Blog by Myles Cook
A FEW weeks ago, a mental health organisation called Rethink Mental Health asked people to invite their local MP to attend a learning exercise on what it is like for a welfare claimant with mental health issues to attend a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), an assessment that has been repeatedly been proved to be not fit for purpose for that group of people.
The mock WCA for MPs was called, in somewhat tongue-in-cheek way, a MP Capability Assessment (MPCA) and was, to all intents and purposes, exactly the same process that a person with mental health issues would have to go through at their WCA with certain minor changes to make it applicable to MPs.
I, as a person with mental health issues, a concerned citizen and opponent of the way mental health is treated within these assessments, wrote to my beloved local MP, Jackie Doyle-Price, asking her to attend the appointment I had arranged for her. The letter she received is as close to the type of letter a claimant would receive as it is possible to get although, of course, there would be no sanctions against her for non-attendance. Below is the conversation, in full, I have had with Ms Doyle-Price regarding the MPCA and includes a side conversation with her assistant, Emily Clifton.
The Original Letter
Dear Ms Doyle-Price,
Your MP Capability Assessment
As your constituent it is important to me that you understand what it is like to undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which thousands of your constituents go through every year.
A recent Judicial Review came to the conclusion that people with mental health problems are substantially disadvantaged by the way they are being assessed by the Department of Work & Pensions through the WCA. I would like you to understand what this experience is like for many of the people you represent.
I have arranged an interview for you to undertake an MP Capability Assessment (MPCA) with Rethink Mental Illness. This assessment mimics the WCA process, asking you to produce evidence of your fitness to be a Member of Parliament. Like the WCA, it is essential that you make yourself available as to not do so may affect the decision about your ability to be an MP.
Please attend Room N, Portcullis House, SW1A 2LW on Wednesday 11 September between the hours of 3:00 – 4:30 p.m. If you cannot keep this appointment then you must make contact as soon as possible to make alternative arrangements.
Things the MP Capability Assessor will need to see on the day of your interview:
Proof of your identity
Any relevant information or evidence demonstrating your ability to work as an MP
An MP Capability Assessor will conduct the interview and the results of the assessment will be made available to you and your constituents shortly afterwards.
To confirm that you will attend please email email@example.com
The Conversation with Emily Clifton
Dear Mr Cook,
Thank you for your email to Jackie Doyle-Price MP.
I’m afraid she will be at Public Accounts Committee all afternoon on Wednesday 11th September. You will be pleased to hear, however, that she has, along with other MPs, already had the opportunity to undergo such an assessment.
Emily Clifton | Office of Jackie Doyle-Price MP
Ms Clifton stated that Ms Doyle-Price was unable to attend due to a prior commitment which is fine but the appointment letter clearly states that she should have made alternative arrangements for the MPCA. The question is – did JD-P arrange another date? If not, why did she not make other arrangements?
Ms Clifton stated that all MPs already had the opportunity to undertake such an assessment. This second claim is worth bearing in mind for later on (but do not worry, dear reader, it will not be too long before that piece of information is required).
Dear Ms Clifton,
Please could you supply me with the details of when Ms Doyle-Price had her MPCA and the outcome as I have no knowledge of her attending any such assessment.
I will then use the information you supply me to check with Rethink as to the veracity of your claim.
Dear Mr Cook,
When I spoke to her about it originally, Jackie said that Chris Grayling, the Minister, had given the opportunity for all MPs to attend a mock Work Capability Assessment (WCA). I don’t think it was via Rethink though, so I assume it was not an ‘MPCA’.
In any case, I have now seen that she has written to you on the issue.
Dear Ms Clifton,
Whatever arrangements Mr Grayling made with MPs is beside the point, as Ms Doyle-Price’s constituent, I have arranged for her to attend an MPCA through Rethink. As is her duty as my representative, Ms Doyle-Price should attend the appointment or set an alternative date as was mentioned in the letter she received.
Please advise me of the new date for Ms Doyle-Price’s MPCA so that I may be fully informed of her compliance/non-compliance.
Please note: I have received no more communications from Emily Clifton.
Ms Clifton claims that Chris Grayling gave all MPs the chance to attend a mock WCA but she does not state whether Ms Doyle-Price attended that assessment so there does not seem to be much reason for bringing it up. However, bear that claim in mind for a few moments as we approach JD-P’s reply.
Jackie Doyle-Price’s Reply
Here is the scanned copy of JD-P’s reply.
And so, dear reader, at least one of our questions is answered – Ms Doyle-Price did not bother to arrange another appointment time and for the most pathetic of reasons because she believes that the changes put in place are sufficient. Basically, she believes her party without bothering to critically assess their claims for herself because did she know what the process was before the changes, what those changes are and how they have made the WCA more fit-for-purpose for claimants with mental health issues? These are not the actions of a proper representative of the people, in my humble opinion.
We must also now re-examine the claims made by Emily Clifton on Ms Doyle-Price’s behalf because if, as she claimed, all MPs were given the chance to undertake a mock WCA by Chris Grayling then why was there no mention of this in Ms Doyle-Price’s letter? Is this because it is a fallacious claim or because Ms Doyle-Price simply did not go to that one either?
I think my reply to Ms Doyle-Price’s letter covers some interesting points too.
Dear Ms Doyle-Price,
With regards to your reply of 30 August concerning your refusal to attend the MPCA assessment learning exercise, I was wondering why you spoke at length about the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) but did not actually mention the MPCA to which my letter referred.
I was also wondering if you worked very closely with Mr Metcalfe, MP for South Basildon and East Thurrock, as your replies were almost completely identical which in some way implies that it is a letter written by Conservative Central Office and tweaked by individual MPs. I understand that most of the letters you get from me are generic, pre-generated ones but I am not a very good letter writer and I believe that, as long as the concern is registered with yourself, the standard letter will suffice. I do believe though, that any reply should be a personal one that reflects one’s own opinions and reasons and not just state the ‘Party line’ because people do not need to write to you to get the Government’s views on any matter.
I also believe that the letter you sent ended rather abruptly and begged for a short concluding paragraph, in my humble opinion.
I did, however, like the way that you included a kiss at the bottom next to your signature which made me feel all nice and warm inside.
Please note: I have not yet had a reply to this letter but it was only sent a short time ago so I do not expect an answer yet.
The pre-generated reply Ms Doyle-Price sent me seems to show how little she really cares about discussing matters with the poor people who live in her constituency and goes on at length about the WCA and gives no real coverage of her personal reasons for not attending the MPCA nor the learning exercise on its own merits.
I also sent her a letter including the full text of a Huffington Post blog covering the MPCA event. Below is the letter minus the Huffington Post article.
Dear Ms Doyle-Price,
I am writing to you to share this blog posting from The Huffington Post website regarding the MPCA learning exercise I invited you to attend. As you can see from the piece by Alan Cairns that I have reproduced below, it seems that the learning exercise opened the eyes of a number of the MPs who had the compassion to take part.
[MPs Undergo Work Capability Assessments, Huffington Post (Posted: 12/09/2013 14:40)]
You were one of 616 MPs who decided that you would not attend or schedule another date for your MPCA due to your ‘work’ commitments on the date set for your assessment. As such, you have not only robbed yourself of a vote winning publicity stunt but you have also shown that you do not wish to put yourself in the place of one of the people being victimised by the Government of which you are a minor part for even a few minutes to see how their lives are being affected by a discriminatory policy.
Of course, you are in good company with so many others sharing your disdain for the people you are supposed to represent in Parliament and your attitude to those people will not go unnoticed in the run-up to the next General Election.
Just out of interest, I would like you to answer this question – how can you possibly consider yourself a representative of the people of your Thurrock constituency when you seem to possess absolutely no interest in wanting to represent any views other than that of your party?
As always, I look forward to your reply.
Now, due to copyright laws, it would be wrong to have reproduced the full article from the Huffington Post; however, I can include the following extract:
“The assessments were designed to be as close as possible to the real thing, so MPs could get a tangible appreciation of what many of their constituents’ experience. MP Kate Green, who underwent the assessment, said:
“The MPs’ WCA was an eye-opener – I felt powerless, rushed and confused. It brought home to me how it must feel to those going through it for real. Of course it’s right we should do all we can to enable those with mental health problems to contribute fully in the workplace and to have a proper test in place to assess if they’re able to. But this test is fundamentally broken and DWP should go back to the drawing board.””
As mentioned in my last letter to Ms Doyle-Price, very few MPs attended the MPCAs nor did they reschedule their appointment so, although I have singled out Ms Doyle-Price, I do not hold her singularly in contempt but I did single her out because she is supposed to represent me in Parliament and has shown herself not fit to be that representative.
To be a representative of the people, an MP should put themselves in the position of the people they represent once in a while, to learn what it is like for the people who live outside an MP’s ivory tower. If an MP does not do that simple thing, then how can they say that they truly represent their constituents?
All the MPCA learning exercise will have cost Ms Doyle-Price is a few minutes of her time to gain some understanding of the problems faced by her constituents who suffer with mental health issues; on the other hand, failure to attend such an assessment can lead to a person losing their only source of income, the pittance that most of them are on in benefit payments (despite the widely held view that they are all on a fortune).
Ms Doyle-Price has had a lot of e-mails from me over the last few days including one on the Bedroom Tax in which I pointed out that her majority at the last General Election was less than the amount of people being currently affected by the Bedroom Tax. I would add to that point that some of those people with mental health issues affected by the unfair WCA process are also still entitled to vote and that some of them are not affected by the Bedroom Tax. Ms Doyle-Price’s majority does not look so safe now, does it?
So, in conclusion, if you are reading this Ms Doyle-Price, you had better start engaging more with the people you represent if you wish to hold your seat after the next General Election. Public opinion is already turning against the harsh treatment of people on benefits because people have finally realised that, when there is no more you can do to the sick, disabled and disadvantaged, your party will turn their sights on them and not even the pensioners will get away with being targeted.
You can read my other letters and opinions at http://valen1971.blogspot.com