New benefit system in Britain forces sick and disabled into work

Published on WSWS, by Dennis Moore, 24 June 2010.

… The Department for Work and Pensions anticipated that with the introduction of ESA (see also on wikipedia) there would be an expected 21,000 additional appeals. Statistics suggest this figure is up to 50,000 in the first year. This has had a significant impact on the already overstretched workload of advice/advocacy agencies.

The DWP expect 50 percent of claimants who appeal to be found fit for work. They are then moved onto Jobseekers Allowance, a benefit dependent on the claimant actively seeking work and accepting any work that is offered, however unsuitable.

The government intends to transfer all claimants, some 2.4 million people, to the new system by 2015. Five hundred doctors will carry out up to 10,000 assessments each week over the next five years. Hundreds of thousands of claimants will be affected, in effect being driven off sickness benefit.

The medical assessments are being carried out by Atos Origin Healthcare, a private company that was awarded a £500 million, seven-year contract in 2005 to deliver assessment and medical services for the DWP.

Atos has a history of failure and incompetence in delivering public services. In 2007 the Manchester Evening News reported that, after a series of blunders, health bosses had to recall up to 900 people in the North of England after they had undergone medical scans conducted by Atos, some for serious conditions. The company’s contract, worth £257 million a year and set to provide 450,000 tests a year, was suspended as a result.

In November 2008, the Independent reported on the loss of confidential data by Atos on a memory stick that included data on an estimated 12 million people. The role of this company is just one example of the impact of privatisation of the welfare state that began under Labour and is to be continued under the current Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition. (full text).

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