ATOS campaigners hold vigil at High Court in London

By staff writers
16 Jan 2013

Disability activists held a vigil at lunchtime outside the High Court in London yesterday, highlighting Work Capability Assessment injustices.

The vigil was highlighting calls for a judicial review to assess whether the government's welfare benefits tests discriminate against people with mental disabilities and learning difficulties.

Two disabled people have taken the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to court to demand a review of Work Capability Assessments, which are used to decide if people receiving Employment Support Allowance are "fit for work." A ruling in the case is imminent.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) and the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN) both point out that it is impossible for most people with learning difficulties to "self-report" on their ability to work, as claimants are required to do on pain of losing benefits.

People with mental disabilities often have changing and hidden symptoms that assessors employed by much-criticised private contractor ATOS ignore or are ignorant of, critics say.

This is one of several reasons why they are not properly competent to decide on a person's ability to work. Moreover, the government's Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) only seeks further, independent medical information in rare circumstances.

Those lobbying for change and against the government's current policy and procedures say that the DWP should look at specialist evidence in every case involving someone with a learning difficulty or disability.

Paula Peters, who suffers from both physical and mental disabilities, told the Morning Star newspaper: "There is a lot of ignorance around mental illness and most people, including Atos doctors, assume if they can't see your disability then you don't have one."

She added that the sheer number of successful appeals against Atos, which holds a multimillion-pound contract for the work, justifies fines.

DPAC's Andy Greene said" "The assessments are designed to rob disabled people of the benefits they need to survive while the government shovels public finances into the pockets of private businesses like ATOS. But disabled people will fight back - in the courts, in the streets, in Parliament, whatever it takes."

Meanwhile, the latest changes to ESA being proposed by the government have been criticised in detailed by an expert group of disabled people in a new Briefing on Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 (http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ESAbriefing), co-published by project leader and disability campaigner Sue Marsh and the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia.

Additionally, at 9.30am on17 January 2013) the first House of Commons backbench business debate will be on ATOS Work Capability Assessments (member in charge: Michael Meacher, Labour, Oldham West and Royton).

* ATOS Healthcare Debate Briefing, by Mo Stewart (8.PDF Adobe Acrobat file): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/files/atos_healthcare_debate.pdf

* ATOS Healthcare debate in the Commons: briefing - http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17817

* Thousands of disabled and sick people will be hit by new ESA/WCA changes: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17812

* The new Employment Support Allowance emergency (#esaSOS), by Sue Marsh: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/17814

[Ekk/3]

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