Ministers and civil servants were “ruthless” and “reckless” in forcing through their new “fitness for work” test and refusing to abandon it even after they were told of the harm it was causing, according to a former government adviser.Professor Geoff Shepherd, who was one of nine members of a working group set up by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) nearly 10 years ago, said the department could and should have predicted how stressful the test was going to be.He said the face-to-face assessment at the heart of the process was so “arbitrary” that it was “a bit like Russian roulette”.And he said it was “reckless” of DWP to continue with the work capability assessment (WCA) once evidence began to emerge of how damaging it was, particularly to people with mental health conditions.Professor Shepherd is one of three mental health experts who have spoken to Disability News Service (DNS) about their work as members of the mental health technical working group that was used by DWP to help design the WCA in 2006 and 2007.Their concerns are further evidence that ministers – under both Labour and coalition governments – and senior civil servants were told repeatedly that the WCA was not fit-for-purpose and would damage claimants’ mental health, and that it was vital to obtain a wider range of information about people with mental health problems before deciding on their claims.Professor Shepherd told DNS that the WCA was a “deeply flawed” and damaging process, something that could and should have been predicted at the time of its introduction under the last Labour government in September 2008.He said: “Everybody thought that. It was barn door obvious it was never going to work, and it was always going to be very stressful for people.” He said the working group told DWP that the process – which tests eligibility for employment and support allowance, the new out-of-work disability benefit that began to replace incapacity benefit from 2008 – should include seeking other sources of information in addition to the face-to-face assessment.Another member of the working group, Sue Godby, said: “What we asked for was getting more information than just relying on that one assessment by someone who was probably not a mental health specialist.“We were trying to encourage DWP to get information from other sources ie the person themselves but also people who knew them well: key workers, that kind of thing.”Seven years after the introduction of the WCA, campaigners are still trying to persuade ministers of the importance of securing a range of information about claimants with mental health conditions, rather than focusing on a brief face-to-face assessment.Professor Shepherd said DWP had been “ruthless” in its introduction of the WCA because it was determined that its approach was the right one.And he said the department had clearly been far too close to Atos, the company paid until this year to carry out both the predecessor of the WCA – the personal capability assessment – and the WCA itself.A third member of the group, Dr Jed Boardman, now the lead on social inclusion for the Royal College of Psychiatrists, said suggestions made by the working group for improvements to the assessment were frequently taken away and scrutinised by DWP’s legal team before being rejected.Godby, who was employed by the insurance giant Unum at the time but had been asked to join the group as an individual because of her mental health expertise and membership of a Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCP) working group, said: “We were asking for a different approach.“That wasn’t necessarily taken on board, but it was something we were all saying needed to happen: that when assessing people with mental health problems you really do need to get that additional information.”Even if DWP had not been able to predict the damage the process would cause before its introduction, once the WCA was piloted “the evidence was coming in thick and fast that it was extremely distressing for people”, said Professor Shepherd.DNS has already revealed how coalition ministers Iain Duncan Smith and Chris Grayling failed in the summer of 2010 to pass on concerns raised by a coroner about the impact of the WCA on claimants with mental health problems – and the need to secure further evidence before deciding on their claims – to the expert they commissioned to review the WCA.They also decided to go ahead with a roll-out of the WCA to existing claimants of incapacity benefit the following year, despite the coroner’s report.More than three years after that warning was ignored, another coroner wrote an almost identical report warning of similar concerns about the WCA, this time following the death of a north London father-of-two, Michael O’Sullivan.Last month, government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford concluded that the programme to use the WCA to reassess people on incapacity benefit was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.Professor Shepherd, a clinical psychologist and expert on mental health and employment, said: “The fact that the process is so bad makes it stressful, because it is a bit like Russian roulette: you don’t know if there is a bullet in the chamber or not.“That’s hardly going to make you feel comfortable. It’s predictable that it was going to be stressful because of the arbitrary nature of the outcomes, because of the way that it was done itself, because it was so much depending on this single interview on a single day.“I can very easily believe that it would damage people’s mental health, at least in the short term, and I can believe that it might lead to suicide, but I don’t know enough about the individual cases to know what else might be going on in their lives.“Obviously there are some tragic stories here about individuals and what happened to them and I have the greatest sympathy for them and their families and I think it is tragic and I think it was reckless the way that DWP continued even in the face of evidence that it was damaging.”Godby, who is no longer with Unum and now works independently, said: “I feel disappointed that some of the things that we hoped that we had raised have not helped.“It is obviously awful for the people going through it, that they have had this experience.“It seems that people have been turned down for benefits and when people appeal and there is all that extra information provided, then very often the appeal is allowed, the payment is made.“It would have been better if that had happened before people had to appeal.”She added: “I was there because of my expertise. You give your advice and you hope that they will take it.“I am very disappointed that people have had to go through this and have such an awful time.”Boardman said he did not believe the members of the working group could have foreseen all of the problems there had been with the WCA.Their work was focused quite narrowly on technical aspects of the assessment and drawing up the so-called “descriptors” – which award points according to the difficulty a claimant has in carrying out certain tasks – whereas he saw the WCA as the whole process from the original application to the decision on the claim by a DWP civil servant.Boardman said: “From the point of view of the descriptors themselves, we weren’t entirely happy with them but we just had to accept that that is what they were going to do.“The WCA was certainly better than the PCA but most of the members of the group were not entirely happy with what they produced.“You are an advisory committee and at the end of the day you are not the person who makes the decision.”As the RCP’s lead on social inclusion, Boardman was responsible for commenting on last month’s research, which found links between the WCA and 590 suicides.He said the links found by the researchers “do seem to be valid” and were “consistent with several others suggesting a link between the austerity and welfare reform measures on people’s mental health”. He said: “The findings are reinforced by accounts of clinicians, of people with lived experience of mental health problems and of many disability groups of the adverse effects of the recent welfare benefit changes and the system of assessments for out-of-work and disability benefits.”He said the research had not come as a surprise to him, as he had listened to mental health charities, and to the difficulties expressed by his own patients.Boardman said it was now time for DWP to conduct a “rigorous evaluation” of the descriptors and “the process people have to go through”.He said he believed it was “likely” that the WCA process had led to some suicides, although that would be difficult to prove.But he said: “What I don’t think you can have any doubts about is that it has been harmful for people.”Professor Shepherd said he believed the WCA’s introduction had been “highly politically-motivated”.He said the development of the WCA had been “reckless” because “it wasn’t thought through and then failed to correct itself in the face of increasingly consistent evidence that it was not only ineffective, but also potentially damaging”.And he said he believed that senior civil servants and ministers “didn’t care” what impact the introduction of the WCA would have.He said: “The purpose really wasn’t to do an assessment of people with mental health and other problems to see whether they were capable of work or not.“The purpose was to chase them back into work and save money on the welfare budget.“You can speculate about what links there were between DWP and Atos that kept this farce going, but the main thing was, ‘Let’s get the scroungers off unemployment benefits and back into work.’”Professor Shepherd said he regretted not raising concerns strongly enough at the time about the potentially damaging impact of the test on people’s mental health.He said: “I don’t think that I thought that clearly about it at the time and I regret not doing that.“I was just so frustrated with them for not listening. I could see that they weren’t going to listen.”In response to the claims made by the three experts, DWP said the WCA had been subject to five independent reviews, which led to “major changes”, including improvements to the claimant questionnaire, while mental health experts had been introduced to spread best practice and understanding among the healthcare professionals carrying out the assessments.It said that the healthcare professionals who carry out WCAs were “highly trained to assess people with mental health conditions” and that DWP had “worked closely with medical experts and charities to make significant improvements to the WCA and assessment process”, while the percentage of people with mental health conditions who receive the highest level of support had more than tripled since 2010.A DWP spokeswoman said in a statement: “It is important we make sure that people are receiving the right support, and they are not simply written off to a life on benefits.“The work capability assessment has been improved dramatically since 2008 following a number of reviews, including five independent ones.“Decisions are taken following an independent assessment and after consideration of all the available evidence.“Guidelines on seeking additional information, particularly in cases where individuals have mental health problems, rightly form an essential part of this process.”Atos had declined to comment by 9pm this evening (Thursday).
The minister for disabled people has been caught misleading MPs – again – as she tried to defend her government’s repeated breaches of the UN disability convention.It was the second time in five months that Sarah Newton (pictured) has misled MPs in a House of Commons debate about the support provided to disabled people.Labour MPs, including the shadow minister for disabled people Marsha de Cordova, had queued up to highlight the government’s “brutal” cuts to social security and its violations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD).De Cordova told Newton: “Over the past eight years, we have seen not the progressive implementation of disabled people’s rights, but their unprecedented erosion and violation.”And she said that “brutal cuts to disabled people’s social security” had “made a mockery” of the convention’s article 19, on the right to live independently, and article 28, on the right to an adequate standard of living.She said: “Half of people in poverty are now either disabled or living with someone who is disabled.“Almost a quarter of disabled people are now forced to miss meals because of economic hardship, and one in five cannot pay to heat their homes.”De Cordova, one of parliament’s few disabled MPs, pointed out that the government was helping to organise a global disability summit in London next month, but she asked: “Why should any other state take them seriously on disability rights when they are systematically violating the rights of disabled people and continue to ignore the UN’s recommendations?”The debate, secured by Labour MP Rosie Duffield, was discussing last autumn’s report on the UK’s implementation of UNCRPD, and the conclusion of the UN’s disability committee that the UK government should make more than 80 improvements to the ways its laws and policies affect disabled people’s human rights.In a briefing prepared ahead of the debate, the Equality and Human Rights Commission and other members of the UK Independent Mechanism* – the official bodies for monitoring the UK’s progress in implementing the convention – had called on the UK government to describe how it would “comprehensively address” the UN committee’s findings.UKIM raised concerns that the government had not made any commitment to implementing the recommendations.And it said the government had also rejected the committee’s recommendations on social security reform in its 2016 inquiry report, which “found evidence of grave and systematic violations of disabled people’s rights” to an adequate standard of living and social protection; work and employment; and independent living.UKIM said “extensive evidence” showed disabled people continued to face “serious regression of their rights to an adequate standard of living and social protection, and to live independently in the community”.And it said that the continued failure to act on the UN committee’s recommendations “goes against the UK Government’s stated commitments to equality and inclusion for disabled people, and undermines its position as a global leader on disability rights”.The UKIM also said that it was “concerned about the lack of UK Government progress in protecting the rights of disabled people in the UK” and had “particular concerns about the adverse impact of social security reforms on disabled people”.Despite the detailed evidence included in the UKIM briefing and the comments of opposition MPs, Newton told MPs yesterday (Wednesday) that ministers “utterly refute the allegations that the government have discriminated against disabled people, systematically undermined and violated their human rights and, worst of all, that we are targeting their welfare support”.In attempting to defend her government’s record on cuts to social security, she told MPs that there had been “no freeze in the benefits that disabled people receive”.But this is not true, a fact repeatedly pointed out to Tory ministers and her party.Although disability living allowance, personal independence payment and the employment and support allowance (ESA) support group top-up are exempt from the benefits freeze – which is set to last to 2020 – there is no exemption for the main component of ESA and the top-up paid to those in the ESA work-related activity group, which continue to be frozen.DWP had not been able to say by 1pm today (Thursday) whether Newton would apologise for misleading MPs.It is the second time this year that Newton has misled MPs in a Westminster Hall debate.In January, she told MPs taking part in a debate on the closure of the Independent Living Fund (ILF) that the decision to close ILF “was challenged in a judicial review, and throughout the process the DWP won on all points”.But the court of appeal had actually been highly critical of Esther McVey in 2013, and found that her decision to close the fund when she was minister for disabled people was unlawful, and that she had breached the Equality Act’s public sector equality duty.McVey had been appointed as the new work and pensions secretary – and Newton’s new boss – just a day before January’s debate took place.*The UK Independent Mechanism’s members are the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Equality Commission for Northern Ireland, the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission and the Scottish Human Rights Commission
JONNY Lomax wants to take the positives of his Four Nations campaign into the new season with the Saints.The full back made a stunning return from recovery last year which culminated in selection for the England squad.“I was personally pretty happy with how I went in the Four Nations, but I was gutted about the results,” he said. “Australia were too good on the day for us but there wasn’t much in the New Zealand match.“Looking back I have to take the positives from that experience. I learnt a lot over the course of the year and what got me into the Four Nations squad.“I have to take the experience, learn from it and bring it back to Saints to try and improve as a player.”Lomax has appeared in both Saints friendlies – but knows the big tests lie ahead.“We have a lot of new players in the squad and it is a case of getting our combinations going as well as understanding how the boys play and what they like to be effective,” he continued. “Our friendlies were about that, and getting mileage in the legs so we can hit the ground running against Leeds.“We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The utility back has played 33 games for the club since signing from Widnes in 2016.He made 28 appearances that year, including appearing against Sydney Roosters in the 2016 World Club Series.This season he has played five times, scoring two tries.“Jack has been a true professional this season,” Saints CEO Mike Rush said. “Despite not having a great deal of first team game time his attitude has been first class and he has worked hard.“He has set a fine example to the younger players this season, particularly in his performances for our reserves, and the move allows him to gain more game time.“We wish Jack all the best at the Eagles and in his future career.”
All the talk of a dead rubber was extinguished early in the first half when three players were sinbinned at the Halliwell Jones Stadium.The Wolves fired ahead, albeit briefly, as a result – before Saints produced some breathtaking stuff to win 34-14.Justin Holbrook was quick to point out that Warrington were missing players in the second half – and that they therefore lacked strike.But there’s no doubting his side were top notch throughout and put in a marker performance as the big games approach.Saints were ahead as early as the fifth minute through Danny Richardson’s boot.He knocked over a penalty after he had been hit late by Ben Westwood.Matty Lees then saw yellow for what looked like accidental knees on Tyrone Roberts as he cleaned up a tackle.The incident sparked an all in melee that eventually referee Chris Kendall got control of – dispatching Mark Percival and Ryan Atkins to the bin.A man up, Warrington had two forays into the Saints’ 20 that brought out the best in their opponents.Jonny Lomax produced a wonder tackle on Ben Murdoch-Masila to stop a certain try and then Regan Grace repeated the act on Josh Charnley.But it was third time lucky on their next attack as Kevin Brown ghosted through a gap to hand the hosts the lead.Saints hit back as the half came to a close.Firstly, Luke Douglas twisted over from close range for his third of the season and then Jack Ashworth sparked a superb Grace try.The young forward broke down the middle of the field but couldn’t find a teammate on either side of him in space.Saints had numbers though and Ben Barba drifted over to the left hand side to link with Percival who duly put Grace over in the corner.A six point advantage at half time very nearly became ten within seconds of the second half as Danny Richardson darted through a gap and two would be tacklers.The move came from well within his own 40 metre area but Charnley chased him down and put him in touch.Saints then weathered a number of Warrington sets on their line before turning defence into attack by cutting upfield and scoring.And it was lovely too, Barba and Fages moving the ball left for Percival to move back inside and offload to Jonny Lomax.From the restart it got even better as Richardson hit Ryan Morgan on a superb line from inside his own 40 – and backed his centre up all the way to go under the sticks.Barba was next on the sheet – taking Lomax’ sweet inside pass on the last to spin and twist his way past the defence.Toby King halted the visitor’s run as he picked up a loose ball to go 50 metres but Barba restored the advantage after taking Douglas’ pass.A real twinkle toed effort for his 29th of the year.Saints were home and done at this point but the Wolves didn’t give up and Bryson Goodwin produced a cool finish in the corner at the end to leave all four stands clapping.But the damage had been done and Saints went home happy.Match Summary:Warrington: Tries: Brown, King, Goodwin Goals: Patton (2 from 3)Saints: Tries: Douglas, Grace, Lomax, Richardson, Barba (2), Goals: Richardson (5 from 7)Penalties Awarded: Warrington: 8 Saints: 6HT: 6-12 FT: 14-34REF: Chris KendallATT: 10,747Teams:Saints: 23. Ben Barba; 2. Tommy Makinson, 3. Ryan Morgan, 4. Mark Percival, 19. Regan Grace; 1. Jonny Lomax, 18. Danny Richardson; 20. Matty Lees, 15. Morgan Knowles, 16. Luke Thompson, 11. Zeb Taia, 24. James Bentley, 12. Jon Wilkin. Subs: 6. Theo Fages, 14. Luke Douglas, 17. Dom Peyroux, 21. Jack Ashworth.Warrington: 1. Stefan Ratchford; 3. Bryson Goodwin, 18. Toby King, 4. Ryan Atkins, 27. Josh Charnley; 6. Kevin Brown, 7. Tyrone Roberts; 8. Chris Hill, 15. Declan Patton, 10. Mike Cooper, 13. Ben Murdoch-Masila, 30. Bodene Thompson, 34. Ben Westwood. Subs: 17. Joe Philbin, 19. George King, 20. Harvey Livett, 22. Morgan Smith.
The ‘Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League’ will give people with learning disabilities the opportunity to play an adapted version of Rugby League, in a series of high-profile festivals and events. The programme aims to promote the development of skills, confidence and positive experiences for people with learning disabilities, and make a major statement about social inclusion. This world-first initiative is the first ever example of a professional sports league sharing its brand with a learning disability sports programme.The inclusive competition has been supported by eleven founder clubs, who have established or will be developing Learning Disability Rugby League teams: Castleford Tigers, Huddersfield Giants, Hull KR, Leeds Rhinos, Newcastle Thunder, Salford Red Devils, St Helens, Wakefield Trinity, Warrington Wolves, Widnes Vikings, Wigan Warriors and York City Knights.Learning Disability Rugby League is a specially adapted non-competitive game, which focuses on encouraging participation and skills development. To support the success of this programme, Community Integrated Care is providing specialist training to all participating clubs, as well as direct investment into the sport.The programme is set to launch at the Betfred Super League’s Dacia Magic Weekend event, which takes place at Anfield Stadium, Liverpool, on 25-26th May 2019. This will provide one of the biggest ever crowds for a learning disability sport event.The initiative was revealed today at Community Integrated Care’s Annual Conference, which took place at Old Trafford, the home of Manchester United. The launch event was hosted by Sky Sports presenters Terry O’Connor and Brian Carney. It featured contributions from Warrington Wolves hooker Danny Walker, Leeds Rhinos forward Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Wigan Warriors second-row, Willie Isa, and St Helens prop, Luke Douglas, who have all signed up as Ambassadors for the programme, having proudly supported LDRL initiatives or the charity Community Integrated Care in the past.Community Integrated Care is one of Britain’s biggest and most successful social care charities, supporting over 3500 people who have learning disabilities, autism, mental health concerns and dementia across England and Scotland. The charity has developed several pioneering sports and social care programmes, including initiatives with leading Rugby League clubs that have been recognised at the National Dementia Care Awards, 3rd Sector Care Awards and the Great British Care Awards.This announcement is part of a wider strategic partnership between Community Integrated Care, the Super League and the RFL, which aims to develop and enhance the community programmes provided by the sport to people with care and support needs. As the Official Social Care Partner of the sport, the charity will be leading the development of a range of programmes that will use Rugby League to transform the lives of people who require care and support.Robert Elstone, CEO of Super League, said: “I would like to thank Community Integrated Care for presenting this ground-breaking opportunity to Super League. The passion and commitment shown to date to get this project underway bodes well for a partnership that will reward all participants in so many ways. Not only will this deliver amazing opportunities for all the players, and experiences that will live in the memory for lifetimes, it will also endorse everything that Super League stands for.Our Clubs sit at the heart of proud communities and bring people together every day of the year. The Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League will widen that reach and amplify these special qualities.”Ralph Rimmer, the Chief Executive of the RFL, said: “As a governing body we are extremely proud of our work in developing both Physical Disability and Learning Disability Rugby League over the past 12 months. To have a partner of the calibre of Community Integrated Care come on board is really exciting and they will add real value as we look to develop this format.The work the Club Foundations have done in giving players with a learning disability the chance to experience Rugby League has been first class and we look forward to working with Super League, Club Foundations and Community Integrated Care to continue to deliver some unprecedented playing opportunities.”Mark Adams, CEO of Community Integrated Care, says: “We believe that this collaboration will become one of the most significant inclusive sports programmes in the world. This initiative gives people with learning disabilities an unparalleled platform to stay active, make friends, develop skills and achieve their dreams. By providing people with the opportunity to represent the clubs that they love, become Super League players, and be part of the game’s biggest events, such as Magic Weekend, the sport is not only changing people’s lives but also making a powerful statement about the inclusiveness and values of Rugby League.“As the Official Social Care partner of the sport, we are looking forward to working with the sport to changing the lives of thousands of people with learning disabilities, mental health concerns, autism and dementia.“We would like to commend the Super League, RFL, all participating clubs, and the players and legends who have signed up as Ambassadors, for their vision and passion for this programme.”St.Helens LDRL face Wigan Warriors LDRL this Sunday at Robin Park. 3pm kick offThis is the first game of the Community Integrated Care Learning Disability Super League so come on down and support the saints!Robin Park Leisure Centre Loire Drive Newtown Wigan WN5 0ULSee whats it all about here.Watch J.P, A current LDRL saint. check out his story here.