Given a system that gets the decision wrong so often that up to 70% of appeals are successful, his work is fairly urgent. The government claim that 11,000 people a week are being assessed for ESA, yet those assessments have been scathingly criticised by the Citizens Advice Bureaux, a Work and Pensions Select Committee report, the government's own Statutory Social Security Advisory committee, almost every leading charity, campaigners and even the professor who helped to design ESA.
People are taking their own lives. So terrified are they that they will be left homeless and hungry, so exhausted by the constant harassment of repeated assessments and tribunals, the Job Centre have been issued with suicide guidelines.
Last year, Harrington made many suggestions to improve the assessments being used (WCAs or Work Capability Assessments) and some of them did address issues that needed urgent change. The clearest was ensuring that evidence from a person's GP or Consultant was considered in the decision making process. I know, I know, sane people would assume that was already happening, but it wasn't. Just 2% of claims considered the opinion of...erm....a patient's own doctor or healthcare professional. In 98% of cases, the computer, she simply say "yes" or "no"
Again, this reader with just a little curiosity and common sense, might ask why they are extending ESA amongst such chaos? Why are they rolling it out to a further 2 million Incapacity Benefit claimants AND designing a near identical system with which to assess the 3 million or so people on DLA? (Disability Living Allowance) One might ask why on earth something so draconian and cruel has not been paused until assessments can be made fairer?
One word : Harrington.
All the time they can say that he is sorting the whole mess out, we are to be re-assured.
ESA most fails those with mental health conditions, fluctuating conditions and learning difficulties. The impersonal, tick box computers just cannot accurately be made to fit variation or nuance. In his 1st year report, Harrington did not even deal with these problems, so we were all waiting fairly impatiently to see the conclusions of his year 2 report. Today, it is more urgent than ever to make sure that these problems are solved - preferably about 3 years ago, but today would do.
Well, I read Harrington Year 2 yesterday and I'm not sure quite what he's been doing all year. No conclusions can be drawn! No changes are yet to be taken forward! No descriptors can be agreed on (yet). The opinions of Mencap, Mind, The National Autistic Society, National Association for Crohn's and Colitis, the MS society, Arthritis Care and many others were simply not "evidence based." Harrington did pat them all on the head, send them away and say they could have another go, but unless their decades of experience could translate into "evidence" that the DWP would like, it just wouldn't do.
As for suggestions that the assessment should be a "real life test" - looking at work someone could actually do, rather than asking if they can pick up a penny or do up a button - well this is clearly nonsense! How on earth can this be empirical? impersonal? quantifiable? Silly little CABs! Off you go now, try again, but as Chris Grayling says, he is "absolutely, unreservedly and implacably opposed" to something as logical as a real life test, I imagine it won't matter what the CABs come back with.
So that's it then. Nothing to see here. Move along.
A cynic might conclude that as ESA was never designed to support those with long term variable conditions anyway, any changes to ESA that ensures that it does would not be what IDS is looking for at all. If ESA was designed to simply make sure people couldn't claim unless their head fell off, then Harrington must be very careful to make sure that people with heads don't get above themselves.
As though lives are not at stake, Harrington tells us :
"I have seen these improvements [from yr 1] in the day-to-day running of both DWP
Operations and Atos. This has taken time and some observers have told
me that they have seen no change. I advise patience. The process of
improvement is happening, but is not yet in evidence everywhere. It will take
time to have the desired impact and the year three Review will closely monitor
the impact of the changes and ensure there is continuing progress in
improving the assessment."
Patience???? Patience???? How much more patient are we to be man? This is our LIVES you ask us to put to one side. Some of us don't even have until "year 3".
The only silver lining is the clear irritation he shows with the independent tier of the tribunal service, who repeatedly tell him (well, they tell him to go away basically) that their service is "outside of his remit". When Harrington even dared to suggest - wait for it - that the judiciary run training courses to explain the "beneficial nature of work" they not only told him that was "outside of his remit" but reminded him rather sternly that their job was to uphold the law. He didn't like that one bit.
So, we are no further forward. But it's OK, because we just need to be "patient". the government however, need show no such patience and are free to crack on at the rate of 11,000 people a week. Charities, Citizen's Advice Bureaux and campaigners must go away and work on new "evidence" yet the DWP can produce Impact Assessments like this one http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/esa-time-limit-wr2011-ia-revised-apr2011.pdf so totally devoid of any evidence at all that those who read it for the first time are usually shocked.
So Professor Harrington, as you trundle on into year three, perhaps, every morning, as you wake up, you will do a little sum for me. 11,000 people per week. That's very roughly 1,500 people per day. 600 of them will go to tribunal, believing their decision to be wrong. Up to 420 of them will win. That's 420 lives lived in "patience". Every day. 420 people, who must find the strength and resilience to wait up to a year to go to tribunal because the system you are "reviewing" is so appallingly unfit for purpose.
I don't think patience is the issue Professor. You have simply let us down in the most disappointing way.