Extra Comment: Disability payments - who cares?

I WAS more than a little disturbed by two TV programmes this week, one following the other.

C4’s Dispatches and the Beeb’s Panorama both concerned the government’s assessment of disability payments and a company called Atos who have been given the lucrative contract to assess people on sickness benefits who may be eligible for work.

For anyone who knows people relying on these benefits it made for disturbing viewing.

The assessment works as a point system and the more points you accrue — it goes from 0 to 15 — the better chance you have of obtaining benefits.

But it turns out you have as much chance of winning the lottery as you do of gaining points.

Dispatches brought in a doctor to work undercover for the programme and secretly film the training given by Atos.

The doctor was horrified by the supposed training he was given: if a person has the use of one limb they score no points, being able to push a button counts as having the use of that limb; if you can mobilise yourself using a wheelchair, no points irrespective of whether you actually have a wheelchair (not their problem).

And the list went on.

The doctor said that one test was whether a claimant could push an empty cardboard box.

The exasperated doctor could not, for the life of him, think of gainful employment where that would be the deciding factor.

Bizarrely, and sadly, one man went for the test and was advised to seek medical assistance for his heart as a matter of urgency.

While he was off doing that, his report came back: no points.

He was then called back and told he was fit for work.

Some 39 days later, while he was waiting for a heart operation, he died.

A claimant with mental illness who had tried to commit suicide more than once was asked: “Why are you still alive?”

The aforementioned doctor decided to forego the advice on point scoring during the two days he tested claimants and went, instead, with his wealth of knowledge of the medical profession.

His cases, where he signed people off, were referred back.

The government has denied that the tests are designed to get people off benefits, as has Atos, and that there is a target which must be met.

Nevertheless, the reality points to a somewhat different conclusion.

An investigation has revealed that, of those claiming benefit for inability to work, only a small percentage are swinging the lead.

If this is true, and the vast majority are genuine claimants, why give this company millions to weed out the malingerers?

GPs are the people to say yes or no over who deserves our help, not a company with a vested interest, surely.

We have a duty to care for those in society who have problems caring for themselves — let’s exercise it.