Wednesday 31 October 2012

DPAC, A Step Too Far?

DPAC (Disabled People Against the Cuts) and Black Triangle have issued a joint statement on the Work Capability Assessment, which can be read here, that's wouldn't normally be a problem, in fact anything which highlights the nightmare which is the WCA is generally okay by me; unfortunately the statement doesn't limit itself to talking about the WCA. The first two paragraphs state:

"We do not believe that any individual or group who claims to represent the disabled people’s protest movement should engage with DWP/Atos/Capita without insisting upon an end to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) with immediate effect as a prerequisite to any discussion.

 We regard any such engagement with DWP/Atos /Capita without this insistence on the above as a prerequisite to be nothing less than collusion in policies and systems that have been irrefutably shown to be harmful and, in many cases, lethal to the sick and/or disabled person being ‘assessed’."

I’d be lying if I said I found this statement to be anything other than deeply problematical.

Let’s clarify what I agree with first:
DWP is an institutionally disablist organisation currently dedicated to demonising disabled people in order to legitimise deep cuts and IDS’s ‘tough love’ strategy
ATOS is not a suitable organisation to execute the WCA or PIP testing
Evidence is mounting (interpreters contract), that Capita will be just as bad, possibly worse
Supposed DPOs engaging in secret negotiations with government or contractors forfeit any right to trust.
Disability charities are deeply compromised by their dependence on government contracts.
The Social Model should drive all our aims.
The BioPsychoSocial Model is a bought and paid for perversion that demonises disabled people for the profit of the insurance industry.

But here’s the problem, we are dealing with a fait accompli; ESA and the WCA are operational, the Work Programme is operational, it is overwhelmingly unlikely we will be able to force a stop to the implementation of PIP, or to Universal Credit. These are the realities we must address, these are the realities within which we must strive to protect disabled people, and we must do whatever it takes in order to get those protections in place as soon as possible. Not even an election and a Labour government will change this reality because Labour policy on ESA is no different, which makes it unlikely they will flinch from PIP either.

In considering how we change this, it’s useful to consider the widespread government policy of not negotiating with terrorists as an analogy (with DWP and ATOS taking the part of the terrorist). The policy says no negotiation will happen in response to threats or terrorist acts, but it is tacitly recognised that a long term solution generally depends on negotiation with the terrorists, no matter how unpalatable that may be. It brought the Provisional IRA to the table and eventually into conventional politics, it appears to be doing the same for ETA and others. A policy that works is one we cannot ignore. Yet from the opposite side another analogy also speaks to the situation: if you would sup with the devil, use a long spoon.

We have seen mounting evidence of ATOS lies in tender document claims of engagement with organisations such as DPAC itself, they demonstrably cannot be expected to behave as a trusted party in any negotiations, similar concerns may apply to Capita, and the DWP. However this in itself does not mean that they cannot be engaged with, it simply means people engaging with them need to systematically record and publish those contacts in order to deny ATOS, Capita or DWP any opportunity to misrepresent what went on.

Let’s consider a hypothetical situation. If we could engage with ATOS sufficiently to force them to shift to an open complaints/quality system (which I think is one of their weaknesses), if we could get DPO representatives into that system as independent auditors, then would we be justified in refusing to do that in favour of hoping for the big win of killing the WCA at some unforeseen point down the road? Should we insist on a big win, when we might have a far better chance of a series of smaller wins taking us slowly but surely towards our ultimate goal?

Or let’s consider a very real possibility, we already have condemnation of the WCA from the GPs, that creates the opportunity for us to ally ourselves with them and use that link to gradually manipulate the GMC itself – if you want to kill the WCA, what better way to do it than to persuade the GMC to declare it as incompatible with a doctor’s professional duties? But to do that we have to acknowledge that the GMC, as a part of the establishment, will never accept a negotiation strategy that imposes preconditions on their participation, while talk of collusion will simply alienate them. The strategy will only work with a policy of engagement.

We didn’t get all the way from being locked in the attic to the Equality Act in one single move, there were a whole series of steps involved in getting us there. In the past couple of years we have seen pretty much all of the progress we have made in the past 30 years rolled back on a tide of media manipulation and disability hatred, we’re in this for the long haul, it is going to take years to regain everything we have lost and anyone who refuses to acknowledge that reality needs to stop and take a long, hard look at what our situation actually is.

And one of the realities is that it is deeply unlikely we can overturn ESA, or WCA, or PIP, or the disability provisions of the Work Programme, in one fell swoop. However it is far more likely that we can incrementally chip away at the overwhelming negativity of these programmes, and as soon as we achieve one concession, we just start agitating for the next.

Ultimately we have a choice, is it better to aim for one big win, lots of little wins, or both? DPAC and Black Triangle can dedicate themselves to the big win, but does that necessarily mean another DPO aiming for the little wins is working against us? As long as that DPO is open about its engagement and does not allow that engagement to be misconstrued, then can’t the two strategies be complementary?

The statement talks aggressively about other DPOs engaging in collusion. If it works, will we still call it collusion? If the answer is no, then we shouldn’t be calling it collusion now.

(I initially posted this as a reply to the statement on the DPAC site on Tuesday 30th, but 24 hours later it is still stuck in moderation, while other messages, and replies to them, have gone through).


  1. As someone who posted a comment on the DPAC post in question very early, and apparently had it accepted by the moderators, I wholeheartedly agree with your position, David. The real weakness of the position DPAC and BT are taking is that it lets disabled people down, as the all or nothing approach is most likely to result in nothing - ie no improvement in a flawed system and therefore no help for desperate sick and disabled people. We owe it to disabled and sick people to do what is effective rather than posturing.

  2. Jane, agree completely! We need to do what works for disabled people, no matter how unpalatable we find it.

  3. Here's what I posted as a comment on the DPAC post:

    Where to start…

    I understand where this statement is coming from, even while I disagree with the essential thesis. Yes, the BPS is a huge problem, the WCA is flawed, all of those things, but that doesn’t mean one should refuse any engagement with the DWP or others while it continues.

    Consider it practically, first. It is a classic case of letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. If everyone opposed to the WCA refuse to engage, then our voices cannot be heard.

    More to the point, what about engagement on issues not directly related to the WCA? We should refuse to engage on PIP while the WCA persists?

    How is the WCA going to get replaced by a better assessment? An all-in-one change is only one possibility. It can evolve, though several small ‘tinkering’ changes, to still be called the WCA but actually fix all the problems we see with it. The name ‘WCA’ is not the problem.

    Engagement is a valid way to affect change. What we have to do is engage, while refusing to endorse. All-or-nothing propositions rarely succeed. If an individual works with any of these organisations, they have to make it clear that they do so as an individual, and do not endorse it, and any organisation they are art of does not endorse it. But refusing to speak does us no good at all.

  4. And another post I agree with completely!

  5. Is it me, or have critical comments since Jane's STILL not been approved through moderation on DPAC's site?

  6. It's not just you. My reply (the one that became the blog) is still not there. Now I can understand that the DPAC website is run by volunteers, and that approvals may have to wait, but that's a potentially deeply divisive post, and it's the better part of three days later.

    And I've only just noticed because of odd formatting on the time stamps (12:19AM rather than 00:19AM), but two favourable posts from c11:40 on Wednesday morning have been approved, but my post was made just after midnight on Tuesday Night/Wednesday Morning and hasn't been approved.

    My first reply to Black Triangle (made yesterday) seems to have disappeared, that might be down to me screwing it up, my repeat of it this afternoon is still waiting approval.

  7. I see our responses (and a couple more) have now appeared... just after I tweet about the time moderation of comments has taken. Funny that.