“Why aren’t you dead then?” This was the response of an Atos work capability assessor to an interviewee who said they had attempted suicide several times while suffering with depression.
Two undercover investigations by the Panorama and Dispatches programmes brought home the reality of its treatment of disabled people last week.
Ladonia Lowe has leukaemia. Last year she was told that her condition was terminal. She undergoes intravenous chemotherapy each week. Yet she is being hounded to undergo a face-to-face assessment, despite being bedridden.
Her husband says, “To harass a terminally ill patient when they have been contacted and told several times is completely unjustifiable and a disgrace.
“How can you possibly think that a terminally ill patient could be fit for work? It’s beyond belief.”
But this is exactly what these assessments do. Stephen Hill from Duckmanton in Dernyshire died of a heart attack one month after being told he was “fit to work”—even though he was waiting for major heart surgery.
The government has outsourced the benefit assessments to multinational IT firm Atos, which sponsors the Olympics and in particular the Paralympics.
Dispatches recorded one Atos trainer telling benefit assessors that losing a hand would not be enough to get benefits.
When asked what jobs someone could do with one hand, they reply that you could do some work “as long as you’ve got one finger and you can press a button”.
Atos tell employees during training that if they declare over 12 to 13 percent of interviewees eligible for benefits, their results will be fed to superiors.
The Tories say they have not set targets to declare people fit for work. But an Atos doctor said that the figures came from the government.
A separate investigation earlier this year found that 32 people were dying each week after failing an Atos assessment.