Posts Tagged ‘Autism’

Tory Candidate Recommends Paying Mentally Handicapped Less than Ordinary People

December 9, 2019

There really couldn’t be a clearer statement of the Tories’ contempt for society’s weaker, less privileged and disabled members. Mike put up a piece today reporting that the Tory candidate for Amber Rudd’s old constituency of Hastings & Rye, Sally Ann Hart, managed to outrage people at a local husting with her recommendation on how much people with learning difficulties should be paid. She said that they should earn less than people of normal intelligence, because ‘they don’t understand money’ (!) This lead to shouts of ‘Shameful!’ and one person in the audience shouting that they were autistic, and they wanted to get paid for the work they do. As they should.

Amber Rudd, when she held that constituency, only had a majority of 346 votes over Labour. After this, Mike reckons that the Labour candidate, Peter Chowney, might just take it. And Mike also makes it clear what Hart’s comment means:

I think it means it is Conservative policy to rip off and shortchange people whenever and wherever they think it is possible.

Never mind whether they do a good job or not, if someone has a learning disability, the Tories are saying not only that you can – but that you should – pay them less money.

He goes on to describe what the Tories’ re-election would mean for other disabled people across Britain.

But we can see what kind of nation the Tories would create if they are elected into government again on December 12: one in which the hostile environment they have already built for disabled people would spill over into open contempt, with more pushed into poverty, and possibly even more deaths than we’ve seen in the last nine years of Tory misrule.

See: https://voxpoliticalonline.com/2019/12/08/will-labour-take-hastings-rye-after-conservative-candidates-disablist-remark/

The Tories really do amaze me. Just when you think they couldn’t get lower or scummier, they do. Their morals are so low they’re subterranean. And I also wonder if Hart herself isn’t a bit defective in the old grey matter. Years ago I read a piece in New Scientist about some of the problems suffered by people with injuries or other impairments to specific parts of their brain. One region of the brain apparently regulates morality. According to the neurologist interview by the magazine, those of his patients who’ve suffered damage to that area will do things like start eating the food off other peoples’ plates in restaurants. They do so simply because, with that part of their brain not working correctly, they no longer understand that’s not the right thing to do.

It’s tempting to speculate that Sally Ann Hart may have a similar mental impairment. But sadly, I doubt it. She doesn’t appear to have suffered any damage to her brain. She just has a nasty attitude to the disabled.

As for disabled people not understanding money, while that’s no doubt true of some, it most certainly isn’t true of others. Some autistic people, for example, are superb mathematicians, but find it difficult to cope in social situations. And there are too many people of normal intelligence, who are unable to deal properly with money. I’ve heard stories of people falling on severe financial difficulties because the money they should have used to pay the rent or the mortgage they’ve instead spent on an expensive car or luxury holiday to somewhere exotic. They’ve made a stupid choice, but they aren’t mentally handicapped and shouldn’t be paid less for their work either.

But Hart’s comments about the disabled also reveals much about the wider Tory viewpoint, at least for some members of the party. One writer on American Neoconservativism believed that they had an essentially Hobbesian worldview. That is, they followed the 17th century philosopher Thomas Hobbes in considering people purely as isolated units in society, engaged in a ‘war of each against all’. This also seems to be Hart’s thinking, in which those physically, mentally or socially inferior are to be taken advantage of and exploited. Because they are unable to cope for themselves, and so ultimately it’s for their benefit. Hence the punitive benefit sanctions and the Work Capability Test. These may strike everyone with an ounce of compassion and objectivity as grossly unfair and cruel to the point of murder, but to the Tories it’s all for the good of those at the receiving end of it. They have to be kept in line, even by exploitation, as they cannot cope and function as proper, self-reliant, responsible members of society otherwise.

It’s a disgusting attitude. Stop this Tory exploitation of the disabled and, indeed, anyone else on Thursday. Get them out, and Corbyn in!

‘I’ Newspaper: Tories Selling Off Mental Health care to Americans

December 3, 2019

And it’s a disaster.

This is another story from yesterday’s I, this time written by Ian Birrell. It’s titled ‘NHYS for sale? Our mental health services are’ with the subtitle ‘Fatcat US operators already have their claws into our psychiatric services’. It’s a comprehensive discussion how big American private medical companies are acquiring British healthcare companies and NHS contracts, and how patients are suffering through the deplorably bad care they provide.

Birrell begins with Jeremy Corbyn’s statement last week that the documents of the negotiations between Trump and Johnson showed that the NHS were being sold off to private American companies. Birrell denied this, and instead stated that not even Boris would dare sell off the NHS went it is so highly valued by the British public. He then moved on to the strenuous denials by the Tories that they were planning any such thing, before attacking them in turn as lies when it came to mental health. He wrote

Yet hang on a second. One key slice of the NHS is already lying in a distressed state on the operating table, where it has been chopped up for profit-hungry private firms. And giant US health corporations, along with hedge funds and private equity firms, are already here and bleeding dry this profitable of the corner of the NHS – with often disastrous consequences for some of our most desperate patients. Sadly, no one seems to care much since it is “only” the mental health sector – for so long the neglected Cinderella service.

Yet in recent years a small cluster of fatcats have got their claws into Britain’s psychiatric services, exploiting the struggles of the health service to cope with surging demand. These operators have grabbed nearly £2bn of business, providing almost one quarter of NHS mental health beds and soaking up close to half the total spend on child and adolescent mental health services.

This means they own many NHS-funded units holding people, such as teenage girls who self-harm and adults with suicidal thoughts, along with hundreds of people with autism and learning disabilities scandalously locked up due to lack of support in their local communities. These firms benefit as overloaded mental health services and risk-averse officials send more and more troubled citizens into secure units. It is a lucrative business when it costs up to £730,000 per patient a year. Bosses can pocket millions – but many frontline workers earn little more than minimum wage and the use of agency staff is routine, despite the need to develop patient relationships.

Acadia, a Tennessee-based health giant, spent £1.3bn buying the Priory Group and now boasts of earning more than £188m in just three months from British public services. “Demand for independent-sector beds has grown significantly as a result of the NHS reducing its bed capacity and increasing hospitalisation rates,” said its last annual report.

Operating profits at Cygnet, owned by another huge US firm, have surged to £45.2m due to deals with 228 NHS purchasing bodies after it bought a rival group last year. Another outfit called Elysium, backed by private equity through a Luxembourg firm, only launched three years ago, but is already earning revenues of £62.2m from at least 55 units.

But a study by the Rightful Lives campaign group has found these three firms alone own 13 of the 16 mental health settings judged “inadequate” by the Care Quality Commission watchdog, since it found some teeth after the furore over abusive detention of people with autism and learning disabilities exploded a year ago. Cygnet runs eight of these “inadequate” units, although its US boss is reportedly the richest chief executive in the hospital industry, who collected more than £39m in one year from pay, bonuses and stock. Priory and Cygnet also owned hospitals exposed by disturbing undercover television documentaries over the past year.

I have heard a stream of horror stories from despairing families and former patients involving solitary confinement, forcible injections, abuse and overuse of restraint, during investigations into this area. Some were detained in NHS psychiatric units. But most involve privately run units. People such as Megan, who was sectioned for self-harm, suicidal thoughts and later found to be suffering post-traumatic stress from childhood traumas. She was in four clinics – but in one run by the Priory, aged just 16, she was even held stark naked for one month to prevent self-harm until her parents delivered a “safe suit”. “It was the most degrading time of my life,” she told me. The firm was fined £300,000 earlier this year for failings after the suicide of a 14-year-old girl at the same unit.

Despite the ample demonstration that private healthcare doesn’t work and is just simple profiteering, Birrell is at pains to say that he has nothing against the involvement of the private sector in state healthcare. He just wants it to be better regulated. He ends his piece with these two paragraphs

Unlike many voters, I have no problems with private providers in healthcare if the service remains free at the point of use, especially after seeing their role in European systems with superior patient outcomes to our own health service. But seeing these mental-health firms has shaken my faith.

Clearly all private operators need to be effectively regulated, especially when providing sensitive frontline services. Sadly, it seems our politicians on all sides prefer to posture over whether the NHS is really for sale to “mega-corporations” while ignoring those that have already arrived and are pocketing vast sums while offering inadequate services to so many despairing citizens. Once again, we see how little Westminster really cares.

Actually, I think these paragraphs say much about the I and the political ‘centrism’ it supports. The NHS has been privatised piecemeal since the days of Thatcher, who was prevented from privatising it outright by a cabinet revolt. Blair’s government did much to hand it over to private firms, though much had already been done in this direction by the Private Finance Initiative introduced by the Tories and Peter Lilley. The Conservatives haven’t reversed the policy of privatisation, and are instead ramping it up even further.

The result is massively poor performance. Jacky Davis and Ray Tallis argue very strongly in their book on the privatisation of the NHS, NHS-SOS, that on their own private healthcare can’t compete with state. The service provided will always be inferior, as the profit-motive doesn’t work when it comes to the long-term sick or those with acute conditions. Private hospitals have fewer beds than state hospitals. And those who cannot afford healthcare are simply left to sicken and die. A few years ago the private healthcare system in America nearly collapsed. It’s why the American healthcare giants are so keen to acquire pieces of ours.

Yes, continental healthcare which often does involve the private sector can perform better than ours. But that’s because our National Health Service has always received comparatively less funding than theirs. It’s been the case, sadly, since the NHS was set up. On the other hand, our healthcare results are far, far better than Americas and were comparable to those on the continent. Until the Tories took over, and decided to cut things back and privatise even more.

But Birrell cannot criticise private medicine, because privatisation is still part of ‘Centrist’ political dogma. Moreover, the press is now owned by immensely rich men, often with commercial interests in other sectors of the economy. As a result, the supposedly liberal I and Guardian continue to flog Centrist economics even though these are so well-past their sale-by date that they’ve been dubbed ‘zombie economics’.

As for Corbyn, I believe very strong that rather than playing political football with the issue of NHS privatisation, he’s very aware of what’s going on and how it is failing Britain’s sick and ill. That’s why he wants to end it and renationalise the NHS. Birrell tries desperately to avoid that conclusion, because like all Centrists he wants the NHS privatisation to continue thanks to the Thatcherite dogma he’s imbibed and promotes.

But Thatcherism has had its day. It is bringing nothing but misery, deprivation and death. It’s time the Tories were out, Jeremy Corbyn was in, and the NHS renationalised. 

Now!

Private Eye’s Biased Reporting of Power Struggle in Socialist Health Association

March 1, 2019

This fortnight’s Private Eye, for 22nd February – 7th March 2019 ran an article by ‘Ratbiter’ about a messy power struggle for struggle of the moribund Socialist Health Authority. This blamed its current leader, Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, for taking it to the point of death. Dr Scott-Samuel was described as a conspiracy theorist, who appeared alongside anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield on a show broadcast on David Icke’s forum and had unjustly attempted to get one of his Association’s employees, its director Martin Rathfelder, sacked.

The article, ‘Socialist Malaise’ ran

The once respected Socialist Health Association is looking peaky. If not dead, it’s certainly in a coma. 

The Association campaigned for the creation of the NHS in 1948 and has fought to defend free healthcare at the point of use ever since. But it hasn’t published a policy statement since 2017, and calls to its office are likely to go unanswered since it sacked its only staff member last year. Who could have brought a proud campaign group to the brink of death? Step forward Dr Alex Scott-Samuel, chair of Liverpool Wavertree Labour party.

Shadow chancellor John McDonnell assured worried Labour supporters that Scott-Samuel and his comrades were drying to get Luciana Berger MP deselected (prior to Berger leaving Labour of her own accord) not because they were anti-Semites, but because of “other issues”. These honeyed words became harder to swallow when it became clear Scott-Samuel had made comments promoting a “Rothschild” conspiracy theory that led Liverpool University to emphasise last week that it no longer employed him.

Scott-Samuel’s arrival at the Socialist Health Association was part of a wider move by Jeremy Corbyn supporters into Labour’s 20 affiliated socialist societies. They have a seat on the party’s national executive committee (NEC), which is handy as Labour fights its civil wars. More significantly, the societies have impressive voting rights in local Labour parties. A minimal presence in a constituency gives the Socialist Health Association the right to send five delegates to the local Labour party and help purge the sitting MP and councillors, should they so desire.

Martin Rathfelder, the association’s direct, told the Eye that “everything changed” when Scott-Samuel and friends took over the association in 2017. As a neutral officer, Rathfelder said his job was to encourage doctors and nurses to stand for election. “They really didn’t like that,” he said. “They saw it as me threatening their control.”

Scott-Samuel saw his chance to strike when Rathfelder lost his temper with a YMCA worker in Crewe who was refusing to let members into a hall the association had booked. He sacked Rathfelder for “being abusive” and encouraging “candidates to run against a sitting officer”. The purge ended in fiasco. Unison was appalled and withdrew its funding from the association. Rathfelder appealed and secured a very generous settlement-so generous that the association has been unable to hire a replacement.

Even though it is now a moribund organisation, surely Scott-Samuel can still defend public health in a personal capacity as a good socialist must? He had that chance in his latest appearance on The Richie Allen Show (broadcast on conspiracist David Icke’s forum) when he was on air alongside a supporter of discredited anti-vaxxer Andrew Wakefield. Once upon a time the Lancet, Private Eye and most of the national press took Wakefield’s claims that the MMR vaccine might cause autism seriously-but now every sensible person accepts Wakefield is a fraud. Not so Scott-Samuel. When presented with a chance to warn parents that listening to the anti-vaxxers could put their (and other) children’s lives in danger, he ducked it for fear of offending his fellow conspiracists.

At a time of mounting concern about mental illness, social care, obesity and measles epidemics, the Socialist Health Association is now not only useless, but also dangerous. (p.10).

Now I don’t know what the facts behind this article’s account of these events really are. It’s possible that Dr Scott-Samuel really is a raving anti-Semite, who believes in an odious conspiracy theory about the Jews centred on the Rothschilds. And if he didn’t speak out against the anti-vaxxer’s nonsense, then he was seriously, dangerously wrong not to. There is indeed a surge in the diseases Ratbiter mentions, especially in America amongst predominantly right-wing communities that are against vaccination. But Private Eye also has its own biases, that cast serious doubt on parts of the narrative as told here.

Firstly, as you can see, the story is very anti-Corbyn and determined to push the view that he, or his supporters, are Jew-haters. And Ratbiter is one of those involved in pushing it in Private Eye. I think I can remember an article by the redoubtable and definitely Jewish Tony Greenstein on his blog, where he revealed who Ratbiter was. Or the identity of one of the people behind the pseudonym. As we’ve seen, Wavetree wished to deselect Luciana Berger, but I’ve seen precious little evidence that genuine anti-Semitism is involved. Berger has suffered some horrendous anti-Semitic abuse, but she’s pointed her finger in the wrong direction when it comes to culprits. There’s no evidence that anyone in the Labour party or who supports the Labour party has ever sent her anything anti-Semitic. The local party wanted her out because she’s a lazy, entitled Blairite – she was parachuted into this very safe constituency when she was in a liaison with Blair’s spawn, Euan. Who was rumoured to be the new leader of the Centrist party a few months ago.

Going on to Scott-Samuel’s views on the Rothschilds, the banking dynasty is indeed the centre of any number of conspiracy theories about the Jews trying to take over the world, and enslave and destroy White gentiles. They also figure in more sanitised versions in which the culprits aren’t the Jews, but the New World Order or Illuminati, or there is a distinction made between good Jews, those murdered by the Nazis, and evil Jews, like the Rothschilds and other elite bankers. But the Rothschild’s are hardly innocent or above suspicion. During the 1930s and ’40s they did lend money to the Nazi regime, even when it was persecuting and murdering Jews in the death camps. Recently Mike mentioned on his blog the case of a female Labour supporter/member, who was accused of anti-Semitism after a Tweet or Facebook post she made about the Rothschilds. But Mike made the point that the Rothschilds are immensely rich and powerful, and asked why they should be exempt from criticism or their power and influence from legitimate questioning. I don’t know, but Scott-Samuel’s case could be another like this.

And lurking behind these events and machinations is the article’s bias about the SHA itself. This, we are told at the start, is an organisation that campaigned for the NHS and for free healthcare ever since. But I remember a few years ago, when Blair was still a power in the land, the Eye ran a story about a socialist health organisation – it might be the SHA, or it might be the Socialist Medical Society – which complained that it had been taken over by the Blairites and turned into a mouthpiece for their privatisation campaign. This organisation was also described, if I recall correctly, as almost on its last legs. If this was the SHA, then the Blairites cannot complain about being displaced by Corbyn supporters in their turn. Well, they can, but they’d be hypocrites. Which definitely wouldn’t stop them.

And note another unspoken assertion in the article: the Blairites in the Labour party apparat – the party bureaucracy – are the victims, who rightfully hold their position, while Corbyn’s supporters are invading, disruptive supporters. But the opposite is almost certainly the case. Blair’s supporters within the Labour party are numerically small, and they hold control of party’s bureaucracy against the wishes of the majority of party members. Whom they have been desperately trying to purge, using their positions. And it would only make the party more democratic and accountable if they were forced out. They were put in place by a firmly centralising Labour administration, determined to make sure that no-one was appointed to any position of authority within the party without the express permission of Blair. And in the case of the student union, that meant that the system of election by the students themselves was removed and replaced with appointment from above. By Blair.

Ratbiter’s Private Eye article is thus, whatever the truth about its allegations of Dr Scott-Samuel’s conduct and views, just another piece of Blairite anti-Corbyn propaganda. It is designed to preserve the Labour party as the exclusive property of wealthy, entitled neoliberals like Luciana Berger, keen to carry on Blair’s noxious and destructive policies of privatisation and the destruction of the welfare state. And as inveterate enemies of Corbyn, the Eye is more than willing to give ample space to Ratbiter’s and the other Blairites’ lies and smears.

 

Share and Enjoy! The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Predicted the Tutorbot

December 28, 2017

‘Share and enjoy’ is the company motto of the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, a massive robotics conglomerate best known for its incompetence and shoddy workmanship in Douglas Adams’ Science Fiction classic, The Hitch-Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. The company and its products are so substandard, that its complaints division now occupies the major landmasses of three whole planets.

And while, according to Adams, the great Encyclopedia Galactica defined a robot as a machine designed to do the work of a man, the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation defines a robot as ‘your plastic pal who’s fun to be with’.

And we’re coming closer to that reality every day. Yesterday and today, BBC 2 have been running a short documentary series, Six Robots and Us, in which six families and other groups of people take care of six robots designed to help them with their particular problems. One of these is Fitbot, a robotic fitness instructor, which was given to a group of people trying to get fit. In tonight’s episode, the people of a shop take custody of Shopbot, are robotic store worker, to see how they get on. And there are two children with learning difficulties, one of whom is autistic, who are given Tutorbot, to see if it can help them overcome their difficulties at school.

Douglas Adams predicted something very similar in the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy way back in the ’70s-80s. In the second series of the radio version of Hitch-Hiker, there’s a device called an autoteach, a kind of computer teacher. It gives the student facts, and then starts asking questions to get the student to think through the issues. If the student gets an answer right, they get to press a button on the autoteach, which stimulates their pleasure centres. And at the end of the lesson, after the students has laughed and screamed with pleasure when they get the answers right, the autoteach asks them to press the other button. This give the autoteach itself a dose of pure pleasure, so that part of the story ends with the autoteach laughing like a maniac.

Ok, so Tutorbot, with its humanoid shape isn’t quite like that, and it doesn’t electronically stimulate the pleasure centres, mercifully. But the idea’s more or less the same: an intelligent machine to teach children.

As for the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation, the Hitch-Hikers’ Guide to the Galaxy defined them as ‘a bunch of mindless jerks, who will be first up against the wall when the revolution comes.’

I didn’t see all of yesterday’s edition, because I went to bed early due to this cold. The next programme is on tonight, 28th December 2017, at 8.30. Aside from the cold, what went through my mind while watching the programme was all the jokes in Hitch-Hiker about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation.

Here’s a clip from YouTube from the 80s TV version of Hitch-Hiker, where the Book talks about the Sirius Cybernetics Corporation and robots.

Robothespian, the British Robotic Actor

October 25, 2016

Yesterday I put up a piece about a performance of Karel Capek’s classic play about a robot rebellion, RUR, at the Czech national library a few years ago by a theatre group, Café Neu Romance, using lego robots. The theatre company was the creation of Vive Les Robots, a Danish company set up to encourage public interest in robots and robotics. I said in the article that I thought it would be good if the play could be performed by full-sized robots, to give it the stature it deserves. I realise, however, that was unlikely given how massively expensive the animatronic technology is, that brings to life robotic puppets like Ry’gel from the SF series Farscape.

One British company, Engineered Arts, has created such a full size mechanical actor. It’s called Robothespian, and there are a number of videos about it on YouTube. The video below shows it, appropriately enough, talking about R.U.R. as part of Café Neu Romance, a robot arts festival, at the Czech National Technical Library in 2012.

Robothespian has also appeared on British breakfast television. In this clip from the Beeb’s Breakfast TV programme from 2014, the two presenters talk about, and sometimes to Robothespian with Dr Nigel Crook of Oxford Brookes University. The robot was created by Engineered Arts as a research project to explore the ways people interact with robots. Crook explains that it can respond to a number of voice commands, and the two presenters ask it questions such as what advantages robots have over human beings. Crook also explains that despite this ability, real intelligence is a long way off, and the problem of giving the robot the ability to hold a genuinely intelligent, wide-ranging conversation is very challenging. So right now, the machine responds giving the answers programmed into it by a human operator.

Robothespian, or Artie, as it is called, from RT – Robothespian – replies to the question about its usefulness that robots can perform simple, repetitive tasks accurately without tiring, or needing to go for breaks. They ask it if it could do their job. Its answer is that it certainly could, as all they do is read from an autocue. So when does it start?

The machine has a range of expressive hand gestures, a moving mouth, and two screens in its head, which show images of eyes. These blink, helping it show a number of expressions. They also show hearts, like those shown in the eyes of cartoon characters to indicate they have fallen in love. The two presenters are, however, advised to stand a few feet away from the robot. Crook explains it is compliant, which means that, unlike an industrial robot, it won’t blindly continue to perform a gesture if it accidentally strikes someone who happens to stand in the way. Similarly, it’s possible to pull the robot’s limbs away from where they’ve settled without damaging it. Nevertheless, the presenters were advised to stand clear of it just in case it accidentally flipped back and struck them.

As well as delivering monologues, Robothespian can also sing, giving a hilarious rendition of ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, and do impressions, like Darth Vader from Star Wars. Crook explains that it was built to act as a guide at museums, festivals and exhibitions. The two presenters ask about its gender, and are told that it’s creators think of it as male, as it’s been given a male voice.

Also on the show is a little feature about a robot toy, Caspar, which is used in schools to teach autistic children. The toy was being tried out as a teaching tool as autistic people can find it immensely challenging understanding other’s emotions. They also like things in a very set order. Caspar is useful in that its responses, although intended to mimic those of humans, are always the same. For example, when it smiles, that smile is always the same smile every time it makes that expression. And this regularity and constancy of expression is intended to be reassuring and non-threatening, so that the child using it finds it easy, or easier to do so, than more conventional forms of interaction with people.

Robothespian isn’t cheap. Crook explains that it costs about £50,000. Despite this, Engineered Arts have built more than one of them. In this video from last year, 2015, two of them sing, ‘I Am Not A Robot’.

I find robots and robotics interesting, but I am very much aware of the problems they pose. There are the general philosophical issues like human identity and uniqueness – how long before they develop real intelligence and consciousness, start performing sophisticated task like creating art or composing music, or resent at their enslavement and control by humans? There are also the very real social and economic problems caused by their manufacture. The more industry is automated, the more real jobs, that could be performed by people, are lost. The Beeb a few months ago broadcast a documentary which forecast that in the next 15-20 years a third of all jobs could be lost in Britain. You can certainly see it in retail, where a number of companies have replaced human staff with self-service tills, where you scan in yourself the items you want to purchase into the machine, which then takes your money and hands you your change and receipt. If we aren’t careful, this will lead to the emergence of a society very much like that of 2000 AD’s Megacity One. Judge Dredd’s home city has, thanks to robots, a massive unemployment rate of 95% or so. As a result, most people’s lives are marked by boredom and despair, a situation brought home in the classic ‘Judge Dredd’ story, ‘Un-American Graffitti’, featuring Chopper, a teenage lad trying to escape this crushing social malaise through ever more daring pieces of graffiti artwork. 2000 AD and the ‘Dredd’ strip in particular always had a very strong element of satire and social commentary, and this was one of the most outstanding examples of the strip telling an entertaining story while also describing the real situation many of its readers faced for real due to Thatcherism.

And unfortunately, despite the boom years of the 1990s, the prospect of long-term unemployment and grinding poverty has got worse, due to globalism and the spread of neoliberalism as the dominant political and economic ideology. This will only get worse unless humanity finds ways to manage robotic technology wisely, to create jobs, rather than to the replace them.

ATOS’ Lies: More Commenters Speak Out!

January 11, 2014

Following my post on the suicide of Jacqueline Harris, who took her own life after Atos found her ‘fit for work’, I blogged on my own experience that ATOS will lie about the results of the medical examinations they conduct in order to find them falsely as capable of working. Others have had the same experience, and I posted the stories of two of the commenters to this blog. Since then, others have also commented with their experiences of ATOS lying and doctoring (ha!) the results of their examinations. Or sometimes even missing examinations they were supposed to hold and then blaming the claimant.

Cristina Light described her ATOS interview:

‘The ATOS GP gave me positive scores for all my joints movements without carrying on any examinations, and though he saw me ‘furniture walk’ with great difficulty, and 20/20 for my eyesight, though I can’t read a word without glasses – an ‘exam’ carried out on a Sunday lunchtime that lasted exactly 22 minutes (from 1pm when he knocked on the door to 1:22pm when the door banged behind him), and during which he never wrote but a few notes on a shorthand notebook. I was never given a copy of the report until a week before the appeal deadline. In it I noticed that he mentioned I could not be depressed because I had good eye contact and was articulate, properly dressed (in jimjams!!!) and had nail polish. The tribunal were appalled, and they made a point to note his name and ATOS number. I hope they gave him hell.’

Sam told how ATOS’ lies had not only cost him his benefit, but also his flat. Not surprisingly, his health was seriously damaged and more than once this poor fellow contemplated suicide:

‘I have just waited 15 months for a hearing of my appeal against a O point WCA finding by Atos HCP. At last, this week, it happened.

I was challenging on nine descriptors: the Tribunal only looked at two.

On the basis of their assessment of my case on those two descriptors, the Tribunal decided not even to look at the other seven.

There was no reason to do so… they’d already awarded me 21 points. It took less than 10 minutes.

During the year I lost my flat because, due to the cut in benefit while I awaited my hearing, I could no longer pay the rent. My inability to meet my obligations at my bank cost me penalties of hundreds of pounds and punitive interest. My health crashed. I seriously and continually contemplated suicide.

I am too exhausted and ill to do awt now. However, if I can recover and find the resources, I can assure Tommaz Jay and others that I have every intention of suing DWP, probably Atos and possibly IDS and and Atos HCP for exemplary damages.

I imagine that a few weeks I shall start visiting every site I can think of to seek help and to publicise (to the max).

I hope to show those conscienceless and incompetent social darwinists, and the world, with solid gold knobs on, that in the case of Sam, they made a terrible mistake.

Success will be doing so with such effect that WCA will be so discredited as to be a dead duck.

Pleasure will be doing so during the election period’.

Elizabeth Rogerson told how ATOS falsely declared that the autistic son of one of her friends was fit for work, despite the fact that this young lad has always had to be accompanied to such examinations:

‘I have an autistic friend whose mother attended every meeting with him during his application process for benefits because he can’t look after himself. When his ATOS assessment came up, his mother had a hospital appointment of her own to attend that had been a very long time coming and which she couldn’t miss, so I volunteered to be his responsible adult for the assessment. It seemed fairly innocuous when we were actually there, but he was of course rejected, and one of the points upon which they rejected him was “able to attend meetings alone and unsupervised”, which was an outright lie. He has never, never been to any official meeting without a representative attending with him. He would mentally incapable of doing so, just as he would be mentally incapable of answering any of the questions as they claimed he did. The entire transcript of his interview was a fabrication from start to finish.’

Angie Bennetton’s comment describes how ATOS keeps moving the goalposts by cancelling their examination of her at the last moment, and falsely claiming that she has not attended assessments. Again, the motive appears to prevent her from claiming benefit:

‘My complaint about ATOS is currently with the independent case examiner, but I’m not optimistic that anything good will ever come of it. My migration from IB to ESA started almost exactly 2 years ago and I’ve yet to have an assessment – we’re up to 13 appointments and counting. Almost invariably they’re cancelled at the last minute or later by ATOS or the doctor simply doesn’t turn up. ATOS have said so far that the doctor did turn up but I wasn’t in, but can’t explain how the letter telling me this arrived in the post half an hour before the appointment time. They said I refused to be assessed and that I’ve refused to attend the assessment centre. This is despite abundant letters and emails begging them to get this over with and repeated confirmation that they won’t let me in to the assessment centre anyway as ‘I’m too disabled’. They have also made up appointments which I failed to attend but for which they are unable to supply any evidence of informing me about them, then retracted the allegation when challenged. Finally, they have admitted that they knew from the outset that I should be in the Support Group but felt a face to face assessment would be in my best interests. Why? Their best interests more likely – so that they can trip me up with trick questions and find me fit for work and get paid for doing an unnecessary assessment.’

May Jones described how ATOs ignored her serious disabilities to concentrate on the her minor afflictions in order to find her fit for work. What is particularly disgusting here is the official inaction in response to the letter she wrote to ATOS and the DWP complaining about the wrongful conduct of her examination. It was only after she contacted the GMC that action was taken at last. Their punishment to the ATOS assessor is, however, clearly in adequate for the seriousness of his offence. They have simply banned him from carrying out any further assessments, while in fact his conduct in them raises grave questions about his whole integrity as a doctor.

‘ I was asked to have a medical by a DWP tribunal because they couldn’t decide (?) (I couldn’t attend).
The Atos GP ignored all but the minor disability and wrote a report about that.
The Tribunal disallowed me benefits based on this report.
I complained to Atos who upheld my complaint and said they notified DWP straight away.
DWP did nothing, didn’t contact me, the Tribunal service also ignored my letters.
Was ill for a while then, but eventually made a complaint to GMC about this GP. They also upheld my complaint. The only action they took was to stop him doing DWP/ATOS medicals.
If I had lied on a benefit form I’m likely end up in court.
These ‘GP’s’ are a disgrace to the profession and should also be in court or jailed.
DWP refuse to tell me how many others were refused benefits because of this discredited GP.
Think I’ll try a no win no fee solicitor.
Something MUST be done -they make health so much worse, I was thinking about topping myself for a while – I decided to fight back instead; some people can’t.’

She has also given the results of a Friend of Information Request regarding complaints to the GMC about ATOS and their doctors. These are disgusting, in that they show not only how many complaints have been formally submitted, but also that the great majority of them have been dismissed by the GMC. It seems that the deliberate falsification of results, in order to deprive someone of their income, leaving them often homeless and suicidal, are in general not seen as a serious issue by the Council. This in itself should be a major issue, as it has been in the past when the Council has allowed doctors guilty of serious negligence or even crime, such as the sexual assault of their female patients, to continue to practice.

‘complaints to GMC about Atos/DWP ‘doctors’ -Freedom of Info request.
From 2009 – 2013 GMC investigated 149 complaints (cases).
These cases relate to 126 doctors (as a doctor can have more than one case against him)
15 cases still under investigation.
The outcome of the remaining 134 cases:
Closed 120 (no action)
Closed with advice 10 (tut tut)
Warnings: 3 (slap on wrist??)
Undertakings:1 (?slap and tut tut??)

Please remember, a complaint must be os a pretty serious nature before GMC even investigate or create a case.
So out of all these ‘doctors’ most are still collecting their fat fee’s while lying through their teeth.

I suppose I was fortunate, the discredited doctor I complained about can’t do any more harm.’

It is abundantly clear that all too many people have had ATOS lie and fabricate the results of their examinations, in order to get the DWP to deprive them of benefits. I’ve no doubt too that this is done according to the covert instructions of the DWP itself, in order that they can fulfil the quotas they have set of removing as many people as possible from the benefits system. The result has been enormous suffering, deprivation, and, in all too many cases, the claimants’ death.

ATOS must be stopped and held responsible, and the deliberate manipulation of the benefits system and the secret quotas and policies of the DWP and their master, Ian Duncan Smith, exposed, discredited and abolished.

Resisting the Tories War on the Disabled: Revive the Spirit of Ian Dury

December 21, 2013

One of the many problems confronting Left-wing campaigners against the Coalition’s war on the poor, the unemployed and the disabled is how to get our message across. The mainstream, mass-media are dominated by the Right, and the government has shown itself prepared to push through legislation stifling political debate and criticism of its policies through its Lobbying and Transparency Bill and attempt to censor the internet under the pretext of protecting children from pornography. There is also the perennial problem of public apathy. Many people in this country have no interest or awareness of political issues, and are seemingly all too content to accept blandly what they read in the papers.

It occurred to me, however, that one way of getting the message across about the government’s absolute and murderous contempt for the disabled was to bring back some of the combative spirit of Ian Dury, and in particular his use of music to challenge the condescension and complacency towards the disabled and their problems shown by Mrs Thatcher’s government. In 1981 Dury caused a massive controversy with the release of his record, Spasticus Autisticus. This had the refrain ‘I’m Spasticus! Autisticus!’ Many disabled people and organistions were outraged at what they felt was him mocking their condition. The Spastics Society were particularly angry, and strongly objected to what they saw as an insulting reference to the disease. Faced with such strong and angry objections to the song, the BBC banned it, thus ending Dury’s chart career.

It may have looked to some that Drury was sneering at the disabled, but the reality was the complete opposite. Dury himself was disabled, and had a withered arm and leg due to contracting polio from his local swimming pool as a child. In a TV interview Dury stated that he was prompted to write the song after the government declared that 1981 would be the Year of the Disabled. He was angry at the possibility that this would mean that there would be an official celebration of the disabled and much talk and debate about how to help them, after which everything would remain exactly the same. He therefore released Spasticus Autisticus as a protest. Despite opposition from some, many more understood what he was trying to do and fully supported him.

Here’s the section on the controversy from Channel 4’s Top Ten X-Rated. It has comments from the great man himself, as well as Tim Yeo, the former head of the Spastics Society, amongst others. Whovians will spot amongst them Nabil Shaban, who played the horribly slimy and oleaginous galactic yuppy Sil in the Colin Baker Dr Who stories ‘Vengeance on Varos’ and ‘Mindwarp’. Shaban himself is a disabled with brittle bone disease. He’s part of disabled theatre company, and has appeared in, amongst other things, Ben Jonson’s Volpone. A few years ago he also presented a programme on Channel 4 putting forward his theory that the great Viking warlord, Ivar the Boneless, also suffered from the disease. Warning: Shaban makes some very earthy comments about certain biological functions during the show, which probably aren’t particularly shocking unless you’re a Tory MP wishing to ban everything. Nevertheless, as they say, viewer discretion is advised.

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Here’s a piece from Granada TV at the time reporting the controversy with an interview with Dury himself. Apart from talking about the song, he also recites the ‘Busman’s Prayer’. This is a funny, inoffensive parody of the Lord’s Prayer, in which certain words and phrases are replaced by some of the place names in London that sound a bit similar.

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Now I certainly don’t blame the Spastics Society for so vehemently objecting to the song. ‘Spastic’, and its various forms was a very nasty playground insult, as Dury himself states in one of the interview. It was one of the reasons why he went into music and formed the band, so he could confront people with the reality of physical disability and challenge their attitudes simply by appearing on stage as their frontman. The 1980s were a decade in which several protest songs appeared by musicians and performers angry at what Thatcher was doing to the country. Now that the Coalition is intent on copying her, and even trying to outdo her in the harshness of their policies, I think it would be extremely good indeed if a few bands took up the cause and released a few tracks attacking Cameron, Clegg and the rest of them in their turn. This certainly does include following Dury in particular and savagely criticising the government for its policies towards the disabled, that have resulted in enormous, degrading poverty and despair, which has horrifically led some to end their lives.

‘Spasticus Autisticus’ is a song that should only really be performed by disabled people themselves, just to be absolutely clear that it’s the condition that’s being attacked, not the sufferers, and to avoid patronising them. Apart from this, I think the time is right for anyone, whether they’re disabled themselves, or have friends or relatives that are, to follow in Dury’s footsteps and release a track tackling the government for its vile policies towards the poor and disabled. If there are any bands out there doing so, please let me know, and I’ll be glad to publicise you here in my own small way. Especially if you’re performing in the Bristol, Gloucestershire, or Somerset are, or anywhere in Wales.

On a more cheerful note, one of Dury’s best-known songs was ‘Hit Me With Your Rhythm Stick’. Here it is, also taken from Youtube.

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