IN THE NORTH
27 FEB - 4 MAR 2012
N E W S
current contract. We willmonitor the success and take-upof this in six months time.”Atos confirmed theagreement. A spokesperson said:“Atos is happy to facilitate therecording of assessments shoulda claimant request it.”For some, however, thechange has come too late.54-year-old David Smith, whowas forced into early retirementdue to arthritis in his feet, kneesand spine, told
The Big Issue inthe North
he asked to have hisassessment recorded last year – but Atos failed to provide it. Hewas subsequently deemed fit towork and is taking his case toappeal.
“It’s much too late for me,”Smith said. “I’m now in thesituation where my benefitshave been sanctioned and I’mgoing through the appealprocess. I really object to thefact that having worked for 34years, and paid my tax andnational insurance for thatwhole time, I’m now treated assome sort of scrounger. Youdon’t have five bouts of surgerywithout a reason.”WCAs have been a source of much debate since April lastyear, when the coalitiongovernment began a process of putting 1.5 million people ondisability benefits through themin a bid to slash claimantnumbers. Some 11,000 people aweek are currently undertakingthe tests.In November, an investigation by the
The Big Issue in theNorth
(issue 901) reported thatclaimants seeking reform of theassessment system.“I think it will make Atosimprove in regard to how theyconduct the actual assessmentsand how they produce theirreports,” he said. “What’s beenhappening often is that peoplego and have their assessmentand the report doesn’t match upwith their experience of it. SoI think this will be a benefit forAtos as well as the claimant... itwill be a safeguard for bothsides.”
Change too late
He added: “The DWP and Atosnow need to put thisinformation on all their formsand on their website so thatpeople know that they’ve got theright to have their assessmentrecorded.”The DWP confirmed that thechange is effective immediately,and will be detailed formally bythe government in a soon-to-be-published evaluation followinga pilot study last year.A DWP spokesperson said:“There has been an agreement toaccommodate requests fromclaimants to record theirassessment using equipmentavailable to Atos as part of their
A protest against welfare reformfor people with disabilties
A group of young filmmakersare up for an award for theirchallenging examination of attitudes towards homelessness.
Eighteen young women, fromHyde in Tameside, planned,filmed and edited the nine-minute piece, in aprofessionally mentored projectorganised by Women inSupported Housing (WISH).Some of the members, who areall aged between 16 and 25,have themselves experiencedhomelessness.In their short, simply entitled
, vox popinterviews with members of thepublic reveal the breadth of attitudes towards andmisconceptions about peoplewho are street homeless orvulnerably housed.
One man claims homelesspeople are all simply lazy andunwilling to work, and suggestscompulsory national servicewould be a solution for thosewithout a roof over their head.But others are moresympathetic, acknowledging thecomplex reasons why people
Disability campaigners haveclaimed a major victory afterthe government shifted itspolicy on making audiorecordings during controversialwork capability assessments.
There have long beencomplaints that the tests, part of a coalition plan to cut thenumber of people claimingsickness benefits, produceinaccuracies and lacktransparency.Previously the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) had arestrictive set of rules in placethat prohibited all recordings –unless they were made by a“professional operator” whowould have to be paid for by theclaimant.
Under the new policy the ruleshave been relaxed, with Atos,the private company paid £100 million a year by thegovernment to deliver the workcapability assessments (WCAs),made to provide a recording freeof charge to anyone whorequests it.Paul Smith, an activist whoruns an online Atos supportgroup, called the development a“great advancement” for
Tapes roll fordisabilitycampaigners
the system was causing severestress and anxiety for disabledpeople. Some who contacted themagazine said they had madetheir own secret recordings of assessments because they hadconcerns about the accuracy of the process.A high number of Atos’sdecisions are known to beincorrect. According to officialfigures, 40 per cent areoverturned on appeal.
A series of recommendations toimprove the assessments wasmade last year in a government-commissioned report byProfessor Malcolm Harrington.He suggested that audiorecordings could help drive upthe quality of assessments.But during a parliamentarymeeting earlier this month, MPssaid many problems had not been resolved, criticising the
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