Posts Tagged ‘Atos’

‘This brutal new system’: a GP’s take on Atos and work capability assessments

January 4, 2013

One GP’s perspective on what the ConDem government and Atos are doing to vulnerable people

I had not seen Eileen for some time, until a few months ago when I was asked to phone her. She sounded distressed, confused and frightened and did not understand what was happening to her. She has been a patient of mine for 10 years and over time, I’ve tried to help her cope with her mental illness. A few years ago her mental health had deteriorated so much that she needed to be in hospital.

All her benefits had been stopped, Eileen explained, and she was in arrears with her rent. She was assessed by Atos, a private company employed by the government to carry out what it calls the “work capability assessment” to decide whether people receiving incapacity benefits should be sent back to work. Eileen found the form she was asked to fill extremely long and bewildering. The assessment is a tick-box exercise, with points scored depending on the patient’s replies. The assessors do not ask GPs like me to provide any medical information about patients to help them make their decisions, even though someone may have received incapacity benefits for many years.

Later, Eileen was sent a letter. She was fit for work, she was told, and so she would no longer be receiving benefits. Instead, she would need to go out seeking work. She had no money and soon fell behind with her rent and bills. She told me she didn’t understand why all this was happening to her, but having no money, she decided to leave London to look for work elsewhere. But she had nowhere to stay, and ended up sleeping on the streets. Nor could she find work, despite the government’s mandate that she do so. She eventually returned to London to seek help. She has no insight into her mental illness and doesn’t believe she is unwell.

I have watched with mounting horror as my patient, an extremely vulnerable woman, has been put at risk of homelessness and deteriorating illness as a result of government policy. I am very aware of the importance of work, and as a GP will always encourage people to look for a suitable job if I think they can. But I also know my patients, and I am outraged that some are being put through the punishing stress this assessment causes. Many of my patients have gone through the Atos assessment to be told that they are fit for work with all their benefits stopped without notice. The financial impact is extreme. Several of my patients have shown worsening symptoms of depression, and some have become suicidal. Because we were so concerned about a patient’s mental health – which worsened as a result of the stress caused by these assessments – we have had to involve a psychiatric crisis team.

The government will say that there is an appeal process built into the system for those who have been passed capable of work and disagree with the outcome. True, but it is very expensive. In my experience, patients whom I consider unable to work or even look for work usually win their appeal. In a recent appeal hearing, the tribunal judge read my medical report and concluded on the back of it that, contrary to the Atos assessment, my patient was indeed incapable of working.

I have witnessed a woman in her 20s who has a condition that means she is slowly dementing, and will eventually die at a young age. She is unable to walk, and now even unable to talk. She is looked after round the clock by her family. Her family has been forced to endure great stress from the work capability assessment. I believe that this could have been avoided had I been asked to provide a medical report explaining her disability, prior to the assessment process.

In another case, a man in his 40s had been homeless for many years. He has learning difficulties, alcohol problems and also has insulin-dependent diabetes. He is unable to read and write. A charity worked closely with him and managed to find accommodation and medical care for him, and they encouraged him to engage with the local drug services. In our GP clinic, we were working closely with him to help him to manage his diabetes better, in the hope of avoiding acute emergency admissions had his diabetes remained uncontrolled. Despite all this intensive help, Atos bulldozed their way in and found him capable of work. All his benefits were stopped immediately, and he is now in arrears. He has appealed and is waiting a tribunal hearing – a process that can take up to six months. Meanwhile, all that precious rehabilitation work we were offering him has also stopped as he has become so stressed, depressed and at times suicidal.

I am fearful that more of my patients will be put at risk of homelessness and suicide by this brutal new system. From my perspective, the most disadvantaged in our society are being punished. Work is good for all of us, if we are lucky enough to be in employment. But not all of us have the skills to work and some of us are so unwell or damaged by past experiences that they cannot do a job. We should accept that some people, for many different reasons, need supporting.

Instead of forcing vulnerable people onto the streets, why not concentrate on helping young people find worthwhile, fulfilling jobs? Leave patients like Eileen alone. She does not deserve the punishment that is currently being wrought upon her. For her safety and well-being, and for the sake of a humane society, I hope she wins her appeal.

• The name of the patient, and details of her case, have been changed to ensure confidentiality

Originally published in The Guardian.

A man awaiting a heart transplant was found fit to work.

This brutal treatment of the sick and disabled is what David Cameron means when he talks about helping people back into work.

Tuesday of next week, Parliament are to vote on reducing benefits to the poorest in society. They are the ones being forced to pay for tax cuts for the rich, for the failure to deal with tax dodgers.

If the LibDems had any integrity left, they would vote no, but they have no integrity left, they will say the benefits cuts are to benefit the poor.

ConDem government has said there is £10 billion tax fraud on tax credits. If true, then deal with the fraud. If workers were paid a living wage, there would be no need for their wages to be subsidised by the tax payer. The amount claimed (and it is probably a figure plucked out of the air) is dwarfed by the massive tax dodging by Starbucks, Google, Amazon et al.

ConDem government is now wishing to target the elderly, cut free bus passes, cut winter fuel allowance.

Labour are no better. The latest garbage from Ed Balls is to suggest unemployed are forced to work on minimum pay for six months, refuse and you lose your benefits.

You are not a scrounger: A letter to a disabled reader

December 15, 2012

Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? — George Orwell

bleak outlook

bleak outlook

Dear M-,

A few days ago you wrote to me and told me you were planning to take your own life. You told me that your reasons for this are: because you are frightened about what will happen to you when you lose the disability living allowance you rely on to live independently, and because you want to take a stand against the government’s assault on welfare.

Since receiving your letter I’ve agonised over what sort of reply to send to you. I hope you found the strength to call one of the helplines I forwarded – Samaritans in particular are a life-saving service – but I felt that something longer was needed, is still needed. I’m writing to you now not as a journalist, but as a human being, a former carer and a person who has experienced depression to say: please, please don’t do this.

I’m writing like this, in public, in part because you spoke about taking your own life as a political statement. You asked if I, as a journalist you respected, would report on your suicide after the fact. I’ve been told by fellow campaigners in the disability rights movement that you’re not alone in thinking that harming yourself in that awful, final way is the only way you have left to make a difference. But that’s not the case. Not yet, not ever.

I don’t know what it’s like to have a physical disability. Having dear friends with physical disabilities only makes me more aware of how many parts of that experience I can’t fully understand. I don’t know what it’s like to be mobility impaired, or to have a body that seizes up with pain on a regular basis. Nor do I know what it’s like to wake up one morning and be told that, because you can’t hold down a regular 9-5 office job no matter how hard you try, because you can’t do that you are just a burden on the state.

To my mind, the most venal, wicked thing this Coalition government has done has been to rewrite the social script of this country so that some people feel that life isn’t worth living any more. They speak in their poisonous way about giving the unemployed and disabled people back a sense of dignity – but telling people that they’re worthless unless they hold down a job, telling people that they have no right to a decent standard of living unless they can find and keep work that lines the pockets of the super-rich, work that isn’t there anyway at the moment – that’s the opposite of arguing for dignity. That’s shame as a social manifesto.

If you hurt yourself now, if you give up right now, I’m sorry to say that it won’t change the minds of those who are currently making decisions about whether sick and mentally people ill live or die in this country. These people don’t give a damn – or at very least, they do a good job of acting like they don’t give a damn. If any person’s unnecessary death were enough to sway this government’s mind, it would have been swayed before now.

Even one death is too many. There are other, better ways to make a difference.

This is the point at which I’m supposed to give you the routine about how It Gets Better. But you and I both know that that would be a lie. We both know that right now, for anyone who is disabled, or mentally ill, or unemployed, or a single parent, or a young person, or a student, or simply poor and struggling, a lot of things are getting actively worse. So no – sometimes it doesn’t get better. What happens instead, as a friend of mine told me recently, is that you get stronger.

Choosing to live doesn’t have to mean choosing to accept the ugly reality that those in power are creating for us. By coming together and working to create change, by building each other up and getting smarter and more adept, you get stronger, we get stronger, people who care enough to resist and fight back and create a different reality get stronger together. You don’t need to be well to be involved in the fightback. The internet has enabled people with all kinds of different experiences of physical and mental health to make their voices heard and join in the struggle against shame and despair as public policy.

I know that right now you probably aren’t feeling very strong and powerful. That’s understandable. But please believe me: you are powerful, and important, and special, and stronger than you know. We’ve never shared a cup of tea together, or laughed together, or hugged each other. I don’t even know what you look like. But I feel like I know you, because I know you feel the same way I feel about what’s going on in this country right now. What I want you to try to understand, if you can just hold on to one thing, is this: you are not a burden.

No human being is “just a burden”. You are not a burden on the state, and you are not a burden on your family, who, much as you might find this hard to believe, would be devastated to lose you. Your presence makes this country and your family a better place.

I can’t promise you that after you make the choice to carry on living, life will get easier right away, this week, or this month. But I can promise you that one day you will feel stronger, and better able to navigate with the darker, more painful rapids of life. I believe that one day life in this country will be better than it is now, for every person who is disabled and unwell. And one thing I can tell you for sure is that the most important political statement you can make right now is to believe – even if it’s hard to hold on to – that you are not a burden, that you are a precious, unique human person who is valuable in and of himself.

When society tells you that you are worth less because you are unwell, that’s society’s fault, not yours. They may be pursuing a doctrine of shame, but that doesn’t mean you have to feel ashamed. You have no reason whatsoever to feel ashamed. You are not a burden, and you are not a scrounger – you are just unwell.

As an unwell person, you have every right to support, from your family and from society. Please try to hold on to that belief, because right now that belief is the best weapon we have against the austerity consensus. You are not a burden. You are not a scrounger. You are valuable and important because you are human and alive. Believe it. Believe it because that belief is a torch in the darkness of an austerity winter. With love,

Your friend,


Editor’s note: You can contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or through their website at We consulted the Samaritans in the editing of this piece.

Laurie Penny writes for the New Statesman where this piece was originally published.

A measure of society is how we treat those worse off than ourselves.

What sort of society do we live in where disabled people are driven to commit suicide?

What sort of society do we live in where a company like Atos find people fit for work, no matter how sick they are?

When we hear the ConDem government speak of helping disabled into work, it is newspeak of which George Orwell would be proud. Translated it means bastardising the disabled, cutting their benefits, removing their free travel passes, driving them to suicide. If one disabled person commits suicide, that is one less person on state benefits.

Call those worse off than ourselves scroungers, then we need not feel guilty when we put them in the poor house.

The real scroungers, the real parasites are companies like Atos, that contribute nothing to society, to the economy.

The real scroungers, the real parasites are the companies who are running welfare to work programmes.

The real scroungers, the real parasites are companies like Argos, Shoe Zone, Primark, who are employing welfare to work unpaid slaves, rather than pay a living wage to real employees.

It is not though only companies who have been employing slave labour. Many charities have been jumping on the bandwagon. One of the worst is what used to be British Trust for Conservation Volunteers (BCTV) now rebranded as The Conservation Volunteers (TCV), a misnamed charity who have been quietly building an army of unpaid workers.

The real scroungers, the real parasites are companies like Vodafone, Amazon, Google, Starbucks, who dodge billions in tax.

Cutting benefits is not just unfair, it makes no economic sense. Money to the poorest gets spent in deprived areas.

The latest abuse is to kick people out of their council houses or force a hike in rent if they have a spare room.

Opening Ceremony London Paralympics

August 29, 2012

It is a shocking irony that Atos is a main sponsor of London 2012 while destroying disabled people’s lives on behalf of the government. — Tara Flood, gold medal-winning Paralympian

Why are broadcast contracts given to broadcasters who cannot deliver?

Live streaming by Channel 4 of the London 2012 Paralympics Opening Ceremony was a sick joke. Their servers were not up to the job.

First, before you could watch, was forced to register with Channel 4. Why?

Then forced to endure 2.5 minutes of commercials, then … nothing.

Tried again, reloaded page, same as before. Forced to endure 2.5 minutes of commercials, then … nothing.

At this point gave up. Later listened to The Proms live on BBC Radio 3, but apart from Imogen Heap, was not worth listening to as most of the concert was an awful noise.

It is an obscenity that Atos, who are denying disabled people disability benefits, are sponsors of the London 2012 Paralympics.

Disabled people are being driven to suicide by Atos.

Karen Sherlock had her benefits stopped by what she described as “this inhumane government”. Her twitter account – @pusscat01 – remains, where her biography reads: “Preparing for dialysis. Each day is tough xx”. Her kidneys were failing, but she had been found capable of some work and placed in an activity group with time-limited benefits. She died in June. As disability rights campaigner Sue Marsh put it: “Now she’s dead and she died in fear because the system failed her, because cruel men refused to listen and powerful men refused to act.”

You may wish to tell Atos CEO Thierry Breton what you think, or call their public relations: 020 7830 4233. Tell them to stop wrecking lives!

Atos are running scared and have protected their twitter account in a crude attempt to silence critics.

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