Issues With Work Capability Assessments By Atos

  • George Rolph's Plight Updated - Hunger Strike Day 24

    The case has been brought to the attention of the House of Commons by George Rolph's MP.

    Mr Rolph is a disabled man with post-traumatic stress disorder from suffering domestic abuse.

    Earlier this year he had his benefits cancelled after an assessment with Atos. As a campaigner for men suffering domestic violence, this instigated him to start a hunger strike to highlight the injustice of this.

    After the start of his protest, the Department of Work and Pensions admitted fault and reinstated his benefits. However he has continued the strike to be a voice for the way people have been treated at these assessments.

    See the full story.

    There has still been very little mentioned about George's plight in the media, aside from an article in the Daily Mirror, despite it being widely shared across social media platforms

    On 12/6/13, his local MP Heidi Alexander brought his case to the House of Commons, where they were discussing Work Capability Assessments and the problems claimants are facing with them.

    The issue was also raised of why there is no audio recordings for the interviews held by Atos when assessing people's health, which could help remove the problems people are finding with the procedure.

    See a summary of the transcript below.

    There is also a Change petition being signed to get George's case debated in the House of Commons.

    House of Commons on Work Capability Assessments - 7.13 pm 12/06/2013

    Sheila Gilmore (Edinburgh East) (Lab):

    The assessments carried out by Atos have been much criticised. Assertions have been made about some of the questions asked and the attitude of assessors.

    Such assertions are regularly denied by Atos and not accepted by the Department for Work and Pensions. We even have differences of opinion on the Select Committee on Work and Pensions, with some members feeling that campaigning organisations exaggerate such claims.

    Audio recording of assessments would allow such disputes to be settled once and for all. Importantly, they would provide new evidence in the event of appeals, but should also improve the quality of assessments, thereby reducing the number of appeals and helping to get things right first time.

    Assessors would be prompted to ensure that their work was of the highest possible standard-for example, taking more time, asking open as opposed to closed questions, and probing for possible follow-up issues.

    Heidi Alexander (Lewisham East) (Lab):

    My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech about the importance of quality in the work capability assessment.

    May I bring to her attention the situation of my constituent George Rolph, who is currently on the 23rd day of his hunger strike about his treatment at the hands of Atos?

    When he failed his work capability assessment, he felt he had no choice but to take such drastic action to bring to the Government's attention the failures of the system.

    Sheila Gilmore:

    I thank my hon. Friend for giving such a graphic example of the human issues that lie behind what might seem to be quite a dry subject in many respects.

    I was pleased when the year 1 Harrington review recommended that Atos should undertake a pilot to test the hypothesis that audio recording would make a difference.

    Jim Shannon (Strangford) (DUP):

    This is a vital issue in my constituency. Every week my office deals with issues arising from the Atos work capability assessment. People who go in for the work capability tribunal test receive no points at all or very few points.

    The question they ask is: "How can they disregard my health?" Would not the introduction of audio recordings enable my constituents and the hon. Lady's to have confidence in the system?

    Sheila Gilmore:

    That is exactly the point I am trying to convey. We want to improve the scheme and give people that confidence.

    That was the recommendation from the Under-Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, the hon. Member for East Dunbartonshire (Jo Swinson). She was suggesting that that would help to resolve disagreements in those situations.

    The pilot went ahead in Atos's Newcastle assessment centre between March and May 2011, and an evaluation report was submitted to the DWP on 4 June 2011. In a Westminster Hall debate on 1 February 2012, the previous Minister, the right hon. Member for Epsom and Ewell (Chris Grayling), set out the Government's position.

    He said that due to a lack of demand, audio recording would not be rolled out for all assessments. Specifically he said:

         "We decided not to implement universal recording because, based on the trial experience, people did not want it."
         -[Official Report, 1 February 2012; Vol. 539, c. 292WH.]

    I am afraid that that assertion is not justified. The Atos pilot concluded that:

         "68% of customers agreed to the recording when contacted by telephone prior to the appointment."

    See the full transcript of the House of Commons debate on the issues raised with Work Capacity Assessments here.

     Image source:

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