Panorama exposes the great (war on) disability scam

By Bernadette Meaden
January 28, 2013

Last night’s Panorama programme (BBC1, 28 January 2013) was sickening, but for those interested in disability or welfare issues, sadly not so shocking.

We know that disabled people are already being subjected to the indignities and stress of Work Capability Assessments undertaken by Atos. These are woefully inaccurate, with seriously ill people being declared fit for work and sent to the Jobcentre. Hardly surprising when you bear in mind that the Assessments were devised with the help of American insurance giant Unum, a company labelled an ‘outlaw company’ in a US court, and accused of running ‘disability denial factories’. Atos Chief Medical Officer came direct from Unum, so finding seriously ill or incapacitated people fit for work is something of a speciality.

But when people are sent to the Jobcentre by Atos, a new ordeal awaits them. Yet another private company is set to make money from them. Panorama showed that in today’s Britain, not only are disabled people being denied what they need, and in some cases hounded into an early grave, they have now been turned into a commodity for private companies like A4e to make a handsome profit. These companies won contracts to help disabled people find jobs, but are pocketing a generous referral fee and then ‘parking’ them, phoning them once in a while, just to keep them on the books presumably.

Now, if you or I were bidding for a massive government contract to try and help disabled people, we’d probably think about what we might need to get started, and enable us to do a half way decent job. Accessibility would be a major consideration, and if you knew you were going to deal with blind people you’d probably invest in some equipment, have documents available in large print, Braille etc. Not A4e, according to Panorama. The blind client they interviewed had found nothing like this, and the company only said they would do so after she had raised her concerns.

Most cynical was the way companies had used charities to win contracts, claiming that they would be co-operating with them. Many charities found their names had been used in this way when they had nothing to do with the process. Others, like the RNIB, said the Work Programme was a ‘disaster’ and felt they had been used as ‘bid candy’ to improve the company’s image and chance of winning the contract.

But most upsetting was the complete lack of sensitivity or respect towards disabled clients. A former employee of Triage, involved in the Work Programme, said they referred to clients as LTB’s (Lying Thieving Bastards) and were instructed to ‘Never ask how they are.’ Any show of concern for a disabled person’s wellbeing was seen as a waste of time, and as we all know, time is money.

This debacle is not just cruel and inhumane, it is also bad news for the taxpayer. The National Audit offfice has already said that Atos provides very poor value for money, and now we see that the Work Programme too is a terrible waste. Of the 68,000 disabled people referred to the Work Programme, all with a generous referral fee remember, only 1,000 have been found jobs.

One wonders how much more evidence has to emerge to convince people and government that something very wrong is happening here. Governments are often mocked for making U-turns, but in this case, the first Party leader to stand up and say ‘This is wrong, we’ve made a mistake, we must stop.’ would take the moral high ground and win great respect.

If you are shocked by the current treatment of sick and disabled people please sign the WOW petition, organised by the victims of this cruel system. It only takes a minute.

* WOW petition: site of resistance to the War on Welfare -


© Bernadette Meaden has written about religious, political and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

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