LETTER: Private firm makes millions out of benefits reform

It’s quite a populist policy to hit out at so-called benefit scroungers or “undeserving poor” as the Victorians called them. However, this letter is about genuine disabled people and the lack of compassion being exhibited by the Lib-Dem/Tory Coalition in their reforms to our welfare system of health and social security.

There is outrage among disability charities at the news the Lib-Dem/Tory Government has set up a new quango, the Disability Action Alliance, to produce disability policies and then secretly appointed Disability Rights UK (DRUK) to run it.  

News came out only after the deal was done and some angry charities are now trying to get questions asked in the House of Commons about what went on behind closed doors.
The new organisation is supposed to help ensure Government policy gets the best possible outcome for disabled people. But the Alliance is made up of private companies more concerned about making profits than supporting disabled people, public sector organisations more concerned about saving money, and by charities like DRUK which are heavily and increasingly dependent on Government cash to stay afloat.
There is particular disquiet from disability charities such as RNIB and the UK Disabled People’s Council that DRUK was chosen to lead the new body without any consultation or appointment process that would have allowed others to take part.
The appointment includes a fee for DRUK, whose head Liz Sayce wrote the report recommending the closure of Remploy factories for genuine disabled people which the Lib-Dem/Tory Government is now putting into action. This is a perfect example of a government that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Meanwhile, the Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) has been forced to reveal what really becomes of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants found “fit for work”. According to a DWP survey recently uncovered by a Freedom of Information request, 55% of claimants found fit for work were left unemployed and without any income. A further 30% were in receipt of benefits and only 15% had found employment. A former nurse, Joyce Drummond, who was employed by the controversial capability assessor, the French-owned firm Atos, has blown the whistle: she was forced to manipulate tests so disabled people were deemed fit for work. The contract is worth £110m a year to Atos, and the appeals cost the taxpayer another £60m a year.  

From April, 2013, the Lib-Dem/Tory Government is introducing yet another new benefit called Personal Independence Payment (PIP) to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for eligible working age people aged 16 to 64. A Freedom of Information response has revealed that Atos’s contract for carrying out DLA to PIP transfer medicals includes a very hefty profit of £40m. if the company manages to put 15% more people through medicals than expected in Scotland and Northern England. The “Atos Risk Management Plan” shows they will make more than £28m. even if they only examine the expected number of claimants.
However, there is no evidence of any penalty for getting it wrong in tens of thousands of cases as they currently do with ESA.  

Aristotle has been often quoted as saying you can judge a nation by the way they treat their most vulnerable citizens. What does all this say about the Lib-Dem/Tory Coalition Government?

IAN GRAHAM

Labour Party Candidate, Pendle Central 2013