Wednesday, January 26, 2011

In Britain, disabled people protest privatization of the benefits system

From Demotix, a citizen journalism site in the UK.

Disabled people from all over London held a party like protest outside the offices of ATOS and exposed the unfair brutal treatment the private company is using to decide if a person is fit for work or able to claim benefits.

There were angry scenes and at times the police had to take control, there was food supplied in a picnic fashion and towards the end the protesters and police were on good terms.

This is what the DPAC had to say on leaflets they handed out: "privatisation of the Benefits System Benefits only Private Companies."

From February 2011 everyone on Incapacity Benefit will be moved to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). To get ESA you will have to undergo a medical test that is far worse than the current one. The tests, carried out by a private company, Atos Healthcare, have already been strongly criticised by Citizens Advice'Bureau (CAB), 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." [CAB report 2009]

From past experience of these tests, 69% of claimants are denied ESA and will have to claim Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) at a lower rate, or get no benefits. Of those who appeal such decisions, 40% are successful, showing that the tests are very badly carried out. Many of the people administering these tests are not fully qualified doctors, and they work to unrealistic targets. (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 also has a DWP government contract to carry out compulsory work programmes, meaning they will get paid for getting disabled people back into work. This is another incentive for them to fail people on the ESA assessments, and a clear conflict of interest.

Atos Origin is an Information Technology (IT) services company. The company's annual revenues are EUR 5.1 billion.

Atos Origin were awarded a further £300 million contract by the Dept of Works and Pensions to continue 'work capability assessments' on Atos software declaring disabled people 'fit for work'. 70% of Atos decisions declaring disabled people as Tit for work' are overturned on appeal.

The Atos testing system has already led to people with terminal illnesses and severe medical conditions being declared 'fit for work' and having benefits removed.

GP's are ignored in favour of decisions made by Atos Origin's software
In a recent government report Atos' own staff say the assessments are too harsh with many not scoring high enough to meet the Atos software criteria.

Atos profits from destroying the rights of disabled people: Simon Powell of Hartlepool a wheelchair user who needs 24 hour support was declared 'fit for work' by Atos and stripped of disability benefits 2 months ago. Simon tearfully said:"l cannot believe it"