We are beginning to see the results of several years of campaigning against unjust welfare reforms that target disabled people. But Atos attempting to pull out of its contract (Report, 22 February) represents only a partial victory.
Other private corporations are already lining up to take over. So long as the work capability assessment (WCA) regime continues, so will the misery it causes to disabled people and their families, and to the workers involved in implementing a system they don’t agree with.
The WCA should be replaced immediately with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm to disabled people or those with chronic health issues or terminal illnesses.
The UK government and opposition should follow the Scottish government’s pledge* (see footnote ~ BTC) that private for-profit companies are removed entirely from having anything to do with the assessment of disabled people.
This area of public policy belongs firmly within the NHS and the public sector.
The PIP contract must be removed from Atos with immediate effect: targets in its handling of the WCA have affected thousands of disabled people, leading to hastened deaths, waits of up to a year, and leaving people without income or food.
Linda Burnip Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Tracey Lazard CEO, Inclusion London
John McArdle Co-founder, Black Triangle
Mark Serwotka General secretary, PCS Union
Frances O’Grady General secretary, TUC
John McDonnell MP
Len McCluskey General secretary, Unite
Francesca Martinez WOW petition
Pat Onions Pat’s Petition
Rosemary O’Neill CarerWatch
Sean Vernell National secretary, Unite the Resistance
Eileen Short Chair, National Anti Bedroom Tax and Benefit Justice Federation
Rev Paul Nicolson Taxpayers Against Poverty
Claire Glasman WinVisible (women with visible & invisible disabilities)
Ariane Sacco WinVisible
Mark Harrison CEO, Equal Lives
Kevin Caulfield Chair, Hammersmith and Fulham Coalition Against Cuts
Rahel Geffen CEO, Disability Action in Islington
Lyla Adwan-Kamara Merton Centre for Independent Living
Shaun O’Regan Southwark Benefit Justice Campaign
Barry McDonald Chair, Bromley Experts by Experience
Ian Hodson National president, Bakers Food & Allied Workers Union
Ronnie Draper General secretary, Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union
Mick Carney National president, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Manuel Cortes General secretary, Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association
Sean McGovern Unite executive councillor
Rob Murthwaite Equalities rep, UCU London region
Mike Cox Norfolk Disabled People Against Cuts
Dr Stephen Carty Medical adviser, Black Triangle Campaign
Debbie Jolly Co-founder, Disabled People Against Cuts
Andy Greene Islington Disabled People Against Cuts
Ellen Clifford Croydon Disabled People Against Cuts
Paula Peters Bromley Disabled People Against Cuts
Conan Doyle London Disabled People Against Cuts
Bob Ellard National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Anita Bellows National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Ciara Doyle National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Roger Lewis National steering committee, Disabled People Against Cuts
Jane Bence WOW petition
Rick Burgess WOW petition
*Scotland’s Future Chapter 4, PART 3 Health, Wellbeing and Social Protection ~ Foot of Page 166~ (Pdf) and Private firms’ role in creation of disability assessment regime The Guardian,
I read with increasing queasiness the story of Mark Wood, an employment and support allowance (ESA) claimant with mental health problems, whose death by starvation was largely attributable to the Atos assessment of his being fit for work and the subsequent stopping of his sickness benefits (Vulnerable man starved to death after cut to benefits, 1 March).
Years after the Holocaust, ordinary German citizens were called upon by the younger generation to justify themselves: Surely you knew what was going on? Why didn’t you put a stop to it?
I hope I may crave an indulgence to use your paper to put on public record that I was one of those opposed to this government’s policy of abscission against the vulnerable.
I submitted to the Harrington reviews on ESA and its assessment processes.
I inveighed against the callous manipulation of public attitudes against claimants by the popular press that has driven many people to turn a blind eye to the real agenda.
And it is in vain that I now look towards other political parties to protect the weak, when they so obviously realise that the propaganda battle has been lost.
The benefits system has failed those that have most needed help for decades, but it has not until now sought to eradicate them entirely.
• Your article quotes a DWP spokesman stating:
“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist”.
But the DWP does not itself request medical documentation, and it is up to the ESA claimants to produce it.
Reasons for claimants not doing this include them assuming the DWP has requested medical records, claimants not realising the importance of such records, and disability such as depression or psychosis resulting in default.
Assessors rely on claimants to say what their medical illnesses are, but claimants sometimes give the wrong diagnoses and often don’t understand the complexity of their illnesses.
Although Atos assessors fill in a “medical report form”, Atos nurses and physiotherapists far outnumber medical practitioners. Even when hospital records are obtained, the nurse/physiotherapist may not understand important details eg that an eGFR of 17 means that renal function is severely impaired.
Without medical records, the Atos medical practitioner assessors also make decisions having woefully inadequate information.
On appeal to first-tier tribunals, a significant proportion of sessions are adjourned to get medical evidence covering several years. A “thorough assessment” it is habitually not.
• Following the death of Mark Wood, who starved to death after his benefits were withdrawn, it is surely time for a citizen’s arrest campaign targeting Iain Duncan Smith.
The death of Mr Wood, who was disabled, follows the call for a woman in a coma to attend job training, and cuts to benefits after letters were sent to a blind man that he could not read.
The responsibility for these appalling infringements of basic human rights lies squarely with the minister who designed and implemented the system.
Could legal experts please advise on the case for charging him with manslaughter? I would be happy to place a hand on his shoulder.
• Our twin 41-year-old sons, who have learning difficulties, epilepsy and other problems, have just been informed that they will have to reapply for their welfare benefits through a process conducted on behalf of the coalition government by the French-owned private company Atos.
Dr Giles Youngs, who wrote a letter to the Guardian (19 February) about his recent resignation as a medical assessor for Atos, in which he referred to “unrealistic criteria, set by the DWP, for a claimant being awarded employment and support allowance”, is absolutely right in expressing his concerns that people with disabilities are unlikely to be given even a job interview, never mind a job.
Despite the Disability Discrimination Act, discrimination still continues, eg in February 1999 we arranged for one of our sons to meet the North Wales personnel manager of the Benefits Agency, requesting that he give our son work experience in its Wrexham office.
At the interview the manager said that although they had given work experience to physically disabled people, they had never done so for a person with a learning disability. We heard no more from him.
What confidence, if any, should all disability welfare claimants now have of the work capability assessment in light of Dr Youngs’ revealing and damning indictment of both Atos and the DWP?
Ken and Mary Mack
(72-year-old unpaid carers), Wrexham