In an adjournment debate in the House of Commons on 21 March 2013, Michael Meacher MP queried the Minister for Employment’s statement that he would not meet with representatives from the Spartacus network to discuss ongoing difficulties with the Work Capability Assessment. In response, on behalf of the Minister for Employment, The Minister for Disabled People stated:
“[the Minister for Employment] did not necessarily feel that the dialogue would be constructive because of the words used by Spartacus [in the People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment] in this regard: “The WCA is a statement of political desperation. The process is reminiscent of the medical tribunals that returned shell shocked and badly wounded soldiers to duty in the first world war or the ‘KV-machine’, the medical commission the Nazis used in the second world war to play down wounds so that soldiers could be reclassified ‘fit for the Eastern front’.” Because of that wording, my hon. Friend felt that there would not be a constructive dialogue.”
Since the words were taken from the Review’s foreword, written by Professor Peter Beresford, we asked Professor Beresford to respond to the criticism via an open letter:
An open letter from Professor Peter Beresford OBE:
25 March 2013
I am writing this open letter as I am seriously concerned about an inaccurate statement made in the House of Commons adjournment debate on 21 March 2013 by the DWP Minister in relation to the Work Capability Assessment and the People’s Review offering evidence on it, written by a member of the We are Spartacus network.
The Minister said she did not necessarily feel that a dialogue with the Spartacus network would be constructive because of the words used in the foreword to the People’s Review. There seems to have been a misunderstanding of the part I have played in relation to the report. Perhaps I can clarify this matter to ensure accuracy.
Neither I nor Brunel University played any part in the production, writing or dissemination of the People’s Review. As is generally the case with such forewords, I am entirely independent of the report and its author. While I am completely independent of Spartacus, I value the work they do under difficult circumstances and the important evidence they have brought into the public domain in this and other reports. The Minister quoted comments I made as if they are part of the report. However, it is made very clear in the report that these words are offered in a separate foreword that is quite clearly distinct from the body of the report and its evidence. I should also make clear that I stand by my comments both as a senior academic and as someone who has had their own long term experience as a mental health service user.
Sadly, the current welfare reforms, because of their deficiencies and crudity are, whether intentionally or otherwise, having a highly detrimental effect on the lives of many disabled people, undermining their rights and inhibiting their capacity to be full contributing citizens in our society. This seems to extend to all groups of disabled people including, I am particularly shocked to say, from examples brought to my attention independent of the People’s Review, people with life-limiting and terminal conditions and people with the most significant and difficult impairments.
The Minister is rightly concerned to advance constructive dialogue. This has been my longstanding commitment too, and my and many disabled people’s worry is that there hasn’t yet been such adequate dialogue; this is now a concern augmented by the issue of a member of the Spartacus network apparently being excluded from such constructive dialogue with the Minister and her colleagues.
I would be happy to discuss this issue publicly with the Minister if she is prepared to do so in any helpful and appropriate way.
Professor Peter Beresford OBE BA Hons PhD AcSS FRSA DipWP
Professor of Social Policy