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Issue #1775      May 3, 2017

A 35-year assault

“Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practice to deceive” is a famous quote from the early 19th century by Sir Walter Scott but is very apt for today’s politics, as the British government successfully deceives the British public and Parliament on route to the total demolition of the welfare state, as originally planned 35 years ago by the first female Conservative prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, the future demolition of the welfare state was first suggested in 1982 by Margaret Thatcher, which archives suggest led to the nearest thing to a cabinet revolt in the history of Downing Street.

However, all three major political parties supported the plan to rid the country of state-funded welfare, and every government since Thatcher covertly worked towards that goal when using toxic neo-liberal politics. The right-leaning New Labour government used the 2008 banking crisis to begin the welfare reforms, which really meant welfare destruction.

Then, with the election of a Tory-led coalition government in 2010, the demolition of the welfare state began in earnest and the adoption of additional “austerity measures” guaranteed that many chronically ill and disabled people dependent upon state-financial support would suffer, and many would die, when killed by the state.

Following in Thatcher’s footsteps, in 1992 John Major invited a US insurance giant to help with “welfare claims management,” and then UnumProvident Insurance vice-president John LoCascio was the US consultant.

By 1994, the company was appointed as official government advisers and the 1994 Social Security (Incapacity for Work) Act introduced incapacity benefit, as designed to limit access to out-of-work disability benefit.

By 1995 the Department of Social Security’s (DSS) then principal medical adviser Mansel Aylward – appointed following a lengthy career involved with the private healthcare insurance industry – co-authored an academic paper with LoCascio and so began the plan to justify the future demolition of the welfare state.

“Problems in the assessment of psychosomatic conditions in social security benefits and related and commercial schemes” argued that GPs should not be expected to determine a patient’s incapacity, and the authority and clinical opinion of GPs would eventually be curtailed. The 1995 paper expressed concern as to the increases in “subjective impairments,” with conditions such as chronic pain and fatigue syndrome listed as the significance of diagnosis was rejected as having “a high degree of subjectivity.”

This one academic paper rejected the clinical opinion of GPs and disregarded diagnosis, prognosis and the claimant’s past medical history, which opened the door to the planned introduction of the fatally flawed biopsychosocial (BPS) model of disability assessment for state-funded long-term sickness and disability claims.

The introduction of the BPS model of assessment had been successfully adopted by UnumProvident Insurance in the US, limiting payment for healthcare income protection insurance claims, and LoCascio was guiding the DSS as to how to introduce the BPS model into Britain.

The DSS became the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2001 and was motivated to reduce and to eventually remove the welfare state, while disregarding a parliamentary debate in 1999 which exposed UnumProvident as failing to pay out on legitimate claims for income protection insurance.

Aylward was appointed DWP chief medical officer in 2001 until his resignation, in 2005, to work as the director of the new UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University, with £1.6 million funding from the US corporation.

Together with Gordon Waddell, the DWP commissioned research led to the hastily produced publication in 2005 of “The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits,” which would be used by the DWP from 2008 to justify the introduction of the work capability assessment (WCA) to limit access to the new employment and support allowance (ESA), as used to replace incapacity benefit.

All 2.68 million incapacity benefit claimants were destined to be reassessed using the WCA, which is a replica of the bogus “functional assessment” used by UnumProvident to fight off healthcare insurance claims when using the BPS model of assessment that disregards diagnosis.

By 2005, following many successful legal cases in the US, California Department of Insurance commissioner John Garamendi stated that “UnumProvident is an outlaw company. It is a company that for years has operated in an illegal fashion.”

In the same year, a internal UnumProvident report boasted that the British government welfare policy is “to a large extent driven by our thinking,” which was demonstrated in the 2006 Welfare Reform Bill introduced by New Labour, which introduced the use of the dangerous WCA for unsuspecting chronically ill and disabled ESA benefit claimants in October 2008.

Eventually, distinguished academic Professor Tom Shakespeare and colleagues – not commissioned by the DWP or funded by a US corporate giant – would expose the Waddell and Aylward BPS model as having “no coherent theory or evidence” to support it, demonstrating “a cavalier approach to scientific evidence,” while citing my research and exposing the BPS model as having no authentic authority or credibility.

Another significant DWP-commissioned report, used to justify the welfare reforms and the use of the corporate sector to assess claimants, was “Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity” – produced in March 2007 by former City banker David Freud. Commonly known as the Freud report, it claimed that a million incapacity benefit claimants could be removed from the rolls.

It was quickly discredited, with Professor Danny Dorling exposing in May 2007 that Freud had “got his numbers wrong” and had misinterpreted his own references, so there was never going to be the predicted massive fall in claimant numbers.

Freud resigned his government position in December 2016, having repeatedly been caught out for his incompetence.

So, both the DWP-commissioned reports used to justify the welfare reforms and the use of the BPS model for the WCA have been discredited by top academics and, when challenged in 2012, Aylward admitted that the BPS model was now considered by him to be “unsatisfactory” as it “no longer addresses the real needs of disabled people and the exclusion of disabled people from society.”

The government-appointed BPS expert changed his mind in 2012 but the DWP continues to use the BPS model, with the WCA linked to the deaths of 92,000 ESA claimants between December 2011 and February 2014, and the DWP has since refused to publish the updated ESA mortality totals.

Under Thatcher’s toxic neo-liberal politics, care, concern and compassion for chronically sick and disabled people are relegated to the history books, as greed replaces need.

Morning Star

Next article – Taking Issue – The moral clarity of a media rant

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