Last year, ten thousand six hundred sick and disabled people died within weeks of losing their benefits, after Atos assessed them as ‘fit to work’. Thierry Breton, boss of IT firm Atos, has just been awarded a £280k pay rise, bringing his total remuneration to £2.3m a year. While disabled people were hounded to death for a maximum of £131.50 Disability Living Allowance a week, the head of the business chasing them earned £44,000 a week. This is not austerity, it is travesty.
The Bogus Case for Mr Atos
Atos didn’t just enter with the Coalition. They have been the sole provider of medical assessments for the DWP since 1998. While Atos is the bulldog, it is the ministers of the DWP who hold the leash – and this government have given a firm order to attack.
The government has mandated that every single person claiming social security payments for sickness or disability undergo a work capability test with Atos, to determine whether they could really be working. The clear implication being – these people could really be working. In fact, ministers have not merely implied it, but propagandised about it until many people believe it was benefit fraud, and not the Bank Bailout which caused our sky high debt.
Earlier this year, the UK Statistics Authority publicly condemned the DWP’s misleading use of figures, accusing them of making claims about the efficacy of their policies that were ‘unsupported by official statistics’. In short, they are just making this stuff up. The Guardian has also exposed repeated cases of the Secretary of State Iain Duncan Smith, and Tory party Chairman Grant Shapps, misrepresenting data on benefit claims and the results of their policies.
The made up figures made it into press releases, which resulted in bogus articles in the Telegraph, The Mail, The Sun, the Express and the ITV and BBC News (along with myriad local news outlets)– all of which parroted disinformation without bothering to verify it.
As a result, the lies repeated often enough became the truth and a climate of suspicion formed around those who find themselves reliant on the welfare system.
Despite all this posturing and bemoaning, the DWP’s own estimates put the cost of benefit fraud at just £1.2bn (or only 0.7% of claimants). To put this in context, the DWP loses almost double that (£2.3bn) each year through administrative error. The cost, financial and human, being meted out on the disabled and the physically and mentally ill today is not necessary. It is pure ideology – to pit us against each other and dismantle the welfare state.
The Financial Cost of Atos
We are clear on the costs of benefit fraud. However, the costs of the Atos are much more difficult to pick apart. Mainly down to our government’s utter lack of transparency and misuse of data.
A recent report by the Public Accounts Committee (PAC), the select committee responsible for assessing value for money for the tax payer, found that the tax payer was not getting a good deal from Atos – and that the blame lay solely at the door of the DWP.
In 2011-12, the DWP paid Atos £112.4m to put 738,000 people through work capability assessments. Despite the headlines about how many people were found fit to work by these assessments, the PAC found that 38% of these decisions were overturned on appeal, resulting in court costs of over £50m.
They also found evidence that this was getting worse, with Citizens Advice reporting an 83% rise in people seeking support for appeals last year alone. They were right: ESA appeals rose 70% last year, with benefit appeals now constituting 58% of all tribunal cases. Last year 76% of those who appealed, won their cases and were found eligible to receive benefits.
Despite this lamentable performance, the PAC found that the DWP had made no attempt to create competition for the contract, meaning Atos had been allowed to continue providing the service for 14 years, without a single challenge from another supplier.
In the final insult, The PAC found that the DWP had not even attempted to assess value for money from the Atos contract, and does not calculate the cost/benefit analysis of the contract.
The government are not seeking to increase value for money for the tax payer. If they were, they would be monitoring it. They simply wish to transfer the funds we are using to support each other, to funnel into high value contracts for their private partners.
The Human Cost of Atos
The financial cost of this policy is enormous, but the human cost is outrageous. The government’s own statistics show that between 2010 and 2011 10,600 sick and disabled people died within six weeks of losing their benefits after being assessed as ‘fit to work’ by Atos and the DWP. This is 204 people a week, or 29 people a day, dying of the illnesses and conditions that the government has dictated they are fit to work with. These people spent their final weeks alive being harassed by the Job Centre, late payment notices and threats of eviction as their social safety net was ripped away.
As this horrific figure of more than one person every hour is almost too large to conceive of, here are some names among that number.
Linda Wootton, 49, was on 10 medications a day after a double lung and heart transplant. She was weak and suffered regular bouts of blackouts. She was put through the Atos Work Capability Assessment and as she lay in a hospital bed dying, she received confirmation she was ‘fit to work’. She died just nine days later. Her husband Peter said:
“I sat there and listened to my wife drown in her own bodily fluids. It took half an hour for her to die; a woman who is apparently fit for work”.
Brian McArdle, 57, had been left paralysed down one side, blind in one eye, unable to speak properly and barely able to eat and dress himself after a stroke on Boxing Day 2011. Despite this, he was deemed ‘fit to work’ by Atos. He died of a heart attack the day after his benefit payments were stopped. His thirteen year old son Kieran told the Daily Record:
“Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go…He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work.
Colin Traynor, 29, suffered from epilepsy. He was deemed ‘fit for work’ by Atos and forced to enter a lengthy, bureaucratic process to appeal the decision – during which his benefits would be frozen. He did not live to see the result of his appeal. Five weeks after his death, his family received the news that his appeal was successful. Too late for Colin. His father Ray said:
“I firmly believe – 100% believe – that the system this government introduced has killed my son.”
At the rate at which people are dying – these three people represent the death toll in just the last three hours. This is not just some occasional poor decisions, this is a Linda, a Brian, or a Colin, every hour, all day, every day, dying because this system is designed to throw people out of the social security system – whether they need it or not.
They Don’t Give Atos
The government couldn’t seem to care less about the fact that Atos are plunging tens of thousands of sick and disabled people into poverty in their time of greatest need, indeed they are instructing them to do just that.
The decisions are bad enough, but the process itself is also humiliating and distressing. One woman suffered from Crohn’s disease resulting in multiple bouts of extreme diarrhoea each day which sometimes led to hospitalisation. She was told she was fit to work and instructed to wear a nappy.
Charles Foreman suffers a degenerative bone condition and uses a wheelchair. He attended his Atos assessment only to be refused access as Atos claimed his wheelchair was a fire security risk – meaning the location chosen to assess disability did not even have appropriate access for disabled people.
While the poorest are forced to justify the meagre support they receive to meet the costs of living, the richest are allowed to profit from the tax payer pound with zero scrutiny or accountability. This is not a recession, it is a robbery.
Disabled People Against Cuts – DPAC have absolutely led the way on fighting the government and Atos. They deserve our support.
WOW Campaign – join the campaign to end the War on Welfare.