New Internationalist

Raising the curtain on Atos

Atos assessments have been controversial. Photo: Pete Riches, reproduced with permission.
A cockroach, a tapeworm, herpes, a blood-sucking leech – just some of the terms used to describe Atos Healthcare by people who have come into contact with the company.

Assessments for disability and health related state benefits, conducted by Atos, have been hugely controversial. The company is paid by the British government’s Department for Work and Pensions to help decide who can work and who can’t, who keeps receiving money and who doesn’t. Not only are their results often found to be inaccurate, but the process can be lengthy and debilitating.

In September 2011, the Atos Stories collective started advertising online for people’s experiences of Work Capability Assessments with the aim of making them into plays. Judith Cole [a pseudonym] decided to set up the project after reading horror stories in the press. ‘I think I first saw the story that probably went around on Twitter about a poor guy who’d died of a heart attack after an Atos assessment,’ she says.

Adam Lotun, 49, is one of the people who got in touch with his experience. He says he has had two assessments by Atos, one where he was considered able to work, and one where he wasn’t.

However, he feels neither was in-depth enough to determine the true impact of his multiple health issues which include mental health problems, learning disabilities, needing a wheelchair for mobility, and a machine to help him breathe at night. ‘If I was a horse they would put me down,’ he says.

By May 2012 the small collective had three play scripts ready: Atos Stories, a drama with music, The Atos Monologues and Atos Street Theatre, all available via their website for people to put on in their communities.

Campaigners can use the plays to raise awareness about Atos and the issues faced by people with disabilities. Interest has been building, including from activists angry at Atos’s sponsorship of the Paralympics.

Kerry-Anne Mendoza is a 30-year-old campaigner from Our Olympics. ‘There’s still a shocking amount of public ignorance about the stuff that’s happened with Atos and what the actual impacts are on the disabled community,’ she says.

Act Up, a community theatre company based in Newham, London is putting on a performance of Atos Stories. The group is made up of both people with disabilities and people without. ‘We are now trying to adapt it and make it accessible for our group,’ says Yvonne Brouwers their chair.

In September, disability charity Scope published the results of a survey that revealed 73 per cent of disabled people felt others just presumed they did not work, this was up from 50 per cent in May 2011.

Campaigners and disability charities feel that government cuts and rhetoric around the concept of ‘benefit scroungers’ is making an already difficult situation worse, while reducing the amount of money people have to lead independent lives.

‘That disabled person who lives next door to you, who you think doesn’t look very disabled, could actually be spending three days out of every five in bed because they’re so ill,’ says Judith.

Adam says he has experienced this discrimination first-hand: ‘I’ve been pushed into oncoming traffic when I’ve been waiting at traffic lights, I’ve had my walking stick kicked away from me, I’ve been kicked out of my wheelchair…and it’s not just me, it’s happening to many people across the country.’

It is hoped communicating the experiences of people through drama will make a useful change from more traditional protest methods. ‘I think if you can move people, make them angry, make them laugh at the absurdity of it and then make them realize what that absurdity means for people, then you can really shake people up,’ says Judith.

‘People in this country like to think that the vulnerable, the needy, the poor and disabled get a good deal and when they discover that they don’t they’re really shocked…Somebody might be put off by a protest but they think, “That looks like an interesting play, I’ll go to that.”’

Ultimately, Atos Stories also aims to be a source of empowerment for performers and audiences. ‘I’m hoping that some of the people who choose to put on the plays will have had a personal experience,’ says Judith.

‘It gives them the chance to say, actually this is terrible, and be part of a collective response to it and take the fight back.’

More information about the plays is available at the Atos Stories website.

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  1. #1 John Stevens 02 Aug 12

    Journalist Sonia Poulton has written an open letter to Rt Hon Ed Miliband MP, leader of the Opposition, regarding the Atos scandal.

    Perhaps people can Tweet, Facebook and send to their MP.

    MP email addresses can be obtained from the UK Parliament website and messages can be sent via WriteToThem website.

  2. #2 jeffrey davies 02 Aug 12

    this firm if it was in america it would be fined and thrown out but labour started it torys finishing it by the atos stick ,the biggest fraud is done by those in power look at the millions they give to their mates a4e and others who earn vast amounts off taxx payers money for little outlay .emmas reason for doing it 8.6million reason in bonuses this is the fraud not the disabled and sick jeff3 off

  3. #3 kaleem sheikh 05 Aug 12

    i have a judgement against them, also i am taking them to court for personal injury re the assesement

  4. #4 After Atos 10 Aug 12

    Enormous respect to Atos Stories and Adam Luton Wda and all others sharing the news and Truth of the Atos disability assessments and the government policies and their impact on the disabled and the most vulnerable.

    AFTER ATOS has been taking the feedback back since Feb 2011. it is a ongoing on rolling feedback survey with ongoing rolling results published and sent round and available to anyone who wishes to access valid information from the disabled themselves or their family. The info and examples and feedback is free to use and quote and if anyone wants to create a drama from some of the stories please do. I think a series of short dialogue dramas even written for radio would be good.

    Aunty Admin See below and link

    Since 2008 Atos Healthcare on behalf of the government has been assessing and discounting the disabled at a rate of over 3,000 per day and 800,000 per year. At no time did the DWP, Government or Atos put in a feedback system to monitor or account for the disabled. AFTER ATOS sets out to do that. We answer the question. WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

    AFTER ATOS is about collecting the feedback and experience of those going through the Atos assessments as we believe everyone needs to be accounted for. It is the basis of any good business practice or programme to account for what you are doing and how it affects people, especially when your intervention is to do

    “No room for wheelchair” “Braille notice 12ft off the ground”

    with people’s lives and the most vulnerable.
    A slide show of Why After Atos Assessment is needed and how it is aimed to work is below the recent results, and is a slideshow vid The Story of After Atos.

    The aim of AFTER ATOS is for the disabled to be accounted for and for the government to be held to account. This is the basis of any civilisation and democracy. To do less is to fail that civilisation and democracy. If you have had an Atos “Medical”Assessment please fill in our feedback form at the AFTER ATOS ASSESSMENT “Customer” Feedback Survey. See example of result results below in slide show, and on our results pages. All can be accessed in pdf.

    “Did not know anything about my condition”
    “Ignored most of what was said by myself and my partner”
    “Poor, better off seeing someone who worked in a concrete works”

    AFTER ATOS gets the overall feedback and results and sends them to politicians, journalists, newsdesks and many public bodies and groups. So no one can say that they did not know. Respondents get their own copy on return completion in instant email. This you can keep and use as you will. In a way it is your statement and you have documented all the important things. You may use this by yourself to refer and remind yourself to, or you may use it by joining up with others, collecting and comparing your witness and raising group and mass action and awareness where you are. Please try the AFTER ATOS feedback survey supported and endorsed in your area, either by government, local government or even by independent groups such as action groups, anti cuts and disabled groups. The only way is the truth and the mass witness and testament of everyone. As the ancient saying goes “THE TRUTH WILL SET YOU FREE.”

    “I had been asked to do things that should not have “
    “The physical motion test she gave me was an absolute joke.”
    “I was being assessed by a health care assistant “

    For any one who wants any support or advice while doing so or with appeals or WCA work programmes please go to Advice and Forums page where you will find links to current forums and groups. Walk through the ESA50 and assessments with Miss Ben E Fit at TheFullFacts and see her Fullfacts Claim Form and medical guide.

    I” worry a lot ” “I don’t think I can pay my bills” “”It is an absolute farce” “Were it not for support from family, I firmly believe I’d have committed suicide by now.”


  5. #5 paul baker 21 Aug 12

    atos are a disgrace, some of the questions like can you sit and
    watch tv for an hour are stupid.

    a 90 year old that uses a zimmerframe can do that
    it is about time they were brought to account
    paul baker winsford cheshire.

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About the author

Amy Hall a New Internationalist contributor

Amy Hall is a journalist from Cornwall, now based in Brighton, England. Her particular interests include activism, community, social justice and the environment as well as arts and culture. She previously produced and presented the New Internationalist podcast and has written for publications including The Guardian, The Ecologist and Red Pepper. She currently works at the Institute of Development Studies.

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