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Atos wins £400 million contract to terrorise the disabled

By Paul Silson

In another slap in the face for disabled people, Atos Origin has secured a £400 million contract to run the controversial “Work Capability Assessments” – despite being at the centre of a popular backlash over it’s methods.

The scheme – whose sole purpose is to reclassify the sick and disabled as fit for work, has attracted mounting criticism after it emerged that the Tories expect more than 500,000 people to lose their entitlement to Disability Living Allowance.

In the last three years 32 people, deemed fit for work by Atos and therefore having their benefit axed, have died within weeks of the decision. Fit to work or fit to die? For the survivors, a place in the punitive new dole regime with half a million other unemployed disabled workers.

On top of the hundreds of million pounds written into the contract, Atos is paid a fee each and every time they remove somebody from disability benefits – hardly an incentive to accurate assessment.

The assessments take just 20 minutes and are not necessarily carried out by trained medical professionals.  Everybody being assessed has the right to have it recorded.  This comes as a direct result of the thousands of complaints made concerning false information being used in judgements.  However Atos do not make it clear to claimants that they have this right.  Indeed they have only purchased 11 recording devices to be used in 123 centres handling thousands of tests per week! If claimants request the session to be recorded and equipment is unavailable then it should be postponed.  In many cases this is not the case and claimants are being bullied into having the assesment regardless.  This is a scandalous abuse of power and rides roughshod over claimants rights.  To add insult to injury Atos refuse to allow claimants own recording equipment to be used citing concerns over confidentiality – ironic considering the intrusive nature of the interviews.

Although both the DWP and Atos deny that there are any targets for stripping people of their benefits, one Atos official stated that their staff “should rate only 1 in 8 as so disabled that they will never work.”  Ex-Atos staff have been highly critical of the company’s methods.  They have mentioned that assessors could themselves become targeted and have their work audited if they “allow” more than 13 – 15% of claims to be succesful. Atos claim there are no gudelines regarding this but clearly they are prepared to bully their own staff. Atos are in the business of bullying and misery, and their paymasters in the coalition are totally complicit.

Undercover filming reported by the Guardian shows one Atos manager stating “as long as you’ve got one finger and can press a button” you are fit to work.  Such cynicism is driven by their strive for profit  – destroying lives makes the money.

Around 40% of people denied the benefit appeal against the decision.  40% of these have their appeal upheld – a huge figure when you consider how notoriously one-sided the appeal process is.  There have been more than 600,000 apeals at a cost of over £60 million per year. Mind – the mental health charity – says that the continuous harassment and forced assesment of vulnerable claimants is having a seriously detrimental impact on a majority of claimants.

It is either insult or irony that Atos have been allowed to use their ill-gotten gains to pay for a juicy sponsorship deal… at the London 2012 Paralympic Games.

In the spirit of throwing disabled people into work the government has announced the closure of 36 Remploy factories which exist to provide work for people with disabilities, threatening 2,800 jobs.

Since coming to power in 201o, the Coalition government has launched wave after wave of attacks on the rights of the disabled in Britain. From welfare to Remploy, hard-won rights and living standards are being thrown back with no thought for the social catastrophe that these cuts are piling up for our communities.

Silent on this matter is the PCS union, which organises civil servants in the DWP. Perfectly placed to put a stop to the government’s attacks on welfare, the union and it’s leaders remain paralysed by their refusal to take on the anti-union laws.

Campainging organisations and support networks need to put pressure on the trade union movement to take action, organising grassroots workers in local committees to build up pressure on the leaders.

Ultimately, the attacks on the disabled are just one particularly vicious face of Austerity Britain. Every day more services are cut back, the unemployment lines grow longer and the bank balances of profiteers like Atos grow fatter. Stopping these attacks means uniting the various anti-cuts campaigns behind a national strategy to reject the cuts.

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