Hundreds of thousands more disabled people will face humiliating assessments that could see their benefits snatched away.
Atos Healthcare already runs work capability assessments on behalf of the government. It won new contracts worth £400 million last week to “assess” people who currently claim Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
The news came just days after the firm was exposed as setting targets to get people off benefits.
Doctors working for Atos question and test people who receive various disability benefits to see if they are “fit for work”. But they are told they can only rate one in eight people as unfit for work.
Incredibly the other firm in line to win around £200 million worth of contracts is the disgraced G4S.
The Tories plan to replace DLA with a new Personal Independence Payment (PIP) next year. They hope to use the new tests to cut spending on the benefit by 20 percent over the next three years. The plan is to drive people onto lower levels of benefit—or off them altogether.
Last year 32 people died while challenging Atos rulings that they were fit for work. Yet the government’s own figures showed last year that 40 percent of appeals against Atos decisions to remove disability benefits were successful. The figure rose to 70 percent in Scotland.
Peter Reynolds from Cambridgeshire is just one of those who has won an appeal against Atos. Peter has problems with his lungs and his lymphatic system has stopped working after he fell off a fork lift truck.
He uses a wheelchair and needs constant care. After his accident Peter received sickness benefit—but was then assessed as “fit for work” by Atos.
He successfully appealed against the decision. Peter said, “I would sooner be in the workplace doing a decent day’s work than being in the mess I am in.”
Perhaps that’s why employment minister Chris Grayling tried to censor a video that gave advice on how to mount a successful appeal. Grayling complained about the video’s “tone” and “negative comments”. But he doesn’t deny that those sections in dispute are true.
Workers at Atos in the PCS union were set to strike on Monday of next week over pay. They plan a further strike on 28 August.
The Daily Mail raged against “benefit scroungers” last week. It used figures from August 2011 for claimants of Incapacity Benefit and Severe Disablement Allowance to argue that claimants weren’t really ill.
The paper belittled people with “acne” and “coughs”. It failed to mention that by far the highest diagnosis listed in the figures is “depressive episodes”. This accounted for nearly 20 percent of all claimants.
The Mail claims it’s easy for people to claim benefits. The reality is the opposite. An investigation last year used government statistics to show that “at least” 500,000 people were wrongly denied Incapacity Benefit over the previous 15 years.
The Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) campaign has called five days of action against Atos starting on Monday 28 August. It plans to target Atos during the Paralympics. Atos is the main sponsor of the Games.
On the Monday, activists plan to deliver a coffin of messages to Atos to its headquarters. Protests will target local Atos offices on Tuesday while a spoof Paralympic ceremony will hand out medals on Wednesday.
A “disruptive” action is planned for Friday. DPAC is appealing for anti-cuts activists, trade unionists and others to join the events. For more details go to the DPAC website.