Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Atos hearings- a cruel charade

An acquaintance asked me to accompany him to a hearing as he was turned down for the disability benefit had been on for a number of years. Jim- not his real name- had worked for over 35 years before coming ill in the early years of the last decade. He suffers from heart disease and had bypass surgery. He had taken the work capability test organised by ATOS earlier in the year and had received zero points. Jim was in his 60s and was expecting to remain on invalidity benefit for the rest of his working years. He had been made redundant in his last job in 2004, in fact he told me that of the 9 factories he had worked in 8 had closed. He appealed and went to the local CAB they did not have enough advisers but told him that he had little chance of overturning the verdict anyway. Jim asked me to go along and speak on his behalf. We thought we would give it a go and I spent time with him so that we could put together a case. On reading the lengthy paper work from the DWP it was apparent that the Atos test was very limited. One test was an ability to carry an empty box- what sort of job required the worker just to carry just an empty cardboard box was not explored in the documentation.

Jim and I arrived early. We were met by a clerk who explained that the panel which comprised of two people was independent. In retrospect, it seemed to me that the panel slavishly adhered to the DWP regulations. From the chairman’s opening remarks it was quickly apparent that we stood no chance. There was a moment of farce when the chairman questioned Jim on his history of depression. Jim remarked that he never claimed to be depressed. A passage from Jim’s documents was read out to prove the contention and there was mention of a baby. Jim is a single man in his 60s. The comment about the “baby” let us open mouthed. The chairman corrected himself and acknowledged that he was looking at the wrong papers. That incident along with the inability of the chairman to correctly pronounce my surname made me question the professionalism of the Tribunal. The chairman and the doctor, who looked disinterested in the proceedings, will have received a hefty fee for their participation in this event; certainly we can assume it was way above the minimum wage. Atos will be paid a fee for reducing numbers of people on disability benefit.

As we expected the letter rejecting the appeal was received two days later and Jim is now stopped from receiving benefits for some months. He will receive JSA eventually and have to agree the stipulations implicated in receiving the allowance or risk sanctions. Jim is in his 60s is highly unlikely to find work given the state of the local economy and some indication of how desperate Job centres  are in suggesting employment for the mature job seeker can be evinced by the story I heard of a 60 plus job seeker being invited to become an e-bay trader. However the man had no computer and did not know how to use one.

This experience leaves me in no doubt that the Work Capability Assessment and Atos performance related involvement means that the whole exercise is a cruel charade. It does not offer the older disabled worker opportunity: it will inevitably lead to poverty and a likely early death