Thursday, March 24, 2011

Does the Tory Minister give ATOS?

THE posting from a friend on Facebook caught my attention:

"I've heard it all now. The ATOS doctor telling the DWP that the guy who has been diagnosed with Alzheimers only has minor memory problems and should be able to return to work in a few months. Er no, the guy cant even make a cup of tea. He has been brought back by the police 3 times and doesn't even recognise his wife. Where are they getting these so called medics from!"

To clarify, for those who like me, and unlike my exasperated friend, are not working in health or social services, nor touch wood dependent on them yet,
turn to the Atos website. Wading through the usual corporate bull - "Atos Healthcare is proud to lead improvements in the way care is delivered, giving control to patients and helping them choose how to manage their health", and "Atos Healthcare, the number one occupational health provider in the UK and a business division of Atos Origin,..." - we learn "Atos Healthcare provides independent medical advice to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We conduct disability assessments for people claiming a range of disability benefits including Employment Support Allowance, Incapacity Benefit, Disability Living Allowance and Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit".

Cast your mind back to last year when Cameron and the Bullingham Boys were courageously squaring up to some really tough choices. Anyone could pick on the poor bankers and City speculators, but this government would not settle for the soft option.

"Ministers are to signal a tougher approach to incapacity benefit this week as the next stage of its welfare reforms, by reducing the benefit levels of those tested if they are found capable of doing some work.
Details are expected to be announced by the work minister, Chris Grayling, this week. Early pilots suggest half of those assessed are being taken off the higher rate benefit on the basis that tests reveal they are fit to do some work, government sources say.

"Those deemed capable are likely to be required to do more to make themselves available for work if they are to continue receiving benefit. Ministers have also looked at whether they can speed up the testing, but denied a suggestion that they could treble the number tested.

"The chancellor, George Osborne, signalled tonight that efforts to take more of those on incapacity benefit off welfare will form a significant part of plans to cut the deficit, saying: 'It's a choice we all face. It is not a choice we can duck.'"

"Ministers are looking to see whether existing incapacity benefit claimants can be passed to new private sector welfare-to-work providers.

Osborne, speaking in Toronto at the G20 summit, said: "Some of these benefits individually are very much larger than most government departments. Housing benefit is one of the largest. In its own right, it would be treated as one of the largest government departments.
Welfare crackdown begins with drive to reduce incapacity benefit claims, (Guardian, June 28, 2010)

Well, the drive to get people off welfare and into work could be half successful. With rising unemployment and cuts, including the shutdown of sheltered workshops, the government is not exactly creating jobs (except for consultants and contractors like Atos), but contract staff on payment by results to get claimants off benefit can do that bit. Many even withdraw their claims rather than face the tests and interviews. What does it matter what happens next? It's a result, isn't it?

To be fair, Chris Grayling, the minister responsible, is not quite your ordinary Tory toff, nor even a common Liberal. Schooled not at Eton but at the Royal Grammar School, High Wycombe, before Sydney Sussex College, Cambridge, he worked at the BBC before moving into private television companies, and he was a member of the Social Democratic Party before joining the Tories.

As reported a couple of years ago, Grayling, the MP for Epsom and Ewell, lives in a large house in Ashtead, Surrey, claims expenses for a flat in Pimlico, near the House of Commons. "He also owns other buy-to-let flats and now has four properties within the M25". ((Daily Telegraph, May 11 2009)

So he knows about problems like housing, and benefits, that afflict us ordinary folk in London.

"Within weeks of first being elected in 2001, he bought a flat in a six-storey block for £127,000. In 2002, he set up an unusual arrangement with the Parliamentary Fees Office, claiming £625 a month for mortgages on two separate properties, both the main home and the new flat in Pimlico. This is usually against the rules, but Mr Grayling negotiated an agreement because he was unable to obtain a 100% mortgage on the London flat that he had bought.

"This arrangement ended in May 2006. Over the summer of 2005, Mr Grayling undertook a complete refurbishment of the flat. Shortly after the general election in May, Mr Grayling claimed £4,250 for redecorating and £1,561 for a new bathroom.

"The next month, he claimed £1,341 for new kitchen units and in July, he claimed a further £1,527 for plumbing and £1,950 for work that included rewiring the flat throughout. It is thought to have risen substantially in value since then. During the 2005-06 financial year, Mr Grayling claimed close to the maximum allowance for MPs.

"However, in the following financial year he continued to submit receipts for the work that had been carried out the previous year.

"This effectively allowed him to spread the costs over two years – whereas he would have been unable to claim all the costs in the 2005-06 financial year. For example, in June 2006, Mr Grayling submitted an invoice for £3,534 for service and maintenance on his block of flats, which included a service charge of £1,148 and a 'balance brought forward' of £1,956.

"This was paid by the House of Commons authorities in the 2006-07 financial year, although the invoice refers to 'Tax point: 22 Feb 2006' and refers to costs carried out in the 2005-06 financial year. A handwritten note on the invoice informed the fees office to “Please note this has only just been issued, date notwithstanding.”

"In July 2006, Mr Grayling submitted a claim for £2,250. The invoice from the decorator was dated July 2006, and referred to 'remedial and refurbishment works July 2005'. On the claim form, Mr Grayling stated: 'Decorator has been very ill & didn’t invoice me until now.'

"If the various late receipts had been submitted in the 2005-06 financial year, they would have exceeded Mr Grayling’s second home allowance for the 12-month period by over £4,700. However, they were still paid by the Fees Office.

"Mr Grayling has a sizeable property portfolio. The Pimlico flat, which is only a short walk from the Commons is believed to have risen in value despite the recession. A studio flat in the same block is currently on sale for £235,000.

"On the Parliamentary register of interests, Mr Grayling declares that he rents out two further houses that he owns in London. The family home he shares with wife Sue and their two children in Ashtead is inside the M25 and in the heart of Surrey’s commuter belt. The imposing house with its sweeping drive and grounds cost £680,000 in 2000".

"Mr Grayling defended his claims last night and said that using one of his existing properties would not have saved the taxpayer money. 'I needed two loans to buy my London flat in 2001,' he said.

“One was the standard maximum loan available for a second property and the second was to pay for the 20 per cent deposit. In addition to serving my constituents, I have spent several years serving in the shadow cabinet, currently as the shadow home secretary. A second home enables me to meet those commitments. I have always been entirely open to my constituents about this.”

Grayling had been known as the Tories' "attack dog" for pursuing Labour sleaze targets. But now he has got Labour's Frank Field, the pride of Birkenhead, whom Cameron appointed "poverty czar", as colleague.

As for folk having problems with benefits, or housing, or housing benefit which is being capped, Chris Grayling sounds like just the man to ask for advice.

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At 2:20 PM, Blogger Miss B said...

The sad thing is this story is not unusual. I hear all the time of people who are blind, coughing up blood or suffering from unstable agina (unstable being the key word here) who are being found fit for work.

Sadly people have also died whilst awaiting decisions.


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