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Sick and disabled people in the UK can justifiably feel they are lining up for a death sentence as they prepare to take the dreaded Work Capability Assessment – the test devised by the Department of Work and Pensions and run (badly) by the French company Atos.
It leads – directly or indirectly – to an average of 32 deaths every week.
But there may be a ray of hope for them in the fact that the Labour Party has secured a Parliamentary debate on Atos and the WCA, to take place on September 4 – next Tuesday.
It is to be hoped that this will be the debate when Labour leader Ed Miliband finally gets off the fence and puts his weight – and that of his party – fully against the murderous system imposed by Chris Grayling and his master Iain Duncan Smith, both of whom are on record as stating that their version of the system is preferable, and less harsh, than that carried out under the previous Labour government.
The Daily Mail columnist Sonia Poulton has written two open letters to Mr Miliband, calling on him to break cover and declare his opposition to the scheme, and it seems bizarre that he has left people wondering for so long whether he actually supports a scheme that kills society’s most vulnerable.
The signs are hopeful that Mr Miliband will support change. In a letter to Sonia Poulton, he wrote: “Disabled people need support and compassion, and the Labour Party believes in a welfare state that fulfils this principle… I share some of the concerns that have been expressed about the test by you, along with many charities, disability groups and healthcare professionals. These concerns… have shown that the test must be improved. The Government needs to listen. We have also forced a vote in Parliament on the need to reduce the human cost of the wrong decisions that result from the WCA in its current form.”
Let’s remind ourselves why it’s important. There’s a petition online at the moment, calling for the restoration of benefits to an Afghanistan war hero who lost his leg in the line of duty. Sapper Karl Boon lost his left leg in a Taliban rocket-propelled grenade attack in Afghanistan in 2010 and has been stripped of his benefits by the Department for Work and Pensions and ATOS.
In signing the petition, I wrote: “More penny-pinching from the poor by the government that doesn’t have the guts to tax the rich. Here’s a man who has risked his life and lost a limb in the service of his country, and all his country’s leaders can think of doing in return is taking away his financial support – aided by a foreign company. We have witnessed many stories like that of Sapper Karl Boon over the last two years and it seems to me that there is no depth to which the current government will not sink. To those in government, I say: Prove me wrong. Give this man the respect he deserves and pay him what you owe him.” Too harsh? Think on this: At least Karl Boon is currently still alive.
Let’s also remember that we’re experiencing an enormous rise in hate crime against the sick and disabled, fuelled by government propoganda and a right-wing media that’s primed to support it. ITV’s Tonight programme reported last Thursday (August 23) that more than 65,000 hate crimes against the disabled were reported in the last year. You can read my article on this blog site to find some of the stories.
So why has Miliband sat on the fence for so long?
There are two issues to separate out here.
Firstly, there is nothing wrong with the idea of having regular assessments to judge whether a person on one or both of the disability benefits is able to work, or will be likely to be able to do so in the near future. The only people who can be against that are people who want the easy life, living on benefits and off the hard work of the taxpayers.
But the way the Coalition regime has gone about these assessments, through its private contractor Atos, is totally inappropriate and unfit for purpose. We can see that in the many horror stories that have come out over the last few weeks and months.
Why should those who are permanently disabled be forced to go through reassessment every few months? They’re never going to get better! But we have Atos reports saying an amputee will be fit for work as soon as his arm grows back (for crying out loud)!
Why are doctors’ reports ignored? I know there is an argument that doctors may be persuaded to sign people off work when they aren’t actually unfit but, if the assessments were carried out by properly qualified medical professionals, working in accordance with the standards their qualifications have set for them, those would be found out. Instead, we get unqualified assessors working to a tick-box questionnaire, that isn’t remotely adequate to the job and has been acknowledged (as we saw on both Dispatches and Panorama) to be designed to get people off benefit.
There is no realism to the questions in the assessment, no anticipation of the kind of work that a person will be asked to do. There is no acknowledgement of the ways an employer would have to stretch to accommodate people with particular disabilities. Signing somebody as fit for work because they have one finger able to push a button does not make them attractive to an employer and merely sets them up to fail, possibly on a life-threatening scale because, as we know and I make no apologies for repeating, 32 people are dying every week because of the assessment system.
So what’s the alternative?
A better assessment would refer to the notes made by a patient’s GP, but would also include tests by a medical professional to ascertain the current condition of the disability – that it has been correctly reported.
It would then go on to cover the patients’ ability to carry out the sort of work that they might reasonably be likely to see on offer. Would they be able to manage it with a minimum of bother to an employer? That is the only way we will see sensible assessments coming in.
Atos is not fit to carry out these assessments in any case. The company had a bad reputation in France before it ever got a British contract and does not deserve to be making money from the taxpayer by condemning British people to the death that many of them have suffered.
These are the arguments I would wish to hear aired during the Parliamentary debate on the subject.
What would you like to hear?