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ATOS profits pile up while misery for disabled grows

At last, the big bucks to be made out of forcing disabled people through humiliating tests to cut their benefit are out in the open, thanks to detective work by a member of the Scottish parliament.

The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has consistently refused to publish details of its contracts with French IT firm ATOS who are pushing two million people through benefit cut tests, claiming commercial confidentiality.

Nevertheless, Kevin Stewart, member of the Edinburgh parliament for Aberdeen, made a demand under freedom of information to see papers relating to the ATOS contract for Scotland and northern England.

A risk assessment document produced by ATOS arrived in his in box with the figures removed as usual. But by transferring it into a different text format – bingo, the truth popped out.

And so it transpires that if ATOS can push 15% more people than their target through the humiliating and meaningless tests, their profits will soar to £40m on a £207m contract. Even if they fall 15% below target they will still make £28m.

The total value of ATOS UK-wide contracts is £400m. That suggests that they will make a profit of between £55m and £82m on the whole contract.

The ATOS profit of £82m alone would pay disability living allowance for more than 20,000 people a year. If you take the value of the whole contract, it could pay for 22,000 people for five years.

The government must be looking for a huge number of people to be forced off benefit, if the whole process is to be worthwhile. The DWP has always refused to put a figure on it, but campaigners believe the government wants to reduce by half the 3.2 million who currently receive the benefit.

So that’s the cost-benefit-risk analysis – which shows there is absolutely no risk at all for greedy ATOS. But what about the actual real-life costs:

More than 40% of appeals against ATOS rulings succeed, and when you look only at those who appealed with help from the Citizens Advice Bureau, that rises to a staggering 70%.

The decisions being made are beyond belief:

Aaron Moon lost his leg when a soldier in Afghanistan. He only just survived a massive number of injuries. Some days he can’t get his prosthetic limb on because it’ so painful. He’s deemed fit for work.

Colin Traynor was deemed fit for work. He had never been able to get a job because of his frequent epileptic seizures. His appeal was upheld, but by that time Colin had died from a massive seizure – his parents say his condition was exacerbated by stress.

From Facebook posts we find a man who this week is in hospital having treatment on his injured spine – and next week he will hear whether his appeal has been successful.

Another woman posts that she had her eighth heart attack on the way from the test centre to the taxi rank. During the test the doctor said the blood pressure machine must be broken, because “you look fine”. The women got home from hospital 10 days later to find she had been deemed fit for work and her benefits stopped.

Last year, 1,100 people who failed the test never managed to get a job because they died.

Remember it was a Labour government that replaced incapacity benefit and income support for new claimants with Employment Support Allowance in 2008. And Labour will continue the attack on welfare if it wins the next election.

Communities need to unite to defend people from these cruel tests. But the truth is that even a universal boycott – people refusing to go, DWP staff refusing to implement the decisions – will not prevent the government from forging ahead, though action on this issue by benefits and health professionals is long overdue.

We need to make a political change, to a democratic society where every citizen is supported to make the best of their life, to contribute what they can, and everyone receives enough of society’s shared resources to live well. Removing the power of vulture corporations like ATOS to profit from misery would be a crucial step towards this.

Penny Cole
4 October 2012

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