Ordinary people around the UK will gather outside centres where Atos administers its work capability assessments on benefit claimants next month – to demand an end to the system that is continuing to cause the deaths of thousands of innocent people across the country.
They will gather at 144 of the locations used by Atos to carry out the discredited assessments, under a contract written by the Department for Work and Pensions, on February 19.
It is known that 10,600 ESA/Incapacity Benefit claimants died within six weeks of their claim ending after Atos assessments between January and November 2011, although the DWP seems unwilling to divulge the percentage of those claims that ended because claimants were found fit for work by ATOS. Currently roughly one in four ‘fit for work’ decisions by ATOS is overturned at tribunal.
In July 2013, ATOS whistleblower Greg Wood lifted the lid on the toxic culture that existed within the organisation – carrying out assessments that were not fit for purpose, with huge pressure on assessors to fail ESA claimants. Dr Wood was shocked by the ineffectiveness of the assessment procedure.
A report from the Centre for Welfare Reform showed that informal targets were being set by ATOS which had assessors under pressure to fail around 65 per cent of claimants (Vox Political has estimated 70 per cent in the past).
A petition set up by campaign group WOW (The campaign against the ‘War on Welfare’), calling for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment and an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform – including the ATOS contract, excess claimant deaths and the disregarding of medical evidence in decision-making, gained more than 100,000 signatures. The WOW campaign is currently supported by 57 MPs and there is a commitment to debate the issue in the House of Commons.
Labour MP Hilary Benn said: “As the Labour opposition we have called ATOS a disgrace and said they should be sacked… The system needs to change.”
Labour Councillor Alison Lowe said simply, “I have no problem supporting this. The Government are evil and they don’t care about people who are poor.”
At the demonstrations on February 19, ordinary people will demand an apology from Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith and Thierry Breton, chairman of Atos – not just the disabled, or opposition politicians, but anybody who believes that the Atos-run, DWP-devised assessment system is leading to the deaths of innocent people.
In particular, demonstrators will demand an apology to the families of benefit claimants who took their own lives following decisions made by ATOS, including: Iain Caress, Brian McArdle, David Coupe, Edward Jacques, Tim Salter, Nick Barker, Helen and Mark Mullins, and Paul Wilcoxson.
In Mid Wales, where Vox Political is based, the event will be at the Newtown Assessment Centre, St David’s Business Centre, St David’s House, New Road, Newtown, starting at 11am. Details are on Facebook here.
According to PCS, members working for Atos IT Services and in Atos Healthcare voted to support strike action by a proportion of more than 80 per cent. More than 90 per cent supported action short of a strike.
A union spokesperson said: “As we demonstrated in 2012, members have shown they are prepared to support their elected representatives and defend their interests. Atos should be under no illusions that we are prepared to take action.”
If you’re like me, you don’t know they demonstrated anything at all in 2012 – but I have unearthed a previous press release from PCS that mysteriously doesn’t seem to have made it into the news.
This involved the immediate payment of the Living Wage (Labour must have been happy at that) to all PCS members with more than three months’ service; a two per cent pay uplift for members who already received more than the Living Wage in April this year; a £320 “non-consolidated payment” to all Atos IT Services staff and a £3100 “non-consolidated payment” to Atos Healthcare staff; a new pay process (for PCS members only – presumably other Atos staff could go whistle) in Healthcare and IT Services; a PCS and Atos working party to develop a more transparent appraisal system; and development of a joint PCS and Atos plan to promote “respect, dignity and fair treatment for all workers”.
This indicates that Atos workers receive a very low wage for what they do. You may find this surprising, considering the size of the contracts awarded by the Coalition government; in 2011-12 Atos received £112.4 million to carry out 738,000 assessments. That comes out at £152.30 per hour-long assessment.
It also shows that the ministers at the DWP (after this blog was upbraided for insulting gutter vermin with a previous comparison, let’s call them pond scum this time around) and their allies at Atos, including Mr Breton, seem to have no problem with treating their own staff almost as badly as they treat claimants of sickness and disability benefits.
The DWP, in partnership with Atos: Making Work Pay Less.
Unelected rulers? Thomas Watjen of Unum, Thierry Breton of Atos, and Michael Andrew of KPMG. As things stand, it seems whoever you support in 2015, these people will be behind them. Do you want that?
There is a certain kind of person who takes great delight in commenting on political blogs with a variant of the following:
“It’s no use voting! They’re all the same! It doesn’t matter what you vote for – a politician always gets in!”
No doubt you’ll be familiar with their work.
They are extremely annoying. Their insistence that all politicians are the same breed of pond scum does a huge disservice to those in public service who genuinely want to improve the lives of their fellow human beings; the fanaticism with which they disseminate their opinions may be seen as an attempt to stop ‘casual’ voters from bothering, thereby condemning the country to the current status quo.
Also, most annoyingly of all, they may have a point.
Take the three men pictured above. The one on the right is Michael Andrew, chairman of accounting firm KPMG. This is one of the ‘Big Four’ accountancies who are, among other things, involved in rewriting UK tax law for George Osborne at the Treasury, partly to suit their own desires as architects of the largest tax avoidance schemes currently available to corporations and wealthy individuals resident in the UK.
Today, thanks to an illuminating blog article by Tom Pride over at Pride’s Purge, we learn that KPMG has taken over the running of no less than a quarter of all the clinical commissioning groups (CCGs) that Andrew Lansley swore blind would be run by doctors when the Conservative-led Coalition government pushed through the NHS Privatisation Act of 2012 (otherwise known as the Health and Social Care Act).
The pretext for creating these organisations was that doctors were in the best position to commission health services in any part of England, as they had the detailed knowledge required to determine what was needed.
In fact it was well known that GPs would not be able to carry out this important work – it would be too much for them to take on in addition to their ‘day job’, and they simply did not have the necessary skills. Lansley knew this, and therefore knew that his law would open the door for private firms to take over.
This is borne out by an article in GP online which is now almost a year old; so readers should bear in mind that the current situation may be much further advanced. It stated that KPMG had confirmed the firm was working with “just over 50” of the 211 CCGs in England, along with 11 commissioning support units (CSUs).
The article indirectly quoted Tim Rideout, who said CCGs did not have the capacity to commission in an effective way.
This is an interesting revelation from the former chief executive of the NHS in Leicester City who was then seconded to the Department of Health as the senior responsible officer for the development of – guess what? – NHS commissioning boards. If the new commissioning groups don’t have the capacity to work properly, why didn’t he do something about it at the appropriate time?
Oh, wait. Here’s the answer: In March 2012, Mr Rideout was hired by KPMG as an associate director responsible for – who would have thought it? – commissioning.
In the same article, national clinical commissioning lead for England, Dr James Kingsland, said clinicians and GPs should not be involved in complex procurement, and added: “We are seeing a lot of misunderstandings, disillusionment and despondency.”
Mark Britnell, KPMG’s head of healthcare since 2009 – and another former NHS chief executive, was quoted by The Observer in 2011 as stating: “In future, The NHS will be a state insurance provider not a state deliverer”, and that “The NHS will be shown no mercy and the best time to take advantage of this will be in the next couple of years.”
The following day, KPMG released a statement in which he said the quotes did “not properly reflect” what he had said.
So we have a firm moving to take over CCGs, helped by the fact that its roster now includes the man responsible for setting them up in the first place. Going back to Tom Pride’s piece, he states that the situation chillingly reflects the way the Dutch health service was privatised in 2006. Provision of health services is being handed over to private companies, control of the health budgetwas handed over to private consortia made of doctors and consultants, but now those consortia are being taken over by private companies.
When private firms like KPMG run all CCGs, the Conservative plan to privatise the NHS will be complete. And the NHS, it seems, will be run by Michael Andrew, head of KPMG, from his base in Hong Kong.
But the rot doesn’t stop there.
Tom Pride correctly adds that the consulting arm of KPMG has been owned, since 2002, by another company – called Atos.
That’s right – Atos. The French firm run by Thierry Breton (pictured, centre).
The firm that Ed Miliband wants to fire from running work capability assessments for the DWP will still be involved in government work – at the Department of Health.
You see how this works? Let a private company inveigle its way into the plans of politicians and there’s no getting rid of it. Like the giant squid, it extends its pseudopods into every government department it can possibly contaminate, planting a sucker onto everything it thinks it can take for itself.
Over at the DWP, as everyone should know by now, Atos have been carrying out work capability assessments on claimants of Employment and Support Allowance. These were dreamed up by an insurance company called Unum, that has been working with the UK government – Conservative, Labour and Coalition – since Peter Lilley invited then-boss John LoCascio in, back in the early 1990s.
Unum is now run by Thomas Ratjen (pictured, left), who is based in Tennessee, USA. Its long-term aim seems to be the ruin of the British social security system, rendering it pointless for anyone to claim benefits. Instead, the plan appears to be to encourage working people to buy Unum insurance policies – which are themselves useless, as lawsuits in several US states have proved, while also giving the company a criminal record.
This blog recently revealed that it seemed Unum was trying to influence the policies of all three main UK political parties. The thinktank Reform, that has been part-funded by Unum, is running a fringe event at all three party conferences, entitled ‘New thinking on the welfare state’. This event was sponsored by the Association of British Insurers, which has Unum among its members.
Labour’s version of this event took place on Monday (September 23), hosted by Anne McGuire, shadow minister for disabled people.
She defended her role in an email today, as follows:
“I don’t know why you have been led to believe that I was hosting an event by Unum. For the record, I was speaking at a round table discussion with organisations which included the European Commission, voluntary organisations, insurance companies amongst others. As it was such a conversation, it was by invitation only as was the event I attended this morning organised though the Shaw Trust and Mencap. It is not unusual to have such events at party conference.
“I also spoke at an open meeting last night on the future of welfare reform and disabled people with many disabled people in attendance and participating.
“I am aware of the strong feelings on Unum and Atos. However I trust that you will appreciate that having discussions with a range of organisations should not be seen as anything other than that and in no way implies an endorsement of any particular company or organisation.”
It simply doesn’t ring true.
Let’s look at the context: This event was organised by a right-wing thinktank (they’re ideologically opposed to state-run social security systems) that has been sponsored by Unum; was about “new” thinking on the welfare state; was itself sponsored by the Association of British Insurers, of which Unum is a member; and representatives of insurance companies – and we’re willing to bet Unum was among them – took part in the behind-closed-doors discussion.
It seems clear that this event was intended to influence Labour Party policy away from providing a well-run and reasonable state benefit system, as was the case in the UK until Peter Lilley in the early 1990s, and towards dismantling that system to make way for a system based on privately-run insurance policies, such as those produced by Unum.
The fact that it is being mirrored at the other two party conferences clearly suggests that the firms involved want to influence all major British political parties in the same way. If successful, this would mean that it won’t matter who gets into office after the 2015 election; Unum will still be in power at the Department for Work and Pensions.
Just as KPMG will still be in power at the Treasury, and at the Department of Health, alongside its owner Atos.
And the three gentlemen pictured at the top of this article will be the unelected kings of the UK because, no matter which way you vote, they will be in charge.
That would be a good place to end this article, but then, dear reader, you might be left thinking there is nothing you can do. There is something you can do.
You can write to your MP, to local newspapers, to the party leaders and the ministers running these government departments and you can bitch like hell about it!
The people of this country deserve elected representatives who are going to run this country by their own decisions, in the best interests of the citizens who voted for them – not employees of a dubious gang of unelected corporations, running this country in their own best interests and treating the citizens like dirt.
If any MP, government representative or stooge tells you the UK is bankrupt, or close to it, ask them why we can afford to pay Thierry Breton £1.9 million to preside over a company running a flawed system that leads to the deaths of 73 of us every week.
Mr Breton is the boss of Atos, the company that has been “reassessing” people who used to be on Incapacity Benefit, in a bid to clear the vast majority of them from the government’s welfare benefit bill within a year of assessment.
Only between 12-13 per cent of those who go through the Atos ‘work capability assessment’ keep their benefits indefinitely, going through to the ‘support group’ of the new Employment and Support Allowance. This means they have conditions which mean they will never be able to work in any way – and, in practice, many are likely to die in the near future.
Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions say this figure should be 30 per cent, but that seems more likely to be the percentage transferred from IB. In regard to new cases, I’ll stick with what the Atos trainer said on Channel 4’s Dispatches documentary in July.
The others are either put into a ‘work-related activity’ group and told to get better within 12 months, or marked ‘fit for work’ and told to get looking for a job. These are where the controversial deaths take place, due to stress exacerbating people’s illnesses or suicide because they cannot see a way to go on.
For this, Mr Breton is being paid around £1 million per year. His bonus – nearly another £1 million – means he pocketed £1.9 million in total (before tax – although he could always seed it away in one of the tax havens the government is assiduously failing to close down).
This is why disability specialist Samuel Miller needs to hear from people whose family members or friends have suffered at the hands of Mr Breton’s company. Mr Miller is putting together a file of atrocities which he intends to send to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights at the United Nations.
The aim is to show that austerity measures are violating British people’s human rights. His best hope is in receiving coroners’ reports where the cause of death is found to be destitution and/or suicide.
He can’t do this on his own.
I reported Mr Miller’s plan last week and as a result he has received some responses – but many more are needed. He needs you to get in touch – if you have been affected.
If nobody does anything, the government will merrily assume it is right to persist with a regime that leads to 73 deaths, of your loved ones, every week. And they will continue. If you are disabled, you may be next.
So don’t leave it to somebody else. If you have been affected, get your story in to Mr Miller. You could also contact your local news media and get them to run a story about this, with his email contact details: [email protected]
If they don’t run anything, ask them why. There does seem to be a media blackout and this must be overcome as well.
Otherwise you, or someone you know, could end up like Susan Atkinson, who died of cancer last year, aged 37, after Atos told her she was fit for work.
A friend of hers, Donna Thornton, wrote: “I’m not saying they caused her death but they did add more stress and worry, which I do think helped her give up the fight.
“Her quality of life before she died was so very sad for me to watch – instead of her last few weeks of life being happy ones, they were sad and upsetting. I couldn’t even help her as I was going through the same.”
Donna, who has been in three car crashes, has fibromyalgia, nerve damage, has had shingles and suffers depression, wrote: “I just received a letter saying I have got to got to court this time to appeal.
“Not only do I feel like a criminal but feel sick [that] I’ve got to go through all this to prove I am sick and disabled.
“This system is so wrong; they have got me in so much debt over the past two years, I now want to give up the fight. Life is hard enough being sick, never mind going through all this.
“Please help before I end up on Atos’ death list.”
It’s not just the Atos assessments that are pushing people to the brink, of course. How many of you will be affected by the so-called ‘bedroom tax’?[email protected]
Pressure from the public can stop the insanity of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions, and the other government “reforms” (what a cheek, to suggest changes that will ruin the lives of millions of people are improvements).
But it’s not going to happen if people can’t be bothered to lift a finger.
All it takes is an email. If you can read this, surely you can do that?
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