Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Daily Mail goes after the disabled

Classy... Okay, let's just get a few things straight:

>The Mail's story is based on a DWP press release, and some rudimentary examination of this DWP report [pdf].

> The Mail's story is mince. It does not show that 75% of disability claimants are fit to work. It shows that 75% of those who apply for the benefit under a new system of testing introduced by the Department of Work and Pensions under New Labour, wherein outsourced medical professionals are incentivised to reject patients, are either rejected or withdraw their applications, which means that the new system is designed to exclude the vast majority of those who apply. Whether or not this means those rejected by the assessors are actually fit for work is not clear. Even if those rejected were indeed fit for work, this would tell us nothing about those currrently on disability allowance.

>The Mail does not discuss the failings of Atos Origin - the private sector assessment contractors whom they mention in their article. It is their assessments that are resulting in the exclusion of hundreds of thousands of people from incapacity and disability benefits. Yet, as they have been hired to help the government meet its target of driving 1 million people of disability rolls, they have a vested interest in finding people to be fit for work. The Child Poverty Action Group has written to Chancellor Osbourne complaining about "the woeful inadequacies in the design of the Work Capability Assessment and shortcomings in quality of assessments undertaken by Atos". The assessment quality is often a problem because the medical professional used by Atos to undertake medical examinations or review the evidence may not have the qualified experience necessary to make a judgment on complex medical problems that people can have. Just as often, it is a problem because the investigation is perfunctory, and unilluminating. (See this discussion). Because one has been deemed 'fit to work' by Atos does not mean that one has been properly examined, or that one is indeed fit to work.

> The Mail relies on the suggestion that people are 'trying it on', and that if the new testing system was applied, perhaps as many as 75% of those who receive the benefit would be rejected as workshy chancers. The evidence of past research shows that the vast majority of those claiming disability-related benefits are in fact disabled. Most such claimants are concentrated in former industrial areas where manufacturing and mining industries regularly produced crippling or disabling accidents. The research finds that at most the government could expect to remove half a million from disability allowance by introducing stricter definitions and procedures. That's not a negligible sum, but a) it's less than 20% of claimants, not 75%, and b) there's no evidence that those who would be removed are deliberately evading work or have trivial complaints. Rather, they would find themselves compelled to undertake various forms of education and training that would make them apt for some forms of work, so that they could be reclassified as jobseekers and put on lower benefits. Surveys of disability benefit claimants find that there are about a million of them who would like to return to work if properly supported. But there isn't such support in place, and there aren't actually millions of jobs waiting to be filled by such people, nor has the government made any indication that it will seek to create those jobs - quite the contrary these days - so the changes introduced by the last government, with Tory support, are actually about reducing the income and consumption of the poorest and most vulnerable people in society.

> The Mail relies on apparently shocking, but false, and irrelevant, claims to bolster its case. For example, the Mail thinks this is a right laugh: "Incredibly, 7,100 tried to claim because they had sexually transmitted diseases and nearly 10,000 because they were too fat." The DWP breaks up initial self-assessment claims according to the categories of the International Classification of Diseases. The Mail has, shall we say, taken liberties in decoding the technical jargon used. Let's start with the figure for being "too fat", which corresponds with the category in the DWP report labelled "Endocrine, Nutritional and Metabolic Diseases". This category includes all sorts of problems such pituitary, thyroid, and pancreatic disorders. These are not reducible to being "too fat". As it happens, however, obesity-related disability is a genuine problem and is about more than fatty tissue. There is a strong relationship between obesity and health problems limiting one's ability to work (see). Being obese is often a symptom of underlying problem - a sudden change in metabolism or rapidly diminished mobility. It can create severe functional impairments that prevent people from working. There's nothing in this to laugh at - unless you're a Daily Mail reader, or Top Gear fan. Now let's consider the claim concerning STDs and disability. This figure corresponds to the DWP category "diseases of the genitourinary system". This includes such problems as acute renal failure, renal tubular acidosis, bone and kidney diseases, breast hypertrophy, etc etc. These are not sexually transmitted diseases, but they can be serious disorders and highly painful and debilitating conditions. Again, the only humour available here is the comedy of the psychopath. The Mail's claim is absurdly, flatly false - a downright lie.

> The Mail seeks to give the impression that even those who have been turned down for incapacity or disability benefits have grabbed millions from the system: "Even so, those who have failed or avoided the test since it was introduced have managed to claim as much as £500million in total before being screened out." In fact, during the first three months in which the assessment takes place, claimants received £65 a week, exactly what they would receive on jobseekers' allowance. They have not duped the system out of money to which they are not entitled. In fact, jobseekers' allowance is a very small benefit that has been steadily declining in value since the 1980s, from about 16% of the average wage in 1987-8 to 10% in 2007-8.

> Last thing. I've picked on today's Daily Mail front page. It's actually the same as the Express front page from two weeks ago. And it's almost identical in the nature of its claims and basic agenda to recent Daily Mail articles, and to numerous other front page shock exclusive reports made for the last few years by the right-wing tabloids, inspired by DWP press releases. It's also identical to ignorant claims made by the former investment banker David Freud while he was working with the last government to 'reform' welfare. It is a propaganda line, constantly promoted by the state, business and the right-wing media. It fits in which the agenda of capital, but is rejected by trade unions, charities, and disability groups. The regularity of its appearance in widely read newspapers is more decisive as a factor in its acceptance than the reliability of its conclusions. Undoubtedly, this will have contributed to a situation in which most people, who lack access to the kinds of information that would expose the propaganda as a sham, will either endorse or acquiesce in cuts to such benefits. It is repeated far more often than any criticism of business, or of bankers, and certainly of the capitalist system which produces mass unemployment and incapacity. This is, in other words, a concrete example of the ideological power of capital.