THE LONDON Borough of Islington has become the first council in Britain to pass a vote of “No Confidence” in the private health firm responsible for assessing sick and disabled benefit claimants on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Islington Council says that benefit assessments, carried out by French firm Atos Healthcare, cause unnecessary suffering to thousands of sick and disabled people and that Atos make far too many mistakes when assessing those people’s benefit eligibility.
The vote comes in response to a report from a council scrutiny committee which claims that as many as 8,000 local disabled people could have their benefits cut when they are migrated away from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to the new benefit for disabled people, Personal Independence Payment (PIP).
However, it will now be introduced at the discretion of the department "in a more gradual, controlled and manageable way" starting in Wales, East Anglia and the Midlands.
Disabled people will be required to undergo face-to-face assessments and Atos is one of the private companies contracted by the DWP to help determine eligibility for the new disability benefit.
DLA and its replacement PIP are seen by many as vital financial support which will allow disabled people to retain their independence and obtain access to disabled persons support services.
Both DLA and the new PIP is available to disabled people both in and out of work and for many they could mean the difference between holding on to a job or joining millions of others on the dole.
Islington Council has helped a number of local people appeal against Atos benefit assessments with a staggering success rate of 90 per cent. It is this which has prompted concerns from Council leaders over Atos’s ability to fairly and accurately carry out assessments on disabled people for the new disability benefit PIP.
Cllr Richard Watts, leader of the Islington Council, told the Islington Gazette:
“Disabled residents deserve far better than this over-reliance on dangerously simplistic computer questionnaires. Atos’s performance in Islington has been shocking and we are telling the Government we no longer have any confidence in them.”
Rachel Geffen, who is the chief executive of Disability Action In Islington (DAII) said: “Atos is a disability denial factory. Evidence from disability campaigners is that people are trapped in poverty caused by withdrawal of benefits they are entitled to and rely on.
“The worry and stress of these assessments further impacts on disabled people’s mental health and national campaign organisations report an increase of suicides as a result.
“The aim of the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos is to force deaf and disabled people into a labour market with already high unemployment rates, whether they are ready for work or not. The Work Capability Assessment is deeply flawed and has to stop.”
Meanwhile a woman with cerebral palsy (CP) has been told she may lose her Employment Support Allowance as an Atos assessment deemed her disability "would be expected to improve".
Despite having the life-long, debilitating and incurable condition, Amy Jones can now expect to undergo reassessment every six months.
She said: "It's ridiculous. I've had six surgeries in my life, four in the past three years to get rid of these contractions that I get.
"It even says in black and white in my medical reports from the hospital that my CP is becoming increasingly disabling.
"There is nothing in my reports to suggest that my CP is improving or becoming less painful or anything like that."
Jones is paralysed in her left arm and has deformities in her legs that make walking painful and incredibly tiring. As well as surgery she also has botox injections every six months to relieve excruciating muscle contractions.
She requires constant assistance from friends and family for "all aspects of daily living".