In another shocking revelation, a former health advocate reveals the true cost of the government’s welfare reform policy.
The interview (courtesy of RNIF) reveals how the government agency responsible for assessing whether the disabled and sick are fit for work, are using unquailed staff to make medical assessments. (video at end of article)
It is unclear whether the company involved is implementing criteria based on government instruction, or whether they are assessing people to meet government targets by using unrealistic, and damaging (in fact, lethal) criteria.
In particular, those who are mentally unwell are being targeted by the company as ‘easy pickings’ to reach welfare reform targets, and according to an investigation by the Daily Mirror, it is estimated that 32 people die per week as a direct result of the assessment process.
The government contract with private company ATOS has generated controversy from the beginning. ATOS has been accused of tendering a misleading bid for the £400m contract to carry out disability assessments on behalf of the government.
According to The Guardian, Leaked information from the tendering documents reveal that the firm said it would work with a number of disability organisations to carry out eligibility tests for a new disability benefit. Four of the organisations named in the document said they had no contact with Atos before being named as possible partners and strongly objected to any suggestion that they planned to co-operate with the company.
In 2011 the General Medical Council investigated twelve of ATOS’ doctors after allegations of improper conduct. Seven of the doctors were under investigation for more than seven months, and the other five placed under investigation that year. The allegations concerned the treatment of vulnerable people under the ‘work capability assessment’ scheme.
MPs from all sides have also been highly critical of the role of ATOS in assessing vulnerable people’s ability to work, and the hardship ATOS’ assessment processes cause. In a House of Commons debate in January 2013, MPs from all parties gave emotional accounts of how very ill individuals had been incorrectly assessed, some of whom later died.
Labour MP Michael Meacher described the case of a young man who became seriously ill after being assessed by ATOS, which resulted in his death. Meacher asked “Is it reasonable to pressurise seriously disabled persons into work so ruthlessly when there are 2.5 million unemployed and when, on average, eight persons chase every vacancy, unless they are provided with the active and extensive support they obviously need to get and hold down work, which is certainly not the case currently?
Conservative MP Heather Wheeler asked whether Atos reviewed the cases of those people who “dropped down dead within three months of being told they are fit for work”. At what point do we say that this isn’t working?”.
In response to the criticism of MPs, an ATOS spokeswoman said “[Our workers] strictly follow the guidelines given to them by the government when conducting assessments and make no decisions on a person’s eligibility for benefits.”
So there we have it. It is THE GOVERNMENT who set the guidelines and are responsible for the hardship and DEATH of vulnerable ‘easy-targets’ in our society.
ATOS has its finger in other government pies, with contracts worth £3 billion with ten government departments, which led to the National Audit Office calling for an overhaul of the government’s medical testing contract.
In secret filming for the Channel 4 Dispatches programme which was broadcast on 30th July 2012, Dr Steve Bick, a GP with 20 years of experience, applied for a job as an assessor for ATOS to carry out the work capability assessment. During the training, Bick and other trainee assessors were told that they will be closely monitored for the number of applicants found to be eligible for the higher disability payment rates. The trainer says “If it’s more than I think 12% or 13%, you will be fed back ‘your rate is too high.'” When Bick questioned how the company could know in advance the precise proportion of people who needed to be put in this category, the trainer replied: “How do we know? I don’t know who set the criteria but that’s what we are being told.”
During the training, the trainer went on to explain how the assessment system had been altered to reduce the number of those eligible for payments, “For employment support allowance, we talk about mobilising, which means being able to transfer from point A to point B either by walking, walking with aids, which is crutches, walking sticks, Zimmer frame or using a manual wheelchair. So if someone has no legs but they have good hands, they can sit and propel a manual wheelchair, they don’t score anything. This is one of the toughest changes,” she says. “I’ve recently had somebody with prostate cancer, but of course that’s not traditionally treated with chemotherapy so I gave him no points. And I couldn’t do anything else…. Same with breast cancer: the hormonal treatments don’t count. So he was given no points, I felt very uncomfortable doing it and I didn’t like doing it, but I had no way of scoring him.”
ATOS certainly does not like criticism either. It has forced several websites that helped people experiencing difficulties with the ATOS assessment process to close.
Of course there needs to be some kind of assessment system, but such a system must take all medical evidence from medical professionals into account. Information from professionals who know and treat the person, not some faceless, unqualified, computer tick-box system only concerned with hitting targets and getting paid.
Those who are falsely claiming benefits should be dealt with appropriately, but the current system has been designed to target vulnerable people en-masse – not the fraudsters.
ATOS and government welfare policies are designed to cut the welfare budget – nothing else. It is no longer about supporting those in need within our society. It is literally killing people
The REAL problem is that government has created society, and many of the problems within it. Now they are doing what they always do – pass the buck and bully those who are unable, or find it difficult to defend themselves. DISGRACEFUL!
Here is the whistle-blower video courtesy of RNIF:
Some links that may be of interest:
ATOS Victims Group: http://atosvictimsgroup.co.uk/
Calum’s List: http://calumslist.org/