The following is the transcript of the talk I gave to the Socialist Workers Association last Thursday.
I’ll preface this talk by a quote which is around 160 years old – demonstrating that the opinion is both long standing and has some eminence: a bloke called Charlie Dickens, then a young reporter covering an election in Chelmsford got right to the root of all problems – he wrote home to his girlfriend Catherine: (The Tories are) “A ruthless set of bloody minded villains…perfect savages…superlative blackguards.” (with thanks to Claire Tomalin).
I am a member of DPAC Norfolk – a recently formed member group of the Norfolk Coalition of Disabled People – specially formed to campaign against the cuts in Norfolk. DPAC (TRANSLATE) is a midlands based national organisation that has grown to include 21 local groups around the country – from Southampton to the north east of England. A move towards a concerted voice for disabled people.
I won’t be throwing numbers or statistics at you – workfare is a human subject. Here’s a quote from the other organisation I work with – the National Survivor User Network for Mental Health:
“At NSUN we are deeply concerned that these changes (in welfare reform) not only revert us to the Dickensian poorhouse where the ‘worthy poor’ are set against the ‘unworthy poor,’” For to this ToryLib rabble they call a government the worthy poor are the STRIVERS and the unworthy poor, the SKIVERS.
And these CON-DEMS have encouraged their friends in the SATURDAY- MORNING-CINEMA-style press to demonise the poor and the disabled; the latest sneer smear being calling us “LTBs – Lying Thieving Bastards.”
However, there’s been torrents of words about how the Department of Work and Pensions – the DWP —- and their hired murderers, ATOS Healthcare have begun their persecution, their cull of our population of vulnerable chronic sick, infirm and disabled people. Yes, I say begun because there is threefold torment, threefold abuse of human rights to come.
But what I’m interested in – because it’s massively important – is what’s at the bottom of this official policy of tearing the hearts out of disabled people. What’s led to these ConDem killing fields contracts?
As early as 1993 —— remember who was in charge of the country? Yes, Mr Major! — And one of his henchmen — Peter Lilley — brought in, from outside government, one John Lo Casio to ‘manage claims’ of Incapacity Benefit.
Lo Casio, who was the then second vice chair of a huge US based international insurance company UNUM Provident, was also joined on the Lilley set up, the Medical Advisory Group, by another associate of UNUM, Mansel Aylward. This ‘Medical Advisory Group’ set up the ‘All Work Test’, which later became the ‘Personal Capability Assessment’ (PCA) and eventually the more recent ‘Work Capability Assessment’ (WCA) used by Atos.
An important point to bear in mind here is that in America, UNUM had been selling their speciality of Income Protection insurance for many years and, it is said, to minimise claims on them, they had devised their own version of what is called the ‘BioPsychoSocial model of disability.’
Without going too much into technical detail, disability movements in this country define disability as that caused by barriers preventing abilities put in place by society in general – people’s attitudes; public facilities with steps up to them, buses that won’t take wheelchairs, etc etcetera, etcetera, etcetera. This is called the ‘social model of disability.’
In America, UNUM grasped hold of the ‘BioPsychoSocial’ description of disability (proposed by George Engel in 1977) and twisted it for their use:
In 2005, UNUM Provident was fined 8 million dollars. The Los Angeles Times of October 3rd 2005 reported: “California regulators will charge UnumProvident with more than 25 violations of state law, allegations that the company will neither admit nor deny in favor of settling the case. Among the charges (was): that the company knowingly applied the wrong legal definition of disability in denying claims or ruling claimants were able to go back to work, (they) targeted high-cost claims for denials to save the firm money, misused claimants’ medical records and even the opinions of in-house medical personnel to deny benefits.”
And as a brief but pithy digression: if we substitute the word ATOS for ‘the company’ we get: ATOS “knowingly applied the wrong legal definition of disability in denying claims or ruling claimants were able to go back to work, (they) targeted high-cost claims for denials to save the firm money, misused claimants’ medical records and even the opinions of in-house medical personnel to deny benefits.”
Debbie Jolly, founder of DPAC, in her seminal article, A tale of two models tells us what happened next: “In 2001 a conference with the charming title of ‘Malingering and Illness Deception’ was held at Woodstock near Oxford. It covered old ground for the insurance industries. Amongst the participants were Malcolm Wicks, then Parliamentary under Secretary of State for Work (under the Labour government), and Mansel Aylward: (now) Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and a number of academics … who would come to add academic credibility to Unum’s and government protestations on disability and illness.
UnumProvident (later just Unum) was represented at the conference by John Lo Cascio. The goal of the conference was the transformation of the welfare system, in particular the reduction of payments to disabled people which was perceived to be a key problem for successive governments. Unum were perfect for such a project as they had a very useful track record of reorganising exactly what health problems were in order to avoid insurance payouts.”
Unum Provident funded the Centre for Psychosocial Research at Cardiff University from 2003-2009. Prof Aylward left the DWP to become the first (and only) Director of the ‘research’ centre and has benefitted in his career as he now tours the world lecturing about the BPS model of disability assessment and how people can “think themselves well”. The amazing thing is that, until recently, no-one ever challenged this dangerous nonsense and he has enjoyed a lucrative career.(10) The Professor is now also a Director of the influential Health Claims Bureau…
In 2007, Labour’s John Hutton appointed the MP David Freud – now a Tory, now Lord Freud, one of the chief architects of the current Work Capability Assessment – as the main government advisor on welfare reform. He was commissioned by John Hutton to produce the report: ‘Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity on the Welfare to Work Programme’
Also in that year, as Debbie Jolly says: “In July 2007 The Personal Capability Assessment (PCA) was redesigned by two technical working groups, one for ‘physical impairment and another for mental health issues. Representatives from Unum and Atos were present in both groups. The redesign would be one step closer to the hated and much maligned Work Capability Assessment to be delivered by Atos.”
Can we follow the thread running through this so far? The original huge influence of the multinational company UNUM, the presence of UNUM representation on the majority of the government working groups on welfare reform since 1994, the ever presence of the influence of Mansel Aylward, the close ties between UNUM and ATOS. All of these people representing private financial interests are we being governed by elected MPs – is Parliament in charge of this country – or are we governed by multinational interests?
For pudding, I’ll close with some statements. By the way for more detail I’d refer you to two excellent sources: A Tale of Two Models by Debbie Jolly at: http://tinyurl.com/d3dxfc2
And Mo Stewart’s current report at: http://www.whywaitforever.com/dwpatosveteransreport20120901.html
Here are the quotes:
From Mo Stewart: “The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is a replica of US disability insurance medical tyranny adopted by Atos Healthcare, and funded by the DWP, as successive British Governments used Unum Insurance as ‘advisers’ to reduce the welfare budget. The WCA is very similar to the ‘assessment’ system used by Unum to resist funding pay-outs on disability insurance, and that includes the ‘administration’.(3)(4) The question remains as to why would any UK Government knowingly use one of the most notorious of all corporate insurance giants to ‘advise’ the British Government on welfare reform…”
From Debbie Jolly: “This is about denying benefits, denying illness and denying incapacity. It is not about even about ‘thinking yourself well’ or tortured nonsensical models shored up by dubious academics: It’s about something Unum have a successful history of: it’s about denying pay outs and capitalising on fear and risk.”
From Michael Meacher (Hansard) in a Commons debate on 17th January 2013: “The fundamental issue is this: how can pursuing with such insensitive rigour 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit, at a rate of 11,000 assessments every week, be justified when it has led, according to the Government’s own figures, to 1,300 persons dying after being put into the work-related activity group, 2,200 people dying before their assessment is complete, and 7,100 people dying after being put into the support group?
And John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab) in the same debate said: “I also refer Members to Calum’s List, which has a website. It is a list of people who have died, including by suicide, as a result of, or where there has been a contribution from, the loss of benefits.”
From MO STEWART: “Now that the link between the UK Government and Unum Insurance has been identified during debate in the House of Commons (HOC), and is on record in Hansard, the entire disturbing history of the welfare reforms, the bogus WCA assessment and the US corporate influence with the UK Government can finally be fully exposed.” …This is how the welfare state will be destroyed and replaced with private health insurance – which is the Thatcher legacy.”
From Lord Freud, Government Spokesperson, Department for Work and Pensions, reported by ‘Inclusion London’ Jan 2012: (he) said that the government, ‘had gone for the biopsychosocial model’ and that the social model was ‘(an) intrusive and costly assessment, putting significant cost burdens on the state’.”
And finally from C.Scott | Feb 21 2011 in the blog, ‘Cover:’ “You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to know about Unum. The fact they are banned in many states in the US and were fined hundreds of millions of dollars for ordering their Decision makers to find genuine claims for disablement null and void. The fact that they sponsored meetings at the Labour party conference which led to the idea of the WCA. The fact that they were on the committee (even with their track record) that implemented the current WCA provided by Atos, …failing genuine disabled people fit for work. This is only the beginning. 40% of people fit for work are being found not fit for work. The dismantling of the NHS is next and companies like Unum will now show their true colours and be there to pick up the lucrative contracts by showing their model will be more profitable.. Seriously, please just google Unum and you’ll see.. They have been working with the last government and are now with the Condems, just waiting for their piece of pie.. They are sadly about to get it..
And from the ME association pages: “It makes me ashamed to be British, that the sick, the disabled and the unfortunate are the mere pawns of meg-rich companies and their cronies in government.”
And a footnote from me giving the Hansard URL of the Commons debate on ATOS and benefits: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130117/debtext/130117-0002.htm#13011761001546