Paralympics Sponsor Atos Hits Back At Disability Protesters

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BRITAIN: Paralympics sponsor Atos is facing a disability protest this week over its role in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work

Paralympics sponsor and IT services giant Atos Origin is facing a growing protest from disability groups this week over its role in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work.

According to the Guardian, the campaign is being led by the group Disabled People Against Cuts, which plans to deliver a coffin full of complaints to Atos on Wednesday.

Disability Row

The row centres over the role of Atos in deciding which benefit claimants are fit to work and who is genuinely disabled under the terms of the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Atos was awarded the contract by Labour in 2008, reportedly worth £112m annually to the IT services giant.

According to the Guardian, in the past financial year Atos has conducted about 738,000 work capability assessments on benefit claimants. The newspaper said 40 percent of people appeal against the decisions, with 38 percent of those successful. The cost to the taxpayer of the tribunal system is £50m, around half of the amount spent on reassessment.

The protesters claim that approximately 1,100 people died last year, after failing the test for the new incapacity benefit.

The newspaper also reported that Atos currently has £3bn worth of government contracts. In January, it signed a £74m contract with the Department for Health.

Ongoing Issue

Atos was one of the first services companies to sign a new “memorandum of understanding” with the government, when Cabinet Office minister Francis Maude redesigned Labour contracts he considered too favourable in 2010.

But the company has been dogged for a while now about its handling of the incapacity benefit application system. A government report last July called the system “flawed”, and protesters say this has been proven by the high number of appeals and the high success rate of applicants.

Atos also did little to endear itself in August 2011 when in response to criticism it issued legal threats against the websites and forums that described patients’ unpleasant experiences of the assessment process, accusing them of libel.

Atos Statement

Atos has pointed out that it does not define policy and it does not make decisions on individuals’ entitlement to benefit. It only carries out ‘Work Capability Assessments’ (WCAs) in line with the policy and guidelines laid down by the government.

The company also said it carries out 15,000 face-to-face WCAs each week, and pointed out that in his second review, Professor Harrington found Atos to be giving a “high standard of service”.

It said a successful appeal does not necessarily mean the Work Capability Assessment was not accurate, as often supplementary evidence is provided at the appeal.

“We fully respect people’s right to peaceful protest and we understand this is a highly emotive issue,” an Atos spokesperson told TechWeekEurope by email.

“We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy but we will continue to make sure that the service we provide is as highly professional and compassionate as it can be.”

And the company stood by its support for the Paralympics Games, saying it had supported the Paralympics movement for a long time now.

“At Atos we have proudly supported the Paralympics Movement for a decade. We hope people will view the Games, as we do, as an opportunity to celebrate sporting achievement.”

Euro Story: each week, we publish a selected story from across  NetMEdiaEurope’s network of European sites. This week’s story by Max Smolaks  Kai Schmerer is from TechWeekEurope UK .

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