Friday 2 November 2012

Guardians of what exactly?

If the world is a consistent place, I am about to bring myself to the attention of the police. So be it. A disabled activist in Wales posted on the web some stuff that was critical of ATOS, the company carrying out Work Capability Assessments on disabled people on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions. Let's leave aside for the moment that it's difficult to say anything truthful about ATOS without it being critical.

To her astonishment and distress, she received a visit from the police. Not just any old visit. By her account she lives on her own and had two police officers knock on her door at midnight. They told her that they had received a complaint about criminal activity on Facebook. They asked her to show ID. She refused (which she had a right to do). They said her refusal amounted to obstructing the police in their duties. They refused to say who had made the complaint about her activity on Facebook. Despite her repeatedly asking them to leave they stayed for some time and continued to question her about her activities. The full details are here.

So let us tell the truth about ATOS, the DWP, and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The aim of the WCA is to remove people from the benefit system. (The stated aim is to get people back to work. Iain Duncan Smith has yet to comment on how disabled people are supposed to get back to work with half a dozen able bodied people chasing every vacancy.) The test is administered according to a computer, and extraordinary judgements are made about people's ability to work according to whether they are able to get to the interview, sit in a chair, pick up a pencil, and so on. Medical evidence is not taken into account. Medical evidence is in fact actively refused. They also make the whole process immensely obstructive for the claimant. Many, many people are inaccurately put into the Work Related Activity Group of ESA (Employment Support Allowance), or not allowed ESA at all, and told they must apply for Job Seekers Allowance. This is done in the knowledge that some will accept their lot even though they are incapable of work, some will fall out of the system altogether, and become destitute, and only the persistent and the well advised will go to appeal. The level of successful appeals indicates how badly the system is working. Or perhaps I should say how well it is working, because it is clear in my view that the ATOS assessment system is perfectly fit for purpose – the purpose being to remove people from benefit, whatever the cost to them and whatever the accuracy or otherwise of the assessment.

There is growing evidence that the way the WCA is being carried out is detrimental to people's health, and indeed to their lives. There is a steadily increasing body of accounts of people dying shortly after being told they are fit for work. There are numbers of examples of people with terminal illnesses being told they are fit for work. Now it is quite possible, logically, that any one person is fit and capable up to the day that they die. But how many would you expect to do that, especially among those who have been diagnosed with a terminal illness? The latest figures suggest that over 70 people a week are dying shortly after being told by ATOS that they are fit for work. It will be difficult for people working for ATOS to hear this, but that means that seventy times every week an ATOS assessor drives a person through a series of questions which are designed to give a false picture of the claimant's health, and shortly after that the claimant dies.

It would be bad enough if this were simply a persistent series of assessments so inaccurate that dozens of people close to death were being treated every week as if fit for work. But there is more to it than that. Again, a growing number of incidents suggest that ATOS is actually driving people to their deaths. Here is the latest from Scotland's Daily Record. “Kieran McArdle told the Daily Record in a harrowing letter how his father Brian, 57, collapsed and died the day after his disability benefits were stopped. He had been assessed by Atos and deemed “fit for work”.” It is of course difficult to prove how much the stress of the process contributed to Mr McArdle's untimely death. But how many coincidences do there have to be before ATOS and the DWP will accept that their process which was merely vicious and vindictive before has now become murderous? Yes, the evidence points very strongly towards the fact that ATOS do kill people.

OK, so now I've told the truth. If you want to send the police round, ATOS, please tell me first what I've said above that is inaccurate.