A former anti-cuts campaigner who railed for years against the British government’s efforts to get disabled people back into the workplace has experienced a damascene conversion and accepted a job with the company overseeing the work capability assessment process. She is reportedly in line for a £75k salary, plus benefits, for ensuring customer satisfaction.
For the last five years Sue Marsh, who suffers from a rare form of Crohn’s Disease, has been detailing her life on Incapacity Benefit, a pay-out for people too sick to work, in a her blog: Diary of a Benefits Scrounger. Within its pages she rails against work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s reforms to the system, designed to help disabled people who have been “languishing” on sickness benefits long term find work again.
Often employing highly emotive language, a typical passage, in a blog about her own assessment for the payment, reads “Do governments want to make things better? Do they want to stop abuse of the system? Do they want to save on the cost of assessing claimants and the vast cost of appeals when the assessor is overzealous or just plain wrong? Do they want to weed out the cheats? Or does it actually suit them to line us all up like the burden they consider us to be and try to deter us from getting any help at all?”
In another she admits to being an “inverse snob”, writing “I doubt the ability of aristocrats to run the country for the common good. Actually, that’s not true. I doubt the ability of Tories to run the country for the common good. I doubt their will to and their motives too.”
Marsh was also instrumental in setting up the Spartacus campaign, which compiled a series of reports accusing the government of heartlessness and incompetence in its efforts to help people back into work. The campaign was supported on Twitter by celebrities including Lord Prescott, Alastair Campbell, Stephen Fry and Billy Bragg.
Her efforts have made her a darling of the left. In 2013 she appeared at the Labour Party conference, and she writes regularly for the Guardian. But now her supporters have turned against her, calling her “Judas” a “hypocrite” and a “traitor”, as she reveals that she has accepted a job as Head of Customer Experience for Maximus, the company awarded the most recent contract for carrying out health assessments for those claiming sickness benefits.
Explaining her decision – which she says she “agonised” over – to her fans, she has taken to her blogsite to say: “Those of you who love and trust me I hope, will be pleased.
“Those who doubt my intentions and goals and those with different goals to mine will almost certainly be critical, and, in a sense, I understand that response. If I didn’t know me I might be sceptical too.
“I’ve devoted the last 6 years of my life to doing anything and everything I could to improve WCAs (Work Capability Assessments for ESA, Employment and Support Allowance). I’ve negotiated with people I did and didn’t want to, I’ve worked with any group or individual with a genuine concern for those experiencing the assessments. I’ve worked with media and politicians of all parties. My only concern has ever been for the people – like myself and some of you – going through the process of assessment.”
She had previously asserted that, by hiring Maximus, the Department of Work and Pension had sought out “the worst provider they could find” to assess claimants, but now claims to have had an “enormous – almost cosmic – mindset shift” to accept the job.
“Crucially, it’s a campaigner’s job to change things, not just to make a lot of noise,” she insisted. “That noise is supposed to lead society, stakeholders and commentators to the point where real change can be achieved.
“In the last 6 years, I never felt that was the case, but at this moment in time, finding myself in this exceptionally unexpected situation, I simply believe that I can do more good now, here, by doing this, than I can do with all of my other interests.”
Her blog post has attracted more than 450 comments, many from people who had looked up to her as someone on their side.
‘Ephemerid’ commented “Like you, I had a battle to get into the Support Group [where people are placed if they are deemed unable to work] – but if I was offered a job tomorrow, I still couldn’t do it; I’m at a loss to understand how you can now, suddenly be well enough to take on a full-time high-profile high-pressure job.”
Another wrote “I am so sorry to say this but I feel betrayed so much I can only now call you JUDAS”, to which another anonymous commentator added “Indeed. Judas, hypocrite, traitor, take your pick! And to think I’ve read this sh!t for years.”
Tony Cyphus dismissed Marsh as a “sell-out, just like all the MPs who go on to work for the multinationals,” adding “So what happened to “I’m in so much pain I can’t work, please give me DLA [Disability Living Allowance]”? I can’t wait to see how much of a hypocrite you turn out to be. And be aware you have just marked yourself for a life of hate from people who really are true victims of this and future governments.”
A spokesman for Maximus said: “We believe, given her experience, that Sue will be able to contribute a great deal in making the customer experience of work capability assessments a better one.”