A former teacher from Chelmsford who is confined to a wheelchair due to a congenital spinal condition said Atos has made her feel “utterly worthless” and “dangerously suicidal”. Like many, she has undergone repeated assessments with the firm. But despite being unable to walk, a kidney tumour, severe asthma and mental health problems, Atos has determined her fit to work.
“I have been bullied so much in my life but it feels so much worse to be bullied as a disabled person, now that I am weak and vulnerable and I just don’t have the strength to stand up for myself,” she said.
“The Atos endless ‘revolving door’ processing makes me feel utterly worthless – of no value at all. They make me feel like I shouldn’t expect to have a right to a life.”
She is one of 17,270 sick and disabled people across Essex who attended incapacity assessments from October 2010 to March 2013, with 26 per cent of those deemed fit to work by the firm.
“It is no wonder that so many disabled people are left destitute and are turning to food banks to survive and some, to suicide,” she added. The teacher is waiting for the assessment process to begin once more after four assessments scored her zero points.
“When you win an appeal or tribunal, they only leave you alone for a period of their choosing which ranges from about three months to 18 months before they call you up again via the dreaded brown envelope to go through the whole process all over again. It feels like a torturous cycle of bullying and harassment,” she said.
Disability campaigners took to the streets in Chelmsford to demonstrate and show there are more stories like these – some that have shockingly led to fatal consequences. Protesters chanted ‘Atos kills’ – adamant that thousands of disabled people have died as a direct result of the assessment process. One banner stated: “This is not welfare reform, this is genocide”. Demonstrators have also called on Chelmsford City Council to follow the example of London authorities in passing a vote of no confidence in the company, a move adopted by Islington council’s executive in October 2013.
Among those joining in the demonstration was Lynn Excell from Greight Leighs, holding pictures of her brother Richard, who suffered from Asperger’s Syndrome but was found ‘fit to work’ – something his family didn’t find out about until after he died in February 2012, aged 44.
Beth Clark, joined by her 15-year-old son Alex who suffers from autism, said: “We all understand in terms of austerity that we need to tighten our belts, but the sick and disabled make up around five per cent of society but shoulder 30 to 40 per cent of the cuts…Atos cuts people off from money, saying they are fit for work when we should be supporting the most vulnerable in our society.”
Those demonstrating in the city centre – and hundreds across the country – are calling the Coalition government to end ties with the firm. Protestors highlight the high number of successful appeals against Atos’ assessments, and the unqualified assessors who make decisions on work capability.
Written by Ghazal Tipu