Tuesday 10 June 2014

Atos Put the Boot Into Disabled People Yet Again

The appearance of Atos's senior vice president Lisa Coleman before the Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee seems to have been the key for the reviled (and redundant) multinational to try and salvage some of its destroyed reputation, and yet again it has chosen to do this by attacking disabled people.

The full story can be read in this BBC report: "Atos was 'lightning rod' for anger over benefit changes" and here in the Guardian "Disability claims system needs to change, Atos tells MPs"

Sue Marsh has a slightly more positive interpretation on her blog, but I'm not so certain anything has changed at the heart of Atos (as bizarre as Atos having a heart may seem).

In parallel with Coleman's appearance before the Select Committee, which included the usual attempt to blame DWP decision makers for the failures, no matter that the decision makers have been shown repeatedly to go with the Atos report 9 times out of 10; the Atos propaganda machine, in the person of Helen Hall, the firm's 'head of communications and customer relations', was busy insisting to the media that fully 1 in 4 of their assessors had quit due to 'abuse' - by which I presume they mean having the reality of the impact on disabled people of the policies they were implementing pointed out to them by the disability movement as a whole. If pointing out the sheer, unbelievable stupidity of some of the Atos decisions ranks as 'abuse', then count me an abuser and proud of it!

Hall also declared "They are professional trained people," she said. "They care about the job they do. ... The level of intimidation, the level of negative coverage about professional people..." As it happens I'm a professional person too, the law of the land holds me to a higher level of competence and behaviour in the exercise of my professional abilities than it does the proverbial 'man on the Clapham Omnibus' (yes, case law really says that). In terms of professional behaviour the Atos staff I dealt with weren't even on the omnibus - they were the Keystone Kops chasing along in its wake! If I had behaved in a similar - openly abusive - manner towards a customer, or demonstrated similar incompetence, then I could reasonably have expected to be summarily dismissed for gross misconduct by my employer, and not dealing with me would have landed my employers in huge problems with the government agencies that license them to undertake safety-critical work. Yet, as we've seen for five years now, Atos has been in continuous denial that there was any problem whatsoever, because they knew that, no matter how many disabled people suffered under ludicrous decisions, they were doing what their regulator, the Department of Work and Pensions, really wanted.

Let's recall for a moment what these 'professional people' have accomplished. There was the Atos doctor who engaged in homophobic tirades, there was the Atos nurse-assessor caught vilely denigrating those she was supposed to be assessing on Facebook, there were the Atos doctors who fell ever so slightly short of having sufficient English skills to do the work, the Atos doctors who proclaimed life-long illnesses such as Cerebral Palsy would be cured in six months, and there were the Atos doctors by the score who reported facts that were dismissed at Tribunal as having not even tangential relationship to the assessments actually undertaken or the medical facts of the case in hand. Ultimately, every Atos doctor, nurse and physio who agreed to work in an Atos centre without sufficient attention paid to access needs (pretty much all of them), while carrying out a Work Capability Test that by design misleads and misdirects the patient, denying them the opportunity for informed consent required as part of their oath, was telling medical ethics to take a hike, because there was money in this. When the governing body of doctors found it necessary to issue a reminder to doctors conducting the WCA that basic honesty is a professional requirement, then maybe, just maybe the standards of professionalism at Atos needed a serious looking at. But again, that lack of professionalism was generating exactly the results that DWP wanted, and what DWP wanted, Atos management was on a crusade to deliver, even if it meant their staff lived in fear of assigning one person too many to WRAG or Support Group (and god forbid deciding someone had a long-term problem, because that would deny Atos the fees for the repeat assessments every six months).

Hall also stated that publicising the issues around Atos mean that people "might come into that assessment feeling that the assessor they are going to see is someone who will treat them with contempt, who can't be trusted, who isn't trained". Now given the number of people I've seen reporting that they had to explain to their assessor just what their disability actually involved, because the assessor had never heard of it, not to mention Professor Harrington's conclusions that there were major problems with Atos's assumption that physiotherapists were capable of assessing complex mental health issues, I think the inadequate training point was rather clearly proven. With regard to the being 'treated with contempt' and whether or not they can be trusted, I can testify to that one personally, with my assessment opening with a statement from the Atos quack that I shouldn't believe everything I had heard on the Net, rapidly followed by him showing that everything I'd heard on the Net was not only absolutely true, but possibly understated, and then reaching a high point of trust, or the lack of it, with him actively resisting recording a fact that qualified me for WRAG in its own right, never mind in conjunction with other factors.

She also complained "What we have seen quite often now is people coming in for an assessment and they are actually saying at the end of it 'you've just been recorded on my iPhone and I am going to expose you on the internet'." Possibly they wouldn't have faced that problem if the system put in place to allow recording of interviews had had slightly more than 20 recorders for the whole country, only a fraction of which ever worked, and if Atos assessments hadn't been found to be wildly variant from reality in quite so many Tribunal cases. I passed my WCA (probably because the doctor panicked on eventually realising just how much physical distress I was in - I think it was the moment I told him I had to either stand-up, or throw-up), yet I was so traumatized by it I dropped my claim rather than go through it again. But if I ever do go through WCA again, then damn straight I would insist on recording it, because having to browbeat the assessor into recording the most fundamental facts of my disability tells me that the process cannot be trusted.

Yet again Atos have found themselves faced by a moral choice - admit that the implementation of the WCA is impossibly flawed and align themselves with its victims, or attack those victims - and have chosen to try and portray themselves as the victims and the victims as the abusers. It's classic bullying behaviour, straight out of the Bullying for Dummies playbook, and tells us that everything we believe of Atos is absolutely true.

Monday 2 June 2014

He Who Must Not Be Named and National Insurance

Concerned that they hadn't put him on our screens for more than 30 minutes; the BBC decided it was vital that they put He Who Must Not Be Named on The Andrew Marr Show yesterday.

I'm calling him that because clearly the constant attention he's getting is giving his party a huge boost in the polls, despite most of the press about it being negative. You can point out that they're homophobic, racist, misogynist, Islamophobic, and all the other -isms and -phobics. Not to mention elephant-haters. But He manages to brush it all aside with a photo call in a pub. They say there's no such thing as bad publicity, and it's clearly true. The more racism and homophobia allegations arose; the higher their poll ratings went.

He's previously distanced himself from the party's 2010 manifesto. A manifesto which said they wanted to drop the rate of Incapacity Benefit/ESA to the same rate as JobSeekers Allowance, and claimed that Disability Living Allowance was an out-of-work benefit for people too ill to work.

But yesterday He defended one point in the manifesto (though admitted it was badly explained 4 years ago): He said that they still want to abolish the National Insurance scheme.

I think all disabled people have had incidents in recent years where we've been on the receiving end of hate crime - or at least harassment - for being "scroungers". Like Pippa's experience of being targeted in the street for walking with a crutch.

National Insurance is the one reason I can look harassers in the eye and confidently say "when I could work I paid my National Insurance premiums. I paid into an insurance scheme so I would be protected if I ever became too ill to work."

National Insurance was a bloody brilliant idea. And it's such a simple plan. You pay into the scheme straight out of your wages so you're looked after both in your old age, and during your working life if you ever become unemployed or too ill to work.

National Insurance gives me a bit of dignity. When other people call me "a burden on the taxpayer," or my inner monologue tells me that I'm "a waste of taxpayers' money" (though it's not just my inner monologue that's called me that); I can tell them (or myself) "I paid into an insurance scheme and now I'm claiming back. It's how insurance works." When Radio 5Live put me up against that rentagob Hopkins who was banging on about how people should use private insurance schemes rather than scrounging taxpayers' money, I could screech over her "I paid for insurance! It's called 'National Insurance' for a reason!"

Now The Party Which Must Not Be Named wants to take that last shred of dignity from me. The party which got the most votes in the election a week and a half ago.

And it really is my last shred of dignity. I'm constantly ashamed of not being able to work. I can't even go to the emergency dentist to get a broken filling fixed without the humiliation of having to say "nothing" in response to the question "what do you do for a living?"

It's not just a matter of pride or shame. There's the practicalities too. What's going to happen to contributory ESA and JSA? Will they only offer means tested benefits for the ill and out-of-work? What about those who've worked and saved for thirty years when they get diagnosed with cancer? Will they no longer be eligible for ESA because they've got too much money for the means test?

Given that they've gotten more promotion than all the other parties combined for the pending Newark by-election; I wouldn't be at all surprised if they've got their first seat in the House of Commons in a couple of weeks. And given how popular they were on May 22nd; I wouldn't be at all surprised if they've got enough seats this time next year to forge a coalition with the Tories. (Because, let's face it, the Lib Dems will be lucky if they've got 10 MPs left. They won't be the Kingmakers next time if it's a hung Parliament.)

I really didn't think it would be possible to be any crueller than the Tories and be popular enough to win elections. Looks like I was wrong.