Saturday, June 30, 2012

Flames throw light on desperate reality behind statistics

WITH all the TV coverage of the Olympic torch, I don't expect there'll be much time for another kind of flame.
But here is yesterday's Guardian's report:

A man has set himself on fire outside a Birmingham jobcentre after what reports suggest was an argument over benefit payments.
The 48-year-old unnamed man is understood to have doused himself in flammable liquid and tied himself to railings after a dispute inside the Jobcentre Plus in the Selly Oak area on Thursday.
Police arrived at the scene and extinguished the fire after the jobcentre was evacuated.
The man was later taken to hospital with burns to his legs.
A source with links to staff at the centre told the Guardian the man had been recognised by the staff as vulnerable with outstanding health issues but had recently been found fit to work precipitating a move from one benefit to another. This had caused payment delays.
And now an item from investigative bloggers Penman and Sommerlad back in April in the Mirror:
MORE than a thousand sickness benefit claimants died last year after being told to get a job, we can reveal. We've highlighted worries about the controversial medical tests for people claiming Employment Support Allowance which are being used to slash the country's welfare bill.

The Government has boasted that more than half of new claimants are found "fit to work" - failing to mention that over 300,000 have appealed the decision and almost 40% have won.Instead, employment minister Chris Grayling says this "emphasises what a complete waste of human lives the current system has been".

Here's another waste of human life. We've used the Freedom of Information Act to discover that, between January and August last year, 1,100 claimants died after they were put in the "work-related activity group" - that's 32 a week.

This group - which accounted for 21% of all claimants at the last count - get a lower rate of benefit for one year and are expected to go out and find work.

This compares to 5,300 deaths of people who were put in the "support group" - which accounts for 22% of claimants - for the most unwell, who get the full, no-strings benefit of up to pounds 99.85 a week.

We don't know how many people died after being found "fit to work", the third group, as that information was "not available".

But we have also found that 1,600 people died before their assessment had been completed.

This should take 13 weeks, while the claimant gets a reduced payment of up to pounds 67.50 a week, but delays have led to claims the system is in "meltdown".

Mr Grayling admitted last month that 35,000 people are waiting longer than 13 weeks. Commenting on the deaths of claimants, a Department for Work and Pensions official said: "It is possible that the claimant had already closed their claim and then subsequently died, meaning that these figures may be overestimating the true picture."

Of course, they're bound to include some people who died of something completely unrelated to their benefit claim.

But there are plenty of tragic cases - such as that of David Groves who died from a heart attack the night before taking his work capability assessment.

The 56-year-old, from Staveley, Derbyshire, worked for 40 years as a miner and telecoms engineer but stopped on doctors' orders after an earlier heart attack and a string of strokes. His widow Sandra said: "When Dave was called in for a medical, he felt like he was back to square one.

"He was in a terrible state by the day he died. It was the stress that killed him, I'm sure."

Stephen Hill, 53, of Duckmanton, Derbyshire, died of a heart attack in December, one month after being told he was "fit to work", even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.

Citizens Advice told us it has found "a number of cases" of people dying soon after being found fit for work.

"There seems to be a clear link between the cause of death and the condition they were suffering from that led to the claim," a spokeswoman added.

The work capability assessments are carried out by private firm Atos, on a pounds 100million a year contract.

The firm made a pounds 42million profit in 2010 and paid boss Keith Wilman pounds 800,000, a 22% pay rise on the previous year.
But the clampdown on benefits claimants has not been all bad news. Not for some.
On Wednesday this week the Mirror reported:
The fatcat boss of a firm hired to help slash the benefits bill has won a bonus of nearly £1million.
Thierry Breton’s bumper payout means he pocketed more than £1.9million last year.
Details of the obscene sum paid to the head of French firm Atos come as David Cameron draws up draconian new welfare cuts.
Atos was brought in to reassess 2.5 million people on ­incapacity benefit to help the ­Department for Work and Pensions decide whether they are fit to work.
Mr Breton received his massive pay out despite mounting numbers of successful appeals by people ordered to get a job after being tested by the firm.
Heart attack and lung disease victims are among those judged to be well enough to work.
Some 3,100 claimants had appeals upheld in May 2011, up from 900 in the same month in 2010, the latest figures show.
On average almost two in five, 38%, challenged decisions are overturned at tribunal, nearly one in 10 of all those made.
And the appeals system costs taxpayers tens of millions of pounds to administer.
Labour MP Tom Greatrex says Mr Breton’s bonus will “sicken” those put through the reassessment ordeal.
The Atos chief’s latest payment comes on top of wages and perks totalling £1.83million in 2010.
It was revealed in its recent annual report in which it boasts about its “excellent service”.
Mr Greatrex said: “People will find it hard to believe that he sees fit to reward himself with millions, while thousands here suffer.
“It will sicken those who have been through the Atos process to hear the company crow about its expertise.”
He called on the DWP to get a grip on Atos and make the firm improve its performance.
“Thousands suffered because time and again incorrect decisions have been made on the back of Atos assessments,” he said.
An Atos source said decisions on fitness to work were not based solely on its ­assessments but also on information from ­claimants and their doctors.
A spokesman for the company said the bonus was unrelated to the firm’s Government contract, insisting: “No bonus payments are made as part of the Department for Work and Pensions contract.”
Oh, and also this week, David Cameron said his government was determined to "get rid of the benefits culture". Well, at 1,000 deaths last year you could say they are getting rid of the poor.
Time we got rid of Lord Snooty and his chums. They ought to be burning in hell. Let the flames lit in Birmingham be our torch.

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