Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) will be holding a series of actions against Atos at the Paralympics – http://www.tuc.org.uk/equality/tuc-21294-f0.cfm
Before the planned protests on 27th August, they spoke to the Morning Star.
By John Millington
It’s been a bad week for controversial Olympic sponsor Atos.
The company stands accused of heaping misery on disabled people by subjecting them to Work Capability Assessment tests to get them off benefits and back to work.
Two documentaries screened this week raised serious concerns about the French IT company’s testing procedure.
The BBC’s Panorama and Channel 4’s Dispatches programmes uncovered cases where people have been declared fit for work in contradiction to their respective GPs’ assessments.
Stephen Hill was found fit for work despite doctors diagnosing him with heart failure.
He won his appeal but he was ordered to attend another assessment.
“He got a letter for another medical and I couldn’t believe it,” his wife said. “He’d got to go for a medical when he was waiting for a heart operation.”
But he was again declared fit for work, with the assessor insisting: “Significant disability due to cardiovascular problems seems unlikely.”
Hill died of a heart attack five weeks later.
Atos was awarded the contract to carry out the Work Capability Assessment in 2010 with the government paying it £100 million a year.
Campaigners have accused Atos of having the sole aim of reducing the £12 billion a year benefits bill to £10bn, rather than helping people get back to work.
Cases like that of Graham Smith, showcased in Dispatches, seem to support this charge.
He was found fit for work despite being shown to have severe back pain requiring daily morphine shots.
Smith’s doctor was quoted as saying that he couldn’t understand “how anyone could find him fit for work.”
His “current pain levels require so much medication that he’s quite sedated.”
Activists are beginning to zero in on Atos and are certainly not going to let the privateer off the hook.
Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts spokesman Adam Lotun believes that Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions are colluding to get the benefit bill down.
“It is obvious that Atos have approached the DWP with a plan to force people back to work and that they received award payments for each person the remove from incapacity benefit and disability living allowance.
“About 70 per cent of claims then go to tribunal appeal where they are ultimately overturned and then three months later Atos arrange another WCA appointment and the whole process begins again,” says Lotun.
“The DWP are not clawing back any payments from Atos on any of those cases that are overturned at tribunal appeal and there are no checks or decisions on what is tantamount to harassment and bullying when Atos request another WCA appointment from the same individual.”
For Lotun, Atos motives are simple – private profit.
“Atos are in this purely to make a profit and have shown that they are incapable of carrying out fair WCA assessments as so many of these cases have been taken to tribunal to the point where more tribunal staff have had to be employed and tribunals have been sitting on weekends and in hired venues due to the number of cases that have been brought to them,” he added.
Labour Representation Committee joint secretary Andrew Fisher agrees, saying: “The DWP and its contractor Atos deny that their tests have targets to get people off of benefits, yet the minister says they want one million fewer people on disability benefits.
“It has long been clear – whether or not there are official targets – that pressure is applied to deny people benefits, as the undercover reporting has now exposed.
“Already 40 per cent of people who appeal their decision are successful and that rises to 70 per cent if supported by a legal representative.
“The hate campaign whipped up by this government, especially against the disabled, has led to a rise in disability hate crime, while the real issues – a lack of jobs generally and the refusal of employers to make reasonable adjustments – go unresolved.”
But for Fisher merely expressing sympathy is no substitute for action and he urges the labour movement to take up the issue.
“It is vital that trade unions and the Labour Party call for a halt to the barbaric welfare policies of this Cabinet of millionaires – and it is welcome that unions such as the NUM and PCS have put this on the TUC agenda for Congress 2012,” he added.
This article originally appeared in the Morning Star – Saturday 4th August – http://www.morningstaronline.co.uk/news/content/view/full/122249