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Paralympics Sponsor Atos Hits Back At Disability Protesters

BRITAIN: Paralympics sponsor Atos is facing a disability protest this week over its role in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work

On by Tom Jowitt 6

Paralympics sponsor and IT services giant Atos Origin is facing a growing protest from disability groups this week over its role in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work.

According to the Guardian, the campaign is being led by the group Disabled People Against Cuts, which plans to deliver a coffin full of complaints to Atos on Wednesday.

Disability Row

The row centres over the role of Atos in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work and who is genuinely disabled under the terms of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Atos was awarded the contract by Labour in 2008, reportedly worth £112m annually to the IT services giant.

According to the Guardian, in the past financial year Atos has conducted about 738,000 work capability assessments on benefit claimants. The newspaper said 40 percent of people appeal against the decisions, with 38 percent of those successful. The cost to the taxpayer of the tribunal system is £50m, around half of the amount spent on reassessment.

The protesters claim that approximately 1,100 people died last year, after failing the test for the new incapacity benefit.

The newspaper also reported that Atos currently has £3bn worth of government contracts. In January, it signed a £74m contract with the Department for Health.

Ongoing Issue

Atos was one of the first services companies to sign a new “memorandum of understanding” with the government, when Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude redesigned Labour contracts he considered too favourable in 2010.

But the company has been dogged for a while now about its handling of the incapacity benefit application system. A government report last July called the system “flawed”, and protesters say this has been proven by the high number of appeals and the high success rate of applicants.

Atos also did little to endear itself in August 2011 when in response to criticism it issued legal threats against the websites and forums that described patients’ unpleasant experiences of the assessment process, accusing them of libel.

Atos Statement

Atos has pointed out that it does not define policy and it does not make decisions on individuals’ entitlement to benefit. It only carries out ‘Work Capability Assessments’ (WCAs) in line with the policy and guidelines laid down by the government.

The company also said it carries out 15,000 face-to-face WCAs each week, and pointed out that in his second review, Professor Harrington found Atos to be giving a “high standard of service”.

It said a successful appeal does not necessarily mean the Work Capability Assessment was not accurate, as often supplementary evidence is provided at the appeal.

“We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue,” an Atos spokesperson told TechWeekEurope by email.

“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure that the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.”

And the company stood by its support for the Paralympics Games, saying it had supported the Paralympics movement for a long time now.

“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympics Movement for a decade. We hope people will view the Games, as we do, as an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievement.”

Euro Story: each week, we publish a selected story from across  NetMEdiaEurope’s network of European sites. This week’s story by Max Smolaks  Kai Schmerer is from TechWeekEurope UK .

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6 replies to Paralympics Sponsor Atos Hits Back At Disability Protesters

  • On August 29, 2012 at 3:08 pm by Kay Fabe

    “It said a successful appeal does not necessarily mean the Work Capability Assessment was not accurate, as often supplementary evidence is provided at the appeal.”

    By their own admission, then, not all successful appeals are provided with supplementary evidence. What’s their excuse for getting those others wrong then? Would Atos care to give us a breakdown of how many appeals succeed as a result of supplementary evidence being presented as opposed to just being plain wrong and if not why not?

    Further, would Atos care to explain why so many of their assessors, according to extensive anecdotal evidence, use the technique known as close-ended questioning in assessments which by careful phrasing of the question can be used to create a completely false picture of the health of the assessed? For instance, why ask “Do you make your own bed?” in which case an answer of ‘Yes’ might disguise all manner of painful difficulties in bending over, manipulation of the sheets etc. as opposed to asking “Can you describe any difficulties you have making a bed?” which would invite discussion and exposure of those difficulties unless the intention is specifically to avoid all mention of the kind of difficulties disabled people routinely have in their everyday lives so they mey be wrongly presented as being perfectly capable when in reality they’re anything but? Further again, don’t doctors and other medical professionals have a professional obligation not to misrepresent the health of their patients or those in their care as claimants undoubtedly are during assessments? Isn’t using close-ended questioning to deliberately draw inaccurate and misleading answers from claimants a breach of that obligation? Do the Atos assessors develop these techniques themselves or is it part of the Atos training? If so, how can it possibly be justified?

    • On August 29, 2012 at 7:21 pm by Trevor Nunn

      I accompanied a friend to an assessment. When they were called into the room I noted the time, when they left the room I noted the time. Total time in the interview room 12 minutes. Appeal documents state they were in the room for 31 minutes. A blatant lie!

  • On August 31, 2012 at 10:21 pm by D Jones

    Professor Harrington found Atos to be giving a “high standard of service”.
    This is a blatant lie, one of many by this company.
    30th july 2012
    Professor Malcolm Harrington has called for a big overhaul of the process of testing claimants’ ability to work to make it more “fair and humane”.

  • On August 31, 2012 at 11:39 pm by Yes, Minister

    In the Netherlands the train company (NS) deported Jews during WWII. After the war they apologized for this.

    Whose putting a gun to the head of Atos though to do these assessments?

    That’s right, nobody.

    So, all their marketing speak about being innocent: at the end of the day they are still making millions of pounds. For what? It’s an absolute outrage and poor judgment that the Paralympic committee allowed this to happen. They should step down.

    Many people have trained hard for the Paralympics. It hurts to see it be going through this.

    Cannot imagine doing business with Atos, or any similar company any time soon. Not at this rate. Nor should anybody with a moral fiber in their body. This company deserves to be boycotted, and brought to a court for their role in this.

    Our hearts and support are with the people suffering in Great Britain, as well as with the athletes.

    It is a shock to read that this can happen in a country such as GB. It truly is. One can do nothing else, but condemn it. This is nothing short of a humanitarian disaster, and flagrant breaking of civil rights.

    Wishing hope for a better and brighter future.
    Nothing about us without us.
    Our thoughts and prayers are with you.

  • On September 2, 2012 at 1:57 am by Lindsay

    I bet atos and the Government love that they can use the paralymics as a way of making disabled people not qualify for any benefits because a few people have proved they can run, swim, do gymnastics etc with disability. Just another way to remove their duty of care and save a few lousy quid.

    • On September 4, 2012 at 8:49 am by stefan white

      in america atos was fined 23,000,000 dollars in 2005 and ordered to reopen 300,000 denied applications then again in 2005 they were fined 7,000,000 dollars and declared an outlaw company,but for some unknown reason this idioctic goverment does not investigate atos.last week the british medical assosiaton asked for the work assesment program to be scrapped straight away but the goverment does not even listen to them.HOW CAN THIS TERRIBLE COMPANY BE ALLOWED TO CONTINUE……….HOW CAN THIS IDIOCTIC GOVERMENT BE ALLOWEDE TO CONTINUE,,,,,DID ANYBODY SEE THAT LOOK ON THE CHANCELLERS FACE WHEN HE WAS BOOD AT THE OLYMPICS ,IF THAT IS NOT A FACE OF A GUILTY OR CORRUPT MAN I DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS,I WONDER IF SMARMY FACE CAMERON GETS UP AT GAMES SRELLY THAT MUST BE GOING TO BE THE LOWDEST BOO IN HISTORY.THEY ARE NOW ABOUT TO BRING OUT STRICTER SANCTIONS ON THE DISABLED HOW CAN THIS GET ANY WORSE,,,,,,ALL I CAN SAY IS SCUM

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