GPs say benefits tests causing ‘enormous suffering’ ~ Edinburgh Evening News

Evening News


Gail Dixon and her daughter Brooklyne. Picture: Jane Barlow
Gail Dixon and her daughter Brooklyne. Picture: Jane Barlow


Published on 08/05/2013 12:00 

SOME of the Capital’s most vulnerable residents are being subjected to “enormous avoidable suffering” as a result of fitness-to-work benefits tests, prominent city GPs have said.


The controversial assessments are carried out by private firm Atos on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), to decide eligibility for Employment and 
Support Allowance (ESA).

One Leith doctor said five of his patients had made attempts on their own lives due to the stress of the workplace capability assessments, which can lead to claimants’ benefits being changed or stopped.

A city-based campaign group, Black Triangle, has described the tests as a “vicious attack on the fundamental human rights of disabled people”.

A letter from the group, which calls on the British Medical Association to do more to oppose the policy and attempts to draw GPs’ attention to little-known regulations which can be used to challenge rulings, has been signed by 26 doctors.

They include Dr Ian McKay, clinical director of the Edinburgh Community Health Partnership, city consultant psychiatrist Dr Donald MacIntyre, and GPs based in Sighthill, Muirhouse and the city centre.

Dr Stephen Carty, a Leith GP and medical advisor to Black Triangle, said that the assessments were creating a “major problem” for doctors and patients and claimed the current system discriminated against the sick and disabled to such an extent that it was “flawed beyond repair”.

He believes pressure created by the system contributed to five of his patients attempting suicide, while requests for help with appeals was creating a burden on doctors.

He said:

“This could happen to anybody at any time in life and we are not providing any welfare net that’s safe.

“Until these assessments become a more responsible reflection of an ability to engage with employment they are discriminating against people who through no fault of their own have found 
themselves unwell.

“The idea that there’s a massive fraud occurring and a great number of people fit for work are claiming benefits is an absolute fallacy.”

Dr Carty said that he had provided evidence to help one patient with severe depression with his application for 
Disibility Living Allowance, which led to a guarantee that he would not need an assessment for that benefit for five years. However the information was not flagged up to Atos and he was told he would need an assessment for ESA.

He said:

“This man was experiencing daily active suicidal ideation, and in my opinion if he was called in for an assessment there would be a substantial risk.

“He went for this assessment and went home. He took an overdose of heroin with the express intention to kill himself. As it turned out he woke up 28 hours later, but very upset he was not dead.

“I, as a GP, have no mechanism for reporting an adverse event like that to the DWP. The person at Atos would not have had access to any information I gave to the DWP, and they don’t know this person went home and tried to take his own life. I am one GP in a practice that serves 9000, this is not rare.”

Between October 2010 and August 2012, 5850 assessments were carried out in Edinburgh, with 1350 people deemed fit for work.

Dr John Budd, of the Edinburgh Access Practice with bases in Cowgate and Leith St, said he had also experienced issues with the system.

He said:

“Our patients often have very complex problems. There does seem to be some recent improvements, but for many people with mental health issues and fluctuating conditions, the assessments do not accurately reflect capacity to work.

“We have had people who are long-term alcohol dependent with serious physical health problems who can barely get to appointments, but they’ve been deemed fit to work.

“One woman with urinary incontinence, with a borderline learning disability and mobility problems was deemed fit to work when she’d never worked in her life.”

Dr Budd said he also had serious concerns that the DWP was moving towards an online benefits system, which many of the most vulnerable were unable to navigate as their conditions meant they struggled to remember pin numbers.

A spokeswoman for the DWP said that decisions over fitness to work were taken following a thorough assessment and careful consideration of evidence.

She added:

“GPs have said they do not want to be responsible for making decisions on peoples’ benefit entitlement, which is why we request the appropriate information from GPs to enable us to make those decisions.”


‘You’re left to feel worse than a scrounger’ 

Gail Dixon, pictured with daughter Brooklynne, nine, suffers with spina bifida, which has left her in constant pain and unable to stand or sit for long periods.

She also struggles with depression and anxiety, and is prone to regular panic attacks.

Now 42, she worked for the Scottish Legal Aid board and the Inland Revenue from the age of 15.

She was forced to give up work 12 years ago on the advice of her doctor, after her condition left her unable to cope.

But she was called in for an Atos assessment a little over a year ago, and deemed fit for work.

After appeals failed, it took months for the decision to be overturned.

Gail, of Leith, said the ordeal left her suicidal. She said:

“You’re left to feel worse than a scrounger, like you’re not even something on the sole of their shoe. I was totally humiliated. Then they said I was fit for work, it was a horrible feeling.

“I would love to work, but I know I can’t. I have to lie down all the time. Having a disability isn’t nice anyway, then you are constantly judged.

“It was the worst thing I went through in my life.” 


THE Work Capability Assessment test was introduced in 2008 to assess entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance.

Atos, which is contracted to carry out the tests, is paid more than £110m per year.

Recent DWP figures show 39 per cent of assessments are the subject of appeal. Of those, 37 per cent are successful.

Campaign group Black Triangle has highlighted employment and support regulations, which a doctor can use to flag up risks to claimants, if they are found fit to work.

The group said:

“Regrettably, it remains the case that only DWP and Atos staff are aware of these regulations, while GPs remain ignorant of their existence.”


The Edinburgh Evening News 



17 thoughts on “GPs say benefits tests causing ‘enormous suffering’ ~ Edinburgh Evening News

  1. PierrePierpont says:

    Isn’t there any way a request to the United Nations or an International Court to get this government, the DWP and ATOS prosecuted for implementing policies that are causing people’s deaths? It seems bizarre that we can prosecute war criminals but cannot seem to prosecute those who cause people’s deaths by inhumane treatment. ATOS awarded NIL disability points to two ladies I know with Multiple Sclerosis, meaning they were assessed as being 100% fit and healthy and able to hold down a full time job. It is as if they have found a cure for MS, which they haven’t!

  2. Prola Tariat says:

    Until such times as we reach the poverty levels of Victorian Britain,this Government will not rest in its quest.The country needs revolution,to get rid of these governmental parasites,and their multi million pound cronies.IMHO!!!

    1. steve davies says:

      I couldn’t agree more but because we are ” disabled ” we are easy prey for the monsters who govern this country and have difficulty being listened to. I would never condone violence or burning down buildings but a more radical approach is required by those who support us ie Bishops, Trade Unions , some Doctors and Nurses and other medical professionals, Labour and Liberal MPs, all the new UKIP councillors

  3. Trevor says:

    The numbers of disabled either committing, or attempting suicide, due to their disgustingly cruel treatment at the hands of that loathsome, profit-mad organisation, Atos, should shame a civilised society. The problem is, we’re NOT a civilised society; how can we be when all that matters today is making as much money as possible and devil take the hindmost. And if that happens to be the most vulnerable and weakest in society, i.e. the sick and disabled – tough!

  4. karin says:

    I told my Gp about the ESA regulations and she was happy to use Reg 35 in a letter to the Tribunal. The Tribunal was intimidating because so much was riding on it for me, but the Judge and Doctor on the Tribunal both agreed in 10 mins, that I should be placed in the Support Gp. Now, 5 weeks on, I still haven’t received the money DWP owe me. Seems they don’t like paying their debts…

    Using the ESA Regs is vital and could make all the difference. We need all the info we can get, to beat these biaised, uncaring, casually cruel, odious bastards.

    1. Daniel Linger says:

      Glad you had that opportunity.

      Even though I copied all the details from Black Triangle’s pages, my GP refused to sign “anything to do with legislation”.

      I’ve still yet to hear about my decision, but needless to say, I’m far from optimistic.

      1. jay says:

        The same thing happened to me, I saw my doctor and gave him the letter and also information about these regulations.
        He never signed them but returned them to me with a letter of support, a very good one.
        But my impression was that he didn’t want anything to do with legislation as Daniel has mentioned above.

  5. anon says:

    There desperately needs to be some research on the psychological impact of the WCA (and cuts generally – bearing in mind that the disabled (including MH patients) are bearing the brunt of it all.

    One area of fruitful research might look at how Bedroom Tax refugees would seem highly likely to develop similar long-term Complex-PTSD symptoms to those experienced by conventional refugees, who TYPICALLY are diagnosable as having ‘Torture Syndrome’ (with or without conventional physical torture having been experienced).

    The ‘Brown Envelope Syndrome’ experienced by ESA claimants also seems to exactly resemble the Complex-PTSD described by researchers – especially when factoring in the ‘death warrant’ aspects of never knowing when one will be plunged into destition or ‘nudged’ into suicide, on the whim of an assessment which has been repeatedly shown to be massively unreliable and generally unfit for purpose.

    Atos, the WCA, WRAG and the Work Programme are already systematically and repeatedly exposing the most vulnerable to clearly identifiable techniques of coercive interrogation.

    The recent exposure of the involvement of the govt’s ‘Nudge Unit’ in DWP bullying and coercion of vulnerable claimants is a case in point.

    In fact a keyword seems to be “change” (IDS recently proclaiming that he wants the benefits system to ‘change people’). Unfortunately the means for achieving such psychological ‘changes’ always seems to entail breaking down an individual’s existing personality and values by means of trauma (loss of home, sanctions, forced labour, etc.), and then reprogramming them to suit. ( cf.’The Shock Doctrine’ by Naomi Klein)

    “Mental Death” seems to be a typical outcome of such experiences

    All such enforced ‘interventions’ would seem to impinge on any notion of human rights and informed consent (much about these issues on Steve Walker’s blog

    Prof. Judith Herman’s 1992 book ‘Trauma and Recovery’ is a good resource.

    Certainly the DWP and the Nudge Unit seem to be familiar with the “DDD Syndrome” tactic of fostering Deception, Dependency & Dread

    Note the use of the Tories’ favourite word ‘stock’ in the (perhaps apocryphal but still available to Lord Fraud) Willie Lynch letter:

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