Published: 17th June, 2011 – by PETER GRUNER
FORMER British soldiers who witnessed “unimaginable” horrors in Afghanistan and Iraq are being refused disability benefits, it was claimed at a rally on Tuesday night.
Protesters, including many from Islington, gathered outside the head offices in Euston of Atos, the private medical assessor recently employed by the coalition government to decide whether or not disabled people are fit to work.
Former Hillingdon Labour councillor Wally Kennedy described how he had taken up the case of an ex-soldier refused financial assistance although he fought in Afghanistan and Iraq and who was mentally “destroyed” by his experiences.
“The man is 34, suffers from acute post-traumatic stress, alcohol abuse and has been homeless,” Mr Kennedy said.
“He received one payment in October last year. Since then he has been refused financial help and we are currently appealing for a reappraisal of his situation.
“But I fully expect he will be turned down again.”
Mr Kennedy said the new system of assessing whether disabled people are suitable for work did not seem to take into account certain mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress.
He added: “This man did three tours of Afghanistan and three in Iraq. He lived through the most terrible and unimaginable experiences. He is unemployable. There are days when he cannot get out of bed. Who is going to want to give this man a job?”
Former Centrepoint housing worker Patrick Lynch, 52, from Angel, Islington, who uses a wheelchair, said that despite having to prove he could not walk at an hour-long assessment he was later refused benefits and declared fit to work.
It was only after Islington South and Finsbury Labour MP Emily Thornberry, the shadow health minister, took up his case that the government agency finally agreed to pay for his support.
Andy Greene, 36, who lives off Upper Street, Islington, was born with lifelong disabilities, including no legs and no right arm and is visually impaired.
He said: “I’ve not been refused benefits but I know of lots of people who have. People’s entire lives are being assessed in minutes and it is extremely distressing.”
Another protestor, former Royal Free Hospital volunteer Eva Grace, 65, from Hampstead, described the new assessments as “demeaning”.
Atos has been given a £500million contract by the government to conduct medical assessments on 1.6 million people.
So far, the assessments have resulted in 69 per cent of claimants being denied employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit in February.