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Benefits and Work Newsletter: Revealed, Truth About Atos Death Threats

April 30, 2014 12 comments

ESA NEWS
Benefits and Work has obtained documents via the Freedom of Information Act that may undermine claims by Atos that its staff were the subject of nearly two thousand episodes of assault or abuse, including death threats, by claimants in 2013 alone. Atos used the claim to justify wanting to exit early from the contract to carry out work capability assessments (WCAs).

This was, by any standards, a very serious accusation.

Characterising thousands of sick and disabled claimants as violent thugs that Atos could no longer expose its staff to is likely to have increased the level of prejudice against benefits claimants. It may even have contributed to a rise in the number of violent hate-crimes committed against disabled people.

Benefits and Work, however, has now obtained a month-by-month breakdown of all the incidents of violence and abuse reported by Atos to the DWP throughout the whole of 2013. It includes:

Staff assaulted. 5 times in the whole year.

Threat made to staff ‐ direct or implied. 110 times in the whole year.

Security called/police called. 215 times in the whole year.

Readers can decide for themselves whether Atos’ claims are justified by reading the whole year’s figures.

In other ESA news, labour has pledged to overhaul the work capability assessment. But without definite information about what is going to change, it’s a pledge that will probably be greeted with a certain amount of scepticism, at least by our readers.

Plus, yet another case of a dying man being found capable of work – in this case whilst he was waiting for a heart transplant.

Finally, we have now heard from three current ESA claimants who have been asked to attend an Atos medical in spite of the decision by the DWP to suspend all repeat referrals to Atos. The numbers seem too small to suggest that the suspension policy has ended already, but we’d be interested to hear from anyone else who has recently been invited to an Atos medical even though their ESA review date was February 2014 or later.

PIP NEWS
Anyone who imagines that Atos is hurting financially following the decision to try to make them produce better quality WCA reports and to suspend referring ESA claimants for reassessment will be in for a disappointment.

Atos first quarter profits are up 1.6% in the UK where “the ramp-up of the PIP contract offset the revenue decrease on WCA.” In other words, what they lost on the WCA roundabout they made up for on the PIP swings.

But while Atos may be very content with the way PIP is panning out, Emma Cross a Macmillan Cancer Support benefits adviser calls it “Heartbreaking, truly astonishing, I’ve never seen anything like this.” She says delays in PIP leave the sick utterly destitute.

“Does anyone know how many people are struggling?”, she asks.

Meanwhile, Dr Stephen Duckworth, the head of Capita’s PIP unit has told the press that disabled people are trapped in an assessment nightmare because of all the tests they have to undergo in relation to benefits. He believes that this has dangerous impacts on their health and personal lives and also increases the levels of prejudice against them.

All of which would be a great deal more convincing if Dr Duckworth didn’t work for the company which is busy selling dodgy lie detector software for local authorities to use on sick and disabled housing benefit claimants.

OTHER BENEFITS NEWS
The Mail on Sunday tried its best to discredit food banks on Easter Sunday. Its reporters lied about being unemployed with families in desperate need of help to con CAB and Trussell Trust staff into helping them.

The vicious stunt backfired spectacularly, however, when thousands of disgusted members of the public made online donations to the Trussell Trust, specifically stating that it was the Mail’s article that prompted their donation.

Only around 250 people had donated to the Trust on their Just Giving page since late January, giving under £3,000. Following the Mail’s ugly stunt, there have now been almost 5,000 donors handing over a total of more than £61,000. The Trussell Trust are delighted, the Mail on Sunday probably not so much.

Others in the media are no longer getting such an easy ride with their claimant hating agenda either.

Channel 4’s Benefits Street is struggling to find a street anywhere in Britain that will let them film a sequel. A disgruntled director claims that someone is getting to potential participants and ‘putting the fear of God into them’.

And finally, the DWP’s attempts to set the internet alight with £31,000 of our money spent on nine Youtube videos has failed as spectacularly as all IDS’ other enterprises. A video on home swapping for bedroom tax victims has, for example, had just 84 views.

Work Test Whistleblower: Are Atos About To Drop The WCA Contract?

September 9, 2013 Leave a comment
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ATOS GETS A TASTE OF ITS OWN MEDICINE

August 22, 2013 Leave a comment
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Atos Suffers Two Major Body Blows: From the Benefits and Work Newsletter

July 25, 2013 Leave a comment

Atos Suffers Two Major Body Blows

Atos have been left reeling after two severe blows to their survival as providers of medical assessments in the course of a week.  First, a government audit has found that their work capability assessments are so poor that not only must all their current health professionals undergo retraining but also new providers are to be brought in to break up the Atos monopoly by next summer.

Second, an upper tribunal judge has ruled that the opinion of a physiotherapist – on whom Atos are heavily reliant both for carrying out WCAs and even more so for PIP medicals –  is of no value if the claimant has a mental health condition.  The ramifications of this decision could be huge.

Meanwhile, GPs in South Wales have been told by their local governing body to always refuse to provide letters for claimants in connection with benefits claims as it is ‘an abuse of the national health service’.  Only requests by the DWP will be met in future.

Elsewhere, rumours that the software for universal credit has had to be scrapped and started afresh continue to grow. It is looking more and more likely that there will be no genuine rollout of universal credit before the next general election.

ATOS LOSES MONOPOLY
Atos healthcare is to lose its long-held monopoly stranglehold on work capability assessments (open access) from next summer.  The news comes as the DWP revealed that  41% of sampled Atos reports had achieved only a ‘c’ grade in a recent audit.

Atos has been the only provider of work capability assessment medicals for employment and support allowance and of its forerunner, the all work test for incapacity benefit, since DWP medical services were outsourced.  Campaigners have long argued that the assessments carried out by Atos were not of an acceptable standard but, up until now, the DWP have always defended Atos as if they were  part of the same department.

Now, however, the government has decided that Atos is not up to standard and that an improvement plan has to be put into place.  Measures include retraining and re-evaluating all Atos health professionals, bringing in a third party to assess Atos’ own audits of its work and engaging Price Waterhouse Coopers to provide advice on improving quality assurance.

ATOS PHYSIO’S EVIDENCE OF NO VALUE
Atos could be in even more difficulties following an upper tribunal decision that the opinion of an Atos health professional who is a physiotherapist was of “no probative value whatsoever” where it concerned a claimant who had a mental, rather than physical, health condition.

The case involved a claimant who had been placed in the WRAG but had appealed to be placed in the support group.  The claimant’s mental health conditions included depression and bouts of uncontrollable rage. The judge stated that:

“I can only express my surprise that in a case where the only issue was the mental health of the claimant and its effect in relation to the mental health descriptors, the report was prepared by a physiotherapist following a 15 minute interview.  It is plainly important that questions of mental health should be assessed by a disability analyst with appropriate mental health qualifications if their opinion is to be of any evidential value.  Even then tribunals should beware of placing too much weight on such reports, based as they are on a very short interview with a claimant and without access to medical records.“

Although the decision, which was highlighted on the Rightsnet discussion forum for welfare rights workers,  relates to ESA there is no logical reason why similar arguments cannot be employed in relation to PIP, where a very similar points based system is in place. This could pose a massive problem for Atos whose successful bid for the PIP medical assessment contract  stated that they would be using the following health professionals:

933 physiotherapists
373 nurses
75 occupational therapists
19 doctors.

There seems little doubt that the DWP will appeal the decision.  Meanwhile, however, we’ll be updating our ESA appeals guide in the near future to take account of this decision – and to look at the potential advantages and risks of using it in your own appeal.

Members can read more  here.

From IB to ESA support group without medical
“Sorry if this goes on, just wanted everyone to know how wonderful this site is and the best investment I have ever made, a fantastic forum really helps others like me.”

CLAIMANTS ‘ABUSE’ OF NHS RESOURCES
Finally for ESA, GPs in south east Wales have been told by their local medical council (LMC) to stop writing letters for patients who need support with a benefits claim or appeal.  The LMC have even issued a standard letter for GPs to send to patients which claims that “making such requests to GPs represents an abuse of NHS resources.”

Whilst patients will still be able to request copies of their medical records for a fee of up to £50, it means that Atos/DWP will be the only ones who will be able to get specific GP evidence and they will also be able to choose not to do so, if it suits them .

However, if GPs have a blanket ban on providing such evidence even if offered payment by claimants but do not have a similar blanket ban for say, life insurance companies paying for evidence, then this may be a relatively straightforward case of disability discrimination. We look forward to hearing from members who are prepared to take legal action against GPs in south east Wales or against the Bro Taf LMC.

More details on this story are available from the BBC website and from the Pulse website.

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Do Atos mental function champions really make WCAs “better”?

July 3, 2013 Leave a comment
Categories: Mental Health Tags: ,

Doctors’ leaders could face protests over ‘fitness for work’ campaign snub | Black Triangle Campaign

May 12, 2013 Leave a comment
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April 13, 2013 Leave a comment
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The continuing travesty of ATOS

February 25, 2013 Leave a comment
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Call for ATOS failure stories from 38 Degrees (Shouldn’t be hard to find)

January 25, 2013 Leave a comment

For hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people, being called in by ATOS to be assessed for whether they are fit to work is a terrifying experience. What makes it even more terrifying is the fact that ATOS keeps getting it wrong. [1]ATOS’ deeply flawed system has led to thousands of people being forced to try to work when they physically can’t.

So far the government has failed to deal with the big mistakes ATOS repeatedly makes. It has done little to sort out the disability benefit tests which medical experts have described as ‘not fit for purpose’. [2]

Personal stories can often be the most powerful tool in persuading politicians to do the right thing. Michael Meacher, MP, is arranging a meeting with Iain Duncan Smith, Minister for Work and Pensions who has the power to sort out these problems. So he needs stories of ATOS getting it wrong to help convince him to act.

Can you help? Have you or someone you know been tested by ATOS? Would you be happy to share your experience?The more people who share their stories, the more powerful the message to the minister.

Help Michael Meacher convince Iain Duncan Smith to stand up to ATOS. Send in your story:
belinda-atos@38degrees.org.uk

Michael Meacher recently held a debate in parliament about ATOS’ work capability assessments. He talked about one of his voters who had been told he could work by ATOS and had his benefits cut. The 24 year old, who suffered from severe epilepsy, appealed, but was worried and depressed about how to pay his rent or buy food. [3]

Three months after seeing ATOS he died from a major seizure. The month after his death, his parents were informed that a mistake had been made and his benefits were being restored.

Iain Duncan Smith has the power to stand up to ATOS and demand these tests are changed. But so far he hasn’t been convinced. Michael Meacher is trying to set up a meeting with him to change this. He is going to present a dossier of stories from sick and disabled people who have been told they are fit to work.

Many sick and disabled people would love to work, but due to their illness they simply can’t. ATOS needs to change the way it assesses people, but they will only do this if forced to by the government.

Share your story:
belinda-atos@38degrees.org.uk

Thanks for being involved

Belinda, Hannah, James and the 38 Degrees team

NOTES:
[1] A Guardian article, “NAO criticise Atos benefits contract”: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/aug/17/nao-criticises-atos-benefits-contract?newsfeed=true
[2] The British Medical Association, Work Capability Assessments harm patients and should be scrapped, say GPs:http://bma.org.uk/news-views-analysis/media-centre/press-releases/work-capability-assessments
[3] Michael Meacher MP, My speech on ATOS work capability assessments: http://www.michaelmeacher.info/weblog/2013/01/my-speech-on-atos-work-capability-assessments/

Sue Marsh, The Guardian: Fit-for-work tests are exposed, again – change this shocking tactic now

November 12, 2012 1 comment

Fit-for-work tests are exposed, again – change this shocking tactic now

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/nov/12/fit-for-work-tests-employment-support

A report written by people who have serious illnesses or disabilities,The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment, contains 70 first-hand accounts of taking the fit-for-work test, which in large part determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA).

ESA replaced incapacity benefit four years ago. These testimonials about the eligibility test clearly show how ministers have misled the public and used the press to demonise this most vulnerable of groups.

For the first time, the report exposes the extent of the opposition to the ESA and proves, beyond any doubt, that not only is it “unfit for purpose” but that it is also one of the most shocking betrayals of those most in need that has ever been allowed to go unchecked.

Since the test’s introduction in October 2008, more than 400,000 people with serious illnesses and profound disabilities have appealedagainst the decision to strip them of state support, and 40% have been successful; a great many disabled and sick people have died after being found “fit to work” and a survey has found that 6% of GPs have come across a patient who has attempted to take or taken their own life as a result of undergoing, or “fear of undergoing” the test.

It should have been so different. When the then Labour government introduced the ESA as a new benefit for those unable to work due to long-term illness or disability, the eligibility test was intended to look at what the disabled person could do, not what they couldn’t.

The assessment would have three possible outcomes: the person was too ill or disabled to undertake any kind of paid work so they would go into the long-term support group (SG) and would not be expected to look for work; the person had a significant illness or disability but might be able to work, or would like to work with the right support. They would go into the work-related activity group (WRAG) and have access to training or adaptions and experts to help them find a job; or the person would be found immediately able to work and would move to jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).

Charities and campaigners representing sick and disabled people supported this concept and indeed, the principle is still one we accept and would like to see today.

But the politicians have made the test far too limited. It has ignored whole classifications of illness or disability; people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties, autism or Asperger’s and conditions that fluctuate. Cancer patients have found themselves at the job centre between chemo treatments, paraplegics have been told that they are fully mobile.

Politicians and the media also stopped talking in warm, empowering terms and suddenly, an obsession with “scroungers”, “skivers” and “cheats” that had no basis in fact took over. Despite having one of the lowest rates of support for sick and disabled people in the developed world, despite the toughest criteria in the developed world and despite a broadly average number of people claiming support, ministers and the media painted a picture of a country held back by an army of lazy shirkers who could work if they wanted to but chose not to.

In fact, UK sickness and disability benefits have the lowest fraud rates of any benefit at less than half of 1%; a full one-third of sick or disabled people live in poverty and 60% of disabled people already work.

Luckily, the new benefit was tested first in two pilot studies and it became immediately apparent that the test could not accurately access claimants. At this point, the ESA should have been stopped and redesigned. Politicians should have seen that the language they were using was doing great damage to a vulnerable group and returned to the original concept of the ESA.

But far from pausing the ESA, the coalition government not only rolled it out nationwide, it limited the WRAG to just one year. Any last sense that the WRAG was a secure place for nurturing the untapped potential of those with significant barriers to the workplace was gone.

The coalition did at least ask professor Malcolm Harrington to lead an independent review into ESA and recommend improvements. A year later, Harrington suggested many sensible changes that wereaccepted but as yet, little progress has been made in rolling them out.

How many more seriously ill people must suffer mentally, physically and financially before the ESA is withdrawn and redesigned? Four years is long enough – indeed far too long. This report proves it beyond any doubt.

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