MPs: Terminate the deadly Atos assessment regime before anyone else dies

Sick and disabled people in the UK can justifiably feel they are lining up for a death sentence as they prepare to take the dreaded Work Capability Assessment – the test devised by the Department of Work and Pensions and run (badly) by the French company Atos.

It leads – directly or indirectly – to an average of 32 deaths every week.

But there may be a ray of hope for them in the fact that the Labour Party has secured a Parliamentary debate on Atos and the WCA, to take place on September 4 – next Tuesday.

It is to be hoped that this will be the debate when Labour leader Ed Miliband finally gets off the fence and puts his weight – and that of his party – fully against the murderous system imposed by Chris Grayling and his master Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom are on record as stating that their version of the system is preferable, and less harsh, than that carried out under the previous Labour government.

The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written two open letters to Mr Miliband, calling on him to break cover and declare his opposition to the scheme, and it seems bizarre that he has left people wondering for so long whether he actually supports a scheme that kills society’s most vulnerable.

The signs are hopeful that Mr Miliband will support change. In a letter to Sonia Poulton, he wrote: “Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle… I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals. These concerns… have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen. We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form.”

Let’s remind ourselves why it’s important. There’s a petition online at the moment, calling for the restoration of benefits to an Afghanistan war hero who lost his leg in the line of duty. Sapper Karl Boon lost his left leg in a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been stripped of his benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS.

In signing the petition, I wrote: “More penny-pinching from the poor by the government that doesn’t have the guts to tax the rich. Here’s a man who has risked his life and lost a limb in the service of his country, and all his country’s leaders can think of doing in return is taking away his financial support – aided by a foreign company. We have witnessed many stories like that of Sapper Karl Boon over the last two years and it seems to me that there is no depth to which the current government will not sink. To those in government, I say: Prove me wrong. Give this man the respect he deserves and pay him what you owe him.” Too harsh? Think on this: At least Karl Boon is currently still alive.

Let’s also remember that we’re experiencing an enormous rise in hate crime against the sick and disabled, fuelled by government propoganda and a right-wing media that’s primed to support it. ITV’s Tonight programme reported last Thursday (August 23) that more than 65,000 hate crimes against the disabled were reported in the last year. You can read my article on this blog site to find some of the stories.

So why has Miliband sat on the fence for so long?

There are two issues to separate out here.

Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having regular assessments to judge whether a person on one or both of the disability benefits is able to work, or will be likely to be able to do so in the near future. The only people who can be against that are people who want the easy life, living on benefits and off the hard work of the taxpayers.

But the way the Coalition regime has gone about these assessments, through its private contractor Atos, is totally inappropriate and unfit for purpose. We can see that in the many horror stories that have come out over the last few weeks and months.

Why should those who are permanently disabled be forced to go through reassessment every few months? They’re never going to get better! But we have Atos reports saying an amputee will be fit for work as soon as his arm grows back (for crying out loud)!

Why are doctors’ reports ignored? I know there is an argument that doctors may be persuaded to sign people off work when they aren’t actually unfit but, if the assessments were carried out by properly qualified medical professionals, working in accordance with the standards their qualifications have set for them, those would be found out. Instead, we get unqualified assessors working to a tick-box questionnaire, that isn’t remotely adequate to the job and has been acknowledged (as we saw on both Dispatches and Panorama) to be designed to get people off benefit.

There is no realism to the questions in the assessment, no anticipation of the kind of work that a person will be asked to do. There is no acknowledgement of the ways an employer would have to stretch to accommodate people with particular disabilities. Signing somebody as fit for work because they have one finger able to push a button does not make them attractive to an employer and merely sets them up to fail, possibly on a life-threatening scale because, as we know and I make no apologies for repeating, 32 people are dying every week because of the assessment system.

So what’s the alternative?

A better assessment would refer to the notes made by a patient’s GP, but would also include tests by a medical professional to ascertain the current condition of the disability – that it has been correctly reported.

It would then go on to cover the patients’ ability to carry out the sort of work that they might reasonably be likely to see on offer. Would they be able to manage it with a minimum of bother to an employer? That is the only way we will see sensible assessments coming in.

Atos is not fit to carry out these assessments in any case. The company had a bad reputation in France before it ever got a British contract and does not deserve to be making money from the taxpayer by condemning British people to the death that many of them have suffered.

These are the arguments I would wish to hear aired during the Parliamentary debate on the subject.

What would you like to hear?

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19 Thoughts to “MPs: Terminate the deadly Atos assessment regime before anyone else dies”

  1. Cameron can’t tax the rich ‘cos he’s one of them. Bring on Independence.

  2. Geoffrey

    You’ll be lucky. Dead claimants means reduced cost. ATOS mission=kill, kill, kill

    1. The question has been raised elsewhere about whether the government is guilty of corporate manslaughter because of the deaths. The idea, as I understand it, is that the DWP relieves your GP of the duty of care by overruling their decision that you are unfit for work. Then, if you die due to the stress of the assessment regime worsening your condition, then the DWP has been reckless with regard to your health and can be judged to have caused your death. That’s an oversimplification but the gist is there. What do readers think?

      1. Penny Ashford

        How to give it back to Atos/DWP:
        1. Buy/borrow a small dictaphone or tape-recorder.
        2. Put it in writing via e-mail to Atos that you wish to record the upcoming assessment. Inform them that unless they agree to the record and confirm that to you in writing you will not attend the assessment.
        3. Raise all points to do with Atos murdering poor people. I address all e-mails to their customer relations department with “Dear murderers”
        4. Remind Atos that in light of the above, you wish to be reassured that your assessment will not bias and the only way you can do that is to record it.
        5. Copy all correspondence with Atos (as cowards, they won’t reply in writing to you) to DWP District Office and request that they answer all queries concerning the possible bias of the upcoming assessment.
        6. Atos will attempt to call you to discuss your queries. Politely inform them that you wish their response to be in writing and hang up the phone.
        I’ve been claiming ESA for nearly a year and thanks to “changes in NHS contract” I’m unable to get the physio I need. I’ve done all the above and have only attended Atos assessment once. They said they didn’t have a record of my wish to record the interview and said it couldn’t go ahead. Be strong. If you have a valid med cert the DWP cannot legally stop your claim.
        My heartfelt very best wishes go out to all the brave.

  3. S francis

    Many people may not be aware that ATOS is also used by prospective employers to find people UNFIT for work due to illness and disability. Strange how the opinions of these so called health care professionals change depending on who is paying them.

    1. My wife used to work for the NHS and ATOS declared her unfit for work. This same company then declared her fit for work purely for government statistics! We then spent the next 2 years of her short life appealing. She finally won, but not even two weeks later she passed away. The sooner that someone sees sense and kicks ATOS into touch the better. But alas we normal people know that will never happen anytime soon as too many pockets are being lined!

      1. Yet another Atos/DWP death. Your story really shows up how Atos twists the evidence to fit whatever suits its purpose on that day. I’m sorry to read that your wife passed away as a result of having to deal with this arbitrary, persecuting regime.

      2. its things like this that make me wonder about the reach of that Stanley Milgram experiment

  4. ADie Dee

    Atos what are you good for? Nothing I say it again Atos what are you good for? Nothing! My wife was called in on a Sunday for an assessment. There were a lot of people working (at what cost?). At the end they said You are able to do some work…. what we have never been told. (She has done mostly office work in the past, but nowadays you need to be able to do X, Y, Z. Of which at least 2 are probably impossible for any one with disabilities to do.

    Then there is the fact that the Job centre just fobs you off to a private company that is supposed to help you get work. The last time my wife got a job (albeit part time and just about paid for her taxi to and from the job (don’t even mention ring and ride), it was the job centre that got it for her! These private firms are hopeless!

    Also how is a disabled person supposed to get a “job” if even able bodied willing to work people have no chance?

  5. Ronnie Gordon

    I would like to ask why a “lying nurse”who had never met me before and gave me zero points,is better qualified than my GP who has been in my life for many years whilst helping me through lots of difficult times, is better to decide whether i am fit for work or not.. I have been waiting for over 6 months for an appeal for ESA, my health and mental state are deteriorating rapidly wondering where to turn to next..
    I despise the people who are responsible for doing this to me and hundreds of thousands of others in the same boat, I worked and paid all my days a thing called “National insurance”i did not want to have to claim but after an industrial accident i have no choice, can i get my money back?
    I had a job which was very rewarding which i would have prefered to have kept rather than begging for what i paid for….

  6. Chris B.

    In 2005 in a unique settlement signed by 50 States in the USA, ATOS was fined $23 million and ordered to reopen 300,000 denied claims at a cost of half a billion dollars.
    Then again in 2005: ATOS was fined $7.5 million in damages and declared a outlaw company.
    ATOS is a company that for years has operated in illegal fashion. And now in the UK ATOS has Blood on its hands.
    Ministers have been impressed with ATOS’s performance – the company was the first IT firm to sign a new “memorandum of understanding” after the Cabinet Office minister, Francis Maude, redesigned Labour contracts he considered too favourable to the private sector in a vote of confidence in the company this month.

  7. BOB

    There is something that people tend to forget,It was labour who started the ball rolling with this.

    1. You’re right, Bob, and Labour MPs accepted that at the Atos debate in the Westminster Hall today (September 4). But they also said that the Coalition rolled out ESA before its trials were finished – basically, it wasn’t fit for purpose when they started the assessments for it. So obviously mistakes were made and people were wronged.
      I don’t think anyone would argue that there was a great deal wrong with the assessments from the start. My personal belief is that the private sector company – Atos – should never have been allowed to get involved. I think assessment by medical professionals – with no financial incentive to make decisions one way or another – is the only fair course of action. These people should not be the claimant’s GP, though. The assessment should be to confirm that the GP’s assessment is correct.

  8. Lawrence

    I actually passed two ATOS assessments in 10 months, arthritis of the spine and hips quite simply doesn’t get better so quite why the second assessment was carried out so soon after the first I’ve no idea. My ESA was stopped two months after the second assessment because my wife works. Strange that because we both paid our Tax and NI separately, the maximum amount with no allowances, deducted at source, by force and generally referred to as PAYE.
    Bearing in mind that my wife is now expected to keep me does she get some kind of help with this? Maybe a tax allowance of some kind? Not a chance, she is just expected to afford it and I’m expected to rely on her charity to eat. Or of course we could just get divorced. Oh and the JobCenter tell me that I have enough credit in the system to pay for my ESA for the next 11 years………… So it’s actually my money being withheld rather than that of hard working taxpayers being paid out.

    As for the deaths, I am honestly shocked, if 32 soldiers died in Iraq or Afghanistan every week there would be absolute uproar. Not a word in any of the mainstream media says it all.

  9. Erm, isn’t the problem ATOS, and if it is isn’t it a problem created by Labour in the first place?

    1. Lawrence

      Erm, yeah the problem is ATOS and a system set up by Labour which the coalition have certainly not changed for the better. Still roll on 2014 when UKIP rout the other parties in the Euro elections, and of course lets not forget 2015 when the FIB Dems pay for their treachery and the Tory vote is split by UKIP, keeping them out of Government for decades. WooHoo.

  10. @ Chris B: Good post 😉 I hate seeing all this hardship falling on sick and disabled people. It is wrong, no matter what way You look at this. A bit ironic really lol My dad got medals in the war ( as many others did ) to go and liberate the French, only to have them come and try and take Our middle finger off us again lol
    Keep up the good work and don’t lose heart, one day this Bas$%^& coalition will be held accountable!!!

  11. Mary

    It’s going to take a lot of time, energy, arrogant pomp, and money to apply this!

  12. plasticcat

    my fiend was required to go to an atos assessment after spending four years deemed 15 points or more unfit for work she has various ailments ( cancer survivor ) including top vertibre damage which means she cannot turn her head to look behind her – she was classed as 0 points after assessment so she went to the job centre – the job centre told her that she couldnt sign on due to the fact that she had a valid sick certificate from her gp – so she phoned the dwp to restart her claim for dla – who promptly told her that due to the assessment she couldnt and she needed to go back to the ….. ad ifinitum ..

    end result … she s now been waiting nearly a month for ANY PAYMENT FROM EITHER …. she s already recieved two letters one from the council telling her she s in arrears with her council tax and another from her housing association telling her she s in arrears with her rent … this lady has never claimed any thing from the government in her life … not a single penny and now she cant even retire on a meagre pension as they ve raised the retirement age – i believe the going rate for a one bedroom appartment is 100 pounds a week or more – cost to the government where she is at the the moment 75 pounds a week – cost to put her in sheltered accomodation – 200 pounds plus a week – you do the math !!!!!! and times it by at least 2000 people in april !!!!!!!!

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