“A Word in Your Ear” from Mr Perrin.
The Downing Street “Robber Barons” and the ATOS Healthcare “Gang”.
I recently accompanied my nephew, who suffers with chronic schizophrenia, to an “assessment” by ATOS Healthcare, in partnership with the Government’s Department for Work and Pensions [DWP], to determine his fitness for work.
I was appalled by the experience and considered the whole procedure nothing short of “state sponsored” harassment of people with serious physical disabilities or mental illness. They attend these” assessments” under duress and the” threat” that failure to attend could result in the loss of all or part of their disability benefits.
It fails to say that by attending they are also at serious risk of losing all or part of their disability benefits on the arbitrary assessment of an employee of a Company, paid by the Government, whose remit is to “force” the sick and disabled into work regardless of the consequences. These “assessors” know little or nothing of the history of the “client” and rely mainly on the answers given, by the “client”, on the day, to questions they have already answered in a form sent to them by the DWP some weeks or months previously.
My nephew received a letter from the DWP giving him the date, place and time he was required to attend and requested he arrive 10 minutes BEFORE the stated time, which he did. On arrival I noted that there were 20 “clients” already in attendance. My nephew informed the receptionist of his arrival and was immediately told that they were “running” late and that it was doubtful that he would be seen that day and a new date for his attendance would have to be made.
I protested and asked how late they were running and was told approximately one hour. My nephew’s appointment time was 1100hrs so we were prepared to wait in order to be dealt with that day. We were further informed that each appointment took approximately 40 minutes with a further 10 minutes to allow the assessor to complete notes. Assuming that each assessor would deal with 4 “clients” in the morning i.e.0900hrs to 1300hrs and, with an hour for lunch, 3 in the afternoon i.e. 1400hrs to 1700hrs there being 3 assessors available that day, 21 “clients” would be dealt with and as there were already 20 clients waiting when we arrived I anticipated that we would be the last to be seen that day at around 1600hrs i.e. 5 hours later than the actual appointment time.
Despite repeatedly being told by the receptionist that it was unlikely that we would be dealt with that day we were still prepared to wait in order to prevent having to rebook. The receptionist informed me that it did not work that way because there would be a further 20 “clients” arriving for the afternoon session so any morning “clients” not seen by 1200hrs would be sent home and rebooked. I could not believe what I was being told i.e. that probably 21 “clients” were being sent home daily and having to be rebooked at considerable cost to the taxpayer as many will have travelled a considerable distance, by car or public transport, and would be entitled to be reimbursed their travel costs, not just for that day but for any subsequent attendance. I “stuck to my guns” and insisted that my nephew would be dealt with that day and that he would head the list of the afternoon appointments which was, with some reluctance, eventually agreed.
At 1400hrs, 3 hours later than the original time of his appointment, my nephew was called to meet with the assessor, a young lady who I judged to be between 25 to 30 years of age, I deemed it would be impolite if I asked her to verify her age. However, bearing in mind that she was about to assess my nephew’s ability to work, I considered it justified and pertinent to ask if she was a qualified doctor or psychiatrist the answer was no on both counts and when pressed she stated that she was a “general nurse” with some training in “mental health care”.
So my nephew was to be assessed by a person who knows nothing whatsoever about my nephew as to how his illness and treatment affect him daily, other than what was given by the DWP, whose recommendation as to my nephew’s ability to work is based on a quick “question and answer” interview which the DWP, mindful of the Government’s “brief” i.e. get these “layabouts” back to work, will probably accept, ignoring the professional opinions and recommendations of his psychiatrist and GP who have known him and treated him for years and his “ family carers” who help him throughout each day. It is incomprehensible that such unqualified opinions should be given the same or even more weight than that of qualified professional s.
Based upon my own experience there are some serious issues that need to be addressed quickly regarding the treatment of “clients” summoned to these “assessment” interviews, especially , having heard from others who have attended at different assessment clinics, it would not be unreasonable to assume that what I witnessed is happening at assessment clinics all over the country.
The DWP needs to liaise with clinics and only make appointments for the number of “clients” each clinic can cope with daily. Re-bookings should be the exception not the rule thus saving a considerable amount of money due to having to pay travel costs more than once.
People should not be treated like cattle herded into a waiting room for hours only to be told that they will not be dealt with that day and that they will have to come back some other time. No consideration is given to the inconvenience and stress caused to the “client”.
I was troubled by the anxiety that permeated “clients” waiting to be “interrogated”, especially those afflicted by mental illness. The intimidatory atmosphere was made even more palpable by the presence of a person who one would normally expect to see on the doors of venues such as rock concerts and nightclubs, i.e. a “bouncer”, the purpose of his presence being all too obvious.
My nephew told me, had he been on his own, he would not have dared to remonstrate or dissent in any way fearful it would be interpreted as aggressive behaviour and he would have been forcibly ejected from the premises or at worst the police would be called and he would be arrested and probably sectioned.
This Government appears to delight in harrying those on benefits encouraging the view that most people on benefits are parasitical, lazy, workshy, fraudsters “living a life of riley” at the expense of the tax payer. The pleasure they seem to derive from this harassment conjures up, for me, the unseemly sight of people in red coats, mounted on horseback, shouting” tally-ho, tally-ho” as they indulge themselves in a “blood” sport at the end of which they rejoice in the “kill”.
It is shameful that the Government does not exercise the same enthusiasm when tackling the problem of tax evasion, a cost to the public purse on a par with or greater than the cost of benefits to the sick and disabled.
Frankly, I believe, the Government’s treatment of people on benefits, particularly the old, sick and disabled, borders on wickedness.