03 October 2012

When a half baked idea goes badly wrong

Today's Guardian. caries this story

Ruth Anim needs constant one-to-one care, has no concept of danger and attends life skills classes to learn practical things like how to make a sandwich or a cup of tea. So it came as a considerable surprise to her mother, Cecilia, that an official assessment of her daughter's abilities classified her as someone who would be capable of finding work in the near future.

The reporty ATOS  contained a number of factual errors, perhaps most remarkably the assessor's description of the 27-year-old as a "male client", but more disturbing for Anim was the conclusion of the doctor who carried out the test: "I advise that a return to work could be considered within 12 months."

Anim says: "For Ruth to go to work is actually totally unimaginable. She can't even cross the road without someone going with her; she doesn't know that if a car hits you it will kill you; she has no concept of danger." Her daughter was born with complex medical needs, learning disabilities, a heart problem and epilepsy. "She is somebody who has a one-to-one carer – is she meant to go to work with her carer?"

As a result of the assessment, Ruth was assigned to a category known as the work related activity group, and required to attend the jobcentre regularly to begin mandatory preparations for going to work.

Cecilia Anim's amazement at the written report, describing her daughter's work capability assessment (WCA), the test to determine fitness for work, echoes the shock felt by hundreds of thousands of former claimants of incapacity benefit over the last three years, after undergoing the stringent new computerised test to check their continued eligibility for benefit payments.

Since the test was introduced in 2008 more than 600,000 people have appealed against the assessments; the cost to the state of those appeals has risen from £25m in 2009-10 to £60m in 2011-12. About 38% of those who appeal against an initial fit-for-work finding see that decision overturned on appeal and benefits granted. Welfare rights organisations and charities have voiced consistent unease about the test and the way doctors employed by the private IT firm Atos, which is paid £100m a year by the government to carry out the test, have implemented it.
Last week Labour called for a "fast and radical" overhaul of the system, admitting the policy it introduced when in government was not working.

As deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing, Anim can project her fury about the experience her daughter endured far more powerfully than most individuals going through the system. This awareness has heightened her desire to talk about the "injustice of the process", to educate people about how inaccurate the assessments can be.

"I am able to fight back, but what about the people who are not able to fight back? It's causing a lot of problems for a lot of people," she says. "My daughter's consultant neurologist was beside himself with fury when I told him. The first question he asked was, 'Have they done a risk assessment?' "
Ruth's case is by no means exceptional.  The principle underlying the WCA is that a health condition or disability should not automatically be regarded as a barrier to work, and in theory the policy is designed to ensure that support is available to help people find work.

The 45-minute examination was chaotic from start to finish, Anim says. Her daughter was extremely anxious and kept asking the doctor if he was going to take a blood test. She refused to sit down and hopped on and off the medical examining couch when the doctor was talking to her. Anim points to a line in the partly computer-generated report which notes "client was able to sit on a chair with a back for 45 minutes".

"The whole examination was very chaotic and bizarre because she was not co-operating. But in his report he has put that Ruthie sat for 45 minutes. She never sat down for more than three minutes. She was all over the place," she says. "At one point she went to the tap and washed her hands and started spraying the water everywhere. He raised his voice and said 'Stop doing that!' I said no, no, don't speak to her like that. She's got learning difficulties; she doesn't understand."
A few questions the doctor asked, about her daughter's condition and her schooling, made Anim doubt his familiarity with the British care system. He noted in his report that her daughter's speech was normal, although Anim had done most of the speaking. The few questions Ruth managed to respond to were answered inaccurately. "He asked her how old she was and she said 18, despite the fact that she is 27," she says.

A few months after the medical assessment Ruth was called to an interview at the jobcentre to discuss finding work. She went with her mother, who was aghast when she understood why they had been called in. "I said 'Are you having a laugh?'" The jobcentre adviser realised very quickly that a mistake had been made. "We sat down, and every question she asked her, Ruth raised her palms as if she didn't know the answer. She asked 'What day is it?'; Ruthie said Thursday, but it was Tuesday. She asked 'What time is it?'. She said 5.30pm, but it was 2.30pm," she recalls. "Ruth was rummaging through the tray on her desk and being disruptive. She kept saying, 'What's your name?'"

"They said she must come every three weeks to show that she is actively seeking work," Anim says; but the adviser also told her that she could appeal against the decision. "It only took her 10 minutes to realise that the decision was wrong."

Anim spent her summer holiday trying to sort out the problem, marshalling the support of her local MP, Glenda Jackson, and a welfare rights organisation, Brent Association of Disabled People, as well as contacting Atos and the DWP.

A DWP spokesperson said: "The work capability assessment is under constant review to ensure it is both fair and effective, and it is in everyone's interest to get the system right. We are committed to help thousands of people move from benefits and back into work while giving unconditional support to those who are most in need."

 What to say?


SnoopyTheGoon said...

This story reminds me our dear Soc. Sec. outfit so much it makes me wonder whether there is some world conspiracy of these SS characters.

jams o donnell said...

I wonder too

Chris Hall said...

Has the half-baked idea gone wrong? Perhaps this is how the designers wanted it to work, the whole awfulness of the situation and process being a deterrent?

jams o donnell said...

Sometimes you just have to wonder

susan said...

Another cruel and inhumane system that serves no one.

jams o donnell said...

Sadly so Susan

Steve Hayes said...

Can't she sue the firm to which the assessment was outsourced?

It sounds like a dystopian novel I read recently -- The facility: book review | Notes from underground. That was set in the near future, but it sounds as though it's already present.

jams o donnell said...

I'd love to see ATOS screwed they are a shower of bastards. I'll have to have a loo at the book Steve