Unfair benefit rulings are another attack by Government on the poor, says TUC

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date: 13 October 2010

embargo: 00.01hrs Friday 15 October 2010

The TUC reveals new evidence today (Friday) that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is moving people from Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to Jobseeker's Allowance (JSA) purely to save money, even though the individuals are not fit enough to return to work.

The TUC has identified a number of case studies who have been awarded '0 points' by Atos Origin Ltd - a company contracted by the DWP to carry out ESA assessment reviews - and declared fit to work when they had all previously been declared too ill to do so.

When they met with Atos Origin Ltd, Sue Hutchings had breast cancer and was awaiting surgery, while John Watkins had his arm in plaster from his shoulder to his fingertips following an operation.

They were moved from ESA at £96.85 a week on to JSA at £65.45 a week, losing them each £1,632.80 a year in benefit support, and forcing them to start looking for work.

Atos Origin Ltd receives millions of pounds in contracts from the DWP and large employers for assessing people who have been declared unfit for work. Advice workers all over the country have voiced concerns to the TUC over the large number of people being denied benefits following disability analysis undertaken by Atos Origin Ltd on behalf of the DWP.

This week (starting Monday 11 October) the DWP began two ESA re-assessment trials in Burnley and Aberdeen. The TUC is concerned that the Government is moving many disabled and sick people from ESA on to JSA to save money even though they are too ill to work. Statistics from the Tribunals Service reveal there has been a 128 per cent increase in ESA appeals for the first quarter of 2010 compared to the first quarter of last year.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said: 'With the proposal to move more than a million benefit claimants from ESA on to JSA by next October we have to put the DWP under the spotlight.

'This is yet another example of where the Government is attacking the poor in a crude attempt to save money and curb public spending.

'Ministers keep telling us that the cuts will be fair and that everyone has to play a part in reducing the deficit, but this is a clear example of how some of the most vulnerable are being made to suffer in the new age of austerity.

'The DWP decides how benefits assessments are carried out, and must ensure this process is responsible, transparent and - above all - fair.'

Unemployed Workers Centres Coordinator Colin Hampton,who has uncovered many examples of failings in the DWP's assessment process and supported people through appeals, said: 'Ministers clearly want to get as many sick and injured people off benefit and back into work to save the public finances.

'As a result the Government are shamelessly giving people '0 points' denying them benefit knowing that they are too ill to go back to work. It's a sick way to treat the sick.'

The TUC will hold its annual poverty conference on Monday (18 October) at Congress House in London. Speakers at Challenging Poverty in Changing Times include TUC Deputy General Secretary Frances O'Grady, Kate Green MP, Oxfam Poverty Director Kate Wareing and Jonathan Portes from the DWP. The conference will address the impact of the cuts and alternative visions of the welfare state.

CASE STUDIES

Sue Hutchings: Sue was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2009. She had an operation to remove the lump on 14 August but unfortunately the surgery scar became infected. At a follow up appointment, Sue was told the cancer had spread beyond the original excision and she would have to have more tissue taken. She was prescribed antibiotics for the infection through to the end of September. During this time, she received and completed her ESA50 form, stating that she had breast cancer and was undergoing surgical treatment. On 7 October she had a pre-op appointment and further surgery was booked for the following week. Sue had her ESA medical with Atos Origin Ltd on 8 October and told them she was still recovering from surgery and had further surgery booked for 12 October. Sue's GP had provided her with a sick note and all the supporting medical evidence requested by the DWP. Sue offered to show this medical evidence and her scar, but the Atos Origin Ltd nurse refused to look. Sue had her surgery and thought everything had gone well. At a follow up appointment on 4 November with her consultant Sue was told the cancer had spread again and she would need a full mastectomy. Despite this, upon receiving the report back from Atos Origin Ltd the DWP decision maker decided that Sue 'could not be treated as having limited capability for work.' Sue received her '0 points' letter on 12 November 2009. She appealed and a revision of the decision was carried out. She won on the grounds that exceptional circumstances regulations should have been applied. Sue is now in remission.

John Watkins: John Watkins was working as a lorry driver but developed acute tennis elbow through repetitive driving so that by January 2009 his right arm movement was severely restricted. As a result he had to stop work because he could no longer drive. John is right handed and after an operation in April 2009 had his whole right arm from his shoulder to his fingers put in a cast. This is when he was called to see Atos Origin Ltd. John was called to an assessment where the medical found him fit for work. He did not score any points (a person needs 15 points to be judged incapable of work). John's consultant had advised him not to use his arm, yet the Atos Origin Ltd medical said he was capable of using both arms to lift bulky objects. This judgement meant John would lose at least £25.50 per week. John decided to fight the decision by lodging an appeal. The decision was initially reconsidered and he was then awarded six points (for lifting) but was still nine points short of the total he needed to be judged incapable of working. Atos Origin Ltd claimed John was able to fill in the initial ESA questionnaire he'd been sent, but John had completed the form before being put into plaster. At a tribunal the decision was overturned and it was accepted that John could not lift using both arms or use a pen effectively. He was then entitled to the extra £25.50 per week, which was then backdated to. John will need further surgery in December. He is incensed at his treatment and says: 'I encourage people not to be put off pursuing their claim. They should seek advice and appeal if they feel that they have been unjustly treated, as I undoubtedly was.'

NOTES TO EDITORS:

- The TUC has case studies who are all happy to be interviewed by the media. Written accounts of the case studies' experiences with Atos Origin Ltd are also available.

- Yesterday (Thursday) four case studies protested outside the DWP in London and in Strictly Come Dancing style held up '0 points' cards awarding Atos Origin Ltd zero points for the service received. Pictures are available from the press office.

- The TUC believes that the test that DWP has asked Atos Origin Ltd to administer is not fit for purpose, as set out in the TUC's submission to Professor Harrington's independent review of ESA available at http://www.tuc.org.uk/extras/TUC_WCA_Review_submission.pdf

- Challenging Poverty in Changing Times will be held at the TUC, Congress House, Great Russell Street, London WC1B 3LS from 10.30am-5pm. The conference is organised by ATD 4th World, the Child Poverty Action Group, Community Links, Oxfam, PCS, Save the Children, the TUC and the Unemployed Workers' Centres. To register for the conference please contact Jennifer Mann on jmann@tuc.org.uk or on 020 7467 1222.

- Statistics from the Tribunals Service are available at http://www.tribunals.gov.uk/

- All TUC press releases can be found at www.tuc.org.uk

- Register for the TUC's press extranet: a service exclusive to journalists wanting to access pre-embargo releases and reports from the TUC. Visit www.tuc.org.uk/pressextranet

Contacts:

Media enquiries:
Liz Chinchen T: 020 7467 1248 M: 07778 158175 E: media@tuc.org.uk
Rob Holdsworth T: 020 7467 1372 M: 07717 531150 E: rholdsworth@tuc.org.uk
Elly Gibson T: 020 7467 1337 M: 07900 910624 E: egibson@tuc.org.uk

Colin Hampton (Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre) M: 07870 387999

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