This makes me so mad I can’t see straight. As folks will no doubt know, the UK government has outsourced disability benefit assessments to a company called Atos – ironically, they are one of the paralympic sponsors. Atos have targets for removing benefits. This is in spite of the fact that according to the government’s own figures, disability benefits are only overpaid by 2% through fraud and error (0.8% customer error, 0.5% DWP error, and 0.7% fraud). The assessment record is shameful. Cancer patients have been pronounced fit to work; there is no proper provision for fluctuating conditions; ;there have been deaths from suicide, stress, and exhaustion brought about by dealing with the new benefits system. Here’s just one, of many, many examples of an Atos benefits assessment:
My friend Polly has a severe form of Crohn’s disease. She’s been given countless different medications, and operations to remove parts of her small intestine. In fact, her Crohn’s is so resistant to the strongest medications and surgery available that she was referred to an experimental chemotherapy and stem cell transplant medical trial. If Crohn’s were a video game, she is playing it on hardest difficulty, with no cheat codes and a broken controller.
Atos sent a doctor to assess whether she could re-qualify for benefits. On arrival, he told her that he’d never heard of Crohn’s Disease. Forgive me for being pedantic, but a doctor who hasn’t heard of Crohn’s Disease isn’t a doctor. That’s like a dentist who hasn’t heard of gums, or a plumber that’s never heard of pipes… I had heard rumours that Atos doctors mark people down if their illness isn’t visible. Which seemed ludicrous even for Atos. As if the only three kind of illnesses are eczema, nosebleeds and an unfortunate haircut. Cancer? Look mate, unless you’ve got cancer of the face, we’re not interested. Get back to work! Sadly, Polly has confirmed the rumour. One of the very few notes the Atos doctor wrote was “No obvious external signs of generalised systemic disease found”. Because for most people, their intestines are an external organ… we suddenly seem to have forgotten the past 150 years of medical and social progress, and are instead guessing whether someone is ill based on whether they can raise their arms, and walk five metres. (Those are genuinely the only two physical tests Polly’s Atos doctor used to see if she was disabled.)
Note, as Zoe Williams and others have forcefully argued, the fact that it’s Atos conducting these assessments shouldn’t lead us to think that this is their fault. There is, hopefully, a special place in hell reserved for those doing such dirty work, but Atos are employed by the UK government, using assessment criteria the government has devised.