Smokescreen – response to Green Paper

by Caroline Richardson

Spartacus Network this week has produced a response, aptly named Smokescreen, to the Government Green Paper on health and work.  Smokescreen attempts to dig below the soundbites and policy based evidence, and analyse the proposals.

What we found was truly shocking. In a Green Paper, touted as being mitigation for the cuts to the sickness benefit ESA, there was very little evidence that the cuts would be mitigated at all. Instead the Green Paper outlines yet another series of Work Programmes, using many of the familiar Prime Work Programme providers, supported by many of the same community and charity organisations as sub-primes.

What is truly startling though are the numerous hypotheses put forward as facts, supported in part by evidence based on reports written by the DWP or for the DWP, or extremely weak evidence – one survey used only 5 people.  There is a deliberate conflation of sickness and disability – and there is no plan to provide specialist support to those who are healthy and disabled. Instead the DWP has targeted the largest group of ESA claimants by WHO ICD code – Mental and behavioural disorders – regardless of the huge spectrum of conditions this group contains. It also has in its sights the second largest group – musculoskeletal.

Throughout the Green Paper these conditions are suggested to be minor, needed only low level medical interventions to achieve recovery. However these medical interventions are not going to be instigated by the claimant’s GP, but by a Job Centre Employment Advisor rebranded as a Work Coach, one of whose roles is to triage claimants and decide what would be appropriate treatment for them, where treatment consists of a Work Programme.  This triaging will take place at a Health and Work interview whilst the claimant is still in the early stages of ESA, prior to the actual Work Capability Assessment.

What is concerning is that claimants are to be offered treatment as part of their work programme, with provision being via charities, community groups and computers. The emphasis throughout the Green Paper is the coalescing of work and health, as it’s suggested continually that work is not just a health outcome, but also a route to recovery. Obviously if this were true then people wouldn’t leave work due to illness.

No-one is ignored in this Green Paper; the elderly, the unemployed, the sick and carers are all potential units of productivity. The only group exempted are those with disabilities who have good health – for them there is little or no support offered or planned, which is ironic given the Government target of halving the disability employment gap.

This Green Paper should be read with caution; it works excessively hard at not justifying the cut it refuses to mention, and to distract the reader by painting sick people as a hairs-breadth away from recovery – which of course the Government is prepared to supply in the most ‘cost effective’ and consequently ineffective way possible.

Smokescreen can be downloaded here.

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