ATOS & the DWP: THE GREEDY MUGGING THE SICK | February 24, 2011

By RM.

Atos Healthcare are a part of a private, profit-driven corporation. On behalf of the government (DWP), they carry out the medical assessments now called the ‘Work Capability Assessment’ (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA: formerly Incapacity Benefit) claimants, and the Disability Living Allowance (DLA).


They are currently recruiting more staff to help meet government targets to force more people off benefits. They plan to cut 2.5 billion from ESA and to limit ESA benefit to just one year will- presumably those who are deemed unable to work will have made a miraculous recovery.


These measures are pure cost cutting and not based on any medical opinion, nor have they got anything to do with the tiny level of fraud within the ESA/DLA budget. The government are doing this to reduce the massive national debt caused by the banks gambling on the financial markets. It is clearly the most vulnerable in society being made to pay for the greedy failures of the rich.



Already some 75% of ESA claims are failing. People with severe disability and life-threatening conditions are being declared fit for work. It’s seems obvious that the government are deliberately refusing many thousands of claimants the support they need and condemning the most vulnerable to even worse levels of poverty.


A tos examinations are also now being carried out by non-doctors. Most doctors are already woefully under-qualified to deal with mental health cases, but Atos now employ physiotherapists and nurses who have less training than even a GP to examine people and give the opinions that will decide their fate. “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.


Is this an indication that they are having difficulty finding enough doctors that will compromise their ethics or just that they want to squeeze even more profit out the sick by hiring underqualified people to tick boxes on a computer and contradict the diagnoses of specialists and practitioners that have a better knowledge of the cases?


Studies have shown the medical test to be largely unreliable and of the 29% of refused claimants that appeal the decision 49% win. Which clearly indicates that a substantial number of claimants are being failed wrongly. Atos Healthcare doctors are paid a fee of over 100 for each DLA 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.


These distressing and anxiety inducing tests are being extended to those relying on Disability Living Allowance (now: Personal Independence Payments) in order to deny more of the genuinely needy essential assistance and 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.”


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.”


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’ 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.


Despite this obvious injustice, the government has recently announced it believes that 68% of ESA claimants can be sent back to work either immediately or with assistance. This is quite obviously a blatant lie designed to merely reduce the amount spent on society’s most vulnerable.


Atos aren’t content to be stitching up the needy a tidy profit, but they are also undermining the NHS by paying way over the NHS rates for doctors & nurses.


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.



Despite a fraud rate of just 1%, plus 16 billion in unclaimed benefits, they are determined to toss 500,000 people who currently rely on sickness benefits into the bleakest labour market in a generation; to cut already meagre disability benefits to starvation levels; to confiscate mobility scooters and community groups from the most needy; to remove key services that make life bearable for thousands of families with vulnerable relatives. With the recent changes in Housing Benefit and possible changes to Council Tax benefit, these cuts will leave hundreds of thousands of people with severe health problems without enough money to feed themselves and heat their homes.



Atos also 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 would amount to around 250m: the tests intended 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 – which has to be their target.

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