This is a brief summary of the response to this Thinkpiece so far, followed by a
briefing on four things that have come up in the last two weeks which I hope some
friends and colleagues will be able to use.
There have been quite a few messages of support and undertakings to use the research
material. Interest and support have come from MPs of three parties (not the Tories)
and a Welsh Assembly Government Minister, with requests for briefings. There is discussion
with the Guardian, with some major charities, links (with and without supportive
messages) on some key websites, and lots of forwarding to MPs. I am not more specific,
partly because the success or otherwise of this Thinkpiece is not the point, and
partly because some initiatives are 'in development' and I don't want to quote what
are confidential emails.
What the piece hasn't achieved as far as I know is penetration to the new (small
'n')Labour leadership group. It seems from the first words of Ed Miliband's first
Prime Minister's Question that the historic New Labour approach to Welfare Reform
in relation to poor health has been exempt from his process of policy renewal, in
spite of a vast swathe of evidence of the hardship it has caused. It is always going
to be hard for Labour, but it is now much more difficult for Labour to face up to
the evidence than it was a month ago. I very much hope to be corrected.
I am very struck by the extraordinary level of distress and anxiety being expressed
across the net about incapacity benefit reforms and ESA: you need only look at the
comments in response to Frances Kelly's piece on the Compass website picking up on
what I wrote; and the avalanche of comments on Mind's website: http://www.mind.org.uk/blog/4071_more_evidence_for_the_review_of_work_capability_assessment
The superb Citizens Advice report, 'Not Working' (referenced in my Thinkpiece) and
the forensic statement by the Disability Alliance to the Review of the Work Capability
Assessment (similarly referenced) convey the distress and injustice in a different
way. Meanwhile, the bipartisan approach to Welfare Reform sails on, one hopes not
too calmly towards the rocks.
Below, a few briefing points from the past ten days.
FOUR BRIEFING POINTS ON INCAPACITY BENEFIT, ESA AND THE WORK CAPABILITY ASSESSMENT
1. TWISTING FIGURES
On 26 October, the DWP put out a press release claiming that three-quarters of incapacity
benefit claimants were fit for work: 'Grayling: latest figures show the vast majority
of people being found fit for work'. This was based on a logical fallacy used in
an extraordinarily cynical way which resulted in an orgy of scrounger-bashing by
the usual culprits. The press release included the high proportion who discontinued
their claim in the normal course of events (mostly simply got better, as they used
to do over years under the incapacity benefit regime, contrary to popular belief)
thus implying that they were, or had been found to be, 'fit for work', and had been
swinging the lead. The correct comparison is much narrower - the breakdown of recommendations
of the Work Capability Assessment:
- Support Group ( not required to undertake work-related activity, 10%;
- the ESA Work Related Activity Group, 25%, and
- fit for work - (Jobseekers Allowance) 65%.
The press release did not mention the Coalition's own Review of the Work Capability
Assessment - a statutory requirement under the Welfare Reform Act 2007 for the first
five years of its operation:
it just presented 'three-quarters fit for work' and presumably on the skive. See
excellent Demos blog
2. PRE-EMPTING THE HARRINGTON REVIEW
Most of you probably know this, but it is worth stressing, the devastating criticism
in the last year of the Work Capability Assessment (quoted in my Thinkpiece) led
to a Review of the WCA: Brownie points for that. It won't report till late in the
year. Yet the pilots for the national rollout of the application of the WCA to two
million Incapacity Benefit claimants has already begun. I hope they don't know the
result of the Review - either way, it doesn't look good.
3. WORK: THE BEST ROUTE OUT OF POVERTY?
Excellent article in CPAG's Poverty magazine (Autumn 2010, not yet available on line)
in which their Projects and Outreach Worker Nick Jones questions the simplistic 'Work
is good for you' message of successive Government publications, which can largely
be traced back to Gordon Waddell and Kim Burton's 'Is Work Good for your Health and
Wellbeing'? There is indeed a lazy reference to that in my own Thinkpiece. Jones
finds a far more nuanced and questioning account in Waddell and Burton's report -
indeed, the identification of a battery of unanswered questions. He says 'to recap:
there is a lack of direct evidence on the subject, but the indirect evidence suggests
that work is generally good for your health and wellbeing, provided you can get a
job. Not just any job, but a good job'. According to Waddell and Burton:
'in terms of promoting health and wellbeing, the characteristics that distinguish
'good' jobs and 'good' workplaces might include: safety; fair pay; social gradients
in health; job security; personal fulfilment and development; investing in human
capital; accommodating, supportive and non-discriminatory; control / autonomy; job
satisfaction; good communications'.
Pity that didn't find its way into the Government Green and White Papers. The misuse
of research has a lot to answer for in this field. Good piece of work by Jones.
4. BAUMAN, MILIBAND AND THE EXCLUDED
There is much on the Compass website, and in the Guardian, about the sociologist
Zygmunt Bauman's 'vision of humanity lost in pursuit of the market' finding a voice
in Ed Miliband. I was struck by a quote from Bauman: 'Once governments exclude people
you can stop them from being protected. Societies begin to manipulate fears about
groups. When the welfare state is in crisis we have to be concerned about such a
feature (in society)'. Time to read up on this, Ed.