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ATOS Protests February 19th

22nd February 2014

ATOS Protests February 19th

Report from Suffolk People’s Assembly

On February 19th people from across the country gathered outside over 140 Assessment Centres run by ATOS, to protest against their discredited Work Capability Assessments. The protest was led by disabled activists in Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), who have been suffering from cuts made by the Coalition government.

ATOS is a French IT services corporation that has contracts for outsourced public services in the UK worth £3 billion.  Its Healthcare division devised a testing system for an American health insurance company, aimed at reducing insurance claims.

This forms the basis of the system used under contract to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to test whether sick and disabled people are entitled to benefits.

It’s a computer-based points system in which a questionnaire is read to the sick person.  This is so intimidating and intrusive it has been estimated that over 800,000 potential claimants don’t pursue valid claims. 

Since the implementation of the Welfare Reform Act in 2012, receipt of the Employment Support Allowance (ESA), has been subject to these Work Capability Assessments.

ESA is an income replacement benefit, provided to people of working age who are too ill to work because of a health condition or disability.

As of May 2013, 2.49 million people received ESA or Incapacity Benefit. By the end of this year, all Claimants will have been migrated to ESA.

Last July, whistle blower Greg Wood claimed that ATOS assessors are under pressure to fail around 65% of claimants.
1 in 6 of these decisions was subsequently overturned.

Figures released by the government in July 2012 showed that 10,600 people died within 6 weeks of stopping claiming ESA.

Campaigners believe that the majority of these were found fit to work by ATOS.
These claims have yet to be disputed.

But despite constant Freedom of Information requests, the Department of Work and Pensions refuses to release any further statistics for 2012 and 2013.  Such requests have been refused on the grounds that they are “vexatious” to the DWP.
There is a growing list of claimants whose deaths could be attributed to denied claims, including the following:-

• November 2012, Jacqueline Harris, a 53-year-old former nurse from Bristol, found dead at her home, likely having taken an overdose of medications after she was pronounced fit for work.

• September 2013 Lee Robinson, 39, an unemployed electrician who took his own life after his housing benefit and council tax benefit was taken away.
• December 2013, Tim Salter, a 53 year old blind man suffering with agoraphobia.

• Shaun Pilkington aged 58, who shot himself after being denied his -Employment and Support ¬Allowance, which he got after a long-term illness.

• Edward Jacques 47, of Sneinton, Nottingham, who took a fatal overdose after his benefit payments were stopped.

• Richard ¬Sanderson, 44, of ¬Southfields, south-west London, stabbed himself in the heart.

When he appeared before a Commons Public Administration Committee recently, ATOS boss Joe Hemming told them that: “ATOS is proud of the work it does.”

Labour MP Paul Flynn accused Mr. Hemming of suffering from a “reality problem”. Do you live in some kind of bubble somewhere – some kind of parallel universe?”

Hilary Benn said: “As the Labour opposition we have called ATOS a disgrace and said they should be sacked… The system needs to change.”

Caroline Lucas Green Party MP, Brighton and Hove said: ‘Outsourcing the assessment of sick, disabled and vulnerable people to a private corporation, and especially one with such a disgraceful track record as ATOS is disgusting…. “

In June 2012 British Medical Association doctors voted that the Work Capability Assessment should be ended ‘with immediate effect and be replaced with a rigorous and safe system that does not cause unavoidable harm to some of the weakest and most vulnerable in society’.

A petition set up by campaign group WOW (The campaign against the ‘War on Welfare’), calling for an immediate halt to the Work Capability Assessment and an independent, committee-based inquiry into welfare reform – including the ATOS contract, excess claimant deaths and the disregarding of medical evidence in decision-making, gained more than 100,000 signatures.

The protests on February 19th received widespread support from Trade Unions, Peoples Assembly groups, Labour Councillors and sections of the Green Party.

PCS General Secretary Mark Serwotka said:

‘It is a scandal that the likes of ATOS are profiting from this government’s cold and calculating assault on sick and disabled people. The demeaning tests should be scrapped and the work to provide the kind of professional and caring support that disabled people need and deserve should be brought back in-house.’

Sandy Martin, leader of the Labour group on Suffolk Council, in a speech delivered outside the Assessment Centre in Ipswich said:-

“....this government, obsessed with the private sector, is not going to make the assessment of sick and disabled needs a public service once more.  No of course not.  They are looking at “alternative providers”.  And what alternative providers do you think they are looking at?  Any guesses? – SERCO, A4E, Capita, G4S.
We are not here to attack the people who work for ATOS.  Do we really think that G4S or SERCO are going to do a better job?

No – we are here to demand a system that works FOR the people it is meant to serve.  We want a social security system that builds up society and helps people feel more secure.  We want a benefits system which is designed to benefit the people who are out of work and where possible enable them back into work.  We want a system which is run by the elected government and for which the government can be held accountable, not a profit-making business run for the benefit of the shareholders.”

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