A debate is taking place in the House of Commons today about ATOS Work Capaility Assessments for disabled people on their fitness for work.
Labour MP Michael Meacher has said that thousands of sick or disabled people have died after being assessed by Atos to see if they are capable of work. He made the claim in a Commons debate on Atos, the firm that conducts work capability assessments for the government.
Opening the debate, Meacher said 1,300 people had died after being placed in the “work-related activity group”, for those currently too ill to be in a job but expected to take steps towards an eventual return to employment:
Atos is an IT firm and uses a so-called logic integrated medical assessment, often described as rigid and tick-box because computer-based systems make it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgment.
Because such a mechanistic system has little or no regard to the complexity of the needs of severely disabled or sick persons, the British Medical Association and others have condemned the current WCA as not fit for purpose.
The real fundamental issue is this: how can it be justified to pursue, with such insensitive rigour, 1.6 million claimants on incapacity benefit at a rate of 11,000 assessments every week when it has led – according to the government’s own figures – to 1,300 persons dying after being put into the work-related activity group, 2,200 people dying before their assessment was completed and 7,100 people dying after being put into the support group?
Is it reasonable to pressurise seriously disabled persons into work so ruthlessly when there are already 2.5 million people unemployed and, on average, eight persons chasing every vacancy, unless they are also provided with the active and extensive support they obviously need in order to get and to hold down work, which is certainly not the case at present.
The Conservative MP Robert Halfon has also added to this point and said:
As a major contractor, they have repeatedly failed to inspire confidence and they need shaking up.
Former Conservative Cabinet minister Cheryl Gillan said she was concerned about the treatment of people with autism:
The National Autistic Society … believes the WCA should be delivered differently so that it is fair and appropriate for claimants with autism.
Afterwards, on Twitter Meacher said:
The consensus of the whole house is that #ATOS has failed. I’ve never seen such unanimity & the House will not let this go.
Labour MP Kevan Jones tweeted:
In my speech in Atos debate I said the Government had the blood on their hands over whoses have committed suicide because of Atos system.
The practices of Atos are like a form of torture for people with mental health issues, which is what I told the Commons today.
ATOS Healthcare has been widely criticised by disablity charities for the way they operate their assessments. Charities say that many people have been unfairly assessed as being fit for work.
In November 2012, The Peoples Review of the Work Capability Assessment highlighted 70 claimants who say they were wrongly assessed and were forced to go to tribunal. ATOS have responded to this by saying all complaints they receive are thoroughly investigated and changed are made where necessary.
An ATOS spokesperson has said:
We know that this can be a difficult process for people and we do all we can to make sure the service we provide is as professional and compassionate as possible. We have been doing this work for the Department for over a decade and our staff are fully trained and experienced with many coming directly from the NHS.
We know that with a contract as complex and important as this, which has an impact on peoples lives, it is our duty to continually work to improve which is why we ask for feedback from the Department and those claiming benefit. We investigate every complaint that is made to us.