Atos, the French IT company responsible for disability benefits assessments in the UK, is back in the news again. Recently, Joyce Drummond, a nurse who used to work for them has apologised for her role in throwing genuinely sick people off benefits. Meanwhile a freedom of information request has revealed that over half of those who were denied benefits were left with no income at all.
Atos has faced increasing discontent over its handling of disability claims. It was roundly reviled at this summer’s London 2012 Paralympics. Not surprisingly the protesters were angry at seeing a company that causes many disabled people unnecessary hardship sponsoring the games. Indeed they’ve caused some people to commit suicide. In some cases people have died of cancer days after having been told that they’re fit for work.
There have been over 24000 complaints against Atos in Scotland alone. The company, which has a £110mn DWP contract to slash the disability benefits bill, has been facing increasing criticism over their use of loaded questions in the interview process and taking pretty much any sign of movement at all as ‘fitness for work’. Turning up to an interview properly dressed, or with a child, or even being able to sign your own name were seemingly taken as signs of ‘fitness for work’.
Whilst ‘fitness for work’ is tricky to define, the real issue here is the ‘fitness for purpose’ of Atos. Given the hardship and death that they are wrongly causing it seems quite easy to say ‘no they’re not’. But the alarming possibility is that Atos could just be following orders. That being the case, then it is the government that is not fit for purpose. Picking on the weak and vulnerable, and even indirectly killing its own citizens, to balance the books, whilst rewarding millionaires, including themselves.