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 Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled

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Posts : 7972
Join date : 2012-05-29
Location : Manchester UK

PostSubject: Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled   Sat 13 Oct 2012, 12:36

Call Time on This Wretched Government and Its Assault on the Disabled

Andy Worthington

October 11, 2012

Please, please, please sign and promote the petition, initiated
by Pat Onions and other disabled activists, calling for the British
government to "stop and review the cuts to benefits and services which
are falling disproportionately on disabled people, their carers and
families." The petition needs to reach 100,000 signatures by November 1
to be eligible for Parliamentary debate.

One month ago, the Paralympic Games came to an end, and there were
hopes that, after two weeks in which disabled people had been the focus
of the media and the British people, and had performed spectacularly
well, the time might be ripe for those fortunate enough not to be
physically or mentally disabled to realise that they were being lied to
by their government, and that the Tories’ wretched assault on disabled
people as cheats and scroungers was both cruel and deeply unfair.

In a cynical attempt to cut expenditure on welfare, the government
has embarked upon a particularly horrific assault on the mentally and/or
physically disabled through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA),
administered by the French-based multinational company Atos Healthcare,
and designed to find disabled people fit for work, even when, as in a
heartbreakingly large number of cases, they are not.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of disabled people will lose
between £20 and £131.50 a week when the ­Disability Living Allowance
(DLA) that is a crucial part of their support is ­"replaced with the
more restrictive ­Personal ­Independence Payments as part of a
£2.2billion cost-cutting plan," as the Sunday Mirror explained last month. As the Mirror
also explained, "The DLA currently goes to around 3.2 million people at
a cost of £12.6 billion a year. Analysts estimate up to 500,000
disabled people will have their allowance entirely withdrawn over the
next four years as ­eligibility criteria is tightened."

The results of this assault on the disabled are already horrendous.
People are treated disdainfully by Atos’s representatives, as they
systematically play down their disabilities, and then have their
financial support cut. In appeals, over two-thirds of claimants are
winning with assistance from sympathetic advisers, but nothing gets the
government off their backs. Whether or not those in receipt of financial
support have degenerative conditions that will never improve, they,
like everyone else, will soon be back on the treadmill of assessments,
as Atos and the government again try to prove them fit for work,
imposing huge stresses and strains along the way, which have undoubtedly
contributed to the rising death toll amongst the disabled.

During the Paralympic Games, what was particularly noticeable was how
disabled athletes, while obliged to put up with the breathtaking
cynicism of Atos buying itself a role as a sponsor of the Games, were as
critical as they could be. At the opening ceremony, for example,
athletes reportedly hid their Atos-branded badges, and as the Games
wound down, several disabled athletes spoke openly to the Sunday Mirror about their disgust at the government’s position.

Team GB footballer Keryn Seal, who is blind, told the Mirror
he "relies on his £70-a-week allowance to get to training." He
explained, "I find it quite incredible that the ­Government can go
around handing out medals when away from the Games they are taking the
DLA away. It’s all well and good backing disabled sports at the highest
level and looking good for the cameras but what they are doing is going
to affect hundreds of thousands of disabled people really badly."
Speaking after George Osborne and Theresa May were both booed after
presenting medals at the Games, he added, "Some of the reason George
­Osborne and Theresa May were booed was because of the DLA stuff."

Keryn also said that "he spends £50 a week of the allowance just to
get to and from training," because, like most British athletes, he
"receives no Government funding," and "relies on the DLA to pay for his
young children to get to ­playschool." A father of two, from Exeter, he
explained, "I came out of university two years ago with a 2:1 in sports
studies but I haven’t worked since. I have applied for loads of jobs and
only had four interviews. In many ways training for the Olympics has
kept me going and I wouldn’t have been able to do that if I didn’t have
the DLA ­payments. I can’t understand why the Government would dream of
­taking this money away from us. It shows a complete lack of ­empathy.
Disillusioned, disenchanted and disappointed are all words I would use
to describe how I feel about the Government."

Double amputee Derek Derenalagi, who took part in the discus
competition and who lost his legs in a bomb attack in Afghanistan,
receives £100 a week in Disability Living Allowance, and told the Mirror
that the changes "would have a ­’devastating’ effect on many disabled
people." He explained, "The Paralympics have been huge and people have
enjoyed it but when it finishes we are still disabled. I hope the
Government will change these decisions as it could be terrible for us."

He added, "The money really helps with our ­training and everyday
life. I spend it on things like my discs which cost £60 to £70, trainers
which can be around £60 and physio which is about £70 a time. Not every
Paralympian is sponsored and we would hugely struggle without it. We do
not get paid like footballers and it really helps us."

Ben Quilter from Brighton, who won a bronze medal in judo, is
partially sighted and receives around £50 a week in Disability Living
Allowance. He told the Mirror, "Losing my DLA would affect my
general life. There is no doubt about it. I need the money to travel
around. For example, a train ticket to London costs about £14. I also
need it to buy iPad apps which help me with my disability and allow me
to interact with people. I really hope the Government change their mind
on this. It’s a real shame as the Paralympics has been so amazing. It is
a very important issue."

These examples — and others reported at the time – should have
prompted some deep soul-searching amongst the British people, and
especially throughout the mainstream media, but the media refuses to
ally itself to causes, which, increasingly, plays into the hands of
cynical opportunists like the Tories, who are getting to indulge in
class war and the oppression of the weakest in society without much
opposition, when really the scale of their crimes deserves a call to
arms on a daily basis.

The ordinary people, meanwhile, struggle to find an outlet for their
frustrations with politicians, if they are fortunate enough not to have
fallen for the Nazi-style slurs on the poor, the weak, the ill, the old,
the young, the disabled and students, which the Tories and malignant
media barons are constantly encouraging, so that when all the elements
of solidarity that survived the years of Thatcher, Major and Blair have
been thoroughly eradicated, those in penury will be completely alone,
and, as in the most wretched of times, those with nothing still fight
each other rather than realising who their real enemies are.

There is hope, of course, as there is always hope. John McDonnell MP has submitted an Early Day Motion against Atos, which has been signed by 111 MPs to date, and which states:

<blockquote>That this House deplores that thousands of sick and
disabled constituents are experiencing immense hardship after being
deprived of benefits following a work capability assessment carried out
by Atos Healthcare under a 100 million a year contract; notes that 40
per cent of appeals are successful but people wait up to six months for
them to be heard; deplores that last year 1,100 claimants died while
under compulsory work-related activity for benefit and that a number of
those found fit for work and left without income have committed or
attempted suicide; condemns the International Paralympic Committee’s
promotion of Atos as its top sponsor and the sponsorship of the Olympics
by Dow Chemical and other corporations responsible for causing death
and disability; welcomes the actions taken by disabled people, carers,
bereaved relatives and organisations to end this brutality and uphold
entitlement to benefits; and applauds the British Medical Association
call for the work capability assessment to end immediately and to be
replaced with a system that does not cause harm to some of the most
vulnerable people in society.
Please urge your MP to sign it, if they haven’t already.

As for what else can be done, please attend the TUC rally, "A Future That Works,"
on October 20 in central London and make your voice heard against the
dreadful treatment of the disabled, and against all the other
ideologically imposed cuts imposed by this most savage of governments.
And if you need other persuasive arguments for people to take on the
government regarding its treatment of the disabled, then please read the
following article from the Guardian
by Amelia Gentleman, whose coverage of those affected by the
government’s"age of austerity" has been excellent. It concerns Ruth
Anim, the severely disabled daughter of Cecelia Anim, the deputy
president of the Royal College of Nursing, who "has epilepsy, heart
problems, curvature of the spine, severe autism and a mental age of 10,"
as well as having no sense of danger, as noted by Sarah Ismail in the Independent yesterday. Along with other coverage, the Guardian article caused such a stir that Atos "apologised to the Anims for the 'error’ they made in finding Ruth fit for work."

As Sarah Ismail noted, however, having recently covered the shocking case of Liam Barker,
18 years old, and paralysed since birth, who breathes through a
ventilator, but whose parents "had just received a letter informing them
that in order to receive Employment Support Allowance, he might have to
prove he is unable to work by attending a Work Capability Assessment,"
there is "a strong possibility that the Anims would not have received an
apology if Cecelia Anim did not have a high profile."

Moreover, even with Ruth Anim’s victory, she "will be assessed again in two years."

As Sarah Ismail also explained:

<blockquote>Ruth Anim and Liam Barker may have very different
disabilities, but sadly, benefit assessments have placed them in very
similar situations. Both are severely disabled. It is clear to anyone
who hears their stories that neither will be any more fit for work in
two years’ time than they are today.

That’s why assessing either of them again will be a greater waste of
government time and taxpayers’ money than simply providing both of them
with the benefits they are so clearly genuinely entitled to. This is
without taking into consideration the emotional stress that will be
caused to them and their parent carers by the process, first of
attending assessments and later of appealing against wrong decisions.

When I was trying hard to publicise the case of Liam Barker online
two weeks ago, someone suggested that a database should be kept of
people who are too severely disabled to ever be fit for work. This is an
idea that should be given serious consideration by all relevant
government departments.

Because the next severely disabled person who is threatened with, or
sent to, a WCA may not have supportive, high profile parents. They may
not have the ability to appeal if they are wrongly found fit for work.
They may not be able to do anything but suffer in silence.
The database is a great idea, but in the meantime do read Amelia
Gentleman’s article if you haven’t already done so. Like Liam Barker’s
case — and who knows how many others — it should convince the people of
this country to locate their hearts and do all in their power to turf
this wretched government out of office immediately.

Get ready for work: what woman who needs constant care was told
By Amelia Gentleman, The Guardian, October 3, 2012

Ruth Anim has learning difficulties, a heart problem and
epilepsy. A work capability test by Atos said she should prepare for a

Ruth Anim needs constant one-to-one care, has no concept of danger
and attends life skills classes to learn practical things like how to
make a sandwich or a cup of tea. So it came as a considerable surprise
to her mother, Cecilia, that an official assessment of her daughter’s
abilities classified her as someone who would be capable of finding work
in the near future.

The report contained a number of factual errors, perhaps most
remarkably the assessor’s description of the 27-year-old as a "male
client", but more disturbing for Anim was the conclusion of the doctor
who carried out the test: "I advise that a return to work could be
considered within 12 months."

Anim says: "For Ruth to go to work is actually totally unimaginable.
She can’t even cross the road without someone going with her; she
doesn’t know that if a car hits you it will kill you; she has no concept
of danger." Her daughter was born with complex medical needs, learning
disabilities, a heart problem and epilepsy. "She is somebody who has a
one-to-one carer — is she meant to go to work with her carer?"

As a result of the assessment, Ruth was assigned to a category known
as the work related activity group, and required to attend the jobcentre
regularly to begin mandatory preparations for going to work.

Cecilia Anim’s amazement at the written report, describing her
daughter’s work capability assessment (WCA), the test to determine
fitness for work, echoes the shock felt by hundreds of thousands of
former claimants of incapacity benefit over the last three years, after
undergoing the stringent new computerised test to check their continued
eligibility for benefit payments.

Since the test was introduced in 2008 more than 600,000 people have
appealed against the assessments; the cost to the state of those appeals
has risen from £25m in 2009-10 to £60m in 2011-12. About 38% of those
who appeal against an initial fit-for-work finding see that decision
overturned on appeal and benefits granted. Welfare rights organisations
and charities have voiced consistent unease about the test and the way
doctors employed by the private IT firm Atos, which is paid £100m a year
by the government to carry out the test, have implemented it.

Last week Labour called for a "fast and radical" overhaul of the
system, admitting the policy it introduced when in government was not

As deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing, Anim can project
her fury about the experience her daughter endured far more powerfully
than most individuals going through the system. This awareness has
heightened her desire to talk about the "injustice of the process", to
educate people about how inaccurate the assessments can be.

"I am able to fight back, but what about the people who are not able
to fight back? It’s causing a lot of problems for a lot of people," she
says. "My daughter’s consultant neurologist was beside himself with fury
when I told him. The first question he asked was, 'Have they done a
risk assessment?’"

Ruth’s case is by no means exceptional. Mencap, the charity which
supports people with a learning disability, says it has seen countless
similarly surprising cases of misclassification of vulnerable clients,
many of whom are told they are not eligible for any sickness or
disability benefit and must seek work immediately.

The principle underlying the WCA is that a health condition or
disability should not automatically be regarded as a barrier to work,
and in theory the policy is designed to ensure that support is available
to help people find work. Anim says there is nothing she would like
more than for her daughter to find a job, just as she would like her to
get married and have the kind of life her contemporaries have, but she
argues that, given the severity of her daughter’s condition, this
approach is not realistic.

The 45-minute examination was chaotic from start to finish, Anim
says. Her daughter was extremely anxious and kept asking the doctor if
he was going to take a blood test. She refused to sit down and hopped on
and off the medical examining couch when the doctor was talking to her.
Anim points to a line in the partly computer-generated report which
notes "client was able to sit on a chair with a back for 45 minutes".

"The whole examination was very chaotic and bizarre because she was
not co-operating. But in his report he has put that Ruthie sat for 45
minutes. She never sat down for more than three minutes. She was all
over the place," she says. "At one point she went to the tap and washed
her hands and started spraying the water everywhere. He raised his voice
and said 'Stop doing that!’ I said no, no, don’t speak to her like
that. She’s got learning difficulties; she doesn’t understand."

A few questions the doctor asked, about her daughter’s condition and
her schooling, made Anim doubt his familiarity with the British care
system. He noted in his report that her daughter’s speech was normal,
although Anim had done most of the speaking. The few questions Ruth
managed to respond to were answered inaccurately. "He asked her how old
she was and she said 18, despite the fact that she is 27," she says.

A few months after the medical assessment Ruth was called to an
interview at the jobcentre to discuss finding work. She went with her
mother, who was aghast when she understood why they had been called in.
"I said 'Are you having a laugh?’" The jobcentre adviser realised very
quickly that a mistake had been made. "We sat down, and every question
she asked her, Ruth raised her palms as if she didn’t know the answer.
She asked 'What day is it?’; Ruthie said Thursday, but it was Tuesday.
She asked 'What time is it?’. She said 5.30pm, but it was 2.30pm," she
recalls. "Ruth was rummaging through the tray on her desk and being
disruptive. She kept saying, 'What’s your name?’"

"They said she must come every three weeks to show that she is
actively seeking work," Anim says; but the adviser also told her that
she could appeal against the decision. "It only took her 10 minutes to
realise that the decision was wrong."

Anim spent her summer holiday trying to sort out the problem,
marshalling the support of her local MP, Glenda Jackson, and a welfare
rights organisation, Brent Association of Disabled People, as well as
contacting Atos and the DWP.

The decision caused immense stress to the whole family, she says. "As
a nurse I know what effect this has on families. You have to constantly
struggle to get the support to meet her basic needs. After all we have
gone through, then to be told she needs to look for work. She was
totally oblivious to what was going on, as usual, but we felt disbelief,
frustration, stress and shock.

"It was a barmy decision. People with learning disabilities need all
the support they can get. [They should] not be put in this situation
where there is total ignorance about their ability to work, safety and

Although the Royal College of Nursing has no official position on the
WCA, Anim is clear that the policy needs urgent reform. "The system
needs to be overhauled and reviewed."

The DWP says that it has introduced numerous improvements to the
testing process, but charities state that serious problems continue. A
report published by Citizens Advice earlier this year found a
"worryingly low" level of accuracy in the assessments. The charity,
which supports many people who feel they have been wrongly denied
benefits through the appeals process, has seen a 71% increase in
workload relating to the employment and support allowance (the
replacement to incapacity benefit) over the past two years.

Campaigners blame both the design of the policy and the way it has
been implemented for the problems. The headquarters of Atos have been
repeatedly targeted by disabled protesters, angry at the company’s
involvement in the assessments, and the company’s sponsorship of the
Paralympics caused widespread controversy.

The National Audit Office criticised the Department for Work and
Pensions in August for not having "sought financial redress for
contractor underperformance" and recommended that it "tighten
performance requirements with Atos in relation to the quality of medical

Earlier this year delegates at the BMA conference passed a motion
stating that the "inadequate computer-based assessment" performed by
Atos had "little regard for the nature or complexity of the needs of
long-term sick and disabled persons", and proposed that the WCA should
be halted "with immediate effect".

Jane Alltimes, senior policy officer at Mencap, said Ruth’s case was
not particularly extreme. Mencap has submitted recommendations for
improvement to the system to the DWP, and is arguing for greater
recognition of employers’ unwillingness to employ people with learning
disabilities. Just 7% of people who receive state support for their
learning disabilities are in work.

"The evidence we’ve seen suggests an assessment process that isn’t
working for lots of people with a learning disability. An assessment
designed to determine a person’s 'fitness for work’ needs to take into
account the realities of the barriers experienced by disabled people in
getting a job — things like job availability, the prejudices of
employers, the support people need to overcome the barriers they face.
The assessment in its current form just doesn’t do that."

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: "We apologise for any
discrepancy in our report and any distress this may have caused. We
carry out around 15,000 assessments each week and work hard to provide
the DWP with as much detailed information as we can to contribute to
them making an accurate decision on benefits."

A DWP spokesperson said: "The work capability assessment is under
constant review to ensure it is both fair and effective, and it is in
everyone’s interest to get the system right. We are committed to help
thousands of people move from benefits and back into work while giving
unconditional support to those who are most in need."

Note: To keep up with everything that is going on,
and as an antidote to the kind of lies told by Atos and the DWP in the
two closing paragraphs of Amelia Gentleman’s article, I recommend Atos Miracles
on Facebook, where campaigners are posting all kinds of relevant
articles, as well as providing personal accounts of their experiences
with Atos, and with their appeals. Their page explains their name as
follows: "A place for the sick and disabled to share stories of how ATOS
have cured them. Many sites on this subject have been threatened with
legal action by the company and this is a place of satire — which we are
hoping is not yet outlawed in the UK."


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