‘Atos forced me to crawl on the floor in tears’

Dave Sewell reports on the horrific letters that expose how Paralympics sponsor Atos treats disabled people and the week of protest against Atos’ sponsorship of the 2012 Paralympic Games

“I was forced to crawl across the floor in tears of pain and humiliation.”

Those are the words of one disabled person who was assessed by Paralympic sponsor Atos Healthcare.

“I had to absolutely struggle to get up with one arm on a chair. I could not put pressure on my knees and ankles and my right arm was numb with trapped nerves. The doctor just looked at me and said ‘Oh, can’t you get up? I should have helped you’.”

This nightmare is revealed in just one of the personal letters set to be delivered to Atos by Disabled People Against Cuts (Dpac) as part of their protests this week.

Atos is a private firm that the government pays to decide whether disabled people are “fit for work”. If they are, they lose their benefits.

In a procedure that has been slammed by the doctors’ BMA association, Atos scores disabled people, giving them “points” for each task they can’t carry out.

“I scored nil points for ‘can get up off the floor unaided’,” the testimony continues. “My assessment was a complete work of fiction and I won an appeal 14 months later.”

Others tell similar stories. “My impression was that it didn’t matter what I said, the decision had already been made,” writes Kevin from Northampton. “I felt humiliated, a scrounger, a cheat.

Superman

“Several weeks later the report arrived. I started to read it and thought that I had got the wrong person’s. They made it seem like I was Superman—but I can’t get my sock and shoe on.

“I could not believe what I read, but worse was to come. I was then told that my benefits had already been stopped a week before I got the letter. I broke down and cried. I sobbed like a baby. Why was I being treated like this? How was I going to pay the bills?”

For many disabled people, the name Atos has become forever associated with death. “Rest in peace my Davy,” one widow writes to Atos. “He was very, very ill. He could not work because of his condition. You told him that he was ‘fit for work’ and were signing him off sickness.

“He died. You, Atos, called him to ask where he was as he had an appointment with you. I told you that he died the day before and you slammed the phone down on me.”

The writer herself was chronically ill even before her bereavement, and accuses Atos of “hounding” her disabled son. “Will he become another victim of your number crunching? And what about me? All you want is to move us off sickness, tell us we are ‘fit for work’ and get rid of us.”

Other letter writers say they have considered suicide. “Please don’t worry about me complaining too much,” writes one person with multiple sclerosis (MS). “I anticipate becoming just another boring statistic in the mounting death toll.”

Like many, this anonymous writer lives in fear of Atos ignoring the implications of their condition. “I wake frequently with nightmares that I am ill, homeless, and penniless,” they write, “due to having all my benefits stopped and nobody caring or believing a word I say.”

The letters are to be delivered in a coffin, while activists read out the names of some of the more than 1,000 people believed to have died after Atos assessed them as being capable of “work-related activity”. 


Centre’s layout is hostile to disabled

Even the layout of Atos’ assessment centres shows the firm’s contempt for disabled people, an accessibility expert has told Socialist Worker.

Adam Lotun, an advisor on disability adjustments, visited the Atos centre in Wimbledon, south west London. He says the problems start before you even get there as there is no disabled parking.

The tube and train stations are “at the other end of Wimbledon”. Atos’ front door opens outwards, with an electronic lock but no power opening assistance.

Adam says, “By the time I am trying to pull the doors open towards me and move my wheelchair out of the way, the electronic lock has locked shut again. It’s almost impossible.”

Inside there is a sign in Braille above the reception desk—almost ten feet up. Adam adds, “Unless someone is seven feet tall and able to stretch their arms up fully, they would not be able to read it.”

The examination rooms have a litany of problems. Many doors and corridors are too narrow for wheelchairs, Adam explains. There are also no hearing aid loop systems, and staff sit behind computers, making lip-reading impossible.

After all this you might want to complain. But notices telling people how to make complaints are not accessible to sight impaired people or those with learning difficulties—they are not easy-read versions. 


Figure it out 

  • 85 pages of disabled people’s Atos horror stories

  • £80m profits for Atos in the first half of this year alone

  • £9m spent by Channel 4 to buy the British broadcasting rights for the 2012 Paralympics

  • 4 billion people are expected to tune in worldwide

 

 


Time to take the fight to Atos

The Coffin delivery is part of a week of action, with protests every day this week. On Tuesday there were protests outside Atos offices across Britain.

“It went really well,” said John McArdle from the Black Triangle Campaign in Edinburgh. “There were about 40 people and we surrounded the building.”

And on Friday Dpac and UK Uncut are preparing for mass direct action at Atos headquarters. Previous actions have blocked Oxford Circus and Trafalgar Square.

“This will be the closing Atos ceremony,” said Andy Greene from Disabled People Against Cuts. “We will close Atos down. We need everybody there.”


The following should be read alongside this article:

‘Seven medals but now the Tories want my benefits’

The Socialist Worker

Comments
  • scott speirs August 28, 2012 at 5:41 pm

    scottspeirs3 on twitter and Change.org sign my pettiion to strip atos of its contract

  • DAVID A SHAW August 28, 2012 at 6:39 pm

    Power to the people. ATOS are the inquisition of the 21st century, unskilled ,untrained government lackeys who do not know their ass from their elbow. It is they who should be tried for work capability as their assessors are obviously in the wrong jobs.

  • jeffery davies August 28, 2012 at 7:36 pm

    aye atos have got jesus working for them we go in broke and come out fixed up thus releaving the goverment of paying us benefits jeff3

  • susie August 28, 2012 at 9:27 pm

    atos need to go they are the low of the lowest .

  • Glen Shakespeare August 28, 2012 at 10:36 pm

    I have problems with doctors at The Driver’s Medical Group. They are exempt from being overseen by the GMC as no doubt ATOS are. This is wrong. If a doctor cannot be overseen by the GMC then that gives them license to do whatever they like as I have discovered.

  • Diana Foster August 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    i’m by no means a fan of atos, too many bad personal experiences, however while atos plays a big part in causing stress,suffering it has to be remembered that they are not the ones making the decisions on benefit entitlement. that responsibility false squarely on dwp decision makers, who should be held accountable for bad decision making. they have all the evidence sent in and should be using the lot when deciding. sadly all to often they seam to rely on just the atos report, which will not be the most accurate account. they have to try “in a very short time” to untangle what more often than not are very complex issues, which may have taken years of investigations from various different specialists/consultants to uncover. i dare say there are not many people who will have 1 straight forward health/disability issue. the majority will have several. to stop all this nastiness all parties should be made to come to the table to rectify problems. atos are just part of the problem. get rid of atos, someone else will take their place with the same result, as the contracts/despriptors etc wont have been changed.

  • Humanity2012 August 29, 2012 at 4:28 pm

    We Need Things Changed for the Better and We Need this Changed Now Not Never
    even in this Static and Sheepwalking Joke of a Country

    We Need a Caring State Not a Capitalist State

    The System Political and the Economic is the Problem together with Circuses
    like the ” Diamond Jubilee ” ” Olympics ” and Probably as Well ” Christmas ”

    We Need People to Open their Eyes get their Heads out of the Sand and Demand
    that this Degrading Dehumanising State of Abyss is Ended

  • Lorraine August 29, 2012 at 4:55 pm

    I have just won my case against atos keep going and prove them wrong I insisted that I record my interview and they put a redcording machin in and asked for a bvritish speaking doc and one that understands about meds and orthopidic diasability I was licky and got these things but I know one person who had a midwife assesher for spinal damage (which is a brocken back but fit for work)

  • J Atkins September 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm

    That article title there, is precisely what happened to me; having explained my suspected MS. Considered myself a titanium strong bird until that humiliating instruction. Took me weeks to recover & my doc was appalled. There are 1000’s clearly worse off than me, I can just relate to the Atos experience. Peace n power to all.

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