New research by disabled activists has produced fresh evidence of poor performance by the company paid to test disabled people’s “fitness for work”.
The results come from an online survey form hosted by the campaigning website AfterAtos, and cover responses from the last six months.
Although the results are not based on a random sample of disabled people who have undergone the work capability assessment (WCA) as part of their claim for employment and support allowance (ESA), they still provide further evidence of the anger felt by many of those tested by Atos Healthcare.
The AfterAtos website was set up in March by a disabled activist who uses the pseudonym “Aunty”, and provides a database of disabled people’s anonymous experiences of Atos and the WCA.
Her site is one of the internet forums and websites that have received legal threats from Atos over information posted on their sites.
She plans to send the report to Atos, and said it was the company’s failure to enable customer feedback about the assessments that was “bringing them into disrepute”.
She said the findings of the survey were “horrendous and very telling”, and she highlighted figures that showed the financial impact of the assessments, with 91 of the 140 respondents saying their finances had “greatly worsened” as a result of the test.
She also pointed to the findings about the Atos “healthcare professionals” employed to carry out the tests, with 65 of the respondents describing the attitude and behaviour of their assessor as “bad” or “very bad”, compared with 14 who found them “good” or “very good”.
Meanwhile, 92 of the 140 respondents said the assessor’s knowledge and understanding of their conditions were “bad” or “very bad”.
And 86 claimants said their experience of an Atos assessment and the subsequent decision on their ESA claim had “greatly worsened” their mental health.
One described how being found fit for work – and the subsequent lack of support and money – had led to a “mental breakdown”, and eventually to becoming suicidal, followed by admission to an acute psychiatric ward.
There was also evidence of continuing problems with the accessibility of the Atos assessment centres.
When asked how accessible the centre was for parking, 26 people said it was “bad” or “very bad”, while 33 said the accessibility of the building’s entrance was “bad” or “very bad”.
Only two of the 140 said access inside the building was “excellent”, while 36 described it as “bad” and 19 said it was “very bad”.
One claimant described arriving at the centre and finding they were to be interviewed in an upstairs room. “A stairlift is there but was broken awaiting repair on my visit which meant I had to shuffle my way upstairs. Even though it took me ten minutes to get up them the interviewer put that I could walk upstairs with no difficulty!”
Not one of the 140 respondents said the Atos assessment and subsequent support received from the government had improved their employment situation.
Of the 140 who took part in the survey, 110 have already lodged an appeal against the result of their ESA application. Of those who have had their appeal heard, 51 were successful and 35 have had the appeal turned down.
22 September 2011