The disabled executive leading work on the new disability assessment for the out-sourcing giant Capita has refused to explain controversial comments he made about benefit claimants in a national newspaper.
Dr Stephen Duckworth is chief executive of Capita’s personal independence payment (PIP) division, which is delivering PIP assessments across central England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
But this week – in an article headlined ‘If I can work, so can one million others’ – he told The Sunday Times that he believed more than one million disabled people were wrongly claiming disability benefits.
He told the newspaper that “at least a million, probably north of a million” of those “deemed to be disabled… have got there through system failure and the way society is organised”.
Although he has declined to clarify his comments, he appeared to be referring to those claiming employment and support allowance and old-style incapacity benefit.
He then told the newspaper that minor injuries had become “a very common avenue towards multiple benefit receipt”.
He added: “The problem could have happened at work as a result of lifting a box of photocopy paper… it gave you a bit of a limp and you’re shopping at the weekend and you get a no-win, no-fee solicitor, a claims farmer, coming up to you.
“You get, say, £6,000 in damages from your employers, that builds your impairment, then you’re off work for six months, then you drop from full pay to half pay, then statutory sick pay.
“Then you’re feeling the financial pinch so… I find I can get an enhanced income from employment support allowance… and I go and claim it.
“I do my work capability assessment, so I get signed off on to the ESA at £106… so I have got a bit to pay the loan sharks back [but]I am depressed and my partner has left me… and my life is falling apart.”
When contacted by Disability News Service (DNS) on Monday, the day after the article appeared, Capita said Duckworth would not be available to be interviewed for the rest of the week.
After DNS submitted a series of questions seeking to clarify his remarks, Capita eventually produced a lengthy written statement, without any quotes attributed to Duckworth and failing to answer key questions about his comments.
The statement claimed that his Sunday Times interview “very much reflected his own personal experience of disability and, as such, the barriers he has faced within society and indeed the workplace”.
The statement added: “Stephen’s position within Capita means he has an opportunity to contribute towards removing these barriers and he will continue to make this his commitment by listening to disabled people and their organisations and ensuring Capita’s PIP assessments reflect this.”
But the interview caused anger and bemusement among disabled activists.
Campaigner “Welsh Wallace” wrote in a blog: “Every person should be judged on their own individual merit and capability, not lumped into the same basket or blanketed under this vitriol that has become acceptable towards disabled people to justify the welfare cuts.
“Just because you have a disability yourself, it does not give you the right to judge others’ capability with pre-conceived stereotypes more likely to raise their head in the likes of the Daily Mail.”
One disabled activist, @AtosVictims1, described Duckworth’s comments on Twitter as “a complete joke”, while another, @latentexistence, called him Capitas’s “flagship supercrip”.
Rob McDowall, a disabled blogger and chair of the LGBT Network, suggested in a blog that Duckworth’s comments were “calculated to play into and perpetuate the government myths that disabled people are work shy and will avoid work at all costs”.
He said Duckworth should “spend less time generalising [on]disability and its associated hardships and spend more time exploring the creation of a fair, balanced and adequate system designed to empower disabled people, lift them out of the poverty caused by the extra expenses of living with a disability and support them to lead as full a life as they are able to”.
12 September 2013