The involvement of Capita in Personal Independence Payment claims sets a dangerous precedent

IRSP Activist Gabhain Mckenna takes an in depth look into Capita and their dangerous involvement and management of PIPs

Capita is a professional services company that provides numerous functions to both public and private client needs. Capita was founded in 1984 and was first listed on the London Stock Exchange in 1991. Today it has grown into a global entity with an annual revenue of c. £3.9 bn. Aside from the plethora of public and private clients, in 2016 the British Government announced sweeping welfare reforms and selected Capita to take charge of all disability claim allocations under the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) system.

As Capita is a listed global financial entity, it can only be concerned with profit and fluctuations in share price and market capital; this therefore begs the question: why then would the British Government decide to outsource the funding of disability welfare claims to Capita while still professing to care about the needs of those it purports to represent in society?

The truth is that under sweeping Tory austerity measures the British Government decided to make sacrificial lambs out of the sick and disabled in the pursuit of profit and the minimization of fiscal expenditure, ultimately using Capita to spearhead this. In addition the involvement of Capita highlights pressing privacy issues for disability claimants whose personal information is tracked and logged and accessible by the government for analysis.

This is a recipe for disaster and over the last 3 years there has been numerous reports about the shear devastation PIP has been causing. Two years since the inception of PIP under Capita, a Freedom of Information request highlighted that 33% of the Capita claim reports were substandard and defective, and nearly four per cent of the reports (3.92%) were of such poor quality that they were categorized as “unacceptable”. In addition, 17% of the assessments were so flawed that there was “learning required” by the so called healthcare professionals in Capita who wrote it.

To get a feel for why this is the case it is first helpful to understand the inherently flawed PIP assessment process. Some 5 weeks after making the initial claim, the claimant is invited to a face-to-face interview carried out by a PIP assessor, this lasts approximately an hour and following this the report is sent on to Capita who then decide whether or not to pay out in the absence of medical input or opinion. The PIP assessors are employed first and foremost to minimize financial expenditure and not to help the claimant, indeed often PIP assessors are not medically trained in the diseases or disorders they are assessing, and they are also given additional financial incentives on the basis of not awarding claims. This is unethical and is clear evidence that the primary purpose of PIP was to replace the existing disability welfare system, whereby claims were awarded from public funds, to that of a privatized system whereby the minimization of financial expenditure supersedes the health care needs of the sick and disabled in our society.

Perhaps what is most concerning about the PIP process is their complete disregard for sound medical evidence and opinion, instead relying on the patients interpretation of his or her experience as opposed to the advice of a medical doctor or consultant. The result is an extremely ad hoc, ambiguous and unfair process. To demonstrate, whether or not the claim is successful depends upon appeasing the PIP assessor in the face-to-face interview, the assessment is no more than a tick-box exercise that is solely concerned with the patients ability to partake in 10 activities for daily living and 2 activities for mobility. In this way, it is not the disease or actual level of suffering that determines the claim award but instead it is the patients individual interpretation of how he or she is coping. For example, if we consider two patients A and B with the same Cancer diagnosis, patient A and B may be awarded vastly different amounts depending on the ability of patient A or B to use the toilet or cook a meal on the day of assessment.

Clearly such assessment criteria is overly generic and bears no true relevance on the disease or disorder while also being evaluated without medical advice and opinion from the personal physician of the claimant. In consideration, such an assessment process invokes the sweeping assumption that the medical condition along with the existential suffering and experience of the patient are fixed and not transitory or subject to change.

In consideration of the aforementioned, it is not hard to see that those who will suffer most from the inadequacies of the PIP process are those suffering from long-term and substantial mental health conditions. Nowhere is this more relevant than the North of Ireland, whereby in the 20 years following the Good Friday Agreement there has been more deaths by suicide than the total number of deaths spanning the 30 year conflict before the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. Most concerning of all is that since the introduction of PIP in the 6 counties some 2 years ago, the suicide rate has continued to rise unabated having now reached epidemic proportions among the younger generations. This is telling in so far that PIP cannot have been designed to include, understand and capture the increasing frequency and complexities of mental health, and is instead designed to completely overlook it in favor of more obvious symptomatology.

This becomes blatantly apparent when considering the pre-defined set of questions asked over the hour long duration in the face-to-face interview. Such questions are completely devoid of any understanding of mental health, instead relying on the patients ability to wash, go to the bathroom or cook a meal as the basis for making an award as opposed to the patients ability to stay alive amidst depression or other mental health conditions.

Indeed, the blatant refusal of Capita to account for medical opinion coupled with the inability of the claimant to appropriately articulate and describe his or her existential anguish sets a dangerous precedent in respect to how the mental health needs of society are accepted and understood by the welfare system. Such a fascistic precedent brings with it the very real potential for a return to the normalization of discrimination practices while ultimately paving the way for high levels of unemployment, poverty, homelessness and social unrest.

To conclude, there can be no illusions that the involvement of Capita in respect to the allocation of disability welfare claims is nothing more than a financial exercise whereby profit and the minimization of fiscal expenditure supersedes the health care needs of the people whom the government purport to represent. Finally, in consideration of the devastation already caused by PIP since its inception, any policy created by the state which both dehumanizes and removes the individuals right to a process of inquiry is one of violence against its people; such practices cannot be allowed to continue.