Let’s be fair: The Conservatives put Atos under immense pressure to find claimants ineligible for out-of-work sickness benefits.
Disability News Service attributed the pressure to the Department for Work and Pensions but, like all government departments, it only carries out the orders of the government of the day.
DNS stated that a new document unearthed by the family of Michael O’Sullivan, a disabled man who took his own life after being found unfairly fit for work, shows that a doctor working for the private firm Atos, contracted to carry out benefit assessments, made it clear that the Conservative-run DWP was partly to blame for the decision to find him ineligible.
The doctor’s representatives told General Medical Council (GMC) investigators: “Following the conversion of Incapacity Benefit to ESA, the DWP put immense pressure on Atos disability analysts to deem claimants fit for work when they previously would have qualified for benefits.”
They also told the GMC in their evidence that Atos assessors, who “had no formal psychiatric training”, were not required by DWP to use a medical tool that evaluates the severity of a person’s depression.
They also claimed that the criteria applied during Work Capability Assessments had been “altered” by DWP to make it more difficult for claimants to be found eligible for ESA.
We know this to be true; Iain Duncan Smith demanded that these criteria should be made harsher when he took over as Work and Pensions Secretary in 2010.
DNS reminded us that Mr O’Sullivan’s death in September 2013 led to a coroner blaming failings in the notorious work capability assessment (WCA) system for his death, and writing to DWP to request urgent changes to prevent further deaths.
Those changes were never made, and further deaths have continued to be linked to the WCA over the last five years.
The O’Sullivan case also illustrates an excellent reason Labour wants to end the involvement of private companies with the benefit assessment system.
The team investigating the death submitted questions to the DWP – only to be told last year that some of them must be directed at Atos.
Those questions were passed to the company in January and it still hasn’t answered, according to DNS.
This indicates that the privatisation of benefit assessments is a mechanism to allow buck-passing between the government, the civil servants of the DWP and the company to ensure that nobody has to take responsibility for an entirely avoidable death.
That is the most despicable aspect of it.
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