The New Cost Effective Descriptors & "Remote Assessment"
Is has long been said that merely being able to get to a Medical Assessment Centre for a WCA indicates to Atos & DWP that one is fit to work. Although initially a somewhat cynical view, it has turned out to be far closer to the reality than I suspect whoever first coined the phrase imagined.
Little has changed since other than DWP has admitted to other “rules of thumb” that it feels are equally soundly based and provide a similarly reliable indication. These RAs (Remote Assessments) are of course highly cost effective and can be undertaken without any training whatsoever. They also have the distinct advantage of never having to meet the ‘customer’ who is simply a distraction and can adversely affect progress towards DWP’s organisational goals.
The accuracy rate however has not been tested, but this is probably unnecessary as even under the present methodology no attempt has been made to measure the right-first-time decision rate, so clearly it is not regarded as a KPI (Key Performance Indicator). As cost is evidently not an issue either, erroneous RAs can be corrected (as now) through the appeals procedure.
The RA criteria already implemented are as follows, others will no doubt be added as times goes on.
1) Eloquence (the ability to speak forcefully, expressively, and persuasively)
Although this is usually a function of one’s education and/or experience and is therefore accumulated over very many years, display too much of it and it will regarded as synonymous with good health. DWP finds this characteristic unsettling as it can undermine its intentions, challenge its philosophy and present information in such a way that it cannot be contested. It would be interesting to know how Stephen Hawking would fare.
Although none of the forms directly associated with ESA ask for exam results, claimant’s would be well advised to down-play their abilities in this area by using small words and short sentences, with little punctuation and the odd glaring spelling mistake. Expletives are unnecessary and should always be avoided.
2) Computer Literacy (having a good understanding and experience of working with a computer or computer system)
DWP will deduce that a claimant has this skill if it receives any form of electronic communication and again if a claimant used this technology it will be assumed they able to hold down a job. It will not consider perfectly feasible, alternative scenarios, for example the email/letter has been typed or even composed by another person.
Advice to claimants is therefore to handwrite all communication and send by conventional post. This has the added advantage of being able to make it illegible which can be used to further demonstrate a lack of eloquence (see 1) above). If at all possible, have the letter written by a young child.
3) Prolificacy (producing ideas or works frequently and in large quantities)
DWP does not like lots of communication even though it may be the direct result of its own ambiguity and general lack of clarity in some areas. In keeping with this principle, DWP has of course not provided any figures for what level of communication it regards as normal or excessive – one a day? one a week? – who knows?
There is a similar risk if letters are too long, even if justifiably so. Unfortunately as DWP has not documented any of these processes, data is scarce and it is not possible to say categorically that fewer longer letters are better than a larger number of shorter letters, but the former appears to produce less of a reaction.
Although too late, claimants will often find out when they have stepped over this invisible line by being classified as “unreasonably persistent”. This classification is not embodied in any legislation, is unilaterally determined (by DWP itself) and has no appeals process. Nor is it in any way time limited and there is no process for having the determination reassessed and potentially reversed even after a period of “acceptable” behaviour, so potentially it lasts forever. There is a documented process, but it is not policed and compliance is optional. There are no repercussions for staff who deviate from it.
4) Persistence (the quality of continuing steadily despite problems or difficulties)
In society generally, this is normally regarded as an desirable and admirable trait, but not in DWP as it can quickly become a nuisance, particularly when combined with 1) above. This frequently presents claimants with a difficult dilemma when the information provided by DWP is not what was requested – do they: a) pretend it is and get by without what was needed or b) try again and risk being tagged as persistence (note within DWP persistence is by definition unreasonable). As with 3), DWP makes no allowance for the fact that it has overtly side-stepped the original question (perhaps on more than one occasion) and insists that it has answered it when it has not.
Being labelled as unreasonably persistent does have one particular consequence in the acronym SPOC. No, this is not the involvement of a half human, half Vulcan mind reading arbiter – it is a Single Point Of Contact in DWP through which all communication is channelled in both directions. Any communication sent almost anywhere within DWP will be forwarded to this one person to answer on behalf of the intended recipient. On a positive note, it can be regarded as a level of personal service unavailable elsewhere within the entire DWP hierarchy, but it is at liberty to “not comment” on any matter it chooses.
It is also worth noting that combinations of these characteristics can in DWP’s opinion justify legal action against the claimant although it cannot identify the laws that are being broken. In the same way that it has its own dictionary covering the use of certain words, DWP cannot always differentiate between policy & legislation and feels it has almost unlimited authority to do pretty much as it wishes. This is of course not the case and its employees collectively and individually as well as the Ministers/Secretaries of State have no more rights in common law than any other individual in the country.
It is worth remembering that DWP Decision Makers are encouraged to be imaginative & proactive when interpreting the information they have to make an ESA decision. They are able to make largely uncontrolled use of the internet, without tight controls on the websites they visit to ensure the information they extract is authentic. They can also develop their own personal RAs based on their individual beliefs again without any form of supporting evidence – e.g. being able to steer a car = being able to self-propel a manual wheelchair, rendering the entire wheelchair assessment procedure used within the NHS redundant [another huge cost saving!].
Note finally that according to DWP, regarding decisions that are subsequently changed as errors is not the right perspective as ALL decisions accurately reflect a Decision Maker's opinion at the time which makes them "right". Any subsequent adjustment simply reflects another person's opinion - it does NOT mean the first decision was wrong. This of course explains why real progress has been so slow.