WCA also hosted the views and input of some of the big Disability Charities including: MENCAP, MIND, the National Autistic Society, Parkinson ’s Disease Society, RNIB, RNID and the Disability Benefits Consortium including some of those already mentioned, as well as Leonard Cheshire Disability, Sense, RADAR, SCOPE, Sue Rider and the Papworth Trust[20].No doubt this was good preparation for the Disability Works UK launch in 2011 another charity consortium exercising their muscle as ‘experts in disability employment’ involving SCOPE, MENCAP, MIND, Leonard Cheshire, and Action for Blind People (a part of RNIB) with a healthy turnover value of 654.4 million and a cumulative surplus of 15.6 million[21] All corporate disability charities were more than prepared to take maximum advantage of workfare type schemes recently announced as having unlimited time scales for disabled people[22].We should note that so far we do not see any user-led disabled peoples groups involved in any positions of power or profit in this wholesale transformation of welfare or in partnership with the government. The charities were speaking for us because there were profits to be made from lucrative government contracts designed to get disabled people back to work- they are in the disability business too after all. They continue to ‘help’ by advising on mental health issues and producing publicity against the WCA that they were involved in and publicity against Atos, who they sat at the table with-I guess that’s part of the social model bit they adopted, plus of course their partnership with user-led groups in the Hardest Hit protests which protested against the WCA and welfare reform-oh the irony or is it duplicity?Atos were also on board the welfare transformation gravy train before the WCA.  Atos bought out SchlumbergerSema in 2003 for 1.3 billion Euros. Through this, they gained access to key SchlumbergerSema public sector contracts in the UK, including one with the Metropolitan Police, a deal with the Department for Work and Pensions, and the Government Gateway project[23]. This was a significant move as DWP contracts included the Personal Capability Assessment and the buyout gave Atos (renamed as Atos Origin in 2004) access to the Logical Integrated Medical Assessment (LIMA) and 100 million per year from the DWP for delivering it with the proviso that they speed up claim and processing times. Another Disability Charity: Shaw Trust announced their pleasure at future work in partnership with Atos in 2010. Shaw Trust would also profit through the misery of disabled people by delivering the euphemistically titled ‘work programs’ for disabled people. Sally Burton, CEO[24] at Shaw Trust gushed:

“Shaw Trust is delighted the consortium has qualified to bid for the opportunity to supply seven Lots of the Government’s Work Programme. As the UK’s largest   third sector provider of employment services, our partnership with Atos Origin and Pinnacle People can ensure the charity sector remains at the heart of welfare-to-work.” [My emphasis]

But lets move from income driven Disability Charities to failed bankers (apparently they do exist). In 2006 New Labour chose David Freud, a senior banker at UBS AG to conduct a review of New Labour’s welfare to work policies. Freud later defected to the Conservatives on a promise of a peerage. Invest in ME[25] expose Freud’s mistakes in banking and other areas explaining his own incapacities in some detail:

The “To Banker from Bankies” 2009 report (which was supported and funded by Oxfam) states, in 2007 Freud was appointed as the key Government advisor on welfare reform by Labour’s John Hutton and was commissioned to produce a report “Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity” on the “Welfare to Work” programme.  This was despite the fact that, in his own words, Freud “didn’t know anything about welfare at all” (Daily Telegraph, 4th February 2008). Despite the great complexity of the welfare system, Freud researched and wrote his welfare “shake-up” plan in just three weeks (Daily Telegraph, 1st May 2006). It recommended that the existing role of private firms (such as UNUM and Atos) in the Government’s “Welfare to Work” programme be dramatically increased; he acknowledged that there was no evidence to suggest that private contractors were any better than the Department for Work and Pensions, but he still concluded that it would be “economically rational” to pay them tens of thousands of pounds for every person they removed from benefits.

In his report Freud constantly misquotes studies and uses over 170 references to ‘models’ citing the zsars of the Unum financed Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University consistently. While Freud openly acknowledges a useful partnership between of two of the most hated private companies and their involvement in welfare to work issues, the company’s themselves have been much more unwilling to acknowledge any links between them.

Links between Unum and Atos

In the 2004 Atos report, Atos appears to use the language of Unum and the academics of Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research unreservedly, with sex thrown in for good measure:

Psychosocial factors…are at least as important as physical factors in the onset and maintenance of these conditions.  Patients can make a number of ‘secondary gains’ with these unexplained illnesses, such as…turning a socially unacceptable disability into a more acceptable ‘organic’ disability caused by injury or disease beyond their control. They can blame their failures on the illness; elicit care, sympathy and concern from family and friends; avoid work or even sex; and there are financial rewards associated with disability.

 …if a patient believes their illness was caused by a virus and there’s nothing they can do about it, their prognosis is not likely to be positive.  But if the patient believes…that the symptoms won’t last long and they have control over them, then the prognosis will be better….We need patients to understand their situation, so they are more likely to go back to work

(Except from the powerful letter from Douglas Frazer to the House of Lords reproduced on the Invest in ME web site)

Despite being linked in the chain of the key players at the DWP, successive government ministers, a string of conferences, the Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research and involved together in the PCA and WCA. Atos and Unum continue to deny that they have any links with each other. However, they appear to swop CEOs and often share the same platforms at conferences and on government groups as noted. As DPAC’s sister campaign group Black Triangle posts show: MP Norman Lamb, (special political advisor to Nick Clegg) also seems to have trouble recollecting links with Unum. He denied any knowledge of a company named Unum going as far as to write to our very own minister Maria Miller. Lamb wrote:

xxxx xxxxxxxx informs me that a company called Unum Provident “has been convicted of major fraud and banned from trading in many States in the US” up until 2008. He states that this company has been advising the DWP on welfare reform since the early 1990s. He also states that the current Atos Chief Medical Officer, Mike O’Donnell, had been Chief Medical Officer of Unum from March 2000 to September 2010.  Is all this true?  Can you let me know exactly what the Government knows about the position relating to Unum Provident and its relationship with Atos healthcare?

The post on the Black triangle site continues:

Imagine my surprise and shock then considering the above to discover this morning while doing some research online about connections between Atos & Unum, particularly the relationship between Mike O’Donnell – Chief Medical Officer – Atos Healthcare and Peter O’Donnell – Executive Director, Chief Financial Officer – Unum Insurance, (brothers perhaps? Anybody know?), to find out that good old Norman last Tuesday was a guest speaker at a Unum hosted fringe meeting at the LibDem Conference speaking alongside Peter O’Donnell, the Chief Financial Officer of Unum Insurance –

Speaker/Artist(s) Info: Norman Lamb MP; Teresa Perchard, Director of Public Policy, Citizens Advice; Nick Pearce, Director, IPPR; Peter O’Donnell, Chief Financial Officer, Unum. Chair: Patrick Hennessy, Sunday Telegraph.

Time: Tuesday September 20, 2011 6:15pm – 7:30pm

Venue: Hyatt Regency: Fortissimo2 Bridge Street, BirminghamB1 2JZ

Type: LibDem → Panel

Host Organization(s): IPPR, Unum

It’s also worth recognising the media representation at this too. As noted Unum continue to deny any involvement with Atos and vice versa, yet Unum was providing insurance for Atos workers up until 2009. On Unum’s rather amusing ‘Ask Unum’ site, clearly set up so that they can continue denying what is a matter of record in many instances, they state: “Unum UK currently has no relationship with ATOS Ltd. Until September 2009, it provided Income Protection to ATOS Ltd for ATOS’s staff” .Should they also add that the previous chief medical officer of Unum installed at Atos in 2011 had nothing to do with Unum before that time too?

Additional information on Atos partners has been requested through a Freedom of Information request to the DWP by P. Wilkinson (2011)[26] this asks which third parties Atos works with. The response states:

Atos Healthcare have advised that to release the name of the private company they have appointed to investigate the handling of complaints would affect the basis of the contract between Atos Healthcare and that company and would have contractual and commercial implications for Atos Healthcare.

As part of their preparation for Independent Tier (IT) arrangements under the new Contract, Atos Healthcare proposed and DWP agreed that details of the private company they have appointed to investigate the handling of complaints be withheld to ensure independence. This proposal and agreement took the form of an entry in the contract as follows: “The name of this firm will not be divulged to any third party to ensure continued
independence”.  

Can we guess who it is yet? The phrase ‘all in it together’ comes to mind –maybe this is what Cameron was actually talking about. But, what of Unum’s own useful criminal record to the Coalition?

Disability Denial: an alliance between Unum and the State

When the links between the profiteers in the misery of disabled people and the ideologies of denial are exposed what we are left with? First this is not about getting people into work, whatever the Tories and previous governments claim  they don’t care if you work or not. Media rhetoric[27] on scroungers, workshy and other protestations of undeserving poor were part of the strategy to change public opinion helped along by misleading DWP press releases. This is about denying benefits, denying illness and denying incapacity. It is not about even about ‘thinking yourself well’ or tortured nonsensical models shored up by dubious academics: It’s about something Unum have a successful history of: it’s about denying pay outs and capitalising on fear and risk.

The denial of pay outs may be through Unum’s insurance policies or it may be through denying pay outs after an individual has paid a life-time of national insurance contributions to the state-but is put on time limited Employment and Support Allowance- the outcome will be same. Who better to work with ex-banker Freud and MP’s in denying people their rightful entitlements than a company which has been publically named as: “an outlaw company- It is a company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion[28]” by California Insurance Commissioner John Garamendi in 2005, where Unum were charged with more than 25 violations of state law and fined $8 million. Among the charges were:

 ….that the company knowingly applied the wrong legal definition of disability in denying claims or ruling claimants were able to go back to work, targeted high-cost claims for denials to save the firm money, misused claimants’ medical records and even the opinions of in-house medical personnel to deny benefits and wrongly sought to file cases under a federal benefits law that severely limits claimants’ ability to successfully sue their insurers.

Reads like the work theory of Atos doesn’t it? These charges followed a financial settlement in the previous year in which 48 other U.S states raised critical issues on Unum’s working methods.

Rutherford argues:

in the 1980s Unum, and insurance companies Provident and Paul Revere were in trouble in the U. S. They had increased profits by sharing similar policies on disability and sickness insurance and selling to professionals. A combination of falling interest rates and the growth of diagnosed illnesses which were not subject to the insurance sector’s tests appeared to be increasing, affecting the professionals who had taken out policies with the companies, and in turn affecting company profits. These illnesses included: Myalgic Encephalomyelitis (ME) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS), Fibromyalgia, Chronic Pain, Multiple Sclerosis, Lyme disease.

An aggressive ‘Chronic Fatigue Syndrome plan followed, with claims being managed in a way that continued to maximise profits. The insurance industry called on the academics, Professor Simon Wessely of King’s College and Professor Michael Sharpe of Edinburgh University (both participants in the Woodstock conference) in an attempt to reclassify those conditions that were costing money, and lobby the medical profession on such conditions so they fell outside the remit of ‘pay outs’. It meant that specific illnesses were targeted in order to discredit the legitimacy of claims.

This ‘strategy’ was to prove useful in dealing with the UK’s welfare reform and in overriding the basis of medical opinion on a whole set of conditions. As the state joined in the denial with its set of private companies and supporting academics Unum achieved more market returns while disabled people began to see their own welfare support rapidly diminishing.

Capitalising on Fear: how the denial of state support improves Unum’s profit margin

Unum couldn’t lose, as early as 1997 with the roll out of the All work Test, in which Lo Casio had had played a major part, Unum launched an expensive advertising campaign. One ad ran:

April 13, unlucky for some. Because tomorrow the new rules on state incapacity benefit announced in the 1993 autumn budget come into effect. Which means that if you fall ill and have to rely on state incapacity benefit, you could be in serious trouble[29].

Lo Cascio replied in the negative when Private Eye asked if he was concerned about the conflict of interest involved in his company’s advertising campaign, which sought to gain from benefit cuts that he had helped to initiate. However Unum Chairman Ward E. Graffam did acknowledge the ‘exciting developments’ in Britain. Unum’s influence in government was helping to boost the private insurance market:

The impending changes to the State ill-health benefits system will create unique sales opportunities across the entire disability market and we will be launching a concerted effort to harness the potential in these.’[30]

In 2012 the worst aspects of welfare reform were pushed through by multi-millionaire ex-banker Freud: including over a million disabled people expected to be completely removed from Incapacity benefits and unable to qualify for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) through more stringent testing by Atos, 12 month time limits on ESA to include those with terminal illness, and an additional half a million set to lose Disability Living Allowance and be ineligible for Personal Independence Payments amongst the regime. The fraud of the government rhetoric claiming to be supporting ‘those in most need’ was almost complete with the closure to new applicants for the Independent Living Fund (ILF) in 2010 and ILF’s expected closure in 2015. To celebrate Unum happily launched another set of advertising campaigns in 2012 advising people that the state wouldn’t support them and that they should take out insurance against sickness and disability.

A Tale of two Models: Disabled People vs Unum, Atos, Governments and Disability Charities

The social model and the bio-psychosocial model have each had powerful affects on disabled peoples’ lives. However they are two completely different animals and we must never succumb to the government’s attempts to conflate them. It’s quite clear which model gives most to disabled people and which is being used to take away disabled peoples’ rights and their right to dignity . It is quite clear why we should continue to rage against the current imposition of the market regime of misery. It is quite clear why we should continue to support and use the social model of disability: a model with its rooted in the experiences of those incarcerated in a Leonard Cheshire Disability Charity institution: One of the disability charities that continue to profit from disabled peoples’ misery by sitting at the table with governments, Atos and Unum ‘helping’ the progress of the WCA and gaining from lucrative government contracts for work programs- with their and other charity support disabled people don’t need enemies.

The increases in the recorded suicides of disabled people brought about by the fear and misery imposed on disabled people through the current neo-liberal regime is likely to grow. Yet, the worsening situation of the many being denied support to which they are entitled to through national insurance contributions, through the most basic notion of human rights, the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons, and the European Convention on Human Rights will not affect the income or profits of the private companies or the disability charities involved .

This is not about getting people into work- there are no jobs, much less jobs for disabled people. It is not about even about ‘thinking yourself well’ or tortured nonsensical models shored up by dubious academics in the pay of Unum. This is about denying benefits, denying illness and denying disability: It’s about something Unum have a successful history of:  denying pay outs for disabled people while capitalising on fear and risk. It’s about an ideological regime of misery and austerity in the twelfth richest country in the world.

It amounts to the biggest government benefit fraud in social welfare and human rights in contemporary history.

twitter: @redjolly1

Acknowledgements

With thanks to Ann Whitehurst for sending me Jonathan Rutherford’s excellent piece in Soundings (on which some of this is based) and other pieces explaining how poverty and disability were being remade as an individual attributes rather than a societal failings by the right wing. Thanks to Bob Williams Findlay for his helpful comments. Thanks also to Julia Cameron for her comments, sending numerous links and information and urging that this (or something like this) should be written, and to all those activists past and present who will continue to fight for the rights of disabled people using the social model and who usually also say Rights not Charity! You know who you are…..

For online texts on the social model and disability issues see: http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/



[3] Oliver, Mike The Politics of Disablement

 

http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/archframe.htm

[4] DISABLED PEOPLE IN BRITAIN AND DISCRIMINATION A

Case for Anti-Discrimination Legislation http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/archframe.htm

 

[5] http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/Abberley/chapter10.pdf

[6] http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/Oliver/in%20soc%20dis.pdf

[7] The Social Model of Disability: Myths and Misconceptions http://www.leeds.ac.uk/disability-studies/archiveuk/archframe.htm

 

Jan 072012
 

The cost to the state of scrapping the UK Independent Living Fund (ILF) will be over 154 million pounds per year[i] in institutional costs based on current levels of 21,000 people that receive ILF. If we accept that a further 41,000 people would have been entitled to receive ILF since it closed its doors to new applicants in June 2010 the figure rises to a minimum of over 462 million.

The Independent Living Fund (ILF) allows ‘severely disabled’ people to stay in their own homes and out of residential institutions through the employment of personal assistants. The likely closure of ILF in 2015 for existing applicants will cause more misery to disabled people and cost the state billions with many disabled people being forced into residential institutions. The cost to the state of scrapping ILF is likely to top over 462 million pounds per year in institutional costs. These figures do not include the loss to the exchequer of tax revenues disabled people generate by employing personal assistants, nor extra health service costs that will be incurred by the closure of ILF.

While the Dilnot report suggested that individuals would pay a percentage of their own institutional costs in the future, the majority of disabled people will simply be unable to do that. Therefore the cost goes to the state or more specifically the tax payer. The stated purpose of the closure of ILF is claimed to be cost savings, yet figures based on potential predictions show the opposite will be true.

The government’s own social care health committee say: ‘Inevitably the cost of care is not static, 2011 figures had increased by 5.1% and 3.3% respectively from 2010. Many care homes can cost more than £50,000 per year’. However, given the loss of ILF and restrictions on many local authority eligibility criteria to ‘critical’ to be eligible for social services – more and more disabled people will find their living, economic and social conditions deteriorating with additional adverse effects on their health.

A reliable 2010 residential cost estimate is given in the Scottish governments’ quoted estimate of £72,000 per year based on ‘Service User A’ who is ‘a 59 year old male who has multiple sclerosis’.  The cut backs on ILF, Disability Living Allowance , incapacity benefit changeovers and cuts in local authority funds of up to 30% make it more likely that this particular ‘service user’ and others like him will be heading for the more expensive option of the residential home.

Service user A is 59 and would be in residential ‘care’ for a number of years, based on the average life-span arrived at by the governments’ own Office of National Statistics. The cost to the state would amount to over 1 million over the lifetime of ‘service user A’ at 2010 prices.

The government appear intent on contravening article 19 of the UN Convention on the Rights of Disabled Persons to live independently in the community with the right to employ personal assistants, as well as the European Convention on Human Rights and the diluted Equality Act 2010. The stated purpose of the closure of ILF is claimed to be cost savings, yet the figures show the opposite is true.

£37,888 per annum per person is the difference between receiving current average payout of ILF at 2011 and the cost of residential care at 2010 cost levels, excluding future inflation and excluding revenue from tax receipts of personal assistants employed by disabled people using ILF.

154 million two hundred thousand per year costs are based on the current number of 21,000 users of ILF@ £74,000 per year in institutional costs per person.  ILF has been closed to new applicants since June 2010. The overall figure of those in the qualifying bracket for ILF is likely to be far higher than the figure of 21,000 people stated by the coalition.

The Closure of the Independent Living Fund has been eclipsed by arguments on the change from Disability Living Allowance to Personal Independence Payments, Atos and the Work Capability Assessment and Welfare reform as the priorities. That’s a lot for UK disability activists to fight, but it’s time to bring back the closure of ILF and its impacts.

Sign Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC’s) letter on ILF here

Originally posted on http://www.digitalvoice.eu/

Debbie Jolly is on twitter: @redjolly1



[i] Figure based on a cost of 74,000 per year for institutional costs

 

 

 

 

 

Dec 142011
 

In March 2011 I wrote about the ways media portrayed disabled people at a time of punitive cuts to disabled peoples’ social and financial supports.

….a range of false accusations against disabled people and those with long term health conditions are visible in the media. Rather than offering support to disabled people, certain sections of the media prefer to label disabled people as unsustainable, unproductive or immoral members of their communities. The major accusation, however, is that disabled people are not disabled at all, but profiting from fraudulent benefit claims

Eight months on there is a clear escalation of the negative portrayal of disabled people in the UK media. These attacks are no longer confined to screaming newspaper headlines in the Daily Mail and Daily Express declaring that the majority of people on disability benefits are frauds, but a whole host of television programs setting out the Saints and Sinners, even programs with usually good credentials such as Panorama have jumped on to the band wagon of who’s responsible for ‘Broken Britain’. Since March 2011 negative and unbalanced reporting has become worse.

Social and Economic facts versus ideological messages

At the same time unemployment has increased to the highest rates ever recorded for youth and women, and the highest since 1992. On average vacancies have decreased from an average of 2/1 (2005) vacancy rate to a 6/1 (2011) with six people chasing one job according to the Office of National Statistics (ONS). Figures on averages hide local variations which are often much higher.

Yet, still unemployment or any need for state support is consistently identified as a personal failing regardless of personal circumstances or societal limitations: it’s this ideological message, rather than economic and statistical facts that gathers pace and shouts out loud and clear from some sectors of the media, with disabled people most often identified as the group needing to leave welfare and get jobs because they are ‘faking it’.

How the Newspapers are reporting Disability

A recent report commissioned by the organisation Inclusion London and carried out by the Strathclyde Disability Research Group and Glasgow Media Studies group at the University of Glasgow: Bad News for Disabled People: How the Newspapers are reporting Disability, found significant changes in media reporting of disabled people which show a clearly defined increase in stories and views identifying disabled people as ‘undeserving’.

The report identified changes in reporting through comparative content analysis of tabloid newspapers in 2005/6 and 2010/11and through focus groups. The researchers found that incidents of negative language regarding disabled people in print media had more than doubled over the time period, while what they termed ‘sympathetic’ stories had more or less disappeared in the tabloid press. Terms such as ‘burden’, ‘scrounger’, and ‘cheat’ were used repeatedly in 2011with a rapidly decreasing use of articles on disability discrimination. In addition stories outlining the political and economic context were rare. When the focus groups were asked to describe a typical disability story in the newspapers: disability benefit fraud was the top theme.

 The media examined were the Mirror, the Sun, the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, and for balance the Guardian. The researchers also carried out a number of focus groups asking what each group thought the level of disability benefit fraud was, there were variations from rates of 50% to 70% of perceived disability fraud from focus groups.

The reality in terms of incapacity benefit it is just 0.03% according to the ONS the report states. The Department of Work and Pensions own figures on Disability Living Allowance are 0.05% both stats also include administrative errors within their figures. The media strategy appears to be working when focus groups state perceived incidents of fraud of up to 70% which is more in line with Daily Mail and Daily Express headlines, than any statistical realities.

The report’s timely commission by Inclusion London, a London wide Deaf and Disabled Peoples’ organisation provides more evidence for further campaigns and for those who doubted that the print media in particular were objective. In addition, there have been several examples of stories usefully backed by a quote or two from Iain Duncan Smith MP welfare and pensions’ secretary. The most stunning in the Sun newspaper in 2011 when he happily implied that disabled people were responsible for the UK deficit, the most recent quoting him as ‘enraged’ and ‘shocked’ based a story that carried false figures regarding mobility cars. He wasn’t shocked by the inaccuracies but by the figures which weren’t checked before publication, but false figures are par for the course, as are false accusations.

The Cuts, Media and ‘real life’ Implications

Sheffield Hallam University have also produced a report outlining the impact of the cuts in incapacity benefit, claiming that almost half of those now receiving incapacity benefits will lose them, not because of fraud, but because of a tightening of the qualifying criteria for the replacement of lower income benefit Employment Support Allowance. The report by the Centre for Regional Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, estimates that the reforms will cut the number of disabled people on out-of-work disability benefits by nearly one million in just three years. Add to this other reforms set to take away any support from disabled people and those already carried out removing over 9 billion pounds worth of support and we see a very different story from one of fraud. We see a story of ‘cuts’ to a group that the UK public had consistently agreed to be deserving of support in national surveys such as the British Attitudes Survey.

Professor Fothergill author of the report on Incapacity Benefit changes said

The large numbers that will pushed off incapacity benefits over the next two to three years are entirely the result of changes in the benefit rules” and added that this ..’would impoverish vast numbers of households and cause untold distress to countless more. The incapacity numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way’

He is also clear that this is not about fraud, but about ‘changes in the benefit rules’ see Jolly . He adds: “Incapacity claimants often face multiple obstacles to working again and their concentration in the weakest local economies and most disadvantaged communities means they usually have little chance of finding work.”

Yet, it is the benefit fraud stories that abound despite the 0.03% figure; people believe the figure is much higher. A rise in disability hate crime has been linked to the media strategy on the demonising of disabled people. One example was reported on 4th December, one day after the International Day of People with Disabilities. It tells of Peter Greener’s constant barrage of abuse from his neighbour.

Sometimes, it was eggs thrown at his house, stones thrown at his windows or paint thrown at his fence; more often, it was words hurled in his face: spastic, cripple, scum, scrounger. These assaults went on for months, leaving the former Nissan car-sprayer in floods of tears, feeling suicidal and on antidepressants. He was scared to leave his home in Hebburn in South Tyneside and blamed himself for the upset it caused his wife and two children. “It made our lives hell,” he said.

Like many people with conditions such as multiple sclerosis, Greener’s regressive condition fluctuates. One day, it affects his memory, the next his speech. Sometimes, he uses a wheelchair; at other times, he can haul himself around on crutches. But this only led to more abuse, with angry shouts he was faking his disabilities and exaggerating his problems to get benefits

This is just one story; but the climate of fear is clearly working, there are disabled people who are frightened to leave their homes because of verbal and physical abuse, and accusations of being scroungers and frauds. There are those who refuse to claim their entitlement to support in spite of previously paying years of national insurance when they were in work, because they do not want to be labelled as benefit cheats. In total 16 million pounds worth of entitlements goes unclaimed. There are also those denied entitlement to support through the tougher regimes for claiming any benefit such as the replacement for incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment, carried out by the private company Atos who are being paid 100 million pounds per year by the government. The sums do not add up, but the strategy seems to:

A further report carried out by BT showed that a third of those questioned demonstrated increasingly negative attitudes towards disabled people. Reasons cited for this ranged from disabled people being seen as a burden on society (38%), ill feeling around the perceived extra support given to disabled people (28%), and the personal worries and sensitivities which rise to the fore during a recession (79%).

European Media Strategies

The media attacks on disabled people are not just happening in the UK. In Holland up to 90% is being cut from support for disabled people, similar media demonization is taking place in the popular press identifying perceived ‘undeserving’ cases. In Sweden cuts are being made to assistance to support disabled people with tougher qualifying criteria being put in place, they too have a focus on those who defraud the system highlighting such stories while record numbers of people loose entitlement to support.

The figures for fraud are just 0.05% in Holland. Yet, the magazine Vrij Nederland, a major quality magazine in Holland reproduces outrageous comments from the Secretary of State, responsible for the drastic 90% cuts:

The State Secretary of Health, Marlies van Zanten Veldhuijzen finds it unacceptable that some thirty percent of people with a personal budget (PGB) wrongly receive it. She said in an interview this week: “It can have you on the internet looking for the name of a disease, and then think: look, I can get 2000 Euros per month. With PGB we need to sort the wheat from the chaff.

 She states that 30% receive a budget without having the right to receive it, as if it is a fact. Yet, here is no existing evidence or research confirming or even indicating this. Before receiving a PGB, as in most countries, a strict assessment is carried out. However, here we have a government minister saying that individuals can simply choose a disease at random by searching the internet to gain these funds.

Stories used by media to usher in cuts to disability support appear to converge into strategies by particular populist media to create a media panic around the extra perceived support given to disabled people for the extra costs of disability. This is proving effective , especially when there are examples of ‘undeserving’ cases being presented to shift the traditional view of disabled people as ‘tragic victims of circumstance’ –the  claim of ‘tragic victims’ has always been rejected by many in the disabled peoples’ movement –maybe this will change as the 21st century welfare reform policies and the media strategies in the UK and Europe reinvent millions of disabled people as the tragic victims of the circumstance of recession and easy targets for savings from the state budget.

The political use of media to promote demonization of disabled people is aiding the work of governments’ intent on cutting the support and the human rights of disabled people.  There are rising cases of verbal abuse against disabled people such as that endured by Peter Greener and rising cases of suicide amongst disabled people with one couple entering a suicide pact after surviving for a year by walking 10 miles to receive food parcels which they made last all week.

The Challenges

Ann McGuire Westminster Shadow minister for work and pensions wrote recently:

Disabled people say they are fed up with being labelled as scroungers in the media – and are beginning to point the finger in the direction of the Government. Yesterday at Work and Pensions questions I asked the Minister for Disabled People to assure the House, and disabled people up and down the country, that Ministers are not behind the stories knocking disabled people that seem to be emerging with alarming regularity…

 McGuire called on the minister for disabled people to quell the insidious media attacks, a challenge that was also made directly to Miller at a recent disability conference in London: McGuire said:

The Minister for Disabled People has a responsibility as the champion of disabled people inside government to challenge some of the more outrageous and outlandish comments by some of her senior colleagues and others associated with her government…And I call on her to do so.

UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Article 8(2c) of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities states:

‘Encouraging all organs of the media to portray persons with disabilities in a manner consistent with the purpose of the present Convention’.

This would include any change in reporting over time: it seems that there has been a change in reporting which is clearly not in line with the convention’s principles of promoting, protecting and ensuring the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms nor with promoting respect for disabled peoples’ inherent dignity. In fact the opposite seems to be occurring.

UK Responses

Inclusion London, the pan Deaf and Disabled Peoples’ organisation that commissioned the Glasgow University research into the media have led a response on the Leveson Inquiry. The response: titled ‘Open Season on Disabled People?’ supported by Disabled People against Cuts and others states:

  • The Government must issue a clear and public rebuttal every time the media release inaccurate information citing Government / Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) statistics.
  • That the Government commit to full transparency in their dealings with the press including  keeping a publically available record of all communications between Government officials, Ministers, their aides and special advisors and the media.
  • That there needs to be an independent review of how the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) releases and provides commentary on its statistics to assess how fair and balanced this data is presented and communicated.
  • That the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) must carry out further research on the impact of media coverage on disabled people and the implications this has for disability hate crime, disabled people’s protection under The Equalities Act and the UN Convention on the rights of disabled people.

We call on the Leveson inquiry, Press Complaints Commission, and OFCOM to:

  • Carry out an independent investigation into the media reporting of disabled people. This investigation needs to include the impact this coverage is having on disabled people and the implications this biased and inaccurate reporting has for the culture, practices, ethics and standards of the press. It must also examine the opportunities disabled people should have for effective redress.

 Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly is on twitter: @redjolly1

___________________________________________________________________________

An edited version of this paper is published on British Politics and Policy London School of Economics,  entitled: ‘As the government moves to cut the number of disabled people on benefits, the media is increasingly portraying them as ‘undeserving fraudsters’.http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/2011/12/14/disabled-people-media-attacks/

 Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the assistance and kind support of Jamie Bolling Executive Director of the European Network for Independent Living (ENIL) and Peter Lambreghts of ENIL and the Expertise Centre Independent Living

Please see and support: www.enil.eu  and http://www-en.independentliving.be/

 



 
Oct 302011
 

First report from Louise Whittle @HarpyMarx, many thanks for letting us repost.

Mike Higgins, Linda Burnip, Debbie Jolly, John McArdle (morning speakers)

Mike Higgins, Linda Burnip, Debbie Jolly, John McArdle (morning speakers)

I attended the DPAC first conference yesterday. Here are some pictures and video to give a flavour of the day. Workshops were held to discuss the priorities for DPAC work and this will be written up put on the website. My favourite demand was, “Get rid of capitalism” as it makes people ill. Too true!

Thomas Butler

There were speakers, I just about caught the end of Mike Higgins talk (I was late to conference). John McArdle’s (Black Triangle) talk I videoed. I enjoyed Mik Scarlet’s talk about the challenges ahead, lots of humour added and especially his anecdote about a certain presenter of a certain dance show parking his Rolls Royce in a disabled only space and claiming he had every right to park there as he’s a “star”…….

John McArdle (Black Triangle)

John McArdle (Black Triangle)

Finally, John McDonnell MP was the final speaker (I videoed his talk too). Overall, the day was about, for me, hearing about the experiences of disabled people being constantly demonised and vilified by this government and previously, NL. Individuals spoke about their terrible experiences at the hands of Atos and the dreaded assessments. As one speaker correctly said, “If you have a pulse you are fit for work as far as Atos is concerned”.

Patrick Lynch (in white teeshirt) and Andy Greene (seated next to him)

Patrick Lynch (in white teeshirt) and Andy Greene (seated next to him)

There were discussion about demands and the way forward. One area is dispelling the lies and myths circulated by the ConDems and Ed Miliband aided and abetted by a media who is only too happy print to reiterate the rubbish. Example, Panorama has a programme coming up about benefit scoungers.

delegates

delegates

John McDonnell is correct when he said we need to make alliances and work together in challenging and fighting against the lies about disabled people but also uniting with others makes up stronger.

Lianna Etkind of Transport for All

Lianna Etkind of Transport for All

Finally, I would like to say thanks and solidarity to committed activist Eleanor Lisney, who I first saw at a Women Against the Cuts at an International Women’s Day event, and met her in cyberspace via Twitter when I came across DPAC. She is standing down from DPAC National Steering Committee.

Debbie Jolly, Eleanor Lisney and Linda Burnip

Debbie Jolly, Eleanor Lisney and Linda Burnip

Mik Scarlett

Mik Scarlett: speaker

John McDonell MP
Lani Parker, Svetlana Kotova with John McDonnell

Lani Parker, Svetlana Kotova with John McDonnell

Aug 152011
 

Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC) were shocked to learn of the events of 28th July in Sofia, Bulgaria in which members of the Sofia Centre for Independent Living (CIL) were abused by another group of disabled people while protesting against  reductions in the PA scheme for disabled people. Disabled people in Sofia were told by the government that it was ‘not fair’ to allow the same disabled people use the limited funds for employing personal assistants to live independently.

Provision for Personal Assistance Reduced

Unfortunately the system of Personal Assistance (P.A.) Provision in Sofia is not promoting independent living and a better quality of life. An inquiry among PA users proved that most of them ‘improved their social contacts’, ‘INCREASED THE FAMILY INCOME’ and only 3. 7% found a job. In Sofia the PA salaries are most likely to go to family members while the situation of disabled people remains unchanged. The PA scheme budget has doubled over the last 4 years whereas the number of users has grown by a factor of four.  As a result people are receiving fewer and fewer hours to allow for more users.

Disabled people get their PAs for one year and have to be assessed on yearly basis regardless of their situation. The new assessment system involves two stages: a) points based on the individual situation, which determine access to funds; and b) transfer of points into hours (by a panel of experts who will not see the applicant at all), which determine the size of individual funding.

Reductions in PA lead to Confrontation

The issue of reduced support for disabled people to live independently is, sadly, no longer news: it is something that is happening all over Europe. It is no surprise that there have been protests all over Europe by disabled people. What is a surprise is when those protesting for their rights are confronted and mistreated by another disabled peoples’ group.

In this case CIL – Sofia, an organisation highly respected throughout the European Independent Living Movement were confronted by other disabled people from the National Disability Council: an umbrella organisation of well subsidised Disabled Peoples’ Groups.

On one of the hottest days of the year supporters of CIL – Sofia were left reeling from the opposition demonstrated by the National Disability Council (NDC) members against them.

In addition, Sofia CIL were left waiting outside the government building from 9:00am to 5:00pm in intense heat while the NCD were invited inside by the local government officials to see the results of the Metropolitan Council voting.

Kapka Panayotova, the founder and CEO of CIL – Sofia, said

“Police officers who were providing the security measures for our protest were shocked… They couldn’t believe it was happening!”

NCD supported the key notion of the local politicians in Sofia: each year different disabled people should enjoy PA support; access to the scheme with the number of hours awarded dependent on the employment/schooling status of the applicant for PA not on the daily needs alone. In fact, the PA scheme in Sofia will become a tool for employment, not for better quality of life or independent living.

A couple of weeks before the action a monitoring report on the performance of the National Council on the Integration of Disabled People (NCIDP) dominated by national Groups was made public. It was conducted by a consortium of advocacy NGOs – Institute for Modern Politics (IMP), Bulgarian Helsinki Committee (BHC) and Bulgarian Centre for Non-Profit Law (BCNL), it showed that:

(1)  The NCIDP does not operate in line with the ‘good governance’ principles;

(2)  Six out of its nine functions are not performed at all; the remaining 3 are partially performed;

(3)  The NCIDP and its member groups are being subsidised in a non-transparent and unaccountable way, which takes them away from the status of ‘independent’ organisations;

(4)  Despite the consultative process between the government and NCIDP, Bulgarian policies are not inclusive and far behind European human rights standards.

NDC the umbrella of the impairment based Groups and the European Disability Forum

This is not the kind of group most would want representing their interests. It seems that they may not be representing the interests of disabled people at all, but those of the government in agreeing with cuts in return for continued subsidies.

What is even more shocking is that NDC are the spokespeople for Bulgaria at the European Disability Forum (EDF): a large organisation set up to be ‘The Representative Organisation of Persons with Disabilities in Europe’ and ‘the frontrunners for Disability Rights’. We are not sure if EDF are aware of the behaviour of their member organisation or their activities, but would like to draw it to their attention and ask them if they agree with it.

DPAC condemns all cuts to funds to help disabled people live independently according to the framework of the European Convention of Human Rights and the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

DPAC also condemns disabled peoples’ groups that abuse other disabled people fighting for independent living and disabled peoples’ rights.

We welcome comments from both NDC and the EDF on this issue. We urge all to help them and Sofia Metropolitan Council understand that independent living rights extend beyond education and employment to day to day living as recognised by article 19 in the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

Call for Action

Contact the Sofia Metropolitan Council on why the PA scheme should be used as a tool for independent living rather than exclusively supporting employment and study and on their behaviour towards Sofia CIL

http://sofiacouncil.bg/ (Bulgarian only) or debbie@dpac.uk.net

Contact EDF to register your thoughts on the actions of the Bulgarian NDC at

Face book http://www.facebook.com/EuropeanDisabilityForumEDF

Twitter @MyEDF

Email info@edf-feph.org

——-Debbie Jolly

May 202011
 

From now until Spring 2014 all those who are receiving Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Income Support paid on the grounds of illness or disability will be assessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), undergoing a stringent Work Capability Assessment (WCA) carried out by the French Company Atos who are contracted by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

First introduced in 2008, the much criticised WCA has become even more punitive since changes in the 2011 edition of the training manual for assessors. Pilots in Aberdeen and Burnley have raised more criticisms of the process adding to the raft of criticisms from the British Medical Association, GPs, Citizens Advice Bureaus (CABs), Members of Parliament and disability organisations.

Those going through the test can be put into one of three groups: ESA Support Group not required to undertake work-related activity – but will be reassessed continuously; ESA Work Related Activity Group, for those deemed fit for work with support and preparation. It will be limited to just 12 months before ESA is stopped, and also may be subject to reassessment in the 12 month period; or Fit for Work, not entitled to ESA but transferred to a lower amount on Jobseeker’s Allowance.

Read the rest at LSE blog

A number of demonstrations were held last week in response to Atos and benefit cuts, see: http://benefitclaimantsfightback.wordpress.com/, and you can view a video of the protests against Atos on the Guardian’s website.

———-Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

May 082011
 

Would you consider a person who became spontaneously unconscious once every five weeks fit for work? Would you employ them? Would you consider them fraudulent if they claimed that this condition was disabling?  In the March 2011 version of training guidelines for the Atos Work Capability Assessment two of these options are valid. The Work Capability Assessment would rate such a person as fit for work and as a result a person who is neither sick or disabled[1].

The Work Capability Assessment is carried out for those migrating from Incapacity Benefit and for new claimants to Employment Support Allowance (ESA). It was put in place by New Labour in 2008. It is administered by the French/Dutch Company Atos at a cost of 300 million. Those going through the test can be put into one of three groups.

  • ESA Support Group not required to undertake work-related activity – but will be reassessed continuously
  • ESA Work Related Activity Group, for those deemed fit for work with support and preparation. Limited to just 12 months before ESA is stopped, also may be subject to reassessment in the 12 month period.
  • Fit for Work not entitled to ESA but transferred to lower amount on Jobseeker’s Allowance

One estimate claims that up to 500,000 people have been wrongly denied Incapacity status[2]. In a 2011 February piece in the Guardian Amelia Gentlemen argues:

Since its preliminary rollout in 2008, people with terminal cancer have been found fit to work, people with mental health problems have complained their condition is not taken seriously, people with complex illnesses report that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems.[3]

Citizens Advice Scotland reported that under incapacity benefits 37% were found ‘fit for work’ under Work Capacity Assessment, the figure had soaredto 66%[4]

Between October 2010 and Spring 2014 those who receive Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and Income Support paid on the grounds of illness or disability will be assessed for Employment and Support Allowance. Pilots in Aberdeen and Burnley have raised more criticisms of the process adding to the raft of criticisms from the British Medical Association, the originator of the software that Atos uses, GPs, Citizens Advice Bureaus (CABs), Members of Parliament and disability organisations.

The Work Capability Assessment replaced the Personal Capability Assessment. Yet, as long ago as 2006 the Green Paper: A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work, stated  ‘the current Personal Capability Assessment process (is) already recognised by the OECD as being one of the toughest in the world’.

Case studies have shown the inhumanity of a system based on government targets and the pain and misery of the increasing stringency of these tests. One example from the 2010 report from the Citizens Advice Bureau’s report on ESA and testing procedures highlights the experiences that someone considered ‘fit for work’ by WCA might endure:

A Yorkshire bureau saw a woman in her forties who was working full-time and was enthusiastically looking forward to starting a new job, when she became ill. At first it was thought she had a viral illness, but she was subsequently diagnosed with lupus erythematosus and transverse myelitis. She was in a great deal of pain in her muscles and joints and had extreme fatigue. At times her balance was affected and she could not walk without someone to support her. Sometimes she lost sensation in her legs, and on her worst days she could not walk at all. Any exertion such as walking 40 or 50 metres led to days in bed. She had had a bad reaction to some of the treatment and an ECG showed her heart muscle had been damaged. Her husband had to come home from work each lunchtime to help her. Her immune system was weakened, so she had to be careful when mixing with others. She claimed ESA but was given six points in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and found capable of work. Her doctor supported her claim and she is currently appealing, but under Incapacity Benefit she would probably have been exempt and would have avoided this process

The WCA does not take into account GP assessments of an individual’s impairment or long term condition, this is ignored in favour of an, or average, 15-45 minute set of questions administered through the LiMAS software developed by Atos. LiMAS asks a set of questions for which the applicant can, but increasingly can’t, score up to 15 points which would put them in the ESA support group. As GPs who may have known applicants for all of their lives with an understanding of the medical, social and emotional impacts are ignored, a new set of individuals come into play called ‘health care professionals’. These individuals are trained by Atos for four to 16 weeks to understand targets and the all powerful LiMAS software; they are given time limits for each assessment and told that the more people they get through the better. They consist of physiotherapists, nurses and doctors usually with a general practice background or from overseas due to the notorious low pay of the multi- million pound profit Company Atos.

In 2008 The Department of Work and Pensions and Atos were severely criticised by Robert Martin the president of the appeals Tribunal Panel, a position now abolished:

Criticism was made of ATOS Healthcare medical practitioners who did not appear to pay sufficient attention to the appellant at the medical examination and who produced findings in medical reports based on observations that were inconsistent, or recorded in the medical report findings that were contradictory’[5]

In 2010 an independent review of the WCA tests by Professor Harrington concluded

There is strong evidence that the system can be impersonal and mechanistic, that the process lacks transparency and that a lack of communication between the various parties involved contributes to poor decision making and a high rate of appeals.” and that “evidence has consistently and regularly highlighted problems with each stage of the WCA process, which limit both the assessment’s fairness and effectiveness.

In a government report, Atos’s own staff said the assessments are too harsh. Prospect, the trade union who represents 135 Atos doctors, has stated that the target of seeing ten or more people a day is unrealistic and will lead to wrong assessments, especially in complex cases[6].

Despite the overwhelming evidence that WCA was not working Atos were awarded a further contract by the Department of Work and Pensions in 2010.

Figures not Identified in the Media

The figures of those considered ‘fit for work’ by Atos testing systems regularly make headlines in newspapers such as the Daily Mail, the Express, and most recently the Guardian, but little investigative journalism has been exercised in examining this apparent miracle of ‘curing of the sick and ‘the disabled’, nor looking at process, outcomes or the ways that these figures are produced.

For example, newspapers do not tell us that there has been a 56% increase in ESA appeals with figures up from 25,700 in the second quarter of 2009/2010 to 52,000 in the same quarter of 2010/2011[7]. Almost half of cases are overturned at appeal[8].Nor are we told that figures from the Department for Work and Pensions show that of those declared ‘fit for work’ by the WCA system, just 13% are in employment, 27% temporarily sick and 28% classed as permanently sick[9]. The ‘fit for work’ myth does not convert into any form of reality.

Nor is the context of the claims ever provided, a representative survey carried out by Ipsos MORI and reported in Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face to face Survey commissioned by the Department of Work Pensions found that nearly a third of those going through the ESA process were described as having ‘literacy problems’. A further six per cent ‘problems speaking English’ and 11% had ‘numeracy problems’. Twenty two percent were described as in one or more disadvantaged groups including those with mental health issues, ex-offenders, and those with perceived learning difficulties.

An overwhelming 69% of those going through the WCA process had ‘multiple health conditions’. Those in the support group and in the ‘fit for work’ group both had the same number of ‘health conditions’ at 31.

In all groups 81% of people were receiving medical treatment for their condition, with 38% waiting for treatment or additional treatment [10] These statistics do not present us with a set of fraudsters pretending to be sick or disabled, nor a set of individuals who have been languishing on incapacity benefits for years, in fact 71% of applicants to ESA were new claimants making their first ever claim[11].

Newspaper headlines have also made much of the incomplete claims and those that ‘drop out’ of the testing system. This rhetorical demonising does not examine the process of WCA claims nor take into account the medical treatment. The first form that individuals will receive from Atos is an ESA50 form, of those surveyed almost half 46% said they found the form ‘difficult’ or that they were ‘unable to complete it’. An initial point for non-completion, others could be knocked off the system if Job Centre Plus decide that they have missed an appointment, or not responded to a letter without ‘good reason’. This would seem to complement the new punitive sanctions for universal credit and welfare reform first expressed in the Welfare Reform Bill.

The costs of tribunals, Atos contracts and the extra strain on the health service amount to a million pound fraud by successive governments. This does not count the human anxiety, misery or stress of the test, nor the suicides that have resulted because of it. Remarkably, Chris Grayling minister for employment (note minister for employment, not health or disability) said the government was making “almost constant improvements” to the WCA, but that he was “always willing to talk to the charities”, not disability organisations run and controlled by disabled then. He said “if we do something that does not prove to be the right thing, we will be happy to change it”[12]. The new set of training guidelines proves that changes have been made. However, these changes make the WCA more not less stringent, maybe the percentages of those declared ‘fit for work’ did not satisfy the existing regime.

New Training Guidelines for Atos ‘Health Care Professionals’ 2011

The training guidelines for the work capability assessment have made a number of changes which came into force in March 2011to be incorporated into a revised Work Capability Assessment. The text below is copied from the Department of Work and Pensions Training & Development Revised WCA Handbook ESA (LCW/LCWRA) Amendment Regulations 2011 version 2. The introduction states:

This handbook has been written to support Health Care Professionals (HCPs) trained in the principles of Disability Analysis; in their training and in performing medical assessments in relation to the Employment and Support Allowance Limited Capability for Work / Limited Capability for Work Related Activity (LCW/LCWRA) Amendment Regulations 2011. The amendment regulations of 2011 may also be referred to as “The Revised Work Capability Assessment” (Revised WCA).

Page 9 amazingly states: ‘The analysis of the data established that the WCA (ESA regulations 2008) was accurately identifying a person’s capability for work’.

However, an internal review produced the following recommendations. Text below is copied from pages 9-10 outlining the recommendations. Sections in bold are my own ‘disability analysis’.

Lower Limb Function

In this area, it was felt that the 2008 activities did not accurately reflect the level of function required for the modern workplace. As a result “walking” has been changed to “mobilising” to reflect the functionality of wheelchair users. It was also felt that considering standing and sitting abilities as separate entities was not relevant in the modern workplace and the new activity relates to the ability to remain at a workstation. In the 2008 descriptors, bending and kneeling were considered, however the ability to bend or kneel are no longer considered critical in the modern workplace, so this activity has been removed.

If you cannot stand, have difficulty sitting or cannot walk its OK because you have the ability to ‘remain at a workstation’ how you get to this ‘workstation’ is another matter. ‘fit for work’

 

Upper Limb Function

The review group felt that unilateral upper limb restriction would not significantly impact on an individual’s ability to work and therefore all descriptors now relate to bilateral restriction. As bilateral restriction is a significant issue, the manual dexterity scores have been revised to reflect this issue.

If you cannot move your arms, or hands presumably to type at your workstation ‘fit for work’ if you have no function in your legs but can mobilize 50 metres ‘fit for work’

Sensory Function

In the 2008 regulations, the activities in this area reflected impairment. Adaptation had not been taken into account in these areas. The review group felt that an individual’s ability to adapt must be taken into account and therefore the activity of vision has changed to the concept of being able to safely navigate. The activities of hearing and speech have been changed to the more functional concept of being able to receive communication and communicate with others.

If you are blind, deaf, Deaf or unable to speak you are ‘fit for work’ It’s about being able to safely navigate and receive communication and communicate with others, presumably with unavailable space age communication aids.

Continence

This made the assessment overly complex and thus the descriptors have been amended to reflect any loss of continence. The loss of dignity associated with incontinence has been reflected in the scoring of the descriptors.

Incontinence is too complex for the WCA but the loss of dignity is reflected in the new scoring ‘fit for work’

Consciousness

In this area, it was felt that infrequent loss of consciousness would not substantially impact on a person’s ability to work and therefore only those experiencing weekly or monthly episodes of loss of consciousness will be awarded scoring descriptors.

If you spontaneously lose consciousness once every five weeks ‘fit for work’

Mental Function

In understanding and focus, it was felt that the 2008 descriptors were complex and difficult to interpret. These have therefore been simplified. In the area of learning tasks, how an individual learns is no longer considered to be the crucial factor – it is their ability to learn that is considered. In awareness of hazard the review group felt the important issue in the workplace was to assess the level of risk for the person and others. The activity of personal action has been amended to reflect a person’s ability to prioritise and complete tasks.

In adapting to change, the highest descriptor reflects a total inability to cope with any change and is now a Support Group. In getting about, it was considered that the familiarity of a place was more important in functional terms rather than the frequency of ability to get to places.

In the area of social interaction, the review group felt the previous descriptors were rather negative in their wording and the new descriptors relate to ability to engage in social contact an individual’s ability to behave in an appropriate manner with others.

Mental functioning is too complex for the WCA it’s no longer about learning simple tasks, but an ability to learn. If you are familiar with a place (?) this is considered more important than your ability to get to that place or any place with which you are unfamiliar with (?) ‘fit for work’. If you are unable to deal with social contact that’s OK as long as you behave in an appropriate manner with others ‘fit for work’

The Decline of Welfare: the rise of private profit

Neither the PCA or the WCA were ever really centred on assessing peoples’ fitness for work; they were always part of a mutual linking between successive Government’s will to cut social claims on the state, insurance companies such as the discredited UnumProvident (now renamed Unum Group) in the early days, and private companies such as Atos’ willingness to meet targets while increasing profit.

The entire process is likely to cost the hallowed taxpayer more than the original benefits bill did, the cost of Atos contracts, the cost of tribunals, and the cost of addition health care caused by the misery of the WCA add to the higher long term costs. Yet, it’s all done under the guise of state efficiency and the market economy.

The WCA is about exploiting aspects of the social model to develop a badly mutated individualistic ‘can do’ attitude merged with a culture of blame for ‘can’t do’ aspects of bodies and minds in an increasingly disabling welfare reformist climate.

It is a publically sanctioned fraud that misrepresents and bastardises its claims to support people while simultaneously undermining the logic, and the economic and social realities of any reasonable employment criteria. In 2007 Rutherford argued:

Welfare reform exemplifies the transformation of the old style nation state into a new kind of ‘enabling’ market state. Instead of providing social protection, the market state offers ‘opportunities’ and ‘choice’ to ‘customers’, who in return must shoulder a greater degree of responsibility for their individual predicament… But the compact between the state and an individual whose life has been disrupted by disability or sickness is not an equal one… The history of the British welfare system has always been one of grudging, paternalistic and sometimes punitive forms of social protection. But even measured against its own limited ambitions, the future of welfare looks bleak[13].

Debbie Jolly is on twitter : @redjolly1


[1]Revised WCA Training & Development Revised WCA Handbook ESA (LCW/LCWRA) Amendment Regulations 2011 March 2011

[2] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/jan/03/incapacity-benefit-compass-survey-dwp

[3] http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2011/feb/23/government-reform-disability-benefits?intcmp=239 ‘The Medical was a Joke’ February 23rd 2011

[4] Citizens Advice Scotland. The work capability assessment. 2010.www.cas.org.uk/Resources/CAS/Migrated Resources/Documents/CR Work capability assessment.

[5] http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/latest-news/971-appeals-president-slams-dwp-and-atos

[6] http://www.edinburghagainstpoverty.org.uk/node/38

[7] Quarterly Statistics for the Tribunals Service, 2ndquarter 2010-11 Ministry of Justice and Tribunals service 13th January 2011.

[8] Three- Quarters of Sickness Benefit Claims Fit to Work says DWP Helen Mulholland, Guardian 28th April 2011 http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2011/apr/28/three-quarters-sickness-benefit-claimants-fit-work

[9] Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face to face survey, Helen Barnes, Paul Sissons and Helen Stevens DWP research report no 707 2010

http://research.dwp.gov.uk/asd/asd5/rports2009-2010/rrep707.pdf

[10] Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face to face survey, Helen Barnes, Paul Sissons and Helen Stevens DWP research report no 707 2010

[11] Employment and Support Allowance: findings from a face to face survey, Helen Barnes, Paul Sissons and Helen Stevens DWP research report no 707 2010

[12] Work test reform plans could cause ‘confusion’ and ‘misery’http://www.bhfederation.org.uk/component/k2/item/1057-work-test-reform-plans-could-cause-%E2%80%98confusion%E2%80%99-and-%E2%80%98misery%E2%80%99.html January 2011

[13] New Labour, the market state, and the end of welfare, Jonathan Rutherford: Soundings 2007 http://www.lwbooks.co.uk/journals/articles/rutherford07.html

—Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

Apr 272011
 
Crippen’s ‘eat cake’ cartoon

Crippen’s ‘eat cake’ cartoon

On the auspicious day of the royal wedding many disabled people will be eating a few crumbs of cake if they can find them. As many of us cannot afford television sets we may try and view this great occasion by trying to look through someone else’s window. This is quite dangerous as we can be arrested but as many of us lost our homes it’s our only hope–and it’s worth it-disabled people love these national events, although we cannot help noticing that such events often seem to occur when our glorious country is in the grip of protests, riots, the destruction of what we used to call the welfare state and cuts to public spending. In fact, the ‘cuts’ to public services total 81 billion pounds with an additional 18 billion pounds taken from disabled peoples support.

Now originally, the welfare state was set up to support: the sick, the elderly, ‘the disabled’, children, families on low incomes and those who cannot find jobs because of spending cuts and job decimation (who are also having their support and resources taken away) but what does that matter when we have: a wedding!

New directions for the Welfare State

The welfare state came from another big event that was called the Second World War. Yes, our ancestors gave their lives, were injured and often disabled for their country, for justice and freedom for all. The Labour government of the day (Labour were quite good then) said “let’s have something that supports people: from the cradle to the grave’’. The ordinary people are worth it. We all paid a thing called national insurance, which we still pay but now it’s used to support our bankers. We built new roads, new schools, new hospitals, better housing and the life expectancy of ordinary people increased.  At that time the relative deficit for England was much higher than it is today. Yet where there is a will there is a way, and speaking of Will or William to give him his nearly full title let’s move onto the subject of the royal nuptials and what exactly the welfare state pays for today.

Today in the advanced 21st century, the kind of arrangement that the welfare state provided for ordinary poor people is maintained for our royal family –all of the royals can expect to be supported by the tax payer from the ‘cradle to the grave’ which is truly wonderful. The notion of helping the poorest in society has moved dramatically to the notion of helping the wealthiest, this scenario also includes the bankers and city types, those who give large donations to the Tory party (of whom 22 are multi-millionaires) donator’s can also expect some form of helpful support, multi-million pound contracts or other stuff connected with undermining democracy and the so-called free market-they can also find ways to avoid paying their taxes.

The queen of England – isn’t she wonderful by the way- has an estimated fortune of £349 million. The royal cleaners are generously paid £6.45 an hour which is below the recommended wage for working in London, but they are lucky to be working for our queen aren’t they so what does it matter? The queen’s fortune consists of jewels and sparkle type things, a number of properties in England and Scotland, and a very fine stamp collection, apparently.

However, someone once told me that we: the nation, actually own all these things- that can’t be right can it? If it is, it is puzzling to me why we as a nation in the grip of deficit, facing cut backs and unable to support the sick, the elderly, ‘the disabled’, children, families on low incomes, and those who cannot find jobs because of spending cuts and job decimation: surely we just need to sell a few sparkle type things and all will be fine.  I also heard that our politicians say we have actually maxed out on our combined national credit card (?)- I don’t remember this, so it must have been a good time. Anyway this is the reason that we can’t pay for that thing the welfare state for poor people anymore.

This makes it all the more puzzling that it is us not the royal queen, who is in the international richest person’s list but whose sparkle type things and wealth we all own are paying for the royal wedding through our taxes despite having maxed out our credit card. So what will this glorious occasion –the wedding-cost?

Cost of Royal Wedding

An estimated breakdown from money saving blog breaks down the cost as follows:

Security- an estimated 20 million

Venue-cost of a prestige venue is anyone’s guess  with Charles and Camilla’s wedding bash costing 5 million and being a low key affair , we can safely say that this one will cost rather more.

Reception-estimated at 10 million

Dress- an estimated 25 million

Apparently Walmart/ ASDA have produced a helpful guide for non-royals which breaks down wedding costs to just £696.77 but with Walmart/ASDA rings at £64 as opposed to an estimated 32 million for those royal ones-guess we just got another credit card or something as this totals 87 million! It may be that this new form of welfare is more expensive than the ‘old’ type. Maybe we should tell someone, nobody seems to have noticed.

Cake Crumbs and Caviar

Disabled people hope to be feasting on cake crumbs on this glorious day. That is those of us that can survive long term without food and housing because due to this deficit/maxing out on the national credit card no one will get any help from the ‘welfare state for poor people’ anymore for such extravagant items.

Finally, let me say it is very difficult to become a royal if you are not born royal, but one way is to marry a royal and benefit from the welfare from the cradle to the grave.

This will support Kate if she gets sick, elderly, disabled, and will support her children to have the best private education, Kate does not even need to go and look for a job in the era of rising unemployment because her job will be wandering around exotic countries representing us: the nation. So we want to say well done Kate you’re supported for life as long as one of those great private companies doesn’t reinvent the guillotine that is. But why on earth would we want a revolution?

—–Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

Debbie Jolly

Mar 092011
 

Debbie Jolly Debbie Jolly, a co-founder of DPAC argues that disabled people are subject to false accusations from the media, false economies by a government that misrepresents the true nature of disability, and a duplicitous morality from a government that claims to support those disabled people in greatest need.

The combined impact of the cuts, the media attacks, and the coalitions’ duplicitous morality on disabled people has yet to be experienced fully. At present the trends are not optimistic. We predict an increase in homelessness and poverty for a group already below the bottom of the income pile. DPAC’s action as part of the March for the Alternative will see disabled people protesting as active political citizens fighting for their human rights by virtual means organised by DPAC and Beyond clicktivism from their homes, and in person. Disabled people are experiencing the worst attack on their rights and their right to independent living in living memory.

Read the full article at British Politics and Policy at LSE

Feb 132011
 

Organised by Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC), Right to Work, Labour Representation Committee

Over 800 people came together on Saturday 12th in London to talk about the cuts and the way forward for the TUC march on the 26th March. Disabled people were there and the stage sported a big DPAC banner in the middle. The day was videoed and the DPAC workshop was also videoed. The report of the day overall will be elsewhere. Here we look at the great turnout by disabled people and celebrate the central place we had in this day.

Morning

The morning open floor brought great comments from some disabled participants, including, Richard Rieser, Adrian Whyatt and Sasha Callaghan on the effect of the cuts for disabled people, including the human rights abuses and the closure of poverty pimps ATOS offices across Scotland on the national day of protest against cuts.

DPAC Worksho
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The DPAC workshop was held in the afternoon. It was great to see so many people at this with 50 or 60 people, some attendees from as far as Scotland. Speakers on the panel were Richard Rieser, Debbie Jolly, Sue Bott and Kevin Caulfield. The workshop was chaired by Eleanor Lisney. There were many comments and questions at the workshop, these included:

We are being sent back to Victorian times: we should all be involved in local anti-cuts groups, emulate DAN protests, disabled people need to be at front of things and be united

We are incensed by the coverage in newspapers against disabled people

Need to make sure we include Deaf people and those with invisible disabilities, but not impairment based- we cannot go back to arguing about impairments- we must all fight together, must be inclusive

Mental health resistance network couldn’t all get to London today but want to support and be included: facing difficult times being given ‘talking treatment’ but they (the government) concentrate on getting us ‘well’, but they just want to get us into work

Participant remembers Richard speaking at European Social Forum; there are many more people here and comments that Sasha did a brilliant job when speaking this morning about ATOS

We need to come together and find common ground, not just disabled people but across the board. We all need to fully support the campaign and get the trade unions behind this too

There are not many disabled millionaires and certainly none at the convention. This is an attack on working class people. We need to get joint campaigns with all anti-cuts campaigns. Disabled people need to link up, need to unite: Every single local group should make contacts with disability groups in the area

We need to stop people from the Charity sector taking over: Rights not Charity

Issues were raised with the dropping off of people from buses at Wembly for the 26th March TUC London march. Right to Work have sent a statement to Brendan Barber not to drop in Wembley because of access issues and cost of getting to central London for the march. Disabled people need to email too.

John McArdle of Black triangle reminded us of the story of Paul Reekie.

It was noted that sometimes people aren’t getting messages re demos and protests, but also that the police always seem to know where we are going to be.

It was suggested that a boycott of newspapers following the government line and producing rhetoric on disabled people as scroungers are boycotted including the Scottish Mail, Daily Mail and others.

A video of the workshop will be available soon

Afternoon

The afternoon was made up of invited speakers, feedback from the workshops and debate. The highlight of the afternoon was Liz Carr’s speech which received a standing ovation from the audience.

Video of Liz Carr’s speech

A full list of actions proposed by Disabled People against Cuts and accepted by the Peoples’ Convention

The protest on 26th March needs to be fully accessible with disabled people involved in the planning. There needs to be representation of disabled people with and without visible impairments on the platform.

We propose a day of national demonstrations against ATOS.

We propose a month of action over the month of July to coincide with the second anniversary of the signing of the UN Convention.

We propose that every local anti-cuts movement has an autonomous disabled people’s sub group.

We propose support for UKDPC’s day of disabled people’s protest proposed for 11th May.(to be confirmed)

We propose that we speak to our colleagues at Unison about how the cuts are being implemented.

Debbie Jolly

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