I was privileged to play a small part in the anti-ATOS demonstrations that took place on the19th February across the UK.
At the Brighton ATOS Assessment Centre we had over 80 people, many of us disabled, who turned out to protest against the inhuman methods employed by the French company ATOS when undertaking Work Capability Assessments (WCA) of sick and disabled people on behalf of the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP).
ATOS has been heavily criticised for its handling of this work, causing unnecessary suffering and hardship to people who are already diagnosed as being sick or disabled by the medica profession.
However, our biggest concern was that thousands of people have died following their involvement with this controversial scheme. This is based upon the government's own figures showing that between January and November 2011, 10,600 claimants died within 6 weeks of their claim ending. Many of these people having been found fit for work by ATOS and therefore no longer entitled to benefits.
A government study published in 2012 also found that one-half of the people identified as "fit for work" by ATOS remained unemployed and without income. It is believed that over 20 people who have recently committed suicide fell into the category.
The day after this successful protest the news broke that ATOS were now asking for their contract to be terminated before the renewal date in 2015. You would be forgiven, therefore, for claiming that our actions contributed in some part towards this.
But as others have commented, even though the mighty ATOS has been shown the error of their ways, this does not put an end to the envelopes that will still drop through the doors of disabled people telling them to attend WCA's or stating they are fit to work in jobs that simply do not exist. The DWP will just outsource the contract to another private company and the carnage will continue, albeit with a different face.
Until the present government, along with their draconian policies are gone, then nothing will really change. They will continue to involve private companies who's sole aim is to target vulnerable members of our society, assett stripping our health service, our pensions and making massive cuts to benefits.
As disabled people we have shown that we can organise and work alongside our non-disabled allies to make our voices heard. We can't afford to rest on our laurels. Let this recent protest be just the first of many as we start to hold this government to account and return our society to the caring and supportive fellowship it once was.
The National Audit Office (NAO) are to launch a new investigation into ATOS Healthcare, the company that carries out controversial medical tests for people claiming sickness and disability benefits when it emerged that they've been paid £754m since 2005.
In a House of Lords question this week Lord Alton of Liverpool asked the NAO to investigate the reason behind such a large amount being paid to ATOS by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP).
Lord Alton said: “The Atos contract with the Government has become like a licence to print money. Astronomical sums are involved. Worrying questions have arisen about whether the terms of the company's tender have been met; whether performance matches promise; and whether a project undertaken on the pretext of giving value for money has done so. When millions of pounds of public money is being diverted to private companies, it is crucial that there is accountability, transparency, and public confidence. I welcome the NAO's decision to scrutinise the ATOS contract and think the Public Accounts Committee should ask ATOS and the DWP to appear before them."
Stephen Timms, Labour’s employment spokesman, said: “This Government has been warned time and again to get a grip of this contract, but the truth is Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] has let ATOS spin out of control and the taxpayer and vulnerable people are picking up the pieces. Anyone taking the Work Capacity Assessment today is now eight times more likely to end up in a tribunal than a job and the cost of those appeals has soared by 40 per cent in the last year alone. Ministers have got to fix this mess – fast.”
Some 40 per cent of people claiming incapacity benefit appealed against its rulings (costing the government a further £500 million) and 38 per cent of them were successful. Despite that, the company won a further contract to assess the new personal independence payments for disabled people. The Government has been criticised by MPs for allowing a virtual monopoly to develop.
This week Jayne Linney has offered to provide a guest blog on this Crippen DAO Blog page. Here's what she has to say ...
"We know from the official Department for Works and Pensions (DWP) report that between January & November 2011 ten thousand, six hundred disabled people either in receipt of or awaiting benefits died. Since then the DWP have, despite numerous requests refused to release further updates; we can only speculate their reason why, as we can only surmise just how many more disabled people have since lost their lives?
"It is well documented how the 'Scrounger' rhetoric have adversely affected disabled people and those who are chronically ill, and even Esther McVey - Minister of State for DWP stated she “would not disagree" when it was put to her in October 2013 that " hundreds or even thousands of people who had died sooner than they should have done, or had a much lower quality of life over their last few weeks or months because of their experience of the WCA.".
"From this we believe it is safe to presume there has been an increase in the number of annual deaths of disabled people in 2012 & 2013; given the loss of life in 2011 was 10,600, even a 2% increase per annum would result in 12,720 in 2012 and a startling 15,264 in 2013. That would give a overall figure of 38,564 deaths over the 3 years the Coalition has been in Government.
Is this shocking statistic what the DWP don't want us to know?"