A leading user-led organisation has sparked a fierce row after it admitted joining “engagement groups” set up by the government contractors Atos Healthcare and Capita as part of the coalition’s disability living allowance (DLA) reforms.
Limbless Association was heavily criticised this week by another user-led amputees’ organisation, Limbcare, after agreeing to provide “stakeholder input” as Atos and Capita prepare to assess the eligibility of hundreds of thousands of disabled people for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for DLA.
Limbcare said that associating with the companies implementing the government’s reforms would be “toxic”, as Atos and Capita will be “removing independence” from hundreds of thousands of working-age disabled people.
Limbcare, which was set up by disaffected Limbless Association members and trustees, said it would refuse – “under any circumstances” – to work with LA while it was a member of the two PIP engagement groups.
And it has pledged to inform other organisations that work with and for amputees of its stance, including the influential joint committee on mobility for disabled people and the associate parliamentary limb loss group.
Since it made the announcement, it has emerged that a second user-led amputees’ group – the British Limbless Ex Service Men’s Association (BLESMA) – has also joined the two engagement groups.
The number of working-age people claiming DLA and PIP, and spending on DLA and PIP, will be cut by as much as 28 per cent by 2018, according to government figures, with 900,000 fewer people receiving PIP than if DLA had not been replaced.
The decision to work with Atos is particularly controversial, as the company has been at the centre of nationwide protests by disabled activists over its repeated failings in carrying out the government’s “fitness for work” tests.
Even disabled people’s organisations that have been willing to work with Capita have refused to be associated with Atos.
Gordon McFadden, Limbcare’s policy director and a former LA trustee, said he was “absolutely furious” with LA, which aims to provide “a single, unified voice for the UK limb-loss community”.
He said: “For any charity to be seen to be engaging and collaborating with an organisation that is removing independence from [hundreds of thousands of] people is not going to be seen in a very positive light by the disability community.
“I will engage with government and statutory bodies, but these are private companies implementing government policy.”
Dave White, LA’s chief executive, said in a statement: “We understand the initial reaction of those who are not happy with our involvement. However, it must be stressed that all those who have expressed a view to date have done so via social media and we have not received any direct views or reactions to date.”
He said PIP was “a new benefit with an evolving set of guidelines and training notes” for health professionals, and LA hoped to be able to “influence and inform the development” of this guidance.
He said: “The PIP benefit will be implemented, regardless of whether we take part or not and we believe that the only way for our voices, and the opinions and concerns of our members, to be heard is to be involved in the stakeholder consultation process.
“We feel it is better to represent the views of our members from the inside than the outside.”
Jerome Church, BLESMA’s general secretary, admitted that his organisation had also joined the Atos and Capita engagement groups.
He said: “We work closely with as many people as we can. Sometimes it is remorseless work and can be very wearing, but you have got to be in it to win it.”
He said BLESMA had supported many of its members who had had problems with Atos through their assessments for the war disability pension, and that he shared concerns about the impact of the government’s PIP reforms on disabled people.
But he said: “We understand the problems. We still think it is worth trying to confront these problems head-on.”
He said it was “unfortunate” that Limbcare had been so “vociferous” and “unnecessarily harsh” in its criticism of LA.
Geoff Adams-Spink, chair of EDRIC, a new Europe-wide group which runs the DysNet online community on limb loss and deficiency, said the “public spat” between the two organisations was not “seemly or helpful”.
He said there was an argument for engaging with organisations like Capita, but he added: “It would take an extremely persuasive argument to convince me that any involvement with Atos would be in any way fruitful.
“They have a dreadful track record on disability. I don’t think any involvement with Atos would benefit anybody other than Atos.”
But he said the parts of Capita he had dealt with while working at the BBC – he is now a disability equality consultant – had been “quite engaged and engaging and have understood notions around reasonable adjustment and disability equality”.
31 January 2013