I am very pleased to announce that the elected Back-Bench Business Committe in the Commons has now arranged for a full 3-hour debate on Atos work capability assessments to take place in the main chamber (not in Westminster Hall where there has already previously been a debate on Atos) on Thursday 17 January starting shortly after 11am. I have already spoken to a large number of Members of all parties and am assured there will be a big turnout, so that people in a large number of constituencies (perhaps as many as 30) will be directly represented in the debate. I hope the speeches will cover a great many cases, though tragically there are so many hundreds of horrifying accounts flooding into MPs’ that not all of them can be specifically included. However I’m sure this will be a breakthrough in the fight against this appalling injustice, and we must all organise to ensure that it is.
I have myself received hundreds of heart-rending accounts from all over the country, and it’s difficult to do justice to the fear, indignity, distress and panic attacks that have been perpetrated on so many hundreds of thousands of disabled people (a total of 1.6 million recipients of Incapacity Benefit now being assessed at the rate of 10,000 a week). I just give a handful of examples:
* “I went in to the assessment expecting a medical. What followed was the most humiliating experience of my life. The Atos ‘medic’ treated me worse than a piece of shit on his shoe. For 40 minutes I was subjected to his disapproving and disbelieving glare every time I opened my mouth to answer on of the very personal questions. I felt stripped of all dignity, belittled and degraded”.
* “I live with the constant fear that if my mental health gets worse again, I will be left with nothing. Because of Atos’ quotas and inhuman tests, I feel that I am living without a safety net. I’m only a few steps away from living on the streets because I know I will be denied benefits as have thousands of others because mental illness is invisible and easy to deny”.
* “I have a genetic, debilitating, degenerative condition that has no treatment and no cure. Even when Atos knows I can’t even attend one of their centres and has to send a doctor out to my home, why then do they start the whole procedure again and again?”
There’s a great deal to be said about reforming a patently flawed and failing system. As Linda, DPAC co-founder, has written: “The original groups, i.e. the support group and WRAG, are totally wrong. Because of this some people who have physical disabilities but who WITH THE RIGHT SUPPORT could work (if there were any jobs available) go into the support group because they can’t touch their nose, lift a pint of milk above their heads, etc., while people with mental health conditions, fluctuating impairments, or who have long-term illnesses are found fit for work simply because they can do a range of simple physical tasks, and that is more or less all the WCA tests for – purely functional abilityand the ability to do something once not repeatedly”.