The assessment process carried out by Atos Healthcare, an arm of French data company Atos, has been described as “disgusting” and “shocking” by those who have been put through the “brutal” tests and MPs across political parties.
And while our own elderly and infirm face a barrage of humiliating tests and frightening challenges to their honesty, Theresa May’s Government bends over backwards to supply foreign aid to nations led by cruel dictators and considers tests to the honesty of so-called ‘child migrants’ coming to Britain to be inhumane.
Campaigners and experts have claimed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) now led by Damian Green MP is “pushing” the narrative those on benefits are scroungers – when in reality the level of fraudulent cases is tiny.
Figures obtained from the Motability charity, which allows disabled people to pay for cars, which can be specially adapted, through their benefits, shows 3000 people per month are having cars, scooters and even motorised wheelchairs taken from them.
Disabled Britons have protested against Atos for a number of years
French data firm Atos has banked more than £500m in tax payer cash through the DWP contracts.
Disability Living Allowance was scrapped in favour of personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013.
The Conservative Government awarded the contract for PIP assessments to Atos for people aged between 16 and 64.
At the same time the Department for Work and Pensions demanded a review of cases -which has led to people, who are genuinely disabled, being cut from the scheme.
A Motability spokesman said: “We have seen around 38,000 existing Scheme customers lose eligibility to the upper level of mobility support as they are reassessed from DLA to PIP, and have therefore returned their vehicles.”
The term vehicles covers scooters and wheelchairs which can be taken back from people, despite doctors and social services assessors ruling them incapable of travelling without them.
The figures given are a drop in the ocean since only one third of those who receive the Higher Rate Mobility Component of PIP use the Motability scheme.
Hundreds or thousands more may be being axed every month.
Pensioners who have worked and paid into Britain’s National Insurance scheme for decades, hoping for protection and support should they become infirm, told Express.co.uk they have been left feeling like fraudsters and are being treated like “liars”.
Many fear for their future.
Put simply the Government of the day has moved the goalposts and changed the rules making eligibility for high rate PIP close to impossible.
Debbie Abrahams MP, Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary said: “Recent statistics show an increase in assessment decisions overturned, which is a damning indictment of this Government’s cruel social security reforms and six wasted years of austerity.
“These flawed PIP assessments cause substantial distress to disabled people who are repeatedly subject to them and only create further waste and expense, as thousands upon thousands are overturned in the courts.”
The Department for Work and Pensions makes benefits payments on the word of Atos assessors
She is one of tens of thousands judged ineligible for higher rate disability payments, despite previously being given a lifetime award by the DWP under DLA.
The cut will mean her income halves from £600 to less than £300 per month.
She said: “I feel like I am fighting every day to have a life – I don’t have the energy to fight them.
“I don’t know what to do. I don’t know how I am going to survive.”
Linda was assessed by a nurse who carried out a home visit – but Linda says the ultimate report was wildly different from what happened on the day.
She said: “I couldn’t even get up and get to the door – I was on the sofa.
“The nurse came in and she said she wouldn’t do the tests because she could see how much pain I was in.
“When I got the letter I was so shocked. It said I was touching my neck and my back and could reach the floor with my feet – I didn’t even get up.
“When I called they said her word is the final word.
“I thought she must have got me confused with someone else – or she’s lying.”
Elderly PIP claimants are having their benefits slashed as they worry how they will live
He said: “She has a degenerative spinal condition – it’s in the title really – she isn’t getting better.
“She tried to keep her dignity and put on nice clothes and do what they asked her at the test centre – she couldn’t do it all but she tried – and they crucified her for it.
“Most days she can’t get further than the living room. They are monsters.”
He branded the assessors ‘bizarre’ for hammering the people who tried to overcome disability and complete test exercises.
Campaigners, politicians and the disabled have accused of the Government of offering incentives to those who turn down PIP requests and cancel those already in place.
Assessors have also been accused of underhand tactics including hiding and watching people walk into test centres then crossing the walking test off their list – failing to ask whether the claimant was in any discomfort or could do such a task daily.
Atos test assessors have come under fire over “tricks” and “lies”
Assessors have also come under fire from health professionals who claim they are not qualified to make such huge judgements – for example some assessors are physiotherapists who lack mental health training.
A senior social worker told Express.co.uk he has been shocked by the assessments, which differ greatly from the opinions of other experts. The decisions are usually being overturned in court.
He said: “These people are not qualified. If they are a mental health nurse they do not have GP-level understanding of complicated diseases and how the hell can a physiotherapist begin to understand mental health?
“The NHS has the notes, written by the GPs, yet we are putting these people through more hell.
“It’s a national disgrace.”
Baroness Thomas of Winchester has been campaigning against the assessments, which she suggests have tricked and confused disabled people.
Lady Celia Thomas of Winchester has been campaigning against cuts
Lady Thomas said the tests no way reflect how a person can live their life.
She said: “I urge the Government to take action to halt this cruel and heartless PIP mobility test before any more disabled people lose their Motability cars.
“The assessments are so variable round the country that fairness has gone out of the window.”
Lady Thomas questioned how the word of an assessor can be taken over GP notes.
She said: “They are overriding decisions made by the NHS and that is not right.”
Wheelchair user Star Anderton is fighting her own battle with Atos over her assessment
It’s not about helping people live with their disabilities it’s about cutting numbers claiming PIP
The campaigner who fights for others, as well as herself, said the Tories are making cuts in the most dishonest way.
She said: “It just shows that the £12bn in cuts are going ahead because they’ve moved the goalposts.
“It’s not about helping people live with their disabilities it’s about cutting numbers claiming PIP.
“Far too many disabled people are committing suicide because of the anxiety caused when they have to change from DLA to PIP.
“There are a growing number of people who are being told they are no longer eligible for any assistance and this group are being hit hardest.
“We all understand why there has to be a rigorous system to ensure those who need extra help get it.
“There are a very small percentage of people who obtain disability benefits fraudulently. We know there will always be cheats but it does feel like those who know how to cheat the system are still getting away with it.”
People suffering from ME, arthritis, organ failure, heart disease, spinal injuries and sever psychiatric illness have had their benefits taken from them.
He said: “The DWP appears to be pushing this narrative that disabled people are scroungers and there are millions of false claims.
“It is simply not true.
“There are severely disabled people being put through these tests and having to fight in the courts. It’s unbelievable.”
Some disabled people who cannot walk have been told they are not unwell enough for benefits
The appeals are held in criminal courts and decided upon by judges, something campaigners have called “cruel” and “frightening”.
Before the court stage the DWP will carry out a mandatory reconsideration.
Earlier this year around 40% of considerations ended in the disabled person having the decision reversed upon assessment.
However, only around 22% were successful between June and October 2016.
Of 526,000 DLA claimants reassessed for PIP up to October 2016, 21% were rejected altogether and 23% ended up worse off.
A spokesperson for the Department for Work and Pensions said: “Decisions for PIP are made after considering evidence from the claimant and their GP.
“Anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal and in most cases anyone leaving the Motability scheme is eligible for a one-off payment of £2,000 to help meet their needs.”
ATOS Healthcare covers assessments in all areas except the Midlands and Wales where Capita won the bid.
The companies are employed to carry out face-to-face assessments of all new claimants, and reassessments.
The idea behind the overhaul is to get rid of self-assessment and gain “a more accurate” understanding of every situation.
Atos has been accused of “preying on the vulnerable to make Government cuts”
It has showed extreme incompetence and bowed out early from the contract under which it was tasked by the Government to carry out the Work Capability Assessment.
Last year after it was revealed 2,380 people had died between 2011 – 2014 soon after being found fit for work through disability benefit assessments.
Unbelievably, the Government still employs Atos for £3bn worth of contracts across the country – one of which is the assessment of Personal Independence Payment applications.
An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: “All of the Atos assessment teams are fully qualified health professionals who must have the qualifications and experience specified by the DWP and be accredited directly by them.
“Each assessment is carried out under the guidelines delivered by the DWP.”