Hastings – Day of Action Against ATOS – 30/9/11
Friday, September 30 · 10:00am – 12:00pm
7-8, Queens Rd, Hastings, East Sussex TN34 1QP
Organised by Hastings Against Cuts
The last Labour government replaced Incapacity Benefit with Employment Support Allowance, and introduced a harsh new ‘medical’ test to hack back the number of qualifying claimants. It appointed ATOS, a French IT company, to carry out these ‘medical’ assessments. The ConDem government has enthusiastically pushed forward Labour’s attack on the sick and disabled – and is paying ATOS half a billion pounds for a 7 year contract.
Mean…while, a convenient media campaign to con the public into believing that the benefit system is full of ‘scroungers’ has been stoked up as pilot schemes in Aberdeen and Burnley magically found 70% of ESA claimants ‘fit for work’. These schemes are now being rolled out nationwide – happy news for ATOS shareholders if not for Britain’s sick and vulnerable. But so many claimants are failing assessments because the ATOS computer test is so stringent and mismanaged that seriously ill people are regularly being declared fit for work. The Citizens Advice Bureau’s chief executive has written that “seriously ill and disabled people are being severely let down by the crude approach”, while in February, The Herald newspaper reported the deaths of two sick claimants waiting for their appeals against the loss of benefits due to their being ‘fit for work.’
ATOS routinely ignores the evidence and opinions of doctors, consultants and psychiatrists, while their own doctors and nurses, who sit ticking boxes on a computer as they follow a rigid, inflexible series of questions, are ‘incentivised’ to find people fit for work. (Concern at the role of ATOS doctors has been expressed in the BMJ, and the Royal College of Nursing has refused to accredit ATOS’s nurse training). And they and ATOS get paid even though they are clearly often wrong. 40% of appeals against their decisions are won, rising to 70% of appeals where the claimant has had legal advice from the Citizens Advice Bureau, while Edinburgh Council’s Rights Office has found success for 8 or 9 out of every 10 Appeal Tribunals they’ve attended. (These appeals cost the tax-payer money, £8 million in 2009/2010 alone – but ATOS, of course, doesn’t have to pay back for getting it wrong.) What we reject absolutely is the State’s claim that those who didn’t appeal are somehow accepting that they didn’t deserve to be on incapacity benefits. The truth is that many of these claimants are, by the nature of their illnesses/incapacities, lacking the resources (confidence, articulateness, motivation, energy, awareness etc) that they need to appeal. And of course, appealing depends on some level of understanding of what procedures are available and how to access them – something that the deliberately complex benefit system militates against.
These assessments have nothing to do with the sympathetic care and support of the sick and needy that should be the mark of a civilised society , and everything to do with making the vulnerable pay for a crisis that was none of their making. The process is being driven purely by targets to slash welfare spending. Citizens Advice Scotland in a 2010 report wrote “Our evidence has highlighted the cases of many clients with serious health conditions who have been found fit for work, including those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bipolar disorder, heart failure, strokes, severe depression and agoraphobia.”
Meanwhile Britain’s wealthy – including the bankers whose greed triggered the crisis – rake in the profits and bonuses. And while the state and its friends in the media demonise poverty-struck claimants as “fraudsters”, it allows billionaire big business to avoid and evade tax on a massive scale.