Atos Healthcare are a part of a private, profit-driven corporation. On behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), they carry out the medical assessments now called the 'Work Capability Assessments (WCA).
They are currently recruiting more staff to help meet government targets to force more people off benefits. The Governemnt plans to cut £2.5 billion from ESA and to limit ESA benefit to just one year - presumably those who are deemed unable to work will have made a miraculous recovery.
The process is driven by cost cutting not objective medical opinion. The Government are doing this to reduce the massive public debt caused by the banks gambling on the financial markets. The most vulnerable in society are being made to pay for the greedy failures of the rich and the inevitable booms and busts of capitalist economics.
THEIR STORY DOESN'T ADD UP!
The majority of people tested and told they are undeserving win their cases on appeal. Studies have shown the medical test to be largely unreliable:
An independent review of the WCA tests by Professor Harrington concluded “There is strong evidence that the system can be impersonal and mechanistic, that the process lacks transparency and that a lack of communication between the various parties involved contributes to poor decision making and a high rate of appeals.” and that “evidence has consistently and regularly highlighted problems with each stage of the WCA process, which limit both the assessment’s fairness and effectiveness.”
There are plans to extend these distressing and anxiety inducing tests to those relying on Disability Living Allowance (soon to be Personal Independence Payments) to cut the budget for DLA/PIP by 20%.
The tests have already been strongly criticised by Citizens Advice Bureau, Child Poverty Action Group and others. "Doctors produce inaccurate reports... reporting incorrectly what the claimant has said about their own conditions and taking their answers out of context... Doctors pay more attention to the computer than the client."
Citizens Advice Scotland is extremely concerned that many clients are being found fit for work in their WCA despite often having severe illnesses and/or disabilities. Their evidence has highlighted the cases of many clients with serious health conditions who have been found fit for work, including those with Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bipolar disorder, heart failure, strokes, severe depression, and agoraphobia.
In a recent government report, Atos’s own staff say the assessments are too harsh. Prospect, the trade union who represents 135 Atos doctors, has stated that the target of seeing ten or more people a day is unrealistic and will lead to wrong assessments, especially in complex cases.
ATOS claim that they do not make the decision as to whether someone can work and have their benefits reduced, but that the decision is made by the DWP from their report and that performance targets are based simply on the number of claimants seen in a day. However, they admit that if a medical professional passes all claimants for disability benefits it will not go unnoticed.
“The Jobcentre Plus Decision Makers do not in practice make decisions, but instead they typically ‘rubber stamp’ the advice provided through the Atos assessment. They often do not have or do not appropriately consider additional evidence submitted to support a claim for [ESA]. This results in the Atos assessment driving the whole process, rather than being seen in its proper context as part of the process.”, Professor Harrington.
WHO ARE THE REAL BENEFIT FRAUDSTERS ?
Despite a fraud rate of just 1%, plus £16 billion in unclaimed benefits, the Government are determined to toss 500,000 people who currently rely on sickness benefits into the bleakest labour market in a generation and to cut already meagre disability benefits to starvation levels.
PIMPING THE SICK
Medical professionals, including physiotherapists, with no experience of mental health problems, for example, are given a matter of days training before making assessments of claimants. Atos doctors are paid a fee of over £100 for each ESA medical they carry out. Many people report that the doctor seemed in a rush, stayed only a very short time and wasn’t interested in what they had to say. Some found the doctor positively rude. Atos are also undermining the NHS by paying way over the NHS rates for doctors and nurses on full time contracts.
Atos has a contract to carry out compulsory work programmes, meaning they will get paid for getting disabled people back into work. This is an incentive for them to fail people's claims: a clear conflict of interest. The most damning fact about the system is that Atos will get £500m over 7 years for running the Work Capability Assessments, while fraud in ESA over this period could be around £250m: the tests claimed to stop fraud cost twice as much as the fraud. Thus the only way Atos can offer value for money is if they cut £250m off the ESA case load – so there is indeed an implicit target.