Saturday, 8 November 2014

Opinions Please

Ah, decisions, decisions.

My very first tweet about Maximus last week elicited an almost immediate email from their PR director asking to meet me for a "chat". He spent several paragraphs persuading me that Maximus in the UK was an entirely separate company to the Maximus in the US so roundly exposed by the dedicated disability journalist John Pring.

You all know I believe in engagement whenever it has even a chance of making things better for sick and disabled people. You also all know that I vowed years ago I would never become one of those people who believe their own opinion is more important than the opinions of those they claim to represent. I will never sneak around in secret making deals and suggestions that haven't come from you. I will never take anyone's money or tempting offers of personal gain in order that you can always be sure what I write isn't compromised by anyone or anything else.

A long time ago, the PR boss at Unum got in touch. I met with him despite much personal anxiety and he told me everything the Maximus guy said last week. (Which gave me a wry smile. If I'd known they were all so saintly, I could have given this up years ago ;))

I've stayed in contact with the Unum guy and I do believe it has helped us several times. I've also long been in touch with their counterpart at Atos who has often been able to clarify things or even help me to oppose IDS and the DWP

But my Daddy always said "Watch the tiger when it's licking your ear". Seriously, he must have said it several times a week my entire life. I'm far from silly or gullible when it comes to politics. I'm well
aware that the only reason these men bother with me is to improve their own reputation or counter
some of the toxicity of the disability debate in the UK. I ve always believed that as long as it benefits us, there is no harm and I've always thought very hard before using anything they've told me.

But later this month, Unum have asked me to attend and speak at an event they're organising on the NHS aiming for more focus on prevention and less only on cure. This is something I feel very passionately about, and if me speaking could change the way healthcare is delivered for the better, then it seems pointless to refuse just because I might find the hosts distasteful. I am told that there will be attendees from the corporate world that campaigners like me often struggle to reach.

So as usual when these things crop up, I thought I'd leave the decision to all of you. Of course Unum want more prevention, it would mean fewer claims they have to pay out on, but I very much want more preventative action too, so I can't see why it matters who does the inviting. Of course, they want to be able to say "Ah, but Sue Marsh is coming, see how much we've changed." But I'm not against being used if the using goes both ways.

I will never be corrupted by these men and I will never be less than 100% honest when I discuss them, but if you all think it's a matter of principle, then I'll respect that view. If you think something could be achieved by having our view represented in theses kind of circles for once, then I'll gladly attend and do my best for all of us.

I'd be grateful as ever, if you could leave your views in the comment thread below.

56 comments:

  1. I'd say go with your gut feeling and if you do go and make a speech then point out your reservations and opinions as you've pointed them out here so that no one is in any doubt what your motives are.

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  2. Keep your friends close-and your enemies even closer...go for it I say, it's not often a chance like this occurs :)

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    1. Totally agree with this. If you can do more by having these 'relationships', then go for it.

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  3. American companies operate on the principle of get to know the competition early, keep them close, then discredit them. So please be careful Sue especially with your current health the way it is. Hope you are currently feeling better. Andrew

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  4. I agree to preventative being invested in as it could save many, much suffering & a better life generally but by entertaining attending does this endorse in any way private health care? I'm not sure? I know many use it now already to help them as can afford to, but we still have NHS. I do believe you will stick by your beliefs, but I will always maintain that many many will not ever afford or be able to continue affording private health care as such & this is what Unum will be hoping to achieve, if they continue to privatise the NHS. Maybe though your imput could plant seeds on the needs of disability versus affordability & need, but they are big business so I am sceptical as profit comes first as I see it, but would say by not being there, you outside that loop & better to be in than outside!

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    1. Thanks, that's a really helpful comment. I've often pointed out to corporate providers that the type of people this affects are those in work, never people like me who can't work. The emphasis is so often on those who can and people like me are always left high and dry. I suppose the bottom line is, is it better for people with illnesses or disabilities who work to have more access to preventative healthcare? As the answer is clearly yes, it seems worth working towards making that happen as long as it isn't at the expense of care elsewhere.

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    2. and those who can't work?

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    3. Quite. But as I spend 95% of my time focusing on them, it seems churlish to refuse the other 5%

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  5. Thanks guys. I really am well aware that in a sense I'm being used, but by the same token, im using them too and feel that as long as i never lose sight of that my healthy natural cynicism should see me through.

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    1. They will misquote you, spin your opinions. They have millions of dollars at their disposal and a massive legal team. So take second, third opinions on everything. I personally would rather have you on the inside. They might surprise us all and actually listen to you. Andrew

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    2. That is always a concern. I thought if I published the transcript of my speech, that would make misquoting me impossible? What d you think?

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    3. You need a pre submission committee. To check legal and content of any actions, blog posts etc. This will not leave you isolated in the community; and on the right side of the law. Andrew

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    4. 'Right side of the law'? Dude, it's a speech, not a witness statement. Sue can say literally *anything* there and Unum can not misuse it if an accurate transcript exists anywhere. If they're the kind of people who actually learn anything, they'll know by now that we're the kind of people who find stuff that no one thinks exist and way ahead of the curve in social media(even the name Spartacus, triggering a random passerby to also tweet "no I am Spartacus!")

      Solutions- keep them simple.

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    5. @Mason Easy for you to say. Sue you really have been handed the poisoned chalice. Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Maximus "We asked you" others will accuse you of collusion. Teamwork is the answer to this problem. You really do need legal rep at meetings. Ask Nick from MyLegal. The team will also protect you from accusations of collusion and overwork, stress etc. I wish you well on a tough decision. Andrew

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  6. Engagement may be futile, but it is the only option.

    You always act in good faith - something might rub off

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  7. Go for it Sue, they may spout "they won't engage with us because they know where right and have nothing to hide" if you don't! either way they will twist things to suit!

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  8. The thing is, ultimately, that your 'using' them is going to be much, much, much less effective than their 'using' you.

    Like, you can't guarantee that your talk - no matter what you say - is going to make any difference. If anything, in my experience, having attended a talk on a topic makes people feel like they've done their bit - even though they haven't done anything! Whereas their 'look, we got a prominent disability campaigner to talk to us!! see!! we do care!!' is going to make a huge difference, both to the people who work for them feeling better about themselves (and thus not having to make any changes) and to the press and public.

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  9. You are being used.

    DIVIDE AND CONQUER

    Ronald Duchin, senior vice-president of another PR spy firm Mongoven, Biscoe. A graduate of the US Army War College, Duchin worked as a special assistant to the secretary of defense and director of public affairs for the Veterans of Foreign Wars before becoming a flack. Activists, he explained, fall into four categories: radicals, opportunists, idealists, and realists. He follows a three-step strategy to neutralize them: 1) isolate the radicals; 2) cultivate the idealists and educate them into becoming realists; then 3) co-opt the realists into agreeing with industry.

    According to Duchin, radical activists:
    "want to change the system; have underlying socio/political motives [and] see multinational corporations as inherently evil....These organizations do not trust the... federal, state and local governments to protect them and to safeguard the environment. They believe, rather, that individuals and local groups should have direct power over industry. ... I would categorize their principal aims right now as social justice and political empowerment."

    Idealists are also hard to deal with. They want a perfect world and find it easy to brand any product or practice which can be shown to mar that perfection as evil. Because of their intrinsic altruism, however, and because they have nothing perceptible to be gained by holding their position, they are easily believed by both the media and the public, and sometimes even politicians. However, idealists have a vulnerable point. If they can be shown that their position in opposition to an industry or its products causes harm to others and cannot be ethically justified, they are forced to change their position.... Thus, while a realist must be negotiated with, an idealist must be educated. Generally this education process requires great sensitivity and understanding on the part of the educator.

    Opportunists and realists, says Duchin, are easier to manipulate. Opportunists engage in activism seeking visibility, power, followers and, perhaps, even employment. ... The key to dealing with [them] is to provide them with at least the perception of a partial victory. And realists are able to live with trade-offs; willing to work within the system; not interested in radical change; pragmatic. [They] should always receive the highest priority in any strategy dealing with a public policy issue. ... If your industry can successfully bring about these relationships, the credibility of the radicals will be lost and opportunists can be counted on to share in the final policy solution.

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    1. Fortunately Spartacus is all of those things and is ridiculously strong because in spite of immensely conflicting viewpoints we've been loyal to each other. It resulted in me starting out in 2010 as a realist, moving into opportunist and now I'm a full-blown idealist: I am ideologically a Welfarist now.

      What caused this was learning things about social security which are not widely known and which even experts seem confused about- why expenditure increases(like it did for Invalidity Benefit/Pension in 1988-1995, incorrectly in my view attributed to an unofficial policy of hiding unemployment). Stuff like that just doesn't go away; ministers have realised that in the short-term is has been better to NOT debate us on this stuff, but are going to learn that doing so would have avoided much of the disastrous consequences unfolding. We made it clear enough that we were utterly opposed to much of what they were doing but if they really insisted on pressing forward then they should at least listen to us enough to avoid the worst stuff. The result is that we are 100% absolved of responsibility because we acted in good faith to make things work even though we never wanted them to happen and our opponents did not act in good faith.

      If any final policy solution is not implemented with the best available evidence and sound reasoning, it will fail and no amount of PR white-washing will lay blame at those of us who knew what would happen(and Spartacus and co have had an astonishing track record on this) and who drew a line under engagement at the 4th or 5th case of bad faith from Unum, Atos, the DWP and government.

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    2. And throughout history realists and opportunists got real change, whilst radicals and idealists just made a lot of noise

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  10. What is your aim in attending?

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  11. I suggest contacting disability activists in America and get their views. Reading about American victims of these companies would help too. They're all friendly until a patient becomes too expensive. Remember profit is King to these sharks. Watch yourself, you need to take great care.

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  12. I would go with speech prepared, eyes open and ears pinned back. Ask if they are doing a video record of the event and get a copy. Leave them with no doubt that we also have a voice and influence.

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  13. Hi Sue, I think they are trying to use you.
    I suspect it would suit them very much to be able to say they had listened to a talk by a prominent disability campaigner like yourself. It would give them cudos, it costs them nothing for such good publicity. Meanwhile their spin merchants - (no big corporation is without them these days) - will be punching the air. What a coup! They may even say they have 'consulted' you, and cause division within in the disabled community.

    I am also very wary of them using the 'prevention is better than cure' argument. I think I'd rather take my health advice from the NHS rather than a multi-million pound corporation. Blaming the person for their own disease so it costs less in pay-outs is the next logical step.

    Don't go Sue. For what it's worth, that's my honest feeling about it. Would anything you say really change anything they do? Surely the kind of message you would be taking to them they'll have heard before?

    You have one thing money can't buy - an excellent reputation.
    I fear you won't come out of the lion's den without a scratch!

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  14. Your Dad had it right! Don't sup with the devil.... far better to use their invite to your advantage - refuse it very publicly with clear reasons why. Unum is the most ruthless organisation I have ever come across - try claiming on one of their policies. I did a few years ago with a genuine illness confirmed by 4 independent Doctors - one of who was their own nominated expert. The true colours of this company soon become very apparent - within days of receiving a further report confirming my position, they sent out surveillance agents to spy on me. I have never got over the assault on my privacy, or my integrity and remain terrified of being watched. BEWARE Sue!!!

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  15. I think 'victim' blaming is part of their process. If you go I would have specfic facts that can not be reinterpreted.

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  16. This is a multi-billion dollar industry, the only reason they want to talk to you is to 'turn' you, compromise you, or discredit you. They are ruthless people, experts in their field, without a conscience; there is nothing you can say that will affect policy for the better.

    Personally, I think a back channel contact is a close as you should get.

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  17. It compromises the perception of your integrity. Nothing you say or do will change their plans one iota. Best to stay away xx

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  18. Go. Tell it like it is. Don't give the version that they want to hear. If they misrepresent you, tell them what you think of them and don't go again.

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  19. Not speaking up is taken as agreement, unfortunately, so you've been put in a rather unpleasant position. I think you've got little choice but to go, but best to take other commenters advice about legality, obtaining records etc. As long as you always keep in mind that these people are the enemy and cannot be trusted for a second, however exhausting it is to keep your guard up.

    God, dealing constructively with these organisation is like trying to co-parent with an abusive ex-partner.

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  20. The world-famous "Anonymous" has a lot to say. How many of these are the same person, I wonder?

    I started out, Sue, feeling the way you do - that it's an opportunity not to be missed. Then I went away and thought about it.

    Among all the anonymity there were a couple of nuggets of truth - these people are not on your side (or ours), and you sure as hell can't trust them.

    If they'll allow you to record your own video and audio coverage - and it MUST be your own - then, still with reservations, it could work to your advantage, but it still leaves ample room for you to be ambushed and misquoted behind the scenes.

    No matter how careful you are, Unum WILL spin it to their advantage - companies like them have whole departments dedicated to doing just that, and you really can't compete with that level of professional chicanery unless you have an unimpeachable record of what you said and to whom.

    If I were Unum, I'd offer to record the event for you, in minute detail then, Oh dear, so sorry, equipment malfunction! So it's vital that you make your own recording, because if it all goes pear-shaped it'll seriously dent your credibility.

    I'd like to say go ahead, take great care, especially with your own recording(s) - there must be someone who can help with that? (You really need your own team at your disposal, with eyes and ears open, and with at least one accompanying you at all times to record “spontaneous” conversations.**) But to be perfectly honest, Sue, even then, given the resources at Unum's disposal, and their reputation, I don't think you can be certain of winning this one.

    **Yes, I know it seems paranoid – nothing wrong with a little healthy paranoia!

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  21. Here are my thoughts.

    The evidence that prevention in healthcare is more cost-efficient than treatment is....patchy. We should not endorse the idea that money can be saved with a shift in focus to prevention. If companies like Unum wish to believe that there is money to be made by shifting healthcare priorities, then that is there perogative at least as far as they are not implying a causative relationship between cost-saving prevention and improved standards for patients. Business has a habit of arguing however tenuously that what is good for them is miraculously also good for everyone.

    Broadly, the welfare state has been infiltrated by an odious presumption which set itself in place without any argument, debate or consensus forming, it just sort of re-edited history to become 'something everyone knows': it's the fault of an individual for their circumstances. I see a mirror of what is happening in health of what happened in social security since the 70s. Once, social security was a treatment for the malady of distress and desperation(Parklife!), then the focus was shifted from treatment to prevention; policy-makers see the imposition of conditionality itself as being the main influence on individual behaviour. What if companies like Unum see prevention as a means to hold individuals unduly accountable for their state of health? We've already seen a moderate but noticeable increase in certain articles in certain newspapers reporting on policy wonks imposing conditionality on healthcare not for clinical reasons, but purely social ones IE: why should fatties get treatment for obesity-related conditions if they insist on eating themselves to death?

    When this rot sets in, it's only a matter of time before this blatant cost-controlling and social-engineering is re-framed as 'helping people' or 'fixing a system that traps them in this cycle' and the usual passive-aggressive tosh.

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    1. "What if companies like Unum see prevention as a means to hold individuals unduly accountable for their state of health?" Exactly!! Although I wouldn't even use the word "if".

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    2. With the reputation this industry has for surveillance, harassment, disability-denial, and outright fraud, I'm not surprised many are choosing to keep their identities secret. This is big league stuff. Nothing is beyond these people when so much money is at stake.

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  22. Unum are "aiming for more focus on prevention"... what exactly does that mean?

    I very much doubt it will end up being what most of us would take it to mean.

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  23. As long as you stay professional and detached at all times all will be well
    also to let them know about all of the sick and disabled that have died under the previous contract through negligence

    also to remind them that all sick and disabled that die through negligence that their deaths are reported to the UN and the EU for safe keeping in case of any trials served on the government at a later date

    apart from that good luck and you know where i am should you need any independent advice

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  24. Sue, whatever you decide, please remember there is only one of you (and that you only came out of hospital again fairly recently). Please, look after yourself first, your stoic family second, and then, only then, the rest of us. Thanks again for all you do.

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  25. If you feel it will be of benefit for the cause then go along. But, as you are aware, they are trying to use you for their own benefit. However use is two way, therefore do what you feel will be best.

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  26. I am sure you won't say anything just to please them, and I see how you want to be positive, but I fear that when the conference is reported they will just give an overall blend of what was said and they will use you to give them credibility, so don't go. At least, before you go, check out who are the other speakers and what they have said in the past.

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  27. I think it is very easy to be 'misunderstood', either wilfully or by accident.and seriously damage your own credibility. Even the mere hint that DRUK were going to be associated with Maximus has proven toxic to DRUK. They were foolish to engage.
    The decision is yours but I agree with those who have urged you to be well prepared, release the speech in advance, have done your research, consulted with other activists in the USA, taken legal advice to ensure you can prevent what you say and do as being considered in any way an endorsement.
    However personally, I think it is too early to engage with Maximus there is a lot more to be lost than gained. No matter how much you prepare for this people will not understand or misrepresent your reasons, all you have is your reputation and your credibility, do not endanger it by entering what you know is a trap.

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  28. they are trying to neutralise you, Sue. Trying to show what a jolly, friendly, harmless lot they are. But they're not. And they will out-manouevre you, now matter what you do. They have the resources, as others have said. I'd give them a wide berth. They may let you speak - but they sure as shandy ain't listening.

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    1. I do think you might all be giving me too little credit, lol
      No-one has neutralised me yet and the DWP are hardly tiger-pups. As for out manoeuvring me, I have a feeling I may be waaaaay more Machiavellian than you realise ;)

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  29. You have fought and fought to get where you are. You have a wonderful reputation and have helped so many. Please don't give that all away as they will find someway of attacking you. It doesn't matter if it is taped, videoed or goes out live, they will ruin you some way - and as they majority of this country believe that there is "no smoke without fire", you know you will be judged by the people, even if it is completely wrong.
    I wish I had the guts and the knowledge that you have, but if I did then I would not do this.
    They have other names that they can/have contacted to do the same thing, if one of them wants to take this up then let them - you'll have the satisfaction of saying "No" to another Atos, who believe that they can have anyone under their thumb.

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  30. 'He spent several paragraphs persuading me that Maximus in the UK was an entirely separate company to the Maximus in the US'

    The fact that Maximus's PR guy had to shield himself from Maximus's reputation speaks volumes

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  31. I want to add very strongly to the chorus of nopes. I do this stuff for a living, and if you speak at an open event hosted by an agency, it always signals support for that agency. Speaking at an event hosted by a neutral third party is OK. Speaking at meetings behind closed doors is OK. There is no way to do this without being co-opted. If Unum really wanted your input without compromising you, they would offer you a consultative meeting where you brief their bigwigs privately on how they could be less evil. Don't waste your spoons.

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    1. Sue, while I admit to feeling uncomfortable giving advice from the relative safety of my laptop, I am inclined to agree with misspiggy.

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    2. I didn't mean 'I do this stuff for a living' to come across as smug as it sounds - sorry. Sue does this full time and has huge expertise. It's just that I get to sit in offices with whole teams of people discussing the ins, outs and mores of different influencing strategies. Many of those people have worked on both sides of the lobbying fence. So I have access to a collective set of expertise that others may not.

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  32. They will use you to fill their own agenda and then when you are of no more use to them will abuse you and spit you out just like they have with countless thousand others

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  33. But preventing what? A Brain Tumour, MND, Brain injury, Cancer?????? Can you REALLY prevent those, I think not.

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  34. These people aren't interested in what you or any other sick or disabled person has to say, they only want to make money out of us, and neutralising opposition is a means to that end. Another company had brief contact with CAB and then claimed to have the latter on board for their Government contracts (ask Mason Dixon, Autistic for details). Nothing is beneath these people.

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  35. I trust your decision whatever it may be Sue, but I reiterate what many have said about been careful; I lived in the US for over 34yrs and they are a lot more ruthless when it comes to business and money than the English. Having someone with a video recorder with you and making sure that you make it clear about where you stand just to cover yourself somewhat would not hurt. Your an intelligent lady and I trust you will make the right decision for all!

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  36. I have to say I can't make up my mind. I can see the benefit of doing it and getting to bend people you wouldn't usually have access to's ears but at the same time I feel really uneasy about it.
    Even if your speech is deliberately and pointedly against all the bad things that the government, atos and maximus (in the US) have done it is easy to be mis-quoted and mis-represented; we all know that once people have heard something it's really hard to counter it even if it was all lies. How many people would/have the energy to read a transcript? It could easily damage your reputation.

    I'm not sure it's worth the risk.

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  37. It's an opportunity you should take. I don't know what might come of it but we'll never know if you don't take it.

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  38. I say go, see what they have to say and have yours. It may be worthwhile. Trust your instincts.

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  39. hindsight is a wonderful thing hey lol HIPPOCRITE

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