IN THE BACK
‘Shits in the dark’
IN THE Eye’s growing post-bag of appalling decisions made by French service company Atos in assessing sick and disabled people as being “fit for work”, one of the most shocking concerns Keith Tilbury.
Mr Tilbury spent 13 days in a coma fighting for his life after he was accidentally shot in the stomach by a police firearms officer. The bullet smashed a rib, damaged his sternum and put a hole in his liver. He had to have part of a kidney removed and lost part of his bowel. He had massive entry and exit wounds, muscle and other extensive soft tissue damage.
Since that disaster in 2007, Mr Tilbury has suffered two heart attacks, two while undergoing surgery, a quadruple coronary bypass, two transient ischemic attacks (mini-strokes), one full-blown stroke resulting in reduced vision in his eyes, post-operative complications and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Mr Tilbury, 60, says: “I have had many hours of cognitive behaviour therapy with a psychotherapist trying to work out why a Thames Valley Police firearms instructor would fire Dirty Harry’s weapon of choice — a .44 magnum — in a seminar room.”
Given his well-documented health records, Mr Tilbury, who had been a civilian emergency call centre operator, is trying to establish how on earth the Atos nurse or doctor — he is not sure which— could decide that he is fit to work without “dropping down dead” when there has been no improvement in his health since his last assessment.
Like thousands of others, Mr Tilbury is having to go through the ordeal of appealing against the decision. He sees the box-ticking Atos test — drawn up with the help of the US insurance giant Unum, which was fined millions in the US for cheating its clients — as no more than a government tool to slash the benefits of people who through no fault of their own can no longer work.
As The Eye has extensively reported (see issues 874, 1300, 1301 and 1302), Unum has been helping both Tory and Labour governments with so-called welfare reform, goin right back to Peter Lilley’s 1994 social security “Incapacity for Work” shake-up.
Atos, which boasts that its contract with the current government is worth “approximately £lOOm a year”, happened to be the only other private company sifting alongside Unum on the then Labour government’s panel which reviewed and came up with the hated “work capability test” which is now failing Mr Tilbury and thousands like him.
Companies like Atos and Unum (which markets its insurance on the back of welfare reform) now stand to make even more millions however, as the coalition presses ahead with its plans for similar assessments for those receiving disability living allowance (DLA). By replacing DLA with a personal independence payment which is subject to regular review and face-to-face assessments, the government says it can save £lbn because it claims many people no longer require the support.
But a recent detailed study, Responsible Reform, accuses the government of consistently using inaccurate figures to exaggerate the rise in DLA claimants, while concealing the overwhelming opposition to its latest reform. The detailed 40-page study — dubbed the Spartacus report and written and funded by disabled people found that the number of working-age people receiving DLA, excluding those with mental health conditions, had remained remarkably stable.
One of the authors, Kaliya Franklin, said: “Cutting spending on DLA will increase the burden on local authorities, the NI-IS and community services at the very time they are seeking to find savings by reducing eligibility, particularly for social care support.”
There is no point in subjecting people with permanent disability to regular assessments and those whose conditions do improve would welcome reform— and indeed assessments — if they were simplified and considered robust, fair and transparent. But as Mr Tilbury and so many like him have found, the government’s work capability test, delivered by Atos, is none of those things.
PS: After the shooting incident in which Mr Tilbury was injured, Thames Valley Police was fined £40,000 with £25,000 costs and the PC who fired the weapon, David Micklethwaite, £8,000 and £8000 costs, for breaching health and safety regulations.