Minister makes Concession on ESA

In Parliament yesterday –  Monday 19th July 2010

Nadhim Zahawi: In my constituency, people are rightly worried about relatives with severe mental health disability attending the work capability assessment. Can my hon. Friend tell us what safeguards will be put in place for those people?

Maria Miller: The work capability assessment was, of course, developed in consultation with medical experts and disability specialist groups. There will be an annual review to ensure that any problems with the assessment are dealt with, and there has already been a Department-led review dealing with some of the issues that my hon. Friend raises in connection with people with mental health problems.

Modifications will be made, especially by expanding the support group to cover people with severe disability issues, to ensure that they are not inappropriately put into groups of activity.

CarerWatch welcome this statement from the Minister. This is exactly what we asked for in the CarerWatch General Election ESA campaign.

It’s a small step and we hope it will lead the way for more protection for the many groups of people with severe and enduring illness. 

But it is certainly a very welcome statement from the Minister.

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One Response to “Minister makes Concession on ESA”

  1. Alan Wheatley, Green Party of England & Wales Spokesperson on Disability and Social Care Services Says:

    Where I am most sceptical on this statement from the Con-Dem’s Disability Minister, is where she says that the Work Capability Assessment used in relation to Employment & Support Allowance eligibility was worked out in association with medical experts and disability charities.

    THE MEDICAL EXPERTISE INVOLVED

    My general practitioner’s receptionist attended a Work Capability Assessment with her learning disabled son as subject. She said that she was horrified to discover that the ATOS Medical Services [sic] ‘Examining Medical Practitioner’ staff conducting the assessment were not qualified even to general practitioner level. Her son’s subsequent tribunal case was backed up by weeks of rigorous tests conducted by occupational psychologists at Islington Learning Disabilities Partnership, as opposed to a Work Capability Assessment test carried out by a non-specialist contracted to the DWP in less than 40 minutes.

    Surely, would not true ‘experts’ who devise WCA tests that are any good be more rigorous about the testing procedures involved in the WCA and the expertise of the assessors?

    DISABILITY CHARITIES

    And where the disability charities are involved and those charities are largely dependent on govt goodwill for funding, does not sucking up to govt often get in the way of looking after stakeholder well-being?

    PROTECTING THE MOST VULNERABLE

    I must also add from my personal experience as a person with a lifelong invisible disability — diagnosed in 1960 at age six-and-a-half and now in my late 50s — that I now believe it unhelpful to have the tagline ‘protecting the most vulnerable’.

    Governments under the direction of an unelected ‘International Monetary Fund’ are forever flouting their obligations to improve the life chances of disabled people, and Labour opted out of ratifying the Employment and Education sections of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. The mother of a 17-year-old Asperger Syndrome young woman reports to me that despite the daughter’s Pathological Demand Avoidance, people in authority customarily regard the daughter’s condition as ‘manageable’. Now that funding for the daughter’s desired training in animal welfare has been stopped at levels 1 and 2, more acutley anxious times face the family, with more idle time for the daughter to fret as a ‘NEET’ — a person ‘Not in Employment or Education & Training’.

    And after more than thirty years a ‘working lifetime’ dedicated to being a volunteer and jobseeker on non-disability-related out of paid work benefits, I considered suicide in 2009 before winning my tribunal for Employment & Support Allowance entitlement. No matter what I have done to contribute to society — now including being a voluntary ICT coach to vulnerable adults — propagandising govts portray disabled people who volunteer and jobsearch as ‘not trying hard enough’ or more simply ‘parasites’. At A4e Holloway on New Deal, the ‘Client Adviser’ had had no input into the content or presentation of my CV that I had laboured on for cumulative weeks with support from Information, Advice & Guidance bodies I had approached myself. Yet A4e that lacked any reference to disability equality and access requirements on the referral form I had been obliged to complete would have got something over £1,000 payment for the ‘milestone’ of my CV completion.

    I could not bear the prospect of ever returning to A4e that has a multimillionaire owner who in turn has a former Labour govt minister in her pocket to the tune of £30K pa as an ‘adviser’. A disabled person — David Blunkett — and no disability access requirements recognition on the referral form.

    Currently, the Welfare Reform Minister is Lord Freud. As an investment banker and advisor to the Blair govt, he reckoned it ‘economically rational’ to award private scheme providers £62K bonuses for private contractors to get Incapacity Benefit claimants into paid work of some sort or another. It was largely banking greed and lack of accountability that got the nation into its current mess, as well as vast structural inequalities of wealth.

    In Revd Dr Martin Luther King Jr’s famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech, King reflected on the lack of social advancement for black Americans one hundred years after the Gettysburg Address. He said that what the Gettysburg Address had outlined had amounted to a ‘cheque’ or ‘promisory note’ that had come back time and again “marked insufficient funds.” King also warned against the “tranquilising drug of gradualism.”

    I believe it would be far more appropriate to focus on getting govt to acknowledge just how badly the Work Capability Assessment has failed people. Alexander Pope wrote, “A man [sic] should never be ashamed to own that he has been in the wrong, which is but saying, in other words, that he is wiser today than he was yesterday.”

    Govt that treats as slavery-fodder disabled people who want to work with appropriate support is creating lasting damage not only to the national economy, but also to people’s life prospects.

    Alan Wheatley, Green Party of England & Wales Spokesperson on Disability and Social Care Services

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