One of the leading disabled critics of the government’s welfare cuts and reforms has explained her decision to take a job with the US company taking over provision of the controversial “fitness for work” test.
For the last five years, Sue Marsh has played a major part in campaigning for improvements to the work capability assessment (WCA) through her blog, Diary of a Benefits Scrounger, and led on the test for the Spartacus online network of disabled campaigners.
But she has now 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 WCA from the much-criticised Atos Healthcare.
She was expected to explain her decision to join Maximus on her blog in a new post this morning (Friday).
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last October that Maximus was set to win the WCA contract despite a “chilling” record of incompetence, discrimination and alleged fraud in the US.
After the WCA contract was eventually awarded, Maximus attempted to distance itself from its past record, claiming that the concerns were “historic issues overwhelmingly”, and that there was now a “different leadership team” in place which had “put those issues right”.
Marsh’s appointment appears to be part of this Maximus public relations strategy to distance itself from its past record and begin the new contract as a UK start-up with a flawless reputation, promising to improve how assessments are delivered.
Her decision to take the job as head of customer experience is likely to spark criticism among many disabled campaigners, but she said she was motivated only by a desire to improve the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – and felt that she could do that best by working with Maximus.
The appointment came as DNS revealed that Maximus has come under fire for another recruitment decision, this time to offer consultancy work to the former senior civil servant responsible for government WCA policy, Bill Gunnyeon, just months after he left the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Marsh told DNS that she believes she has done the right thing for sick and disabled people by taking the new post, because they could not afford to wait another three years for improvements to the WCA.
She insisted that she was the best person for the job, and added: “If I can’t get things a little bit more right I don’t think anyone could.”
She admitted that those campaigners who “love and trust” her will “probably be uncomfortable” with her decision to work for Maximus, while the “abolitionists” who “do not believe in incremental change” and want to scrap the WCA completely “are not going to be happy”.
She said: “The only thing that worries me is that there might be some people who really trusted me over the years and might feel let down and upset.”
But Marsh said that parliamentarians and disability charities such as Mind and Scope will probably be “very pleased” with her appointment because they will be “dealing with me rather than somebody who doesn’t know too much about the WCA and doesn’t care about it”.
And she said she believed that Maximus was entitled to be given the chance to prove it can improve on WCA delivery, despite its past record in the US.
She said: “There’s not a company on the planet that isn’t going to have skeletons in the closet. For me, what is important is what they are going to do now.
“If I find out in six months’ time or a year’s time that they are dishonest about the role I am taking on, I absolutely would not be associated with that and I would regret my decision.
“At the moment, they have convinced me that they want to make the WCA more fair and valid.”
She admitted that she had been concerned her appointment might just have been part of the company’s public relations strategy – and she accepted that she would no longer be able to blog about the WCA or criticise Maximus – but she said she changed her mind when she saw the proposed scope of her job and its senior position in the company.
Marsh said: “I don’t think they would do that if they wanted a quiet life. The last thing they would do is give me a job.
“I just feel I could do more here in the next couple of years than as a campaigner. The primary thing is to be the customers’ eyes because I have been through it. I know what the problems are and what isn’t right.”
8 January 2015