The Canteen Culture of the Company Employed by Government to Throw the Disabled off Benefits
What a treasure Anthony Treasure is. Treasure is an Administrator for ATOS Healthcare. You know those oh so sensitive souls who run the Government’s testing of Incapacity Benefit claimants and soon those claiming Disability Living Allowance.
There is no PR buff from this buffoon. Nothing about treating ‘customers’ in the a caring and kind way. Treasure calls disabled claimants ‘parasitic wankers’. Not that he is the only one to do this. One Debbie Carr, an assessor in Middlesborough complained about having to work with 'down and outs'.
This is of course very odd because I would have thought ATOS, whose only role is to remove IB and DLA from as many people as possible and who use a computer system that is programmed to disbelieve claimants and its doctors, 12 of whom who are under investigation, best qualify for the description of parasitic wankers. After all they receive over £100m a year of taxpayers money for what is no more than legalised fraud and deception. They have been criticised repeatedly by disabled organisations and even the Parliamentary Select Committee on Work & Pensions, which has supported throughout the Government’s attempts to slash disability benefits has had this to say in their Report The role of incapacity benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment - Work and Pensions Committee. In Section 3, The Work Capability Assessment—claimants' experience and Atos Healthcare they write:
53. Evidence suggests that many people have experienced problems with the call-centre service. In one extreme case it took 135 telephone calls to get through to Atos.People we spoke to at our open meeting in Burnley told of similar experiences. Lisa Coleman of Atos acknowledged that the call-centres had experienced significant problems a year ago, which were due to technical problems. ...
54. Sue Royston from CAB suggested that claimants had found the appointment booking process inflexible and had found it difficult to arrange a convenient appointment time. She told us that Atos call-centre staff work to a rigid script and that claimants tend to be told, "You must come along because otherwise you might lose your benefit." In the section Over-booking of appointments Atos
56. Atos told us that it routinely overbooks appointments for the WCA by about 20% (although this varies between assessment centres).... We asked Atos whether this overbooking resulted in clients sometimes being turned away without being seen. Lisa Coleman told us:
‘It does happen. I am not going to say it does not. We do have a waiting time of less than 10 minutes, and we do try to manage within that time. But we also try to make sure the customers have the appropriate time within the assessment.
Note how claimants called for interview under threat of being sanctioned are called ‘customers’. A better example of doublethink would be hard to find. In the section "Failure to attend" and sanctioning’ we learn that:
59. Sanctions are imposed by Jobcentre Plus on claimants who do not comply with the requirement to attend a WCA, known as "failure to attend", in the same way as they are applied in other parts of the benefit system. Sanctions can include stopping benefit payments. Witnesses were concerned that claimants were being sanctioned for "failure to attend" their WCA when it was not, in fact, a failure on their part. Atos told us that they do not routinely follow up non-attendance with the claimant to establish the reasons for it; they pass the information about non-attendance back to JCP, whose role it is to establish the reason.
60. Oxford Welfare Rights believed that it was unlikely that significant numbers of people would wilfully not attend their WCA. It argued that sanctioning in these circumstances could have serious implications for claimants:
Whilst there is some protection within the "good cause" provision, in practice there are long delays in the determination of good cause by decision-makers. This means claimants are left without benefit for considerable periods. If good cause is not accepted there will be a further delay while a new claim for ESA (or JSA) is made and processed and a new date for a WCA is set. Frequently claimants in this situation are left reliant on Crisis Loans for income....
The scumbags even sanction claimants who turn up for their appointment but are turned away because of overbooking. The Committee reported that:
62. Karen Foulds (Atos PR) was clear that sanctioning of people who turned up for their WCA but were subsequently turned away without being seen "categorically should not happen". The Minister believed that it was a rare occurrence but that, where it had happened, it was "unacceptable" and that if it were found to be happening on a significant scale it would require "process changes".
63. Instances have occurred where vulnerable claimants have had their benefit stopped as a sanction for non-attendance at a WCA appointment when the non-attendance arose because of administrative errors on the part of Atos or JCP, or because the claimant was too ill to attend but was unable to get in touch with Atos to inform them of this. We agree with the Minister that this is unacceptable. We recommend that DWP and Atos Healthcare jointly review the processes for recording non-attendance and change them where necessary to ensure that claimants are not sanctioned for "failure to attend" when the failure is on the part of Atos Healthcare and/or Jobcentre Plus.
64. Evidence from the trials of IB reassessment in Aberdeen and Burnley suggests that the reason for non-attendance at WCAs is rarely wilful non-compliance on the part of the claimant. The recent DWP research paper on the trials found that "there was very little evidence of active or deliberate non-cooperation". It concluded that the reason for non-attendance was most often "general confusion and inability to cope with the process". Others were unable to attend due to their fluctuating condition:
These customers had intended to go to the WCA and had generally planned for it; having a variable or unpredictable condition they stressed that the appointment had simply caught them on a "bad day". These customers expressed a clear intention to attend their WCA appointment if at all possible.
In other words non-attendance is a consequences of the person’s illness, so they are being sanctioned by the DWP/JCP for being ill effectively. Perhaps if Members of Parliament were sanctioned for not turning up to debates it might concentrate their minds. The Report continues:
65. Administrative error on the part of Atos or JCP was also sometimes to blame. The DWP paper reports that some customers who had their WCA appointment cancelled by Atos "were sometimes marked as having failed to attend this appointment. These customers were keen to comply with the process: all intended to attend their rescheduled appointment".
And in the section ‘Atos assessment centres’ we learn that there are no disabled access facilities at many centres. And quite understandably of course, because they are set up on the basis that the disabled are just shamming anyway. The Committee notes that:
67. Several witnesses complained about the inadequacy of Atos assessment centres in meeting specific needs arising from their health condition or disability. One witness, a wheelchair user, described his experience:
The building is an old office block on a busy road junction halfway up a very steep hill. It is not on any bus route and there is no parking of any sort. The nearest car park is about half a mile away. To gain access to the building you have to ring a door bell to be let in. The only problem is that the door is at the bottom of a flight of steep concrete steps with no ramp. My carer had to leave me on the pavement to let them know I was there and we were redirected to another door to enter the building. Once in the building my carer had to fight the wheelchair past various tables, chairs and plants, through three sets of doors and down a narrow corridor with two sharp turns. The really big problem though was when I had to enter the actual examination room. The doorway was so narrow my wheelchair would not actually fit through. Surely at least Atos should be made to make the buildings they use easily accessible to all.
At our public meeting in Burnley in March several people echoed this dissatisfaction and it was clear that this is not just an issue which affects wheelchair users. Cases were reported where reasonable adjustments to accommodate particular conditions were refused, such as a choice of chairs being offered, or lighting being adapted. People at the meeting told us that when they had made requests for adjustments they had been told that they were "asking for too much".
68. DWP told us that the majority of assessment centres are on the ground floor and that, where centres are not located on the ground floor, "prior to a customer being called to an assessment, efforts are made to identify customers who may have problems in evacuating via the stairs during an emergency". These customers are offered an appointment at the nearest ground floor centre or a home visit but: "Inevitably however, some customers in this category are not identified and still attend the centre."
Again, despite Atos’s PR speak, the Select Committee found that:
71. It is unacceptable that disabled people should be called to attend an assessment at a centre which is inappropriately located, inaccessible to them or where reasonable adjustments cannot be made to accommodate special requirements arising from their health condition.
In the section on ‘The assessment’ the Committee found that:
72. Many witnesses highlighted concerns about the assessment process itself. Professor Paul Gregg of the University of Bristol believed that claimants go to the WCA expecting to "present information about their illness and be tested against their perception of that illness". Instead, they experience what they perceive as a "tick-box" process. He described this as a "profound disconnect" between what claimants expect and what they actually experience.
73. This disconnect between claimant expectation and the reality of the experience is borne out by evidence we received from disability organisations and a number of individuals. Evidence from Citizens Advice Scotland sums up the typical concerns about the WCA that many witnesses have told us about:
- The WCA is often rushed, and can last just 20 minutes, leaving claimants with the impression that they have not been properly assessed.
- The yes/no format of the assessment is too narrow, leaving little opportunity for the client to explain their condition.
- The health care professionals often fail to listen or interact with the client, which can lead to mistakes and a failure to properly assess conditions.
74. One witness who wrote to us had a mental health condition and had experienced two WCAs. She felt she was prevented from explaining her circumstances more fully during the WCA: "I would have appreciated it if she [the Atos assessor] had taken her time more and let me put more time in to my answers so she could get a better picture." She also expressed frustration at not being able to present documentary evidence to back up her answers.
76. Most of the submissions we received from individuals were from claimants who were dissatisfied with the WCA process and who did not believe that they had been accurately assessed. The Minister asked us to bear in mind that much of the evidence submitted to us related to assessments carried out prior to implementation of the two sets of review recommendations and experience from the Aberdeen and Burnley trials. We fully acknowledge this fact. However, we believe that there is no room for complacency and we have identified a number of areas where further improvement is required.
Under the section concerned with Atos’s fraudulent LiMA computer system the Select Committee found that:
77. Atos healthcare professionals (HCPs) use a computer system, the Logic Integrated Medical Assessment (LiMA), to enter information as they go through an individual's WCA. LiMA records the responses claimants give at the assessment and builds a final report for each claimant, which is then passed on to the JCP decision-maker (DM). LiMA helps the Atos assessor focus on particular descriptors and obtain and record evidence in a relatively short space of time. It uses stock phrases such as "can load washing machine (front loading)" that can be input into the system quickly.
78. DWP stated that LiMA was designed to "improve and ensure consistency and quality of the reports [...] It serves as a guide only and the healthcare professionals are required to use their own clinical judgement to justify the medical opinion contained in the medical report." However, many witnesses complained of an over-reliance on the part of Atos HCPs on the LiMA IT system and therefore a perceived lack of human contact in the process. One person, a carer for a disabled relative, described Atos HCPs as "computer-driven operatives"; another individual, who had been through the WCA process twice, told us that "the whole thing is done via a computer program".
79. In his first annual independent review of the WCA (considered in more detail below), Professor Harrington was critical of the LiMA computer system, calling it "not very intuitive". He also found that Atos HCPs were over-reliant on the system, despite the existence of guidance that warns against this:
The Atos Training and Development handbook encourages their HCPs to use open questioning and not to rely on the LiMA system, but in evidence to this review, this seems to be uncommonly invoked in practice....
In the Section ‘The DWP contract with Atos Healthcare’ we learn that:
83. The 2005 contract was for £100 million per annum, which includes "the total number of examinations undertaken across all benefits and also includes costs relating to written and verbal medical advice, fixed overheads, administrative costs, investment in new technology and other service improvements". DWP has reported that the total amount paid to Atos Healthcare by DWP "for the scrutiny, face to face and work focused health related assessment reports" was £1.7 million for 2008-09 and £24.4 million in 2009-10. These figures do not include costs relating to fixed overheads, administrative costs, investment in new technology and other service improvements.
The Commitee stated that: (Para. 86) ‘We were aware of considerable public suspicion that payments to Atos Healthcare are made on the basis of the outcomes of WCAs. Some claimants clearly believe that Atos healthcare professionals (HCPs) are encouraged through targets within the DWP contract to find people fit for work. DWP has made clear that this is not the case:"
But of course Atos doesn’t need to have anything in its contract to this effect. The whole purpose for which they were hired was to reduce the number of those claiming Incapacity Benefit. There was a mutual understand that they were required to ensure that the government recouped its £100m and more by moving claimants onto ESA/JSA.
Under Monitoring quality the Committee observed that (Para 89) the ‘DWP was not able to tell us in oral evidence what proportion of Atos reports had been sent back by JCP decision-makers but in subsequent written evidence informed us that this was only 0.22%.’ Such a low percentage would seem to indicate that this aspect of DWP quality control over Atos's service is not functioning as it should. It also reinforces Professor Harrington's point, discussed in Chapter 5, that decision-makers rarely question the advice provided by Atos.
It is little wonder therefore that away from the rarefied world of Parliamentary scoundrels that Atos employees have been giving vent to their real feelings. In an article by Kathleen Hall of 17th August in Computer Weekly Atos employees to be investigated over Facebook remarks about disability benefit applicants we learn that claimants are termed ‘parasitic wankers’. There can be no doubt that this is part of the ‘canteen culture’ of Atos.
Atos Healthcare, a division of IT services firm Atos Origin, is sub-contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out re-assessments on 1.5 million people claiming sickness and disability benefits.
The incident follows a critical report from a House of Commons Select Committee which found that tens of thousands of sick and disabled people had been wrongly declared "fit for work" by the French-owned outsourcing company. Appeals are estimated to cost the taxpayer around £50m a year, said MPs.
A spokeswoman from Atos confirmed the company was investigating one administrative worker and one nurse alleged to have made the inappropriate remarks on Facebook.
Disability rights activists have called for the immediate dismissal of the nurse who is alleged to have repeatedly referred to the people she assessed as "down and outs".
Sasha Callaghan from disability campaign group the Black Triangle said: "This just goes to show how the assessment regime [at Atos] has managed to thoroughly de-sensitise those who work in it from the consequences of their actions."
In a written statement Atos said: "Atos Healthcare is committed to providing a high quality, professional service to the DWP and expects the same of all its employees. Where it is found that these standards are not adhered to, this is taken very seriously and appropriate disciplinary action taken."
In November 2010 Computer Weekly's Inside Outsourcing blog reported that disability rights campaigners believed many people have wrongly had their benefits cut because of the system that Atos uses when assessing them.
Exclusive: Private firm threatens legal action
Private giant Atos Healthcare is threatening legal action against a disabled man who set up a website collecting people's experiences of "fit for work" assessments.
Profit-hungry Atos is currently paid £100 million a year of public money to carry out work capability assessments to determine whether those in receipt of employment support allowance, previously incapacity benefit, are "fit for work."
Paul Smith, who suffers a range of physical and mental conditions including fibromyalgia, chronic pain syndrome, foot neuropathy, depression and hypertension, set up the website in response to the government's attack on disabled people's benefits.
"Lives are being destroyed by this government's policy on disability benefits. This process is destroying the lives of thousands of people who are genuinly entitled to benefits," he told the Morning Star today.
"People are losing their homes, going hungry, going cold, seriously ill and disabled people are suffering because of this and past governments' eugenics-driven ideology."
But James Loughrey of Atos legal department said in a letter to Mr Smith that his website was libellous to the company.
It said: "In particular we draw your attention to Atos Register of Shame which is purporting to be a register of health-care professional employees who have allegedly performed substandard medical assessments.
"This is a direct attack on Atos and the name of the website in and of itself is implying that Atos carries on its business in a manner which is shameful.
"This statement is inaccurate and unsupportable and should be removed immediately. In the meantime we reserve all our legal rights against you and the speed of your response will determine the next steps with regard to this matter."
The website has now been removed with a statement from Mr Smith urging people to continue sending him their personal accounts as he is still collecting them and will not be intimidated by Atos and DWP "bullying" tactics.
It followed reports that 12 doctors employed by Atos to assess people claiming disability benefit are being investigated over allegations of improper conduct by the General Medical Council.
MPs also criticised the "fit for work" assessment last month for subjecting vulnerable people to "fear and anxiety."
A spokesman for Atos said: "While we cannot comment on individual cases, any complaint made about an employee is taken extremely seriously."
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Also see an article on how the unemployed are being made to work for nothing for multinationals like Tescos and Primark.