Atos gets vote of no confidence from council
Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Communities, Health
Disabled enduring 'shockingly high' level of discrimination
Atos, the firm running the government's work capability assessments for tenants on disability benefits, has been hit with a vote of no confidence by Islington Council's executive.
The vote comes after a council scrutiny investigation raised significant concerns about the performance of Atos.
It is believed to be the first time a local authority has made a direct challenge to the government over the poor performance of Atos in determining eligibility for benefits.
Atos, a French multinational IT services corporation, carries out assessments on people to assess eligibility for a range of disability benefits, including employment support allowance (ESA) and the new personal independence payment (PIP), which has replaced disability living allowance (DLA).
Of 108 ESA appeals made by Islington residents and assisted by the council in the 18 months to September 2013, 95 were won - almost 90%. Islington has over 13,000 disabled residents.
Regionally, 45% of all appeals against Atos ESA 'fit for work' decisions in London have been successful.
Cllr Richard Watts, the council's leader, said: "Many of Islington's disabled residents are already in work or would like to work and Islington Council is proud to support them.
"However, it's important those who can’t have financial security. The government wants to cut the benefits bill by 20% and the assessment process is weighted against the disabled claimant, limiting the number allowed.
"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."
People who have been assessed have complained Atos methodology is too simplistic, ignores medical evidence and assessors lack the high level of knowledge and understanding required.
Disabled mother-of-four Hatije Musa, who used to work in an Islington primary school until multiple health problems ended her career, was told she was fit for work despite serious health conditions including cancer and heart disease.
Ms Musa: "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.
"Atos assessors should understand the effect radiation treatment has on the body longer term. 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.
"Thanks to Islington Law Centre, I got my benefits back on appeal."