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Fit-to-work assessment 'farcical', says charity


The test, which assesses whether disabled or sick people are fit to work, is “farcical”, a charity has said.

The Work Capability Assessment “defies belief”, Parkinson’s UK said after figures showed that 45% of people with four progressive diseases were told that they will recover enough to look for work in the future after taking the test.

Between 2008 and 2011, 13,600 people with cystic fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s or rheumatoid arthritis applied for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), figures show.

But 45% of those were deemed able to recover from their condition to the point where they can look for work, according to research from Parkinson’s UK, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, the MS Society and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.

The charities called for ministers to rethink the “hugely flawed” system.

The assessments are carried out by Atos Healthcare on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Caroline Hacker, head of policy at Parkinson’s UK, said: “This is the latest in a long line of unspeakable failures by Atos Healthcare and the government when it comes to supporting those who need it most.

“To set up a system which tells people who’ve had to give up work because of a debilitating progressive condition that they’ll recover is farcical and simply defies belief.

“These incomprehensible decisions go to show that many assessors, and those who rubber-stamp the decisions in government, don’t apply the most basic understanding of the medical conditions they are dealing with.”

Jim Grimwood had been a computer programmer for 20 years when he was forced to give up work because of Parkinson’s disease.

The 58-year-old, from the North Pennines, said: “It was six years after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s that I was finally forced to give up work, so it can hardly be said that I rushed into it. After the first ESA assessment they said I should be able to return to work within three months.

“I was flabbergasted, as was everyone who knew me. Late last year I applied for ESA again as my Parkinson’s had got worse. I was told that I should be able to return to work in 18 months. I asked to be reassessed but the DWP refused to change their decision.

“Decision-makers either fail to grasp, or choose to ignore, the practical difficulties involved in managing a condition which affects one’s abilities to do even basic things every day, without the added burden of trying to do a job of work and comply with the terms of a contract of employment.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “It’s ridiculous to suggest that we think people with degenerative conditions will ‘recover’. However, it is important that we don’t simply write people off. There is strong evidence that working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition - and as Parkinson’s UK themselves point out, many people with Parkinson’s continue to work for many years after their diagnosis.

“But we also want to ensure those who need it get the right support, which is why a decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.

“Someone who is placed in the work-related activity group for ESA is too ill to work and gets their benefits, but may with the right help be able to work in the future if, for example, they can manage their condition.”

An Atos Healthcare spokesman said: “Our healthcare professionals are trained in the assessment of chronic and progressive conditions such as Parkinson’s and understand that, sadly, some people’s conditions will only get worse over time.

“However, the advice we are asked to give DWP concentrates on how individuals are affected by their illness at present. All decisions on the outcome of claims, for example whether they are placed in the WRAG or the Support Group, are made by DWP.”

The spokesman said Atos would consider any relevant medical evidence presented by claimants during the process that would enable the DWP to make a more informed decision on benefit entitlement.

He said that “as agreed with the DWP, we proactively write out to GPs for further medical evidence where we believe that receiving it may mean we can avoid a face-to-face assessment for the most disabled and unwell”.

Atos says it conducts around 17% of WCAs without the need for a face-to-face assessment, and that it does so “in line with the policy and guidelines laid down by the government”.


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Readers' comments (19)

  • This Atos mob are a despicable bunch of pararsites making money off the misery of the vulnerable and sick. The problem is that getting EVERYONE off benefits is popular with Joe Public, regardless of consequences.

    The very serious and damaging problems with these assessments (largely carried out by registered nurses) were highlighted from day one. Some of the health professionals who have carried out these assessments should be struck off for the role they have played in the misery of others. One of my terminally ill patients was passed as fit to work by Atos and died before his appeal was heard. One of my friends, who has MS, worked for DWP and was assessed as unfit to work by DWP's Atos contracted OH service. Several weeks later, the Atos Work Capability assessment passed her as fit to work, even though her condition had worsened. Despicable.

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  • How is this being allowed to happen? It buggers all belief.

    It seems that government departments are dishing out their work to any old private firms to make money as a financial rather than a social welfare enterprise and there is nobody to take any responsibility when things go wrong and apart from all the unnecessary trauma to the already vulnerable what a disastrous waste of money all of this and then the appeals are.

    how can any qualified healthcare professional have a part in this?

    How and when is this going to be sorted.

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  • I have MS and I'm fighting a very tough battle to keep working. I wonder what will happen on the day when I'm told I'm too sick to work. It seems likely that ATOS will tell me I'm too well to not work. I just love the idea that all the NI and income tax I've paid over 27 years of nursing is being paid to a private company that seems committed only to profit, incompetence and malice.

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  • ATOS and the DWP make the assumption that business premises are wheelchair accessible, therefore anyone with a mobility problem can simply use a wheelchair, yet as a wheelchair user I was deemed an evacuation risk by ATOS so was not allowed to attend the local first floor office with lift. I assume that anybody that had difficulty with stairs would be an evacuation risk to ATOS but be deemed fit to work. They also seem to assume that if you can move from one room to another at home you can go 200m. No where on the limited capability to work questionnaire does it specifically ask about your ability to actually get up, washed and dressed in a timely manner and in clothes suitable for the work place, or on how quickly you carry out an activity, or the fatigue or pain associated with a condition. The unwary may tell a medical assessor that they can do their own shopping,and the assessor will make assumptions on the distance of a large supermarket and ability to lift and carry when the person actually ordered their shopping on line and it was delivered to their kitchen work top.
    The WCA is not fit for purpose and why should ATOS and the DWP not comply with Equality Legislation over disabled access. They apparently think it is not unduly difficult to send a wheelchair user on a 90 minute(public transport time) journey ( each way) to another ground floor ATOS assessment centre. If only living with a long term condition were that simple.

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  • my 56yr old brother in law has been assessed as fit for some kind of work, he has a degenerative inherited condition of the retina and has been blind since the age of 10yrs, attending specialist residential school etc. His benefit was stopped 7mths ago. My sister has filed an appeal on his behalf 14mths ago following the decision and is still awaiting a date for the appeal hearing. No disrespect to my brother in law, he copes with his disability admirably but come on, with all this youth unemployment, who is really going to offer him a job at his age with no skills or qualifications. It makes me sick to the stomach that these decisions are being made without any consideration to the hardship and depression/anxiety they may be causing. As long as the DWP don't have to pay his measly allowance they can claim to be 'getting people back to work'. Try targeting the people who should be working and leave the sick and genuinely disable alone. I for one would not change places with him.

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  • "They apparently think it is not unduly difficult to send a wheelchair user on a 90 minute(public transport time) journey ( each way) to another ground floor ATOS assessment centre."

    could you not point out the difficulties or insist they send somebody to accompany you or else make the transport arrangements for you? It is ludicrous if their offices are not accessible to all.

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  • Anonymous | 27-Aug-2013 2:54 pm

    how cruel and so totally unnecessary.
    It is to assist people like your brother in law we all pay our taxes and NI. We are all being taken for a ride.

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  • I see the spokespersons for the DWP and Atos remained nameless.

    The WCA is not only farcical, it is cruel and unjust. However, there is no appetite amongst the public to defend those worst affected by it. The government nudge unit has successfully gauged the mood of the country in the midst of a recession. When you have government ministers who use terminology like "strivers v skivers", it plays into the public's hands. Making the ill the villian of the piece to excuse and justify their vile ideology, only shows their ruthless determination to rid the tax payers of the inconvenience of those who carry a far heavier burden. I've seen these assessments carried out by Atos and the blatant lying, by so-called health professionals, is breathtaking.

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  • Perhaps NT could take the lead and stop companies such as atos advertising on their site recruiting nurses to become assessors?

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  • When someone is disabled, they are. I cannot walk unaided. I would not be offended if I was asked if I could otherwise. Generic tests are pivotal. Fibbers take offence, genuine cases just got on with it.
    Should one be compromised cognitively, then rely on trustworthy advocates.

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