Welfare rights experts have produced evidence that backs up the findings of a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation into the lies told by healthcare professionals in their disability benefit assessment reports.Last week, the two-month investigation revealed how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.The investigation suggested a serious, institutional problem that stretched across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractors, whose staff carry out face-to-face assessments of eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).Now two separate welfare rights advice organisations say they have their own evidence that confirms many of the DNS findings.Graeme Ellis (pictured), who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, said he and his colleagues are currently lodging up to 30 PIP appeals a week on behalf of claimants, and “20 to 25” of them involve assessors who have told lies in their reports.Here2Support has now started requesting some tribunals to call the Atos assessors to give evidence at appeals so they can be questioned about the honesty of their reports.But on the three occasions they have tried this so far, all have resulted in a DWP decision-maker reversing their decision and finding in favour of the claimant, despite the mandatory reconsideration – the internal DWP appeal – having already taken place.He said this shows that DWP “know damn well that the assessors are not reporting accurately”.Ellis said that he has been to many assessments in which the subsequent reports bore no relation to what the assessors were told by the claimant.He said: “You read the report and your first thought is, ‘It’s somebody entirely different.’ And most of these cases are successful at appeal.”Ellis and his colleagues do not have the resources to attend many face-to-face assessments themselves, but he has still witnessed this happening himself about eight times in the last three months.Among the tricks played by Atos, he said, is to force PIP claimants to walk down a long corridor to get from the waiting area to the assessment room.Even if they are able to make it – and he has seen claimants in such discomfort that they fall against the corridor wall – this does not mean that the claimant can do so “safely, reliably and repeatedly”, which assessors should take into account, he said.He has also read reports in which the assessor said the claimant walked to the assessment room, even though they arrived in a wheelchair.Another frequent comment is to say the claimant showed no signs of breathlessness or anxiety, even though they had been in tears during the assessment, he said.Ellis points out that he has had some cases in which the assessor has produced an honest and accurate report, only for the DWP decision-maker to ignore what had been written.Asked why there were so many dishonest reports, he said: “There have got to be some [assessors] doing it for kicks, but I think it is the pressure on the employer on how many people they let through.“DWP deny it, but there is pressure from DWP on Atos and Capita to meet targets.”And he believes that many of the problems with dishonest reports are the result of last year’s post-budget chaos, in which the government had to perform a u-turn over plans to tighten eligibility for PIP, following the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.This left a hole in DWP’s spending plans, Ellis believes, that it has filled by somehow increasing pressure on the assessment regime.He said: “Because they were unsuccessful in the budget last year with the plans for PIP, I think this is the aftermath.”It was Ellis who, last spring, embarrassed the Tory party by resigning in disgust at George Osborne’s budget, after voting Conservative for nearly 50 years.He had been managing the Conservative Disability Group’s website, and left a message on the site, stating: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”Asked whether it was happy for PIP assessors to be questioned by tribunal appeal panels, a DWP spokeswoman said in a statement, released less than an hour before today’s final DNS deadline: “As you’ve not provided the details of these cases, we are unable to look into them.“However, assessment providers work on behalf of DWP and it is DWP who have overall responsibility for making decisions.“Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate for an assessor to attend a tribunal.“In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.”Evidence of concerns about PIP assessors has also come this week from Southampton Advice and Representation Centre (SARC).Just before Christmas, SARC published research analysing the results of 100 appeal tribunals in which it supported claimants between August 2015 and December 2016.SARC’s analysis found that it had been successful in 78 of those cases – although it only takes on cases where it has a reasonable chance of overturning the DWP decision – the highest success rate it has had for any benefit since it was founded 35 years ago.It has also had three cases in which an initial Atos assessment report led a DWP decision-maker to award the claimant zero points for both daily living and mobility – they need eight points for the standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate – only for the tribunal to award the claimant the enhanced rate for both elements.The most outrageous example was that of a claimant who had been awarded zero points after the Atos assessment, only for the tribunal to award them 50 points for daily living and 22 for mobility, while another claimant was awarded 35 points for daily living and 18 for mobility.Gary Edwards, SARC’s manager, said: “Repeatedly clients tell us and indeed the tribunal panel, that the written records of the assessment do not accurately reflect what they actually recall saying to the assessor.”He said earlier: “The results we have found raise serious questions about the ability of Atos and point to a wider system failure.“We have real concern about the suitability in terms of professional experience of their assessors: can a physiotherapist or paramedic seriously understand complex mental health issues? Our research suggests this is improbable.”
The parliamentary authorities should do far more to make the House of Commons accessible, according to a disabled MP who has faced a series of major barriers in his first weeks since being elected.Jared O’Mara, who has cerebral palsy, has had to rely on support from other Sheffield MPs to secure some of the adjustments he needs to do his job.But nearly a month into his new role, he is still having to miss some debates in the House of Commons chamber because he cannot stand for longer than five or 10 minutes and there have been no seats free.He told Disability News Service (DNS): “There has been a couple of times where I have not been able to get a seat and so I have not been able to attend.“The thing is with the Commons chamber, it is 650 MPs but there’s not 650 seats, so for busy events… there’s not enough seats for everybody. It’s ridiculous in this day and age.”He is full of praise for the speaker, John Bercow, who has given him permission to wear a tee shirt, and no tie, because he cannot do up buttons.That decision came as the speaker made a separate decision to allow all male MPs to remove their ties in the Commons chamber, a ruling which led transport minister John Hayes to warn that he would refuse to take interventions when speaking from any male MPs who were not wearing ties.A spokesman for Hayes assured DNS yesterday (Wednesday) that this warning did not apply to O’Mara.Labour’s whips have allocated O’Mara an office in the House of Commons, when most new MPs are given space in nearby Portcullis House.This is because – if he was in Portcullis House – he would not be able to reach the Commons division lobbies within the necessary eight minutes when a vote is called.But because the front door requires the use of two hands to unlock it, he is having to use the back door to enter his new office, at least until the Commons authorities change the lock to one that is more accessible.Another access issue – and one for which he has not been granted an adjustment – has arisen around his need to stay in an accessible hotel.Because the hotel allowance for MPs is only £150 a night – set by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) – he has not been able to find an accessible hotel closer than Hammersmith, in west London, which means an hour-long journey to parliament every morning.He is not likely to find permanent accommodation in London until the summer recess.An IPSA spokesman said he could not “discuss an individual’s circumstances” but that the costs for “disability assistance” that can be claimed by disabled MPs can include “any necessary [additional] costs relating to accommodation”.O’Mara is clearly annoyed that he is still facing obstacles that are making it harder for him to do his job than non-disabled MPs, weeks after he secured his election victory.And he is mystified about why there is no form which new disabled MPs can fill in to tell the Commons authorities about any adjustments they might need, which he says could easily be included in the information pack they are handed immediately after their election victory.He also points to the Equality Act, which says parliament has an “anticipatory” duty as a public organisation to think in advance about the adjustments it should make for disabled people, such as improving the signs and information around the Houses of Parliament.He said: “They should really have clear, proper signage, of where everything is and what all the rooms are and the purposes, and they don’t.“The amount of times I keep walking past the lift to get up to my office because there isn’t a sign saying ‘lifts’. That’s something they need to really think about.”He said: “I have had to pursue these adjustments with the help of colleagues, some of the other Sheffield MPs, and with the help of the whips office, and I am finding there are more coming up.“All of this should have been in place. I shouldn’t have had my friends and the whips office chasing all this for me. It should all have been in place for day one. That’s the law.“Maybe I have to be in the vanguard for this and I have got to grin and bear the fact that it’s not perfect for me, and try and make it perfect for future disabled MPs.“I want to get more of us here. I’ve got to make it a better place for them.”But he says his experience would have been “a lot worse” if he had not been able to rely on advice from Lord [David] Blunkett, another disabled politician who represented Sheffield as an MP.He said: “He’s a lovely, lovely man. Some of the stuff he went through [as an MP]… He’s a fighter as well, like I am.“My ambition during my time here is to make it perfect for future disabled MPs, where it’s proper equal from the day they land here.”A House of Commons spokesman said he could not comment on the dress code arrangements because “we cannot comment on the contents of private conversations”.He has so far refused to comment on the issue of seating in the Commons chamber, the lack of signage across the parliamentary estate, the access problems with O’Mara’s office front door, and the lack of a form for new MPs to request reasonable adjustments before they attend parliament for the first time.But he said that step-free routes and accessible toilets and lifts in the Palace of Westminster and Portcullis House are marked on maps in a handbook given to MPs, while “the Parliamentary Health and Wellbeing Service can also advise on accessibility issues”.He said: “The House of Commons aims to provide a positive, inclusive working environment where people are valued for the skills and experience they bring to work, whilst being representative of the society they serve.“This means making parliament more accessible, diverse and free from discrimination and meeting the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.“We are committed to this target and have implemented a number of initiatives to ensure we are compliant with the terms of the act.”
SAINTS will take on Huddersfield in the fourth round of the Tetley’s Challenge Cup.They will travel to the John Smiths Stadium, Sunday April 6, Kick-off 2:15pm Tickets details and prices to follow.The Draw:Huddersfield v ST HELENSDewsbury v WiganWakefield v LeedsRochdale v LeighBatley v CastlefordDoncaster v Hemel StagsKeighley v BarrowFeatherstone v NW Crusaders Hull KR v WarringtonHull FC v SalfordBradford v OldhamHunslet v WorkingtonCatalan v London Halifax v WidnesSheffield v London SkolarsSwinton v York
SAINTS next Player of the Month Networking event, in conjunction with Oval Insurance Broking Ltd, will take place on Thursday August 28 (8.30am) at Langtree Park.Guest speaker for this month’s session will be Club partner and sponsor St Helens College who will share details of their St Helens Skills Show Experience, and how you, as a business, can get involved.There will also be the usual refreshments, the opportunity to network and take a peek at the players training ahead of their game away at Leeds the following day.To find out more and to book, email Dave Hutchinson, Head of Sales and Marketing at the Club.
SAINTS have to open well if they have any chance of taking the spoils on Friday.That’s the view of James Roby who pointed to the poor start against Leeds as the main reason they lost the game.“The start worked against us massively on Friday,” he said. “We didn’t come out of the blocks and were 16-0 down.“We then started to play a bit better and up at the right end of the field. We completed our sets and attacked well.“But it was poor for us to concede that try at half time as we had worked hard to get back into contention.“We did well in parts in the second half but we were disappointed with the game.”He continued: “Friday is a massive game and occasion for the players, coaches and the town as a whole.When you’re about fans will tell you how much it means to win it and we’re all looking forward to it.“Wigan have a way of playing and it works for them. They have a great team and fantastic players.“Our job is to defend against that and score a few points.“They have the best defence and we have to try and break them down.”Friday’s game is SOLD OUT but tickets are on sale for Saints’ next home game on April 1 against Hull FC.You can buy them from the Ticket Office, by calling 01744 455 052 or by logging on here.
John Kear named the quintet in a provisional 38-man train-on squad ahead of Rugby League World Cup 2017.The squad was announced at Wales’ World Cup kit launch, which marked 100 days until their opening group match against Papua New Guinea.WALES’ 38-MAN TRAIN-ON SQUAD:Larne Patrick (Castleford Tigers), Zak Williams (Coventry Bears), Courtney Davies, Steve Parry, Lewis Reece (all Gloucestershire All Golds), Danny Ansell (Hunslet), Sam Hopkins (Leigh Centurions), Michael Channing, Ben Evans, Dalton Grant, Elliot Kear, Rhys Williams (all London Broncos), Josh Ralph (Newcastle Knights), Matty Barron (Newcastle Thunder), Joe Burke (Oldham), Caleb Aekins, Daniel Brown (both Penrith Panthers), Ant Walker (Rochdale Hornets), Craig Kopczak (Salford Red Devils), Matty Fozard (Sheffield Eagles), Morgan Evans, Connor Farrer, Andrew Gay, Christiaan Roets (all South Wales Ironmen), Regan Grace, Elliot Jenkins, Morgan Knowles, Ben Morris, Calvin Wellington (all St Helens), Rhodri Lloyd (Swinton Lions), Jake Emmitt, Dan Fleming (both Toronto Wolfpack), Rhys Evans (Warrington Wolves), Ollie Olds (West Brisbane Panthers), Gil Dudson, Lloyd White (both Widnes Vikings), Ben Flower (Wigan Warriors), Phil Joseph (Workington Town)Wales will open their World Cup campaign when they face Papua New Guinea in Port Moresby on Saturday, October 28.They will then travel to Townsville in northern Australia to take on Fiji on Sunday, November 7.Wales’ final group match is against Ireland at Perth Rectangular Stadium on Sunday, November 12.