From the British Welfare State to Just Another American State

Mo Stewart argues that the current reforms of the welfare state were inspired by bogus research and the vested interests of US insurance firms.

Author: Mo Stewart

Mo Stewart is an independent researcher and a disabled woman. She has gathered a powerful array of evidence that suggests that many of the current 'reforms' of the welfare state are based on bogus research and the vested interests of foreign firms. This article summarises her views and provides links to her research.

The current welfare 'reforms' have created an atmosphere of fear and despair within the British disabled community - a community that includes people with chronic health conditions and mental health problems.

Claimants of the former Incapacity Benefit are now being transferred to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and are required to take a new kind of 'medical' assessment, known as the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which is exclusively conducted by the private contractor Atos Origin IT Ltd Medical Services - better known as Atos Healthcare. Since 2008 the British government has used the WCA to remove as many claimants as possible from this modest disability benefit. This move is just part of the long-term plan to replace the welfare state with a system funded by private insurance.

Over the last three years of independent research, I have found significant links between the British government and the American healthcare insurer Unum Provident Insurance. These links were first identified in the 2010 report: Atos Healthcare or Disability Denial Factories.[1] This report exposed the links between the DWP and the healthcare insurance giant, and also identified the fact that the WCA had been designed in consultation with Unum Insurance. These plans seem to have been a part of Mrs Thatcher's long-term intention to dismantle the welfare state.[2]

This foreign influence on British welfare reform was the focus for my second year of research, which led to the report: Welfare Reform – Redress for the Disabled which was cited in the welfare reform debates in the House of Lords during September 2011.[3]

Over time, this disturbing evidence was published on the internet and was welcomed by academics, frontline national charities, medical and healthcare professionals and service-users. The research has exposed the fact that the DWP’s American corporate ‘adviser’ was one of the most discredited health insurance companies in the world.[1,3] 

By 2005, after many successful legal cases throughout the USA, the California Department of Insurance Commissioner, John Garamendi, stated: “Unum Provident is an outlaw company. It is a company that has operated in an illegal fashion for years...”[4] By 2006, New York Attorney General Spitzer ordered Unum Provident Insurance to reconsider 200,000 previous claims, in a settlement benefitting 48 States; and also levied another $15 million fine against the company in addition to the multi-million dollar fines already imposed over several years via successful litigation.[1,3,5] In 2007, the American Association for Justice identified Unum Provident Insurance as “...the second worst insurance company in the US.”[6,7] To date, the company have not carried out the 200,000 reconsiderations, ordered in the 2006 multi-state settlement. A name change to, simply, Unum Insurance has not altered this company’s long history of resisting payment to genuine health insurance claimants as confirmed in a compelling CBS News interview.[8,9]

Yet this is the company chosen to ‘advise’ successive British governments since 1994 and this philosophy of disability denial was adopted by the DWP, using Atos Healthcare to conduct the WCA as a guaranteed method to reduce the welfare budget, despite the large amount of detailed evidence against this approach.[1,3,7,10] Indeed, in America, Professor John Langbein of the Yale School of Law produced a paper identified as The Unum Provident Scandal that exposed Unum’s policy of disability denial that continues to be referenced to this day.[10]

Moreover the WCA has been exposed as being ‘unfit for purpose’ by the President of the Appeal Tribunals in ten consecutive annual reports.[11] This view has also been supported by representatives of Britain’s doctors and nurses, for both the British Medical Association (BMA) and the Royal College of Nurses (RCN) have described the WCA as detrimental to the welfare of patients.[12,13] The DWP has continued to disregard all the reported evidence against the Atos assessment.

For six years from 2003, Unum Provident Insurance funded the former DWP Chief Medical Officer, Professor Sir Mansel Aylward, who retired from his role at the DWP to become the Director of the Unum Provident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research at Cardiff University. During that time, Professor Aylward co-authored arguably the most damaging report in the history of British welfare as The Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits which was, effectively, a blueprint for the introduction of the WCA.[14]

The Green Paper: A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering people to work (2006) was subsequently exposed by Professor Alison Ravetz, whose detailed independent assessment identified the content of the Green Paper as leaving much to be desired.[15,16] Although Professor Ravetz’s critical assessment of the Green Paper was provided as a contribution to the public consultation process it was disregarded by the DWP.

Professor Ravetz wrote:

On closer examination, it appears that this entire body of work is largely self-referential – that is, it appeals for validation to itself and is framed within the same political and policy agenda. In practical terms, it means opting out by the state of responsibility for a large section – estimated two thirds – of those affected by illness or disability. In future, it will be harder to qualify for the benefit, while those already receiving it, in many cases over long periods will, despite assurances, have justifiable anxieties about their future benefit status...

UnumProvident, an American company, is involved in a number of lawsuits for ‘bad faith’ in refusing to honour disability insurance claims. This reinforces the caution against taking this apparently impressive body of work at face value. It is not research undertaken in the spirit of open enquiry. It is commissioned research and, as such, pre-disposed towards ideologically determined outcomes.”[16] (emphasis mine)

This statement was written by Professor Ravetz in 2006 and has proved prescient. The nation’s chronically sick and disabled benefit claimants are now living in fear of the arrival of their WCA appointment with Atos Healthcare, and the likelihood of yet another incorrect decision abut benefit entitlement by DWP ‘Decision Makers.’[17]

The main influence on the Green Paper seems to have beenThe Scientific & Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits which was published by the UnumProvident Centre for Psychosocial and Disability Research, Cardiff University.[14] Research evidence has confirmed the profound influence of a discredited American corporate insurance giant on the DWP since 1994. And the most damaging report, used to influence and inform government policy on disability benefits, has been produced via a research centre that has adopted the Unum philosophy and cannot possibly be treated as ‘independent’ research evidence.

On 17th April 2013 the United Kingdom honoured Baroness Thatcher with a ceremonial funeral at a cost of £3.6 million, to acknowledge the nation’s first female Prime Minister, but her lasting legacy to the British people will be the destruction of the welfare state.


[1] Stewart M (2010) Atos Healthcare or Disability Denial Factories

[2] Margaret Thatcher's role in plan to dismantle welfare state revealed. Guardian, 28th December 2012. (accessed 29th May 2013)

[3] Stewart M (2011) Welfare Reform: Redress for the Disabled

[4] Online Lawyer Source (accessed 29th May 2013)

[5] State Insurance Commissioners Reach Settlement with Unum Provident (accessed 29th May 2013)

[6] Unum Claims Denial - Legal Help (accessed 29th May 2013)

[7] The American Association of Justice. The Ten Worst Insurance Companies in America (accessed 29th May 2013)

[8] Gibb G (2013) Unum Lawsuit Plaintiff Wins Re-instatement of Unum Disability Benefits, March 2013 (accessed 29th May 2013)

[9] Did Insurer Cheat Disabled Clients? CBS News Interview

[10] Langbein J H (2013) Trust Law as Regulatory Law: The Unum Provident Scandal and Judicial Review of Benefit Denials Under ERISAYale University School of Law

[11] See, for example, Martin R (2008) President’s Report: Report by the President of Appeal Tribunals on the standards of decision-making by the Secretary of State The Tribunal Service

[12] BMA (2012) Scrap Work Capability Assessment, Doctors Demand. (accessed 29th May 2013)

[13] RCN (213) Disability Assessments.(accessed 29th May 2013)

[14] Waddell G and Aylward M (2005) The Scientific and Conceptual Basis of Incapacity Benefits. London, TSO.

[15] DWP (2006) A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work. London, DWP.

[16] Ravetz A (2006) Green Paper: A New Deal for Welfare: Empowering People to Work- an independent assessment of the arguments for proposed Incapacity Benefit reform

[17] Citizens Advice Scotland (2010) Unfit for Purpose

From the British Welfare State to Just Another American State © Mo Stewart 2013

This is a slightly amended article based on the original published here by Leeds University.

Mo Stewart is a former healthcare professional, a female disabled veteran and, for the last 3 years, has researched the links between the DWP, Atos Healthcare & Unum Insurance. To date, the research evidence has been quoted during welfare debates on in the House of Lords, the House of Commons and in Westminster Hall. Mo routinely shares all research evidence with academics, medical and healthcare professionals, frontline national charities, selected politicians and service users. Her most recent report has just been published by the Centre for Disability Studies at Leeds University.

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Article | 28.05.13

disability, nature & economics, social justice, Article

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