Tuesday 6 November 2012

ESA Reaches a Tipping Point

Today, pretty much as I type, the Government will release the first significant figures for the transfer of claimants from incapacity benefit to the new Employment Support Allowance (or ESA, via the feared and despised Atos WCA)

Finally, we will get to see how many people previously claiming Incapacity Benefit are being awarded the new benefit, how many are being awarded it for one year only, how many are told they are immediately fit for work and how many can look forward to the mythical  “support” that doesn’t actually exist for those told they need it to find work.

But it will show lots of other things too.

We have a curious – and I would guess fairly unique - situation here with welfare policy. Sick and disabled people have found a voice on social media that often went unheard in the past. At this very moment in time, we, the public, have access to information that we have never had access to before.

With the introduction of the Data protection and Freedom of Information acts and their perfect marriage to the information superhighway, sick and disabled people can campaign online with immediate access to political information via Hansard, the Parliament.uk website and other sources.

They can share that information with a network of millions in seconds via Facebook, Twitter and email.

They can analyse endless, technical reports and data in hours, overnight if need be - by breaking it down for many people to do in chunks. Any government still hoping they can sneak information out, cook the books, distort results or mislead the public can only be totally unaware of the invention of computers and what actual human people use them for.

I know of at least 8 groups or analysts with hunches on what today’s figures will show, waiting to pounce as soon as the report is released and prove or disprove their theories. Almost all would be pretty much terminal for ESA as it exists. Did I mention these are very clever people indeed? The odds of all 8 hunches being wrong are negligible.

The truth is the game is up. Oh, the name might limp on – you know how politicians love to save face – but there are only two ways for ESA to go : It either has to improve drastically, beyond all recognition, in partnership with sick and disabled people or current protests will spill over into a terrible crisis for Britain.

Ask yourselves what it takes for people like me – an ordinary Mum and wife who happens to have a serious long term illness – to suddenly start writing here, trying desperately to warn you all that something terrible is happening. When 13 year old boys write to the Right Honourable Minister accusing them of killing their Dad; when vulnerable people feel they must do something as extreme as going on hunger strike, a policy is simply no longer sustainable. Oh, it might limp on for a while, but every time someone dies just days after being found “fit for work” by Atos, every new set of damning statistics, every announcement that “work providers” are actually not providing work gets more and more coverage and more and more embarrassing for politicians.

Today’s figures should show that Atos are not close to conducting the number of assessments the DWP predicted. Files are backed up for months, Atos have been trying to recruit more assessors – and failing – for months. Assessments either a) take longer than the DWP insist on or b) cannot be accurate. If today’s figures don’t show that Atos are way behind schedule, then the books have been cooked. This is not debatable or theoretical. Despite Iain Duncan-Smith’s endless claims that everyone will face an assessment under ESA, we have reams of proof that this is not, in fact, the case. The only way to clear the backlog would be to simply approve a large number of files based on the application form and the evidence provided by the claimant alone – just as they always had to.

For what it’s worth, I predict a significant increase in Support Group numbers, but the reasons for my hunch are classified.  

Harrington will also release his Year 3 review in just a week or two and, again, it either has to call for very significant changes to the WCA or be discredited totally. Another fudge, any attempt to claim it will all just sort itself out, everything’s fine honest, blah, blah, blah will be the final straw. Harrington will be totally discredited and any campaigners who still have even the tiniest respect for trying to change this welfare car crash politically will dissolve.

I should not have to warn government that this is something they should avoid happening at all costs. Any group who tries to engage with the political system and finds that archaic laws are invoked to deny all recommendations from a second chamber, information is hidden and falsified, statistics are twisted and distorted or released unapproved, the press is co-opted with politicised departmental press releases and the public are made to hate them through a programme of propaganda find, they become a civil rights movement.
I am frightened by the desperation I see growing daily amongst sick and disabled people. I am frightened that people are taking their own lives and going on hunger strike. I am frightened by what form a civil rights movement takes when a group are so systematically disenfranchised by the actions of a sitting government. I am frightened by the sense amongst the people I write for, that the time for talking is passing. Maybe that it has passed.

Sometimes, people describe me as a disability campaigner. I’ve often tried to explain that I don’t see it that way. I’m a writer. I’m meant to reflect what I see, not distort it. I’m meant to dig down into the reasons for it, try to understand what motivates it.

There are only two ways for this to go. Either :

The government announces a pause to the IB to ESA transfer and a total re-design of any future out of work sickness benefit and the process of assessing a need for it


The entire process will collapse, grinding to a painful halt under the sheer weight of backlogs, appeals, bad press and public outcry. Thousands more mums and sisters and sons will die un-necessarily, all for the refusal of politicians to accept expert advice and ESA will go down in history as the most shocking human rights abuse of people with disabilities the UK has ever witnessed.

Because that’s what civil rights movements are for. 


  1. Dont forget the work progamme figures "SHOULD" be out on november 27th. Unless theres another delay

  2. Well said Sue, the additional stress suffered by the sick and disabled every time they have to go for review is awful. It seems 'normal' now to live with the anxiety that much needed benefits could be taken away by unfair assessments.
    This has got to be making many people's health even worse which then places more costs on the NHS.
    Where has the view that sick people need stress free time to recover from serious illness and injury. Or, that people with life long health problems do so much better with real support.
    The only light on the horizon is that the spoonies are fighting back by supporting each other and by using sound facts and figures using all the different types of media now available.

  3. I admit to finding the whole process confusing! I filled in an ATOS form and have been told in a letter that I am in some sort of support group......
    We asked for a written explanation but nothing has been forthcoming apart from an appointment with a work support person.
    I am totally confused....I thought I would have a medical "assessment", but no - 25 years of doctors and consultants etc etc have been over-ruled by one form.
    The letters do not explain things but end up tying one's head into knots, and this is all supposed to be progress & helpful.
    Heck, I hope you are right about someone sorting something as at the moment my life is in turmoil.
    Thanks for the blog Sue......where do we go from here!

    1. Hiya,
      Just thought I would maybe help you out a bit. The Support Group is the unconditional higher rate group of ESA. There is also the Work Related Activity Group (often shortened to WRAG), which is for people who are expected to get better at some point, but this is not relevant to you.
      In the support group you will not be expected to undertake any kind of activity through the Job Centre or one of their private partners. Although you may be called in for an initial appointment to speak to your support worker.
      It sounds like your 25 years worth of medical history was taken into account and thus you didn't need to go for an assessment. You will likely get another ESA form in the future, but that should hopefully be a while away yet. I hope this has explained things a bit.

  4. I volunteered for work programme and a bigger bunch of clueless wastrels I have yet to encounter. Gloves have been off at every meeting because they are failing to do what they said they could do in the original pitch

    1. That describes my experience of the work programme exactly.

  5. Well written Sue as always we will wait and see if anything happens x

  6. Thank you for the article Sue. I am on an ME/CFS forum and many people are struggling there with the ESA system.

    I have just today had a letter from Mark Hoban MP, Minister for Employment (via my MP) in response to my concerns over the plans next year for everyone to go through the Reconsideration phase before Appeal. Also asked whether it is true that people will be unable to receive the Assessment phase while doing so, and that they would then have to claim JSA as the only other benefit open to them, whilst being perhaps too disabled or sick to work.

    In his response he tells me that Reconsideration takes on average four weeks at the moment. I am very surprised by this statistic and wonder whether this is available for verification. Obviously if they believe that to be true, and that it would take such a short time, then that could be a basis for saying that this new policy would be acceptable.

    1. This is my greatest fear. If they take your DLA away, which they do only for you to have to reapply not just automatically get it back (don't have to back pay you then presumably), and you have care bills and private care bills to pay that alone come to more than the four weekly amount of JSA, what are you supposed to do?

      I know someone who had to live on £12 a week until recently, because it too 9 months for a DLA appeal. I have seen how this has affected her life, forcing her to totally rely on friends (she has no family). This made her very vulnerable, and she ended up getting bullied and shouted at by these 'friends' as they slowly ran out of patience providing her with support.

      I live on my own, but I have a family and good friends, but I will be mortified to have to go 'cap in hand' to get my basic bills paid and be able to afford food. I didn't do it the last time I was in that sort of situation; more fool me. I sat here with no electricity, no phone, no heat, no food. Sometimes I went 5 days or more without food; sometimes I had a loaf of bread to last a week, but nothing else. God knows how I survived, and it wasn't the first time I've been put in that situation either.

      I know that if you're successful you'll be able to back pay your debts, but at what personal and psychological costs? From experience I know that phone companies and power companies won't wait a year to be paid; they just cut you off not matter how vulnerable you are. Loan companies won't wait; they just keep adding interest and you lose your credit rating in the process or end up with a county court judgement. Banks won't wait; they just close your account. Your body won't wait; in the process you just become more ill than you were previously. Washing won't wait, so you wear dirty clothes. Carers won't wait for a year to be paid petrol allowances and all of the other things local authorities no longer fund.
      And, meantime, you're cut off from the world, unable to phone family, friends, or to be able to obtain urgent help when you fall as 'care call' services are too expensive and you can't even text a carer. You also can't express yourself on these sites and receive some kind of support.

      I am strong; had to be with all that I've been through, all that I've lost that was so dear to me due to illness and horrific family problems, but I honestly don't think I can go through such deprivation again. I'm trying to put it out of my mind, trying to do the creative things that make me happy (when I'm not too ill), but this black sinister feeling comes over me every day, knowing that at some point I'm going to be thrust back into that dark place again, where all I will have is water and no other basic necessity or comfort unless I'm willing to humiliate myself and go begging again and again.

      Perhaps my will to live will be stronger than my will to die at that point. I do love life. Lets hope we all can make it through somehow.

    2. clare you speak for everyone at what cost personal and psychological. Most people will just give up and die as that is the natural course of action as my wife will tell you who came to the uk from war/no food/ torn sudan everyone just died all around her without a murmur or a shout they just lay down and wait their turn for gods release from this world

      and that is how most sick and disabled will approach living with no income having been found fit for work when there not especially the older generation

  7. i would think that for any member of the public or in the workforce to hurt or stop the process in the demise of the sick and disabled would meet un untimely end that would be my gut feeling

    the government are desperate and committed to get the sick and disabled back to work and to hell with anyone standing in the way their constant daily use of
    language has no let up and i have stated time and time again it will be the survival of the fittest that will
    live to tell the tale of the horrors of it all

    The esa /jsa/work group /non work group is all nonsense and the bottom line is that people will continue to die by being reassessed as fit for work when there not

    and that my friends will always be the bottom line if your in luck you'll live and if your out of luck you'll die there couldn't be anything as clear

    as always sue your doing a grand job and am very proud to be alive to see first hand the good you are doing for the sick and disabled of the

    sue marsh v the uk government it doesn't get better then this

    you would need to back to the days of Martin Luther King, Jr.for such a nail biter of a fight for justice

    the fight so far has been long with much to do and without sue and a very few of her friends we the sick and disabled would be dead by now and we have to remember that chilling fact and all of us everyone of us needs to at all times bear that in mind that without sue we would not have lasted so long as their has been no one else in society to look out for us and i for one will always be very indebted to sue for keeping me alive and for others in keeping them going

    sure many have died and many more will that's guaranteed but with out sue most would have given up the fight by now and died and that in my heart is how i see it and have always seen it

  8. I'm sure the truth will be very abruptly syphoned from the report/s. We are desperately running out of time, before the PIP assessments begin, adding even more terror, death and horror. I hope the WCA can be bettered before they roll out PIP.

    On the bright side, free suntans for the unemployed. It's amazing what this Government are prepared to take money from and give money to.

    Everyday I wake, I know that I will be watching another Tory balls up on TV. Kinda don't know whether to eat spit or swallow.

  9. I just wish there was a 'voice of common sense' in all of this. On the one hand, there are terrible decisions being made as a result of a flawed process and set of descriptors. On the other, all the forums I read (including this one) are becoming so extreme in their views that they will not be acknowledged by the majority of the British population. This website started off with a strongly balanced view, but it has descended into emotive outburts. Maybe it's inevitable, maybe it will serve its purpose, but somehow I doubt it...

    1. Hi Peter, what makes you think it is us getting more extreme in our views and the government is not getting more extreme in its actions?

      I AM the voice of common sense. Doesn't that worry you? People are dying now, does that not warrant a little emotion?

  10. peter i have lived the extremes of the DWP for the past 32 years and am still alive but many are not

    that is only the tip of the iceberg. of course the British public wont acknowledge the destruction of the sick and disabled and blame sue for making it up on the hoof selfish insular people of the uk which are the majority of the people couldn't give a damm about the sick or disabled and never have done

    as i have lived the nightmare longer then most it would be wise to listen to my views more then most as i will have the experiences on my side on what the future plans will hold as to apposed of what your told a big difference.and yes i do look like someone that has just been released from a prisoner of war camp but somehow i like sue fight on

    the public by and large will never listen to the concerns of the sick and disabled that's never going to happen just like in pat's petition it fell flat

    the only person with the voice of reality in all of this is sue as like her i have the experiences to fall back on and belive me 32 years of my life in a battle with the DWP is bloody hard and i have the body to prove it the bbc will tell you that before they walked away before telling the world my story as it was to extreme for BBC1 AND LIKE PANORAMA WILL TELL YOU WILL REMAIN HUSHED

    We peter have to fight on for justice for those that have died there is no other way for a genuine decent person like myself as it is my life blood to do the right thing for others and always has been and not follow a crowd

    weather it's serves it's purpose or not my aim is to get justice for the families still living when one of their family members has died by an a deliberate action from the DWP/ATOS saying they were fit for work when they were not leaving them panic stricken and subsequently dying as a result

    this fight will last 20 or more years just like hillsbourgh that you can be assured off peter

  11. Thank goodness for we are spartacus - in your own words re the response to the PIP survey, your reports and responses are 'evidence-based, high quality, forensically detailed.'
    They are as objective as can be.
    Having been through the ATOS process and face to face farcical 'work capability assessment' which on both occasions I was left feeling patronised, demoralised, degraded and treated as if I was lying from the catch you out questions.
    I was asked.
    It's difficult not to appear to be emotive when, as a mature woman you are asked by a male doctor 'how do you do your bra up,and, 'imagine there's a five pound note down there on the floor - how would you get down there to pick it up'. Before I demonstrated this, considering the possible implications of the question, my anger surfaced and my reply was - 'as you are here, I would get you to do it for me.'
    I was advised to seek private complimentary therapies for my condition - apparently they had worked for this quack doctor.
    At the end of the assessment he walked to the top of the two flights of stairs, and advised me not to fall down them as he couldn't face the amount of paperwork it would generate.
    At the second assessment - I was awaiting a consultant's appointment at a specialist unit - the ATOS Dr started to make me aware that he knew the surgeons I would be seeing, and indeed one of the surgeons who had operated on me some 2 years earlier - the surgery failed. I felt this was very unprofessional.
    So - anyone who criticises this blog as emotive - think again. Living in constant pain and profound neurological discomfort, the latter for which there is no treatment as my nerve endings continue to die, and being hit financially in all directions by welfare reform, (won't go into details here) as the full impact over time becomes undeniably transparent for chronically sick and disabled people - I reserve the right to emotive expression knowing that I will be heard by like minded people. These emotional feelings are triggered by rational thoughts and research. When I am able to see family and friends, I wish to be perceived as the person I was, not make my disability my identity. However, it is not good to bottle up anger - it leads to depression.
    Thankyou again Sue and the wearspartacus team for presenting the factual information and making it available, and responses to the government's proposals.

  12. Do you think it would help to have a website memorial dedicated to all those that were assessed 'fit' who then sadly died. Some of the figures suggested online say 50-70 are dying a week! Is this true? It seems unbelievable. Does anyone know the figure, or is that one of the statistics we're waiting for in the report? It would maybe highlight the atrocities more and make it more real for the general public who may not be fully aware. Press coverage has been sparse. These are people, real people with loved ones, not just statistics, I think it would help to demonstrate this, putting faces to the figures so it's clear what's at stake: human life. This is no way for a supposedly civilised society to treat it's most vulnerable. We should all be ashamed as a country. These brave souls should not be forgotten.

    1. Jenn that's a lovely idea. all we have at this time is a very small list by Calum

      we do desperately need one that is kept up to date but it's very difficult to achieve i may add as none of us know the true figures of how many people are dying as we don't have access to seeing any of the coroners death certificates.

      all sue does like we all do is to report a death here if we see one in the press which is not that satisfactory as many die who don't have relatives that can report the death to the press

      hopefully a blog member here can think of a way forward so that these ongoing deaths can be fully recorded so that at a later date all of those involved in the causing of the deaths can then be prosecuted by the criminal court system

      the death toll so far over the past 4 years stands at around 2000 people so i am led to believe by calum list but that is not kept up to date and the true figure is much higher more like 4000 truth be told

  13. I like your blog. Do you have any associates in Croydon. I'm standing, I think, on a similar theme to you, in The by election there later this month. For the Young People's Party.


    I have my own view of benefits scrounging. There are genuine ones, miles miles bigger at the top of our society. I'm going to get rid of them so that you guys will no longer need to jump trough hoops.

    Yes, I'm a dreamer.

    Robin Smith

  14. An excellent and commendable read Sue.

    It is good to see how people are slowly but surely seeing through the statistical spin and starting to question the absurdly positive message that government is trying to put on this dreadful car - crash; the true force of which has yet to impact upon us.

    This isn't welfare reform at all, it's a wicked pretence at delivering the public something which this callous government thinks they want to see. For what it's worth this is where I think they will come unstuck. I'm not sure we are a nation of people who hate the disabled or the unemployed or indeed anyone who for whatever reason needs to turn to the state. Truth is that for everyone we seemingly believe to be 'on the fiddle' we equally know someone else, perhaps a relative or friend who has had their lives completely turned up side down by an agenda of questionable redistribution of wealth. I reckon we are a more charitable nation than this government gives us credit for.

    In my work as a welfare benefit specialist over the years I have never seen anything as relentless and downright cruel as I am seeing now. This is absolutely ripping people's lives apart rather than helping them back on to their feet, it's just not what a civilised society should be doing to its citizens.

    I confess I am also a fanatical statistical analyser who has spent hours tracking the figures produced by the DWP because I know that within them is hidden the truth; a revealing truth which no matter how much they may dislike it is exposing this programme as a complete sham. IB/ESA assessment is achieving nothing, no sooner have people won or lost their appeal that they are moved back in to the 'assessment phase' - their handy way of concealing an IB count which isn't falling and a way of avoiding a JSA count which they cannot show to be rising.

    It's all a pretence - a complete and utterly shameful pretence. They are about to pull what they think to be a clever stunt but thankfully we are all one step ahead of them - they're sussed and we should make it our business to make sure everyone knows it.

    For those who want a look at just some of the evidence which is building and which is helping to expose this for what it is take a look here:

    A statistical analysis of the IB/ESA reassessment programme:


    The other side to my work is the work within our tribunals, time and time again we go on proving that people are entitled to the benefits they claim. No great surprises that from next March they want to see me looking at claiming benefits as our funding runs dry.

    Except I'm determined to find a way of ensuring we get the cash to carry on however much this government may dislike it, not least because I happen to know that some people need a voice and look to us to help them have their say.

    We have to continue to find a way.



    Mylegalforum on Twitter

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