Last Friday I took part in the protest outside the offices of Atos, the company who won the contract to decide whether disabled people are disabled enough to receive benefits.
In the UK, Disability Living Allowance (DLA) is being replaced with the controversial Personal Independent Payment (PIP). DLA fraud stands at a paltry 0.5%. Nevertheless, the government wants to bring fraud to an end. To do this, the government has commissioned Atos to remove the new PIP from 20% of disability claimants. Which is a bit like punishing one child from skipping football by setting fire to the gym.
Of course, a far higher percentage than 0.5% of MPs were found to be cheating their expenses. But it would be wrong to punish MPs, because, you know. Because. Wait, what was my point again?
The consequences of Atos’s decisions are sickening. My friend Polly has a severe form of Crohn’s disease. She’s been given countless different medications, and operations to remove parts of her small intestine. In fact, her Crohn’s is so resistant to the strongest medications and surgery available that she was referred to an experimental chemotherapy and stem cell transplant medical trial. If Crohn’s were a video game, she is playing it on hardest difficulty, with no cheat codes and a broken controller.
Atos sent a doctor to assess whether she could re-qualify for benefits. On arrival, he told her that he’d never heard of Crohn’s Disease. Forgive me for being pedantic, but a doctor who hasn’t heard of Crohn’s Disease isn’t a doctor. That’s like a dentist who hasn’t heard of gums, or a plumber that’s never heard of pipes. Imagine police officers coming to your house after your telly has been stolen, only to find that they’d never heard of “burglary”. They then suggest that you shouldn’t complain because you’ve got enough possessions to be getting on with, after which they hand you a bill for wasting police time, and make you work in Poundland for free to pay it off.
I had heard rumours that Atos doctors mark people down if their illness isn’t visible. Which seemed ludicrous even for Atos. As if the only three kind of illnesses are eczema, nosebleeds and an unfortunate haircut. Cancer? Look mate, unless you’ve got cancer of the face, we’re not interested. Get back to work!
Sadly, Polly has confirmed the rumour. One of the very few notes the Atos doctor wrote was “No obvious external signs of generalised systemic disease found”. Because for most people, their intestines are an external organ. Fashionistas like to stylishly wrap them around their hips, like a kind of pulsating belt. I hear the trend in Milan this season is to wear your intestines as a scarf, to keep your neck warm.
I reckon the doctor was there on a workfare scheme. Perhaps even the people who set the criteria for what constitutes as an illness are unqualified workfare temps. That might explain why we suddenly seem to have forgotten the past 150 years of medical and social progress, and are instead guessing whether someone is ill based on whether they can raise their arms, and walk five metres. (Those are genuinely the only two physical tests Polly’s Atos doctor used to see if she was disabled.)
Atos must have just told the doctor to learn medicine on the job. It’s obvious if they’re ill: just look for open wounds. If you can’t see directly into their heart, they’re good for work. Accept nothing less than four missing limbs. And if you get stuck, just remember this handy mnemonic: If The Patient Isn’t Bleeding, They’re Probably Misleading™.
If the aim of this exercise truly was to rid the system of the 0.5% of fraudulent claims, the government wouldn’t need to give everyone such shockingly inhumane treatment. They certainly wouldn’t need to take the benefit away from 19.5% of genuinely disabled people. They wouldn’t need to send doctors who are woefully under-qualified. And Atos definitely wouldn’t need to get their doctors to sign the Official Secrets Act to stop them from whistle-blowing.
But, like all their policies, their real motivation is not the one they claim in public. Their motivation is simply to reduce government spending, to reduce their own personal tax bill, and to sell public services to the companies they themselves own, to become even richer still. And if disabled people have to suffer, and die, to make it happen: well, who cares?
Fifty people packed Truro Railway Club on Tuesday 4th September at a 38 Degrees meeting called by CACA and chaired by Ellen Hawley of the innovative Just Desserts group.
Amid continuing anger at the Tory plans to fragment and privatise our NHS, an informal steering group is arranging to meet the Kernow Clinical Commissioning Group both privately and at a public meeting.
You can help by:
Contact CACA, Just Desserts, Save Our NHS or 38 Degrees for details of local activity.
Use Keep Our NHS Public postcards to ask your GP to only refer you to NHS providers.
Use 38 Degrees letters to ask for your GP’s support.
(NHS Postcards are a way of making sure that your Doctor’s surgery only offers you treatment from NHS providers, and not from the private health care industry; please follow the link below.)
Cornwall is a “pioneer” in this destruction of the central plank of our Welfare State and we must continue our vigorous opposition; or to paraphrase Nye Bevan,
“ the NHS will disappear when people no longer fight for it”.