Saturday, 1 February 2014

Having a Heart Attack? You Shirker...

The Daily Mirror carried a story today with what must be the most twisted and sickening tale yet of the Government's "fixing" of the benefits system. We heard a few weeks ago about ATOS writing to a woman to penalise her for not attending her disability benefits assessment - the fact that she was in hospital in a coma had apparently been lost on their thick skulls (even although they had been notified).

But today, somehow, feels worse. A man was attending a work capability assessment in Oldham when he had a heart attack and even the nurse conducting the interview decided she should terminate it (I say "even" because there have been many bizarre instances of distinctly uncaring assessments by medical staff employed by ATOS).

Two weeks later, he had his benefits stopped because the Department of Work & Pensions decided he had "withdrawn" from the assessment. Twisted beyond all measure of belief, this decision goes to the heart of this pernicious process, the signature policy of Ian Duncan Smith, who is allegedly a deep thinker.

Well, maybe he is and this is all part of his plan. While he sits in front of TV cameras trotting out platitudes of how the reassessments are designed to support people in genuine need and " not leave them unseen for years", the truth is somewhat different - hundreds of terminally ill people denied benefits in their final weeks, other people put through processes where meetings can be (and are) procedurally deemed to have happened even when they have not taken place, and then really spiteful decisions like this one - you withdrew from the assessment because of a heart attack? Man up and get back in there!

The system is dreadful and its effects sick. But that is almost certainly what its architects, the rightwing Tories and their Lib Dem Orcs, have intended.

Yet complicit in this too are the staff who take jobs with ATOS and the DWP and who then reach decisions like this one penalising a heart attack victim and then producing a letter like the one sent to him. It may be argued they need a job, but at what cost? Ian Duncan Smith did not phone up the issuing Job Centre and tell them to send out the letter to the sick man - someone on site did that.

Over two years ago, there was an instance of an ATOS employee referring online to people attending capability assessments as "parasitic wankers". He was roundly condemned. It is to be hoped that his attitude is not the default culture of DWP staff as well now - there is evidence to the contrary, but the Oldham instance begs the question and with much DWP work contracted-out to profit seeking companies, it is not at all surprising if the attitudes they engender are somewhat less supportive and humane than was the case under the old public service.

It seems that the default position, as part of the official, government-set process, is to be as harsh as possible. Otherwise caring staff appear to be being forced into dreadfully twisted decisions and positions. It is obviously down to individual conscience, but ultimately, there is a difficult choice for staff instructed to implement this vicious policy to make, one which it would be easy to trivialise or portray as simple if you don't work there for your own livelihood but a question they really need to ask themselves nevertheless: should you stay or should you go? 

1 comment:

  1. You cannot absolve yourself of responsibility