|Stress: James worries how he will pay bills|
|David Groves - Killed by ATOS|
The disability benefit fiasco continues, with the seriously ill and disabled wrongly denied essential help.
Yes, the system needs to change. Those milking it and living off handouts because they can’t be bothered to do a day’s work should be stopped.
But the reality is that the assessment brought in by the Government to achieve this simply isn’t working.
Instead, hard-working people who have paid their way, many grafting for decades and paying National Insurance in the belief this would protect them if they became too ill to work, are losing the help they desperately need at the crucial time when they are struggling with serious ill health.
Former delivery worker James Grindle is one. He is in pain, confused and worried about how he and wife Susan will keep up with their bills as his Employment Support Allowance has been stopped. James has been suffering stomach and bladder pains for more than a year and has had an operation on his prostate.
He was deemed fit for work after an Atos assessment regarding his eligibility for ESA, despite losing his job after being deemed unfit to work after an Atos medical assessment for his previous employer.
James, 63, from Rotherham, says: “The first assessment lost me my job after saying I was unfit for work. Yet a few months later I was suddenly fit for work. How can that be?
“I am recovering from an operation so couldn’t go out to work at the moment, even if I could find someone who will take me on in my condition. I have done 48 years of hard graft and paid my way.
“I stupidly believed that would entitle me to a bit of help if I ever needed it. But now Susan and I are struggling on just her bit of money from the 25 hours a week she does. We are really worried how we will keep on top of things and manage to juggle our finances. The stress and worry is dreadful. It really isn’t doing anything to help me get stronger, which is what will be needed if the Government want me back into work.”
James is appealing against the decision with the help of his local Citizens Advice Bureau.
Annette Cassam, of Rotherham and District Citizens Advice, says: “This case raises many questions about how Atos assesses people for fitness for work.
“We accept the assessments were completed for different reasons but can’t understand how the same company can do two assessments on the same person and produce such contradictory results. Mr Grindle is understandably confused about his position. This needs to be looked into.”
James is just one of tens of thousands of people being refused benefits after they have gone through a Work Capability Assessment to find out if they are fit for work.
The assessment is part of the Government’s sweeping changes to the benefits system that are meant to make things simpler and fairer, to ensure that only those who are genuinely entitled get the help they need.
But huge numbers of the most vulnerable – those seriously ill and disabled – are being hit hard and left penniless.
Citizens Advice chief executive Gillian Guy said: “Sadly James is not an isolated case.
“We are seeing a lot of very sick and seriously disabled people being wrongly denied ESA and being put through enormous additional stress and hardship at a time when they most need support.
“In most cases they have worked and paid into the system all their lives – sometimes over three or four decades – believing this will protect them if they become too ill to work. They are feeling very betrayed and frightened for the future.”
CAB says it has serious concerns about the test used to decide if people are fit for work and the way it’s carried out. In too many cases medicals are rushed, people aren’t listened to, information is recorded inaccurately or ignored and medical evidence from the doctors treating people isn’t taken into account.
Gillian adds: “We wouldn’t allow a private contractor to let us down on the Olympics. We can’t allow one to let down disabled people.
“Mistakes by Atos have a human cost and a cost to the taxpayer. Getting medical assessments right first time is absolutely essential to making sure seriously ill and disabled people get the support they are entitled to and cutting the number of unnecessary appeals. Private companies on government contracts must be accountable to the public. We want to see Atos face a fine for every inaccurate report they produce.”
Atos were awarded the contract to carry out assessments from the Department for Work and Pensions in 1998 and have just had it renewed through to 2015.
They say they cannot comment on individual cases but the Work Capability Assessment is not to diagnose or treat a medical condition but instead to look at someone’s ability to work. A spokesman said: “We know applying for benefits can be an emotional and difficult time, which is why we do all we can to make the part of the process we’re responsible for as straightforward and comfortable as possible.
“We carry out all assessments within the criteria and policy guidelines set by the Government and do not make any decisions on benefit entitlement.
“The assessment by us forms an important but single part of information used by the department to make its decision on benefit entitlement.”
Fastest-growing problemCAB advisers helped with more than 97,000 ESA problems between January and March this year – up 71% compared with the same quarter last year, making ESA the fastest-growing advice issue seen in bureaux.
In the same period, CAB recorded an 82% increase in advice about appeals against ESA decisions. Latest official Department of Work and Pensions figures say 38% of appeals against ESA decisions are successful.
CAB advisers estimate the success rate at appeal, where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented, is 80%.