The Royal College of Occupational Therapists’ 2017 conference, taking place on Monday and Tuesday this week, has been sponsored by Capita, one of the private companies contracted to carry out Personal Independence Payments assessments.* I have written an open letter to the Royal College outlining why I think this is a terrible idea. I am collecting signatures for it until the end of the day on Friday June 23. After that I will email it to the Royal College and also publish the list of signatories here. If you are a disabled person / service user / survivor / healthcare professional and would be willing to put your name to the letter below, please contact me with the name & title you would like to go on the letter (e.g. I will sign as Rachel Rowan Olive, PIP claimant & mental health service user).
Please get in touch to confirm even if you’ve said yes to signing already as there have been a few changes to the text. You can tweet me (@rrowanolive) or email me on firstname.lastname@example.org. Please also get in touch if you have a platform with a wider audience than me (e.g. a blog with a large readership or a news outlet) where this could be published.
Professor Sheila the Baroness Hollins
President, Royal College of Occupational Therapists
Dear Professor Hollins,
Please find below a letter written by a PIP claimant and signed by an alliance of healthcare professionals and disabled people regarding Capita’s sponsorship of the Royal College’s 2017 conference.
I am disappointed and concerned that the Royal College of Occupational Therapists Annual Conference 2017 has been sponsored by Capita, a company which carries out Personal Independence Payments assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
These assessments form part of a welfare system which is heavily weighted against disabled people. The assessment process has been linked to significant and dangerous increases in suicidal thoughts (https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/may/04/benefits-assessments-damaging-lives-hardworking-britain). It forces claimants to explain in painful detail the most intimate information about our difficulties, and to shoehorn complex conditions into assessment criteria which do not allow for their full impact to be considered. The entire process is humiliating and frightening, and from start to finish sends the message that those assessing us simply do not believe us when we talk about our own lives.
Capita’s assessments are also routinely inaccurate. In the quarter to December 2016, 65% of appeals to PIP decisions made by Capita and the DWP’s other contracted company, Atos, were found in favour of the claimant (https://www.disabilityrightsuk.org/news/2017/may/dwp-has-80-targets-refusing-benefit-reconsiderations). The number of appeals taken to social security tribunals has been increasing steadily with time; the last quarter of 2016 saw 71% more PIP appeals lodged than the same period in 2015 (https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/597905/tribunal-grc-statistics-q3-2016-2017.pdf).
In accepting sponsorship from Capita, the Royal College is facilitating this cruel assessment process by helping Capita to recruit assessors. In light of the flawed and painful way Capita’s assessments have been carried out, I am particularly alarmed by Capita’s recruitment advert in OTnews which uses the strapline “It’s what you trained for.” I hope that occupational therapists are trained to support people like me, not to assist in disempowering and impoverishing us.
Capita’s sponsorship and advertising will undermine disabled people’s trust in the occupational therapy profession and make it harder for us to access support. The Royal College should not be playing any part in this process; rather, occupational therapists should be taking a stand against the assault on disabled people’s rights which has taken place in the welfare system in recent years.
Please withdraw from any ongoing sponsorship contract with Capita and issue clear guidance for occupational therapists on how to support clients’ PIP claims.
*PIP is the new name for for Disability Living Allowance, and its rollout has been part of a programme of cuts to disability benefits which has been taking place since the Coalition government came to power in 2010.