A local man unable to hold-down a job because he suffers from bouts of severe clinical depression has told the3towns how a private company employed by the Tory-Lib Dem UK Government has over-ruled his doctor and told him he is fit for work.
French company ATOS Origin has been awarded a £300million contract by the Westminster Government, with the target of reducing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments by £2.5billion. EAS is paid to those whose ability to work is limited by ill health or disability.
Said the Three Towns’ resident, “At times I can’t leave my flat. I can’t face the world. I just withdraw. It’s a struggle to get through the day. When things get really bad, I often think of just ending it.”
Despite his condition, for which he receives medication prescribed by his doctor, a ‘disability analyst’ employed by ATOS Origin has passed him fit for work after conducting a computer-based, automated assessment.
The local man said, “I got a letter telling me I was being transferred onto Jobseekers Allowance and that I had to actively look for work or all benefits would be stopped.”
The man continued, “The letter also said I could appeal against the decision, but I couldn’t handle a situation like that. I couldn’t face trying to organize something like that, so I didn’t appeal. But a about a week later I got another letter from ATOS, which told me I had lost my appeal. How could I lose it when I never appealed?”
The local resident is now receiving assistance to fight the ATOS decision, but he is not alone in having a private, profit-driven company over-rule his doctor’s diagnosis. Local MP Katy Clark said, “I am being told of some horrific situations by constituents who are approaching me with concerns about Work Capability Assessments administered by ATOS.”
Ms Clark continued, “I have seen severely ill people being told they are found fit to work. Many are extremely worried when they are told that they can’t claim ESA and must go on to the lower Jobseekers Allowance and actively look for a job, which many are clearly not able to do.
“Many people who do appeal are successful, but of course some people don’t do that as they don’t realise they might well be successful. The cost of the appeals process is estimated to be in the region of £50m a year.”
A recent review of Work Capability Assessments – the Harrington Review – made a number of criticisms related to the automated tests. Said Katy Clark, “I am encouraged that some progress has been made in relation to recommendations in the Harrington Review, but unfortunately a scathing report by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select committee, published in July, still expressed deep concerns about the ATOS test.”
Ms Clark urged any constituents experiencing problems with ATOS or with claims for ESA to contact her at her constituency office on 01505 684127.