Campaigner’s Maximus job splits opinion among activists


newslatestThe decision of a leading disabled campaigner to accept a highly-paid job with the US company taking over the controversial “fitness for work” test has split activists.
Many accused Sue Marsh of betraying those who had followed her blog, Diary of a Benefits Scrounger, backed her campaigning efforts, and had even supported her financially when she needed a new laptop.
Others defended her and backed her decision.
Marsh announced last week in an interview with Disability News Service (DNS) – and in a post on her own blog – that she had accepted a senior position with the US outsourcing giant Maximus, which late last year was awarded a three-and-a-half year contract to take over delivery of the work capability assessment (WCA).
But her decision appears to have polarised opinion on social media.
Comments on Marsh’s own blog were running at more than two to one against her decision to take the job, although precise numbers were difficult to quantify as many were marked “anon”.
Once the anonymous posters were taken out, the number of those in favour was almost identical to those opposed to her choice.
Among those who responded to her new job, disabled cartoonist Crippen caricatured Marsh’s salary as “30 pieces of silver”, while campaigner Rednorth commented on her blog: “You can rationalise this however you like, the bottom line is you’ve been bought, paid for, and silenced.”
Another, Linda Hansard, said: “You can collect all the data they ask for, you can put over your opinion as much and as forcefully as you want but do you really believe that it will be taken seriously, or that they will have any genuine concern or desire to improve things?”
And Brokenwing said: “Gutted and disappointed. I thought you spoke on my behalf for many years.
“You don’t any longer so anything you do with Maximus won’t have my backing for one. Just wanted to make that clear.”
Debbie George said on Facebook: “I’ve tried to be reasonable, tried to believe she had good reason, but as the day went on I can’t.
“Sue Marsh leading ‪#‎disability‬‬ campaigner has joined the very regime she is so outspoken against. ‬‬‬‬‬
“Put whatever spin you want on it, but as someone who campaigns and has often supported her campaigns, I feel betrayed.”
And @iBreezeblock tweeted: “Sue Marsh goes to work for MAXIMUS and, in doing so, proves that people can always be swayed by £££ or status.”
But there was also support for Marsh’s decision.
Catherine Hale, another disabled campaigner, commented on Marsh’s blog that she believed she was “the best person for the job”.
She said: “You have the charisma, the tenacity and the insight to really make a difference.
“The WCA and ESA will still be rotten at the core but [at]least if the procedural side is improved the blame will lie more squarely with [Iain Duncan Smith, the work and pensions secretary] and the DWP for the misery they cause.”
Mark Ferguson, @markfergusonuk, tweeted: “If anyone can help fix the rotten WCA system from the inside it’s [Sue Marsh] – a huge task, but good luck to her.”
And Vivien Bartlett, @newviv, said on Twitter: “I cannot think of anyone better suited to this role. Brave decision. And well done to Maximus for choosing you. So much admiration!”
Marsh told DNS that the reaction to her appointment had been “better than I expected” and “more positive than negative”, particularly on Twitter.
She declined to say how much she was being paid by Maximus, but said she had been offered higher-paid posts in the past, and had turned them down.
Marsh said she had been one of the disabled campaigners asked previously if they were interested in working in a similar role for Atos, the much-criticised company which has carried out WCAs since they were introduced in 2008.
But she said she had turned the opportunity down because she “felt it wasn’t at the stage where those changes would make a significant difference to the customer”.
She also told DNS that she did not feel she should return money that was raised by other campaigners to buy her a new laptop, because the equipment had been “crucial” to efforts to produce last year’s Spartacus report Beyond the Barriers.
Marsh also pointed out that she and her husband had probably spent about £400 per month on expenses travelling to and from London for her frequent campaigning visits.
But she said she was most concerned by questions raised about her sudden move from the support group – for disabled people not expected to carry out any work-related activity in return for out-of-work benefits – into full-time work.
She said she had not carried out paid work for the previous 15 years because of her health condition, but was in effect a full-time campaigner and had been campaigning “every minute of my time”.
She said: “Not one time in that time did I not want to work, but nobody was prepared to make those reasonable adjustments. Maximus were prepared to make those reasonable adjustments.
“I am not better, I am really unwell. I might have to go into hospital [soon]and [Maximus] said they will do whatever needs to be done.”
She said that a higher proportion of people go into work from the support group than from the work-related activity group, those on out-of-work disability benefits who have been assessed as being closer to the jobs market.
Marsh said: “The support group is about saying, ‘We know you are so ill it is going to be very difficult for you to work.’
“But if someone from the support group can find something they can do, that is their choice… and it happens much more than people probably think.
“All my reports say the same thing: if you can and you want to, you should be supported [to work]. If you can’t and you are in the support group, that is your decision. That is how the benefit works.”
Marsh is hoping to work two days a week from a Maximus office, and three days a week from home.
Marsh’s announcement came on the same day that Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) announced a national day of action against Maximus, to be held on Monday 2 March.
DPAC said Maximus was “helping to privatise the NHS, running the Fit for Work occupational health service designed to bully and harass people on sick leave into going back to work”, and was a Work Programme provider, which means that “disabled people found fit for work by Maximus may then find themselves sent on workfare by Maximus”.
DPAC added: “There is no greater enemy to the lives of sick and disabled people in the UK today than this multi-national poverty profiteer.”
15 January 2015