The work capability assessment carried out by private company Atos has been the source of controversy for a long time. They are renowned for failing to properly and fairly assess applicants for sickness benefits which has resulted in applicants having to appeal their decisions.
With the number of incompetent errors on the rise, so appeals to decisions based on Atos assessments have risen, costing the taxpayer millions of pounds. In 2012, more than 42% of appeal against Atos based decisions were upheld, and the figures for 2013 are expected to be higher when they become available.
Under new rules introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions in October 2013, any person appealing an Atos based decision must have all of their paperwork reviewed again by the DWP before the appeal can be made. During this ‘mandatory reconsideration’ period, all sickness benefits are stopped – so the appellant would receive no money.
Previously, people appealing a decision would continue to receive their benefits while the appeal process took place.
According to the DWP, the ‘mandatory reconsideration’ process was designed to cut down red tape and to be completed within two weeks. However, in reality the process is so inefficient that some disabled and sick people are being left with no money for months.
The government are making it intentionally prohibitive to appeal an Atos decision and people are being forced to try and survive with no money or claims jobseekers allowance, in which case they are declaring themselves fit for work which will stop the appeal process and reassessment.
This underhand tactic by the government means that people with serious health conditions are left with a very difficult choice.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, told the Independent “This system is failing far too many people. Anyone could suddenly become sick or disabled and it’s vital that we have a strong system in place to help people cope with the unexpected.
“It can’t be right that a decision about someone’s health can be reached without even a basic consideration of medical evidence. Far too often, sick and disabled people are caught in a catch-22 where they are forced to pay for a doctor’s help to appeal against a decision which was wrong in the first place.
“The extra red tape hurdle recently put in place by ministers before people can get much-needed support will mean thousands are wrongly forced to go it alone with no source of income. The best way to get the number and cost of appeals down is to make sure decisions are right first time rather than forcing people to jump through unnecessary and stressful extra hoops.”
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope also told the Independent “Concerns with the Work Capability Assessment continue to stack up. The cost of appeals has skyrocketed, assessors have resigned in disgust, and the test has received criticism from the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office. We have also witnessed shocking undercover footage of how Atos assessors are trained and heard horror stories of disabled people inappropriately found fit to work.”
Despite government propaganda, only 3 to 4% of the welfare budget goes to the Employment and Support Allowance benefit, and claims that one million people have been stopped from claiming sickness benefits does not take into account adjustments for appeals which were upheld.
If you want to know more debunked government benefit myths, have a look at ‘Strivers vs Shirkers? Ten Things They Don’t Tell You About the Welfare Budget’ by Mehdi Hasan, a respected journalist with the Huffington Post.
By far the largest welfare spend is on pensions, which account for over 42% of the total welfare bill and are not means tested.
Our welfare system was put in place to ensure that members of our society who experience difficult times are able to survive in our economic based system – that is all. Despite government and much mainstream media propaganda, the reality is that the sick and disabled account for a tiny proportion of welfare spend, and yet these are the people the government have attempted to turn into scape goats – they are easy targets.
The government are not, and never have been, serious about tackling the welfare budget. If they were, then they would have looked at how the largest areas of spend could be reduced. Means testing pensions is one way, with millionaires and the extremely well-off being excluded. But to do that would mean that the government would lose a high proportion of its core supporters. So instead they target those who they think are more likely to vote for the opposition as some kind of penalty for their political beliefs.
Fraud within the benefit system is another myth that has been propagated by the government. Fraud accounts for a very tiny proportion of the total welfare bill (in the region of 1% or less). IF the government were so concerned about fraud, then it would be logical to implement more resources to combat it – not reduce them.
The skewed public face of our benefit system is purposely promoted to take attention away from real issues affecting the economic state of the country. Issues such as tax breaks for the extremely wealthy – including some who pay no tax at all – , government waste which in 2012/13 accounted for nearly £128 billion of taxpayers money being spent on useless projects, and the overall fraudulent activities of the government in ensuring their share portfolios remain healthy.
Now we see that if a person claiming a meagre state benefit dares to question a government decision they are forced into a position of compliance or extreme poverty. This is hardly the action of a fair and caring society – more an action of a fascist and self-interested regime.
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