The Government’s Welfare Reforms that are due to take effect shortly
I am writing with the greatest concern that The Government’s Welfare Reforms are set to cause abject distress and poverty to the physically and mentally disabled. Most people are unaware of exactly what these reforms consist of, let alone who will be implementing them, or why they are causing such distress. I have appended a set of links to web sites that will provide additional information, but I thought it would be helpful to highlight at least some areas of concern here.
- All people with special disabilities are being sent a demanding questionnaire to complete.
- A private company called ATOS (who are NOT medical experts) have been commissioned as medical decision makers by the Department of Work and Pensions to decide whether to issue people with a demand to attend a “medical assessment.”
- It appears everyone but a tiny minority will be compelled to attend this assessment, even if they have a lifetime award from the Disability Living Allowance Benefits, as previously determined by evidence from medical experts, doctors and psychiatrists (stating, in effect, that the person’s condition cannot be cured).
- The “medical assessment” is based on the answers people give to the questionnaire. In the case of the mentally disabled most of these questions are not applicable anyway. For Instance: ‘How far can you walk?’ ‘How long can you stand?’ ‘Can you cook a meal?’ (There is a big difference between theoretically being able to do so and actually doing so)”
The answers score points and those who do not achieve a set amount of points are declared “fit for work” – even if a psychiatrist or doctor has stated that they are not fit to do so.
How can it be right for a private company (ATOS), who have been hired by the Government, made up of people who have little or no experience and no specialist qualifications in mental health, to override the opinion of medical experts?
The New Statesman journalist Matthew Little writes, “With Government ‘unreservedly and implacably opposed’ to letting the “real world” into the Work Capability Test the cruelty will go on.”
If the disabled person is unable to attend a job centre to sign on while waiting for an appeal tribunal, THEN ALL BENEFITS ARE STOPPED. This is a change from the previous system, in which those in receipt of Incapacity Benefit would not have had to sign on. Their GP or psychiatrist would have issued a sick note, exempting them from doing so. Unbelievably, doctors are being told to issue the person with “fit notes” (News Speak in George Orwell’s 1984 comes to mind!) The consequences could not be more serious as being declared fit for work would also then affect their disability benefits. The person concerned will have no money whatsoever coming in.
Being declared fit for work would also then affect their disability benefits.
There is a right to appeal, but the ensuing tribunal may not take place until nine to twelve months later. What will happen to that person by then with no income to live on?
Additionally, the Benefits Campaign inform us that there is now an unlimited reconsideration period for the DWP. During this period too no benefits will be paid during the time it takes for the “reconsideration” to be reconsidered!
Lastly, even if a tribunal overturns the ATOS decision, that person can be called for yet another assessment just months later. The whole process then starts all over again. What is this except harassment of some of the most vulnerable people in our society? For example, Workers Power 5 state that, “in the last 3 years 32 people deemed fit for work by ATOS, and who therefore had their benefits axed, died within weeks of the decision.”
MIND also report that there have already been suicides as a result, and many whose conditions have vastly deteriorated through the whole Work Capability Assessment Process.
The BBC News Watchdog has queried the contract between ATOS and the Government. And in an illuminating article, Workers Power 5 wrote, “On top of the hundreds of millions of pounds written into the contract ATOS is paid a fee each and every time they remove somebody from disability benefits- hardly an incentive to accurate assessment.” “Ex-ATOS staff mentioned that assessors could themselves become targeted and their work audited if they ‘allow’ more than 13-15% of claims to be successful.
There are disturbing reports that ATOS are insisting that doctors and nurses sign the Official Secrets Act and refrain from speaking out against their work. See amongst various other reports: benefits and work
That the BMA will endorse the campaign to back the evidence from GPs who consider a patient to be at substantial risk from the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and its outcomes.
That the Organisations representing mental health patients like MIND, Headway, The Autistic Society and Encephalitis Society will find increasingly effective ways and means of protesting against the Work Capability Assessment and the consequences on the disabled.
That the media will take up the cause of the sick and disabled and the effects of the additional poverty and subsequent deteriorating quality of life being imposed on them.
That the widespread use of demeaning language to describe people who cannot work (such as ‘scroungers’ and ‘skivers’) will be addressed. History warns us very clearly that governments quickly revert to this type of labelling whenever it wishes to scapegoat one particular section of society.
It may well be that it would be better for the entire ESA system to be abandoned as being unfit for purpose!
More detailed information can be found on these web sites blacktrianglecampaign.org