Thursday, 11 October 2012

BMA calls for government fitness for work test to be suspended!

The last Labour government under Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, can take credit for laying the foundations for much of the welfare reform that is currently being pursued by the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government. It was the disgraced former Work and Pension Secretary, James Purnell, who was responsible for introducing modern-day slavery to Britain with his work-for-your-dole schemes and who was responsible, for introducing the much discredited fitness-for-work test, the 'work capability assessment' (WCA).

Since the introduction of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) in October 2008, which replaced Incapacity Benefit and Income Support paid on incapacity grounds, there has been considerable criticism about the work assessments carried out by Atos, the French information technology company. Evidence such as that provided by Citizens Advice, has highlighted numerous cases where people with serious health conditions such as Parkinson's disease, multiple sclerosis, terminal cancer, bipolar disorder, heart failure, and severe depression, have been found fit for work.

Last week, the case of 27-year-old Ruth Anim, was reported in the Guardian newspaper. Ruth was born with complex medical needs that include learning disabilities, epilepsy and heart problems. She needs constant one-to-one care and is currently attending life skills' classes to learn how to make a sandwich and a cup of tea. In addition, she cannot cross the road on her own and has no concept of danger. Cecilia Anim, Ruth's mother, who is the deputy president of the Royal College of Nursing, told the newspaper: "She (Ruth) doesn't know that if a car hits you it will kill you; she has no concept of danger."

Despite Ruth's medical and learning problems, she was found fit for work when she attended a medical assessment carried out by a doctor working for Atos. Ruth was assigned to the 'work-related activity group' and is now required to attend regular meetings at the jobcentre to begin "mandatory preparations for going to work."

Describing the 45-minute medical assessment as "chaotic from start to finish", Cecilia Anim, says that because Ruth was very anxious, she was unable to sit still and repeatedly got on and off the medical couch while the doctor was talking to her. However, the medical report says: "Client was able to sit on a chair with a back for 45-minutes." Anim also says that during the medical assessment, Ruth, "went to the tap to wash her hands and started spraying water everywhere." The doctor then shouted at her and said: "Stop doing that!" Anim says she responded to this by saying: "No, no, don't speak to her like that. She's got learning difficulties; she doesn't understand."

Cecilia Anim, says that the medical report that Ruth received about the work capability assessment, was riddled with factual errors. In his report, the doctor described Ruth as a 'male client' and said that Ruth's speech was normal although her mother did most of the speaking. When asked how old she was, Ruth, told the doctor she was 18-years-old although she is 27- years-old. Anim says that when she told her daughter's consultant neurologist that Ruth had been declared fit for work, he "was beside himself with fury" and said to her "Have they done a risk assessment?"

Several months after attending the Atos medical assessment, Ruth was called into the jobcentre to discuss getting back to work. Anim also attended this interview with her daughter and says that she said to the jobcentre adviser, "Are you having a laugh?". When made aware of Ruth's medical and learning disabilities, Anim says: "She asked Ruth, 'what day is it?' Ruthie said Thursday, but it was Tuesday. She asked 'what time is it?' She said 5.30pm but it was 2.30pm." Although the adviser told Anim that Ruth could appeal the decision, she also advised her that she must attend the jobcentre each week and show that she is actively seeking work.

This case prompted one Guardian reader to write to the newspaper describing its report on Ruth Anim as "an affront to a civilised society." But it seems that some people in Tory Britain, think that to show compassion nowadays to those less fortunate than themselves, is something that is positively indecent. Yet opinion polls show that a majority of people want to see more benefit cuts and believe the government pays out too much in benefits and that welfare levels overall, should be reduced to what they see as 'congenital dependents'.

Atos, who were awarded the assessment contract in 2005, claim that its reports are "evidenced based, clearly presented, legible and fully justified." But a report published by Citizens Advice earlier this year, found a "worryingly low" level of accuracy in the WCA's. Published statistics of the 600,000 new claims for ESA from October 2008 to May 2010, showed that 39% were assessed as fit for work. Around a third of these people appealed the decision, of which, 40% were successful.

Earlier this year, the British Medical Association (BMA) conference passed a motion stating that the "inadequate computer-based assessment" performed by Atos, had "little regard for the nature or complexity of the needs of long-term sick and disabled persons" and passed a motion calling for the WCA to be suspended "with immediate effect."

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