NEWS UPDATE

15 NOVEMBER

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

http://www.demos.co.uk/blog/amathslesson

 

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.