Lord Freud, Welfare Reform Minister, recently said: “We always push for the strongest possible punishment for benefit thieves who are stealing money from the people who need it the most”.
If David Freud did not exist it would be necessary for a left-wing writer to invent him, so frequently does he make statements like the above. This latest one was given at a press conference on 8 May 2012 at which he while announced that people found (not, by a criminal court, mind you) to have wrongly claimed benefits would henceforth be liable to a penalty of up to £2000.
The strongest possible punishment? We can all drink to that if it means that people who steal benefits from the most vulnerable get their just desserts. I can think of many a Coalition politician (and plenty of Labour ones also) who come into that category but they are such easy targets it’s hardly worthwhile and, besides, if you have read Damned Scroungers! (I wish) then you will have heard it all before. So we’ll leave Freud to collect the fines from himself, his fellow Lords and Ladies and all the Commons MPs who voted for the Welfare Reform Bill and I shall concentrate instead on a particular benefit thief whose name occurs all too often on the appeal documents that I see in my day to day work.
We’ll call her Rebecca Norris although that is not her name. Actually, I would be happy to give her true name were it not for the likelihood that I’d be sacked for doing so, and so Rebecca she is, with apologies to any other Rebecca Norrises who might work for Atos Healthcare.
Of all the Work Capability Assessments that I have seen with Nurse Norris’s name attached, none have scored any points on the WCA, while all but one have been successfully appealed and several claimants placed in the Support Group. The one failure is a case which is on its way to the Upper Tribunal as I write. Over the past year, moreover, Rebecca’s examinations have become shorter and shorter.
While the recommended time for a WCA was originally 75 minutes, hers have tended to be done in around 20, with 18 currently her quickest. Today I came across one which took 21 minutes, during which, according to her own evidence, the claimant sat in a chair for 17. This leaves four minutes at the most for any physical examination to take place. In that four minutes Nurse Rebecca Norris found that the claimant had no physical limitations and that, contrary to the opinion of his GP and his consultant, he possesses full flexion of the hip. She also found that he has no hearing loss despite evidence to the contrary from another consultant who says otherwise. The best thing of all though is this: seven weeks before Nurse Norris found the claimant to be totally fit for work, he had been retired from his job on health grounds because of a report from his employer’s chosen health specialists, Atos Healthcare! In seven weeks he went from being found (by an experienced Atos-employed hospital surgeon) to be incapable of any paid employment, to being found to have no disability at all according to a nurse whose sole motivation, in my opinion, is to, in Freud’s own words, steal money from the people who need it most.
I’d like to have faith that the tribunal which will shortly hear this appeal will agree with me that Norris’s so-called examination report is largely lies, and to throw it straight out of court and into the bin where it belongs, and the likelihood is that they will, indeed, take it with a large heap of salt, but there is no guarantee that they will do so. Should the claimant be unlucky enough to come across lazy and incompetent Judge X and bigoted Dr Y then he might just find that Rebecca’s four minute test carries more weight than the opinion of his own, and Atos’s own consultants. Watch this space to find out!Tags: Domestic (UK)
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This post was written by Felix McHugh