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Town hall first in UK to oppose controversial health firm Atos

PUBLISHED: 14:46 18 October 2013 | UPDATED: 16:43 18 October 2013

Cllr Richard Watts joins DAII's Rahel Geffen and Cllr Janet Burgess to discuss cocerns over Atos assessments

Cllr Richard Watts joins DAII's Rahel Geffen and Cllr Janet Burgess to discuss cocerns over Atos assessments

Archant

The town hall has become the first in the UK to officially oppose a controversial healthcare company it says brings unnecessary suffering to thousands of disabled people.

Islington Council’s ruling executive last night passed a vote of no confidence in French firm Atos who are responsible for assessing whether people are eligible for disability benefits on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The DWP are trying to slash their bill by 20 per cent, and Atos have been criticised for assessing people as fit to work even if they are very ill – in Islington the council helped a whopping 90 per cent of people successfully appeal against the company’s decision.

Cllr Richard Watts, leader of Islington Council, said: “Disabled residents deserve far better than this over-reliance on dangerously simplistic computer questionnaires.

“Atos’s performance in Islington has been shocking and we are telling the Government we no longer have any confidence in them.”

The vote follows a report by a council scrutiny committee claiming almost 8,000 ill and disabled people could have their benefits slashed when they have their claim reassessed for the new Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – set to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) this month.

And with Remembrance Sunday looming, war veterans may also have to face an Atos panel to determine the sickness and disability part of their pension.

Hatije Musa is a disabled mother-of-four from Essex Road, Islington, who used to work in an primary school until multiple health problems ended her career.

Atos told her told she was fit for work despite serious health conditions including cancer and heart disease.

She said: “I’d love to work but I can’t due to my cancer, asthma, liver and heart disease, and I am not going to get better.

“I submitted and resubmitted doctors’ letters but Atos weren’t interested. They check if you have trouble walking or can lift your arms up but they don’t listen to you as a person. And they don’t care about how ill and tired your conditions make you feel each day – which can vary.

“The assessment system makes you tired and depressed and I was so angry and upset after my back to work interview – I was pronounced fit and my income support was stopped.

Rahel Geffen, chief executive of Disability Action in Islington (DAII), said: “Atos is a disability denial factory. Evidence from disability campaigners is that people are trapped in poverty caused by withdrawal of benefits they are entitled to and rely on.

“The worry and stress of these assessments further impacts on disabled people’s mental health and national campaign organisations report an increase of suicides as a result.

“The aim of the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos is to force deaf and disabled people into a labour market with already high unemployment rates, whether they are ready for work or not. The Work Capability Assessment is deeply flawed and has to stop.”

An Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “We understand fully that the assessment process can cause huge anxiety and we do everything we can to treat people with sensitivity and compassion.

“Accusing a private provider of being responsible for the rise in successful appeals is a gross over simplification and ignores feedback from the Tribunal Service as well as a warning from the National Audit Office that there are dangers in that assumption.

“The number of decisions that are successfully appealed has risen in line with the number of assessments that are undertaken.”

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