This piece has been published by the ATOS Outsourcing staff union on their blog.
My best translation effort (any mistranslations cock up, not conspiracy):
(Headline) ATOS Healthcare in Britain a is a shameful scandal overlooked in France.
The British Govt, keen to make small savings here and there in the middle of their economic crisis has a range of ways of going about it. One of the most scandalous is probably the one Atos won the contract for from the Department of Work and Pensions. Atos has developed a system to flush out fraudsters and those deemed “fit for work”, basically an electronic form used to evaluate the disabled, terminally ill cancer patients, people injured in the workplace etc. If they do not meet the criteria or if they don’t turn up for he interview: their benefits are stopped.
The reason this system is scandalous is because people, even those with profound disabilities, can under it be considered fit for work; also mental illnesses are not properly taken into account.
Campaign groups for people with disabilities are outraged to see Atos sponsoring the Paralympic Games and are demanding a boycott.
According to the Daily Mail, there have been 103 suicides related to the new test since its implementation. (1)
Atos Healthcare is a division of Atos Consulting operating in the health sector in the UK where it employs over 3,000 people. Its largest contract is with the DWP under which it conducts assessments of people receiving disability benefits.
The assessment test used is very controversial. It has been criticised in the UK by MPs, the judiciary and disability rights groups including Citizens Advice Bureaux. (2) These groups have found many examples of terminally ill and severely disabled people deemed fit for work and ineligible for benefits as a result of a computer-based evaluation carried out by Atos Healthcare, which is paid £100 million per year by the government to administer the tests. Charities have concluded that the system is not fit for purpose and remain concerned about its reliability, despite the government’s commitment to improve it. (3)
The competence of Atos and its employees has been called into question by health professionals for setting up its automated medical examination system known as “LIMA”. These examinations are widely criticized by those who are subject to the evaluation. (4)
The system is automated with a number of yes / no answers, which don’t allow those administering them to take into account progressive/degenerative diseases, mental illness etc.., But the system also evaluates people’s functional capacity based on unfair criteria.
For example, one question is: do you watch “Eastenders” and “Coronation Street”? (Two very popular television series in Britain). A ‘yes’ answer, as far as the software is concerned means that the person is able to remain seated for 30 minutes, even if the person in question actually watches the programme lying down.
There are multiple errors in the records, some very wide of the mark.
The system refuses to take account of other medical records / documents, including those from specialists.
20 out of 55 Atos examination centres have no disabled access, and some are more than 5 – 15 minutes from the nearest station.
A significant number of disabled or sick people, who were previously receiving welfare benefits, are now considered employable or able to participate in a work related activity programme. What this also means is the end of their entitlement.
If they do not attend a mandatory job/work readiness interview (even if they are disabled and the obstacles to their attendance make this is impossible) their unemployment benefits are stopped. (5)
The qualifications & competence of the assessors are questionable; merely 17 hours of training for nurses, a few days for doctors, and attractive salaries: £ 32,000 for nurses for a job from 9 to 5 hours, no weekend work etc.. (6)
The type of people considered employable under the assessment includes terminally ill cancer patients, people suffering from Parkinson’s disease, and chronic and debilitating illnesses for which there is no hope of improvement, but for which there will every year be a further mandatory review. The list is endless.
The Guardian newspaper in an article in March 19 (8) quotes Peter, a computer analyst officially registered blind in 2009 who was denied his entitlement and obliged to look for work. (11)
Atos is expected to make recommendations that are reviewed by a panel that makes the final decision. This panel is made up of ‘JCP decision-makers’, the staff of Job Centre Plus, a glorified ANPE [National Employment Agency]. There do not appear to be any panel members from the medical profession.
99.78% of Atos’s recommendations are accepted by the panel, at the expense of any recommendations of GPs and specialists who have know their patients for years. (10)
There have been many demonstrations by pressure groups and activists since the scandal erupted across the Channel. So much so that we are surprised it is unknown in France. Protesters brandished banners that read “Atos doesn’t give a toss” and “Atos kills”. The latter a reference to the small but growing number of applicants who have died following the cessation of their benefits. ( 12) (13) (14)
If you read this Wikipedia article on Atos, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Atos, you will see that the French version is a bowdlerised version of the English version which does make reference to the controversy of the withdrawal of benefits based on reviews conducted by Atos.
The ‘omerta’ of the French press underlines the multinational clout of Atos’s Mr BRETON. This same person who already has a notorious history at France Telecom, the company famous for numerous suicides.
Atos won the contract with the British government in an economic recession and with a cost reduction program in place in the public sector. With the right-wing government of Mr Cameron, a real witch hunt was triggered against welfare recipients. A highly virulent campaign by the British government has portrayed the disabled as parasites who take advantage of the system, although fraud actually represents only 0.5%. In this context, the requirements placed on Atos are clear. The result is a reduction in the number of persons entitled to disability benefits because the criteria have changed.
Since the system was first tested in late 2009 [note: under the previous Govt] about 390,000 people have litigated in the courts of appeal against a decision on suitability for employment. The courts have been forced to open on Saturday and to increase their workforce by 30% since January 2010 to deal with the workflow and the cost of these appeals is expected to reach £50 million per year by the end of this month. (7)
About 38% of all court appeals find in favor of the applicant, and the benefit is subsequently granted. Where an applicant is supported in his appeal by a person from an advocacy group, such as Citizens Advice, the success rate is much higher approximately 68%. (8)
This shameful scandal should not stay in the shadows. Our duty as employees of Atos members and trade unionists, is to inform you about these events that affect disabled workers for whom on this side of the Channel we have a special regard.
Your duty now is to participate in awareness-raising of the scandal by informing your colleagues, friends and families.