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As happens in all authoritarian organisations, the truth is so dreadful that it begins to seep out through leaks, secret briefings, off-the-record briefings that turn out to be recorded and by other risky but well-intentioned means.
It has long happened in the case of disabled resisters determined to fight back against grotesque misjudgements by Atos over work capability assessments.
It is now just beginning to happen in the case of the mentally ill who are often even less able to protect their rights.
What is now being exposed is even worse than people’s wildest suspicions, exacerbated by the revelation that such bullying and aggressive treatment is deliberate policy.
A secret briefing by a Department for Work and Pensions jobcentre manager, recently reported, highlights the sheer cruelty with which mentally ill people are hounded by the DWP in order to push them off benefits.
A great number of those on employment and support allowance (ESA) are suffering from mental illness or learning difficulties.
Despite the DWP always insisting they never used targets, the jobcentre manager produced a printed sheet called “spinning plates” marked by red for missed, green for hit.
The target in her office was 50.5 per cent for “off flows,” ie pushing people off ESA.
The instructions from the DWP are to “disrupt and upset” these mentally ill claimants, described in officialese as “offering further support,” but actually patently bullying and intimidating these defenceless people.
Then when ESA claimants get near the target deadline that none should be on benefit for more than 65 weeks, staff are told to report them all to the fraud department to subject them to further and nastier pressure so that as many as possible are removed from benefit within the timescale aimed for.
As many as a sixth may then be sanctioned, ie deprived of all benefits for trivial or even frivolous reasons.
None of this is written down by the DWP for fear it will leak, but it can be found in the development plans of individual advisers who “coach” staff.
In addition, managers regularly put pressure on staff as to why they haven’t sanctioned even more people.
Furthermore, to frustrate access to benefit, claimants ending their contributory entitlement to a year on ESA are required to fill in a form to get means-tested ESA, but jobcentres are told not to stock these forms.
So these ill people may suddenly find that their benefit has been stopped without any explanation — but if they ask why, they are then told to get a form from the jobcentre, which doesn’t hold them either.
It is utterly despicable that the government department that exists to protect people from poverty and destitution has been callously turned into a machine explicitly designed to produce that result.
Michael Meacher is Labour MP for Oldham West and Royton. For more of his writing visit www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog
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