Ask Your MP to Vote Against the Tories’ Brutal Treatment of the Disabled, as ATOS Resign from Conducting Disability Assessments

23.2.14

It’s been some time since I wrote about this wretched government’s vile assault on the disabled, through the rigged assessments (the Work Capability Assessments) administered by the multinational company Atos Healthcare, and designed to find as many mentally and physically disabled people as possible “fit for work” so their support can be cut. See some of my previous articles – Doctors Urge Government to Scrap Callous Disability TestsWhere is the Shame and Anger as the UK Government’s Unbridled Assault on the Disabled Continues?Photos of the Paralympics Demonstration Against Atos Healthcare in LondonCall Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the DisabledThe Tories’ Cruelty Is Laid Bare as Multiple Welfare Cuts Bite and Photos: The 10,000 Cuts and Counting Protest in Parliament Square, September 28, 2013.

Nevertheless, not a day has gone by without me thinking about the horrors of life under the Tories — and their assault not just on the disabled but also on the unemployed and the underpaid — and being close to despair at how my fellow citizens, in significant numbers, have embraced the filthy lies spewing from the lying lips of ministers and the merchants of hatred and division in the tabloid newspapers.

In response to this assault, campaigners launched an e-petition in December 2012,  which became known as the WOW petition (war on welfare), and which called for a cumulative impact assessment of all cuts and changes affecting sick and disabled people, their families and carers, and an immediate end to the Work Capability Assessment, as voted for by the British Medical Association in June 2012.

E-petitions need to secure 100,000 signatures within a year to make them eligible for a Parliamentary debate, and the target was reached with a week to spare.

The Parliamentary debate will be taking place on Thursday February 27, and, prior to the debate, the WOW petition campaigners are encouraging supporters to do the following:

Write to — or email — your local MP (you can find the details by using our Write to your MP tool) and we’ve produced a couple of suggested template letters here (outline) and here (detailed).

If you’re in London or willing and able to visit, campaigners will be watching the debate live, and will lobby MPs in the Central Lobby from 10.30am until the debate starts. There will also be a vigil outside the House of Commons next to Old Palace Yard, from 10.30am. I intend to be there.

The vote comes just ten days after the Guardian revealed that a leaked financial review from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) stated that “ministers across government are working together to build up competition to [Atos] by commissioning other private firms to add ‘further capacity’ to the assessment system. The DWP will then enable ‘these providers to take over the whole contract’ from Atos after the present agreement expires in 2015.”

On Friday, the Press Association followed up on the story, claiming that Atos was “seeking an early exit from its contract,” blaming death threats to its staff — which was almost unbelievably ironic, given that Atos’ assessments have led to numerous well-chronicled deaths, of some of the most vulnerable members of society, which is unforgivable.

Although this is good news, problems will remain until the entire assessment process is scrapped and re-thought intelligently and sensitively, as various other incompetent guns for hire — G4S, A4E, Serco, Capita — are queuing up to take over.

Although not speaking directly about the disabled, Archbishop Vincent Nichols, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, who is about to be made a cardinal by Pope Francis, addressed the horrors of austerity in an interview with BBC Radio 4′s Today programme, and expanded on his comments to the Daily Telegraph when he criticised the government’s welfare reforms as “punitive.”

Archbishop Nichols said, “The voices that I hear express anger and despair … Something is going seriously wrong when, in a country as affluent as ours, people are left in that destitute situation and depend solely on the handouts of the charity of food banks.”

He added, “The moral challenge roots back to the principle that we have to regard and treat every single person with respect.”

To mark the news of Atos’ imminent removal as assessors of the disabled, two organisations who have worked tirelessly to oppose the reviews — Disabled People Against Cuts and the Black Triangle Campaignissued a statement that I’m cross-posting below (with minor editorial changes of my own), as it is powerful, and also contains numerous links to articles demonstrating the horrors of Atos’s reign as the enormously well-paid facilitators of the government’s murderous disdain for the disabled.

DPAC & Black Triangle: Joint Statement on the Bizarre ATOS Exit Strategy
February 22, 2014

Several years of campaigning have paid off in making more and more people realise that ATOS, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) policies imposed by the ConDems are completely toxic, inhuman and abhorrent.

DPAC have been leading campaigns against ATOS, the WCA and DWP since 2010 including: visits to Triton Square (shiny headquarters of ATOS), feeding into the Channel 4 program ‘Dispatches: Britain on the Sick’ which revealed the horrendous system of getting as many people removed from support as possible, exposure of the devastation and misery, and the highly successful ATOS games in 2012 which saw ATOS shares drop in value and an increase in media attention against them. DPAC have occupied Caxton House (home of the DWP) and gathered outside the entrance of the DWP on many occasions, most recently in the 7 days of action ‘Reclaiming our Futures’.

Our sister group Black Triangle have fought tirelessly with us. Black Triangle has worked with us for over 3 years fighting and exposing continuous wrong doing and working on publicising regulations that can be used by GPs to prevent further harm to thousands of disabled people under the WCA regime. This month also saw a UK wide protest outside local ATOS centres organised by local groups. We’ve all been clear that it is the WCA itself that needs to be scrapped immediately.

The bizarre exit strategy ATOS have developed in identifying apparent physical threats on Facebook despite the growing lists of real deaths caused by the WCA regime is an outrageous insult to all those that have died and all those that have lost family members through this regime. It is an insult to those left without their homes, without money and needing to go to foodbanks. It is an insult to every person who has suffered worsening physical and mental health through this inhuman regime.

ATOS attempting to pull out of its contact represents only a partial victory. The alphabet corporations (G4S, A4E, SERCO, CAPITA) are already lining up to take over the multi-million profits and the mantle of the new Grim Reapers. The misery imposed by this Government and the DWP will continue as long as its heinous policies continue.

Goodbye to ATOS — but the WCA must also end. The reign of terror by this unelected Coalition Government which has awarded itself pay rises, cut taxes for those earning over £150,000 while piling punishment, poverty, misery and premature death on everyone else in its policies of rich against poor must end.

Make no mistake — We will continue to demonstrate against ATOS, now delivering the complete failure of PIP [the Personal Independence Payment, the replacement for Disability Living Allowance that has been severely criticised by disability campaigners] in which claims are being delayed by up to a year. We will demonstrate against any other company that takes over the WCA contract. We will continue to demand the immediate removal of the WCA, and the removal of this Government.

DPAC and Black Triangle demand:

  1. That the WCA be ended with immediate effect to be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to disabled people, those with chronic health issues, terminal illnesses or long term health issues. It is the WCA – the assessment itself – that is fundamentally flawed and must end now as called for by the British Medical Association (BMA), and the Royal College of Nursing.
  2. That the UK Government at Westminster and the opposition follow the Scottish Government’s pledge that private for-profit companies are removed entirely from having anything to do with the assessment of disabled people. This area of public policy belongs firmly within the NHS and the public sector.
  3. That all support and commend the initiative being led by Black Triangle in union with DPAC to work together with the BMA to ensure that GPs are able to flag up a substantial risk of harm to disabled people, those with chronic health issues, terminal illnesses or long term health issues at the very outset of the WCA process. The complete lack of any such mechanism to assess and flag up complex risk under the current regime has given rise to countless tragedies which could thereby have been avoided.
  4. That the PIP contract be removed from ATOS with immediate effect-they have shown errors beyond incompetence affecting thousands of disabled people, leading to waits of up to a year and leaving people without income or food.

We’ll celebrate Atos’ realisation that the WCA contract has always been poisonous, but we won’t rest or stay quiet. Atos’ absence from the WCA regime will not allow us forget the evil we have endured:

Suicides (Atos, the Coalition and DWP all share responsibility)

Fear of fitness to work tests driving disabled patients to suicide, say 6% of GPs
The tragedy of Alice, How the Work Capability Assessment costs lives
Former bodybuilder from Willington who can barely walk contemplated suicide after nurse ruled him fit to work
Benefits withdrawal led to man’s suicide
Benefits row dad takes his own life and is found dead in his flat by his fiancee
Sneinton man overdoses after benefits stopped
Heartbroken dad reveals agony as decision to axe his son’s benefits is overturned.. weeks after his boy killed himself
Benefit Cuts Caused Disabled Yorkshire Man Nicholas Barker To Take His Life, Rules Coroner
Back problems led to fatal dose
Benefits man found hanged, inquest heard
Author’s suicide ‘due to slash in benefits’
Woman who drowned in drain was upset about health check
Norwich man killed himself ‘over back-to-work fears’
Inquest hears of Cumbrian dad’s health benefits worries
Fears over benefits led to tragedy
Benefits withdrawal led to man’s suicide
Unemployed Gravesend man hanged himself after sickness benefits were cut
Grandfather Shaun Pilkington Found Dead After Receiving Letter Saying Benefits Will Be Stopped
Disabled Kinver man killed himself after being left “almost destitute” when his state benefits were axed
Bristol woman ‘killed herself after benefits were stopped’

The terrible effects of Atos’ decisions

John McDonnell MP speaking up for Atos Healthcare victims
BBC South East Today 13th December 2013 on the WCA
Cancer killed my husband, but Atos took his dignity a long time before his death
Islington Council passes vote of no confidence in disabled assessing company Atos
Grieving son blasts benefit cuts: My dad looked like a concentration camp prisoner before he died
Amy Jones, Woman With Cerebral Palsy, Given Prognosis By ATOS That Her Disability ‘Expected To Improve’
Atos fit-to-work assessments branded ‘farcical’ as nearly half of people with progressive diseases like Parkinson’s told they’ll RECOVER
Disabled benefits claimants test: Atos reports found ‘unacceptably poor’
Atos assessors told to keep disability benefit approvals low, film suggests
Linda Wootton: Double heart and lung transplant dies nine days after she has benefits stopped
Blind in one eye, partially deaf and facing major spinal surgery but Thalidomide mother is STILL found fit to work
Atos scandal: Man found fit to work despite peeling bones
‘This brutal new system’: a GP’s take on Atos and work capability assessments
Atos told incontinent woman to ‘wear nappy’
Get ready for work: what woman who needs constant care was told

The appeal rate

The success of appeals against Atos’ decisions is around 40% when claimants appeal without any support, and up to 70% when claimants are supported by trained advocates. See the Citizens Advice Scotland report, “Unfit for Purpose.”

Setting targets

In secret filming for Channel 4′s “Dispatches” show, a trainer quoted the targets set for Atos  – just 13% of claimants were expected to keep ESA: Atos Secret Filming – Excerpt from Channel 4 Dispatches programme Britain on the Sick

Tax avoidance

Atos have £3bn pounds in public contracts, yet pay no tax here: Atos and G4S pay no corporation tax despite profiting from billions pounds worth of public sector contracts, as auditors warn of ‘crisis of confidence’ over private contractors

Whistleblowers

Greg Wood: Claimants ‘tricked’ out of benefits, says Jobcentre whistleblower and Whistleblower former Atos doctor talks to BBC News (May 2013)
Joyce Drummond: ATOS assessor ‘forced to judge disabled fit for work’

Failures to assess mental health requirements

The complete failure around people presenting with mental health diagnosis:
Work assessments unfair on mentally ill, says court
How are those with mental health problems treated by Atos?
Why can’t we find out more about Atos mental function champions?

Neglect of claimants

Man having heart attack during assessment and getting marked as walking out: Sick benefits claimant has HEART ATTACK during Jobcentre test – and Government axe his payments
Claimant in wheelchair left upstairs in fire drill: Disabled man abandoned on the second floor of building during Atos fire alarm evacuation
Claimants left out in the cold: Disabled and ill left in cold after Atos blunder – Derbyshire Times

Atos called the police regarding welfare advisors

Police called after welfare experts offer advice to disabled ahead of Atos sickness benefit assessments

Atos claimed to be working with groups they weren’t

Labour calls for urgent investigation over ‘misleading’ Atos bid information
Atos boss accused of ‘living in a parallel universe’ after claiming hated benefits assessor is popular with public – Mirror Online

Goodbye, ATOS. We’ll be back …

POSTSCRIPT February 23: The WOW Petition has now signed on to the statement, as have Inclusion London and Pat’s Petition.

Andy Worthington is a freelance investigative journalist, activist, author, photographer and film-maker. He is the co-founder of the “Close Guantánamo” campaign, and the author of The Guantánamo Files: The Stories of the 774 Detainees in America’s Illegal Prison (published by Pluto Press, distributed by Macmillan in the US, and available from Amazon — click on the following for the US and the UK) and of two other books: Stonehenge: Celebration and Subversion and The Battle of the Beanfield. He is also the co-director (with Polly Nash) of the documentary film, “Outside the Law: Stories from Guantánamo” (available on DVD here – or here for the US).

To receive new articles in your inbox, please subscribe to Andy’s RSS feed — and he can also be found on Facebook (and here), Twitter, Flickr and YouTube. Also see the four-part definitive Guantánamo prisoner list, and “The Complete Guantánamo Files,” an ongoing, 70-part, million-word series drawing on files released by WikiLeaks in April 2011. Also see the definitive Guantánamo habeas list and the chronological list of all Andy’s articles.

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7 Responses

  1. Andy Worthington says...

    It’s also worth noting that, in October, the government changed the rules regarding appeals against assessments finding disabled people “fit for work,” so that, as the Independent put it in an article three weeks ago:

    “People with serious disabilities and health conditions are being left for weeks with no financial support by Government changes to benefit assessments.

    “Under new rules introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions in October, anyone wanting to appeal a decision that they are fit to work first has to have all their paperwork looked at again, while receiving no sickness benefits. The Citizens Advice Bureau believes this will result in thousands of people being wrongly forced to survive on no income at all.

    “The Government said that this ‘mandatory reconsideration’ would cut down on bureaucracy and take just two weeks, but some disabled and sick people are being wrongly assessed and left with no support for months on end.”

    See the full article here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-claimants-lose-all-their-income-under-disability-benefits-reform-9107586.html

  2. Andy Worthington says...

    And the latest bad news, sadly, is that the court of appeals has ruled that the high court was right to defend the government’s position that the ”bedroom tax” does not unlawfully discriminate against the disabled: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/10653460/Judge-rejects-bedroom-tax-unlawfully-discriminates-against-disabled.html

  3. Andy Worthington says...

    Pauline Kiernan wrote:

    sharing. thanks Andy.

  4. Andy Worthington says...

    Thanks, Pauline!

  5. Andy Worthington says...

    Londoners, please come to Parliament on Thursday morning! As well as the demonstration by disability campaigners, there will also be a protest by campaigners fighting to save the NHS: http://www.andyworthington.co.uk/2014/02/25/save-the-nhs-from-the-hospital-closure-clause-in-the-care-bill-write-to-your-mp-and-attend-a-parliamentary-meeting-on-feb-27/

  6. Thomas says...

    This government wants to starve or enslave the disabled.

  7. Andy Worthington says...

    Yes, that’s the blunt truth, Thomas, and the reason I now see the Tories aiming to return the UK to a state of feudalism.

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