Monday 28 November 2011

Harrington 2 - The Sequel is Never as Good

Professor Harrington is the man charged with sorting out the incomprehensible mess that is ESA (Employment and Support Allowance)

Given a system that gets the decision wrong so often that up to 70% of appeals are successful, his work is fairly urgent. The government claim that 11,000 people a week are being assessed for ESA, yet those assessments have been scathingly criticised by the Citizens Advice Bureaux, a Work and Pensions Select Committee report, the government's own Statutory Social Security Advisory committee, almost every leading charity, campaigners and even the professor who helped to design ESA.

People are taking their own lives. So terrified are they that they will be left homeless and hungry, so exhausted by the constant harassment of repeated assessments and tribunals, the Job Centre have been issued with suicide guidelines.

Last year, Harrington made many suggestions to improve the assessments being used (WCAs or Work Capability Assessments) and some of them did address issues that needed urgent change. The clearest was ensuring that evidence from a person's GP or Consultant was considered in the decision making process. I know, I know, sane people would assume that was already happening, but it wasn't. Just 2% of claims considered the opinion of...erm....a patient's own doctor or healthcare professional. In 98% of cases, the computer, she simply say "yes" or "no"

Again, this reader with just a little curiosity and common sense, might ask why they are extending ESA amongst such chaos? Why are they rolling it out to a further 2 million Incapacity Benefit claimants AND designing a near identical system with which to assess the 3 million or so people on DLA? (Disability Living Allowance) One might ask why on earth something so draconian and cruel has not been paused until assessments can be made fairer?

One word : Harrington.

All the time they can say that he is sorting the whole mess out, we are to be re-assured.

ESA most fails those with mental health conditions, fluctuating conditions and learning difficulties. The impersonal, tick box computers just cannot accurately be made to fit variation or nuance. In his 1st year report, Harrington did not even deal with these problems, so we were all waiting fairly impatiently to see the conclusions of his year 2 report. Today, it is more urgent than ever to make sure that these problems are solved - preferably about 3 years ago, but today would do.

Well, I read Harrington Year 2 yesterday and I'm not sure quite what he's been doing all year. No conclusions can be drawn! No changes are yet to be taken forward! No descriptors can be agreed on (yet). The opinions of Mencap, Mind, The National Autistic Society, National Association for Crohn's and Colitis, the MS society, Arthritis Care and many others were simply not "evidence based." Harrington did pat them all on the head, send them away and say they could have another go, but unless their decades of experience could translate into "evidence" that the DWP would like, it just wouldn't do.

As for suggestions that the assessment should be a "real life test" - looking at work someone could actually do, rather than asking if they can pick up a penny or do up a button - well this is clearly nonsense! How on earth can this be empirical? impersonal? quantifiable? Silly little CABs! Off you go now, try again, but as Chris Grayling says, he is "absolutely, unreservedly and implacably opposed" to something as logical as a real life test, I imagine it won't matter what the CABs come back with.

So that's it then. Nothing to see here. Move along.

A cynic might conclude that as ESA was never designed to support those with long term variable conditions anyway, any changes to ESA that ensures that it does would not be what IDS is looking for at all. If ESA was designed to simply make sure people couldn't claim unless their head fell off, then Harrington must be very careful to make sure that people with heads don't get above themselves.

As though lives are not at stake, Harrington tells us :

"I have seen these improvements [from yr 1] in the day-to-day running of both DWP
Operations and Atos. This has taken time and some observers have told
me that they have seen no change. I advise patience. The process of
improvement is happening, but is not yet in evidence everywhere. It will take
time to have the desired impact and the year three Review will closely monitor
the impact of the changes and ensure there is continuing progress in
improving the assessment."

Patience???? Patience???? How much more patient are we to be man? This is our LIVES you ask us to put to one side. Some of us don't even have until "year 3". 

The only silver lining is the clear irritation he shows with the independent tier of the tribunal service, who repeatedly tell him (well, they tell him to go away basically) that their service is "outside of his remit". When Harrington even dared to suggest - wait for it - that the judiciary run training courses to explain the "beneficial nature of work" they not only told him that was "outside of his remit" but reminded him rather sternly that their job was to uphold the law. He didn't like that one bit. 

So, we are no further forward. But it's OK, because we just need to be "patient". the government however, need show no such patience and are free to crack on at the rate of 11,000 people a week. Charities, Citizen's Advice Bureaux and campaigners must go away and work on new "evidence" yet the DWP can produce Impact Assessments like this one so totally devoid of any evidence at all that those who read it for the first time are usually shocked.

It's shameful. 

So Professor Harrington, as you trundle on into year three, perhaps, every morning, as you wake up, you will do a little sum for me. 11,000 people per week. That's very roughly 1,500 people per day. 600 of them will go to tribunal, believing their decision to be wrong. Up to 420 of them will win. That's 420 lives lived in "patience". Every day. 420 people, who must find the strength and resilience to wait up to a year to go to tribunal because the system you are "reviewing" is so appallingly unfit for purpose. 

I don't think patience is the issue Professor. You have simply let us down in the most disappointing way. 


  1. Pretty rich of the DWP to claim that criticism of the current descriptors is not evidence based. The Social Security Advisory Committee said exactly the same thing about Freud's entire welfare reform programme.

  2. seems to me he has been instruted not to be to zealous in his quest to make the system better. But your right Sue its a deeply flawed system that does not help the claiment in any way. who is accountable for this mess well its starts with Labour im afraid the other two just tweaked it to their own benefit.

  3. It still does just the one thing very well - funnel huge amounts of public cash into Atos, the private company. Coincidence? I think not! This looks a raid on the public purse to me.

  4. The situation for people with autism is dire -

  5. who will listen not the mp's neither the HOL what will it take. it will take ordinary people who are not sick to fully understand the implications of what will happen to them when they become sick

  6. My God!
    Who is it we can get in touch with to voice our pains and concerns?
    Is there a way to contact Harrington himself?

  7. 12.15 anon, harrington does not care you could mail him i guess but he is on a mission of destruction and the people he want to destroy are sick and disabled, but please feel free to try.

  8. Actually...that's a very good idea, can we get this man's email somehow and do an email-storm?

  9. People are taking their own lives. So terrified are they that they will be left homeless and hungry, so exhausted by the constant harassment of repeated assessments and tribunals, the Job Centre have been issued with suicide guidelines.

    That's very true sue Harrington knows full well what he's up to and he along with the prime minister will at a later date be held accountable in a court just like Gaddafis son

  10. This government and also the last government from 2008 started a political issue over this and then out doing one another in stupidity and illogical thinking. They set about to create a system that was inherently flawed and was going to work against genuine people. This is the real reason why none of their changes have worked its because they set out to cheat and mistreat the sick and the disabled while making political capital out of it all

  11. I give up now. I'm a carer and the 2 people I look after (full-time) will not manage to attend an ATOS assessment, nor will they be able to cope with workfare, signing on or any of the harebrained schemes being proposed. So to spare them the stress, we will have to rely on one salary to support us all. Not sure how we are going to manage but the benefits will be taken away if they don't turn up for interviews etc anyway.

    Politicians will do as they like.

  12. I've been having this ranty e-mail exchange with the head of policy at the National Autistic Society. It starts with me being ranty, then apologising for being ranty, then she says she understands I'm angry, which reminds me how angry I am and I get all ranty again.

    Malcolm Harrington is a disgrace and needs to go. His second report will probably be the subject of my next e-mail to the nice lady at the NAS, with emphasis on the fact that Harrington's attitude to them is ministers attitude to them and they should stop being nice.

  13. I haven't known about this blog for very long, but I admire your resolve in keeping up an argument against this terrible government attitude to the sick. Unfortunately, I don't think they really care, as evidenced by the same old soundbytes they repeat everytime somebody voices criticism.

    Personally, I'm so sick and disgusted with this harrassment from the government that I'm completely fed up with life. I'm really, really hoping I will be able to find the will power and resolve to torch myself when I fail the WCA, because I don't want to have to jump through continual hoops and harrassment just to satisfy a nasty government that cares about nothing more than pandering to the Daily Mail.

    Scum, the lot of them.

  14. Well, the proposals will be passed into law by sheer numbers of the MP's in the coalition as there are not enough in Labour and the other smaller parties to change matters and not enough in the coalition will vote with Labour so it will virtually go through on a nod.

    Labour may decide not to fight the ideas anyhow becuase, they will probably get in at the next election and if they allow the coalition Government to get all these ideas into law, they can then say we did not agree with the changes to welfare and we did not vote them in but now that they are law we'll just have to go along with them.

    Therefore, they can say "We had nothing to do with it!" and "You can't blame us!" So the dirty work has been done for them. And they can continue to call the Conservatives The "nasty" party. Not sure what they call the Lib Dems...

  15. When you think how the celebrities feel with the press intrusion in The Leveson Inquiry they don't know how lucky they've been when the likes of myself have suffered so badly at the hands of the DWP over 30 years

    I'm sure at a later date I'll get my turn to tell my story

    Give me the press any day of the week

  16. how much does he get a year to do this job .The rich get richer .I have been hoping that he would help us fight ids and the rest and make esa better for all

  17. They realy think we are stupid,the only objective of the Atos assessament is to save the DWP 5 bilion,the same 5 bilion Mr Osborne is investing,sorry the 30 bilion Mr Osborne is saying he will invest in the next 10 years,20 bilion he hopes will come from the private sector,5 bilion he will explain were they come from after the election,and so the only money he is investing is the 5 bilion he stole from us,and by the way a part the 70% who appeal against the Atos decisions add another 10% who don 't appeal for ignorance or because the system is so intentionaly frustrating they give up!!!!We may have physical problems but our brains are still working

  18. Has anyone seen and signed this below ...?

    What's your Christmas Message to the Government?

    The Hardest Hit are planning to send a giant Christmas card to the Government signed by thousands of disabled people, those with long-term conditions and their families and friends. We want to let them know that we are not asking for gifts, but we do want our basic rights protected and the support to enable us to live independently and with dignity.

    The card will be presented in December. Please add your message today and encourage your friends and family to do the same.

    You can sign the card and leave your message by following the link below:

    Sign the card!

  19. Now we know where part of the sick and disabled money goes
    “The Public Accounts Committee has identified an eye-watering misuse of the public’s money.

  20. Don't think I'm a Daily Mail reader; I just trawl the website for any useful references with regard to bigotry.

    An interesting article today:

    It seem Atos will no longer use emails to communicate, prefering face to face, telephone, and instant messaging; they plan to phase them out within 18 months, just in time for April 2013. Mnnn less evidence on file against them then if things go wrong methinks...


  21. They may have issued guidelines on dealing with suicidal claimants to Job Centre staff but they haven't been read or understood by everyone. I speak from experience and that was a few months after the news story about the guidelines.