Wednesday, 8 September 2010
The War on Benefit Claimants
Benefits & Work Publishing Ltd report that the policy of hiring private sector 'bounty hunters' to catch 'benefit cheats' from the private sector was actually implemented by New Labour before this year's General Election. The idea of extending the use of Experian services to catch Incapacity Benefit fraudsters came not from the ConDems but from Experian.
It struck me when Parliament went into recess and the war against ‘benefit cheats’ was ratcheted up by way of the bounty hunters to catch bogus Incapacity Benefit claimants story, that the ‘silly season’ was perhaps the most apt time for ratcheting up smear campaigns — not only poetically, but also in terms of media barons’ deployment of staff.
Actually though, my experience as a successful ESA tribunal appellant has told me that ‘bounty hunters’ already existed, although they themselves should — in my view — be charged with benefit fraud. I’m talking about the ATOS Healthcare ‘Approved Healthcare Practitioners’ who conduct Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the DWP.
None of the physical tests recorded on the report by Dr Ratnam Ramayana [sic] of my Work Capability Assessment took place.
Further, in the ‘Occupational History’ section of his report on my Work Capability Assessment, he failed to include reference to my more than two decades of jobseeker benefit claimant status before my last waged work. Further, he failed to record that that last waged employment had only been so part-time that I still claimed JSA while doing it. I had also told him that I only stuck it out for 11 months because I learned through experience in it that I was more likely to go destitute in doing six hours cover duties per week at £7.81 per hour — and only £5 per week ‘earnings disregard’ — than get adequate in-service training to get more than 16 hours per week as a regular worker with own allocation of service users.
Thus the omissions in the 'Work Capability Assessment' report on me conspired to make it look as if I was one of those people whose citing of mental health issues as reason for claiming Employment & Support Allowance was questionable. I had actually been looking for waged work as a lifelong disabled person, while government was pretending that Incapacity Benefit claimants were the only disabled people 'of working age' on 'out of work' benefits.
Like I say, in 2005-2006 I was only allowed to pocket the first £5 of my weekly earnings of £7.81 per hour. (That was except for the one Christmas week when covering for colleagues on Christmas hols netted me over 16 hours work.) Five pounds per week is less even than the hourly national minimum wage. Due to DWP understaffing and the ridiculous and demeaning admin burden of such measly ‘earnings disregard’ for JSA claimants, though I had conscientiously completed and submitted part-time earnings forms, the DWP had erroneously reported to my local council that I was not eligible for JSA. So the council wrote me saying that I would have to re-apply for Housing Benefit & Council Tax Benefit. (I wish the Government would ease up on giving me so much work to do!) Only when I gave up that paid work did I get time to get through to DWP to sort it out.
Government's failure to protect benefit claimants from hardship does not make tabloid headlines
Yet I was not the only one to suffer from DWP admin meltdown. In 2004-2005, JobCentre Plus failed to answer 21 million incoming calls to its helplines. Claimants affected sometimes experienced destitution as a result, reports Community Care magazine. (‘JobCentre Plus: Poor service continues’.) That is 44% of all incoming calls. Meanwhile, only 5% of calls to the DLA/Incapacity Benefit helpline were answered.
Napoleon said: “Attack is the best form of defence.” Similarly, the moral of my tale is that criminally negligent government with a mass media that is constantly vigilant against the wrong targets finds that smear stories against those it has let down the most are its greatest self-defence.
But social workers and social care workers who defraud their service users face the risk of criminal prosecution. ATOS, while, gets more work at taxpayers’ — and especially vulnerable people’s — expense. (Even benefit claimants pay VAT, so we are all taxpayers.)
Green Party Disability Spokesperson
And member of Camden Green Party
 Benefits & Work Publishing Ltd 6 Sepetember Newsletter
 See http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10159717 'New benefit system labelled unfit',
http://tinyurl.com/2fy7uad Community Care magazine search for 'ATOS', and you will see that my own experience of a quack service was not uncommon.
 The £5 per week 'earnings disregard' for JSA claimants aged 25+ has remained so low since 1988. See http://tinyurl.com/2eqk5dg
'Why people work informally while claiming benefits'.
 Published 16 November 2006. Search find link at www.communitycare.co.uk website currently not fully operational.