Posts Tagged ‘Mental Illness’

Disappointment and Exploitation in Salvation Army Workfare for the American Homeless

January 30, 2014

Among the various charities, businesses and other organisations, who have attracted bitter criticism for their support and participation in the workfare programme is the Salvation Army. Johnny Void has extensively blogged about it, and encouraged others to criticise and write letters of complaint about the Sally Ann’s involvement in this form of participation. Anthony Marcus also briefly mentions the experience of one of his informants’ experience of doing voluntary work for the Salvation Army in New York in his book, Where Have All the Homeless Gone. I have blogged about the book before, and intend to write a full review of the book after I’ve finished reading it. Marcus was an anthropologist who did his Ph.D. research for a programme intended to aid the homeless in the Big Apple from 1989 to 1994.

One of the obstacles facing the homeless men Marcus studied was the way the financial restrictions placed on the amount of money homeless people collecting SSI, the welfare benefit given to them, prevented them from getting a properly paid job that would enable them to move out of the homeless shelters and not-for-profit transient housing into proper accommodation. The homeless in shelters received $850 in SSI per month. Of this, $700 was deducted to pay for their lodging, supervision and anti-psychotic medication given to those with mental health problems. This left them with about $100 per month spare cash, which was given to them in small sums as spending money. The amount of SSI they received automatically dropped to $508 a month, which would hardly cover rent. Furthermore, those on SSI could not earn more than $74 a week. Marcus notes how this system prevented many of the most optimistic and enterprising homeless men from finding an outside job. The moment they did find one that would allow them the chance of finding a home, the SSI was withdrawn, and they found they could no longer support themselves. As a result, they usually found themselves back in the shelter. The care workers employed to help them therefore did their best to frustrate their attempts to find outside work, in order to prevent them losing their SSI and their place in the shelter or not-for-profit housing. Marcus states that his ‘informants who followed the programs laid out for them by the workers at their residences languished in make-work programs, dead-end jobs, and piecework provided by voluntary agencies at significantly less than the minimum wage.’ (p.26). This was despite the fact that many of his informants took educational courses provided by City College in order to improve their chances of getting a rewarding career. These included a man, who was studying mechanical drawing in order to fulfil his ambition of becoming an architect. Others studied, computers and even history.

One of these ambitious men interviewed by Marcus, was Eugene, a Black American. He decided to move to one of the homeless residences run by the Salvation Army because he had been impressed by what he’d heard about their programme to get people back into work. After a a month or so living and working for them, Eugene became bitterly disillusioned. Their work programme did not live up to his expectations, and in practised consisted of him working in their stores for a pittance. He became so disgusted with them, that eventually he was thrown out for purloining their stock and selling it cheaply under the counter. Marcus writes

‘There were employment programs at the shelter that paid pennies per hour, but most of my informants avoided such low-paid and humiliating work in favour of day labor as a security guard. However, I had two close informants who were involved in a similar program at a Salvation Army residence. Eugene, an African American man in his 30s, had chosen the Salvation Army over several other facilities due to its work socialization program. He had heard about the importance of employment training to their program and told me that he would, “rather be getting some real work experience than sitting with a bunch of mental patients learning how to make friends or practice proper hygiene.” Although their facilities were older and less pleasant than the newly renovated “small not-for-profits” as he put it, “if I put in six months working in one of their stores, I ought to be able to get a real job somewhere and move out pretty quick.”

My first visit to interview Gene was about three weeks after his placement. They had not yet given him a job, but they were paying him 17 cents an hour to mop floors in the residence and had promised him that within the month they would find him a real job working in one of the thrift stores. He was not very happy with the housing, which was a rodent and bug-infested aging flophouse on the Bowery that the Salvation Army had converted into a transitional housing facility, but was optimistic and believed that he was on the way up.

The second visit, a month later, found him still mopping floors and becoming increasingly discouraged at how little his life was improving. As he put it, “I’m not saving any money at 17 cents an hour, I still don’t have a job, and I can’t even afford to go see a movie after work. The shelter was a much better deal.” When they finally moved him to the thrift store after several months, he was not given an actual job, but remained part of their work rehabilitation program and therefore had neither a job description, a job title, nor a minimum wage salary. As he put it, “I’m not a cashier. I’m not an assistant manager. I’m not a sales person. I’m not even an assistant to the assistant janitor. I’m a nigger that pushes a mop and unloads trucks for a couple of dollars a day. I must be some kind of idiot.” he went on to point out that “with my SSI, I am actually paying these crooks $900 a month to give me a seventeen cent an hour job.”….

However, it wasn’t long before Gene was back with his mop at the residence. Caught selling half price merchandise to a young women in front of the Salvation Army, he understood that they would never let him near merchandise again. He believed that there was no way into the formal economy for an uneducated and somewhat disreputable looking African American man with a criminal record and few of the social or job skills necessary for success. He used his psychiatric diagnosis to get out of the work training program and began to secretly disappear from the residence for freelance work. The residence was supposed to be as “supportive” and restrictive as the R.C.C.A. [an intensively supervised residence for the homeless on 48th Street and 10th Avenue in Manhattan], but there was virtually no paid staff to enforce the rules of the treatment programs. My other informant at this facility had recruited him to unload trucks on the street behind the residence for a Chinese store owner. The $5 an hour off the books wage was far superior to the work training program’s 17 cents an hour but it was a situation that would never enable him to get his own housing.’ (pp. 86-7).

I apologise for not censoring the ‘N’ word, but I felt that I needed to follow the text exactly. The term clearly expresses the disparaging racial attitude Eugen felt the Salvation Army had for him as a poor, Black unskilled labourer.

Now obviously, this is an American case, reflecting conditions in New York at the time. However, much of this is recognisably similar to the situation facing many of the unemployed in Cameron’s Britain, regardless of whether they are homeless or not. I’ve met people on my course, who are in a similar position to those homeless Americans, who are stuck in pointless, dead-end jobs in order to keep their benefit. This particular person is disabled and on benefit. The jobcentre is pressuring him to find a job he could do. However, he is afraid that if he did find one, signed off benefit, and then found that in fact he could not do the job, he would not be able to get back on benefit as he had declared himself fit for work.

I am also sure that there are probably others, stuck in a similar situation to the American homeless through the government’s restrictions on earnings from benefits, as part of their campaign to make sure that the ‘strivers’ in work don’t feel resentful and humiliated by the unemployed earning more than them.

As for the Salvation Army and its ‘work socialisation’ schemes, this really does seem merely to be a way of getting cheap labour. As Johnny Void has pointed out too many times, it’s exploitation. And the same thing is happening over here in their support for workfare. If the Sally Ann really is serious about helping the homeless, they should withdraw from the workfare programme. If they do wish to be part of national schemes encouraging the unemployed to perform voluntary work in their stores in preparation for finding real work, then this should be accompanied by real initiatives to get them a job, such as paid work placements. Even an increase in their Jobseekers’ allowance would be good, as it should reward their initiative in trying to find some kind of work rather than simply being a source of cheap labour. Unfortunately, I can’t see this occurring, as the current system seems designed merely to provide big business with a cheap, demoralised and so cowed workforce, thinly disguised as an attempt to tackle unemployment.

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IDS and Armed Bodyguards: No-One Trusts the Man who Trusts No-One

December 11, 2013

Mike and several of the commenters over at Vox Political have commented on IDS’ evident paranoia and fear of the public as he appeared before the parliamentary Work and Pension’s Committee. Not only did he have a bodyguard, but was also surrounded by several armed policemen. Martha, one of the people in the public gallery, describes the scene:

‘ Hi Mike, I attended the DWP hearing on Monday, IDS didn’t just have a body guard he had several ‘policemen’ with machine guns, maybe 3 or 4 at least. I didn’t dare to count them as it was frightening and it seemed best to ignore them for obvious reasons. The machine guns were raised and pointed at our group which included 3 people in wheelchairs and about 8 disabled and mentally ill people with their carers. We had all been security checked, bags searched and x-rayed, frisked and had walked through an airport style metal detector. We posed no risk or threat and it is quite normal for the general public to attend debates and hearings in the House of Commons, in fact MPs generally like our presence and encourage us, often coming over to meet us and shake our hands. Is it now acceptable to point guns at the general public when they attend the House of Commons? Who do we complain to?’

As several of the other commenters, including myself, have remarked, such paranoia clearly shows that IDS knows the immense suffering his policies are causing, and fears the rage and possible reprisals from the general public. Even so, such behaviour is still bizarre coming from an MP. I can quite believe Martha when she says that most MPs generally welcome the public to the Houses of Parliament. Politicians across the political divide are worried about increasing electoral apathy and the falling turn-out at elections. Hence the many campaigns by politicos to appeal to the ‘Yoof’ vote. They are also, by and large, conscious that for democracy to work, it has to be seen to work and have the active interest of the people on whose behalf they govern. And finally, like any enthusiastic follower of a particular career or vocation, they, or at least the good ones, try to communicate their enthusiasm for politics to the general public. hence the appearance of politicians and political writers and journalists at the various literary festivals up and down the country. It also has to be said that even politicians, who have advocated some terrible policies towards the poor, could actually be very kind and courteous in person.

IDS, by contrast, seems deeply suspicious and mean-spirited. And you have to wonder what he thought he had to fear from people, who’d gone through the usual security searches. Did he get some kind of craven, bullying pleasure by having armed goons point guns at the mentally and physically disabled and vulnerable? And what on Earth were the police doing, if they were pointing their guns at people? There has been considerable criticism of our armed officers before, most notably after the horrific shooting of Charles Menezes. I can remember reading comments from officers in the British army, who had served in Northern Ireland. They were very definitely not impressed by the coppers’ trigger-happy attitude and the way they carried their weapons. In Ulster it was standard practice to carry guns sloping down, with the squaddies’ hands in a posture so they could be immediately ready to bring the gun up if attacked. This was intended to prevent provoking confrontation through the public reacting to a raised weapon as a deadly threat. If the British army, which really did face deadly attacks from terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, is capable of carrying its arms in order to reassure the public and avoid conflict, then the question must be asked why IDS thought he was so important and so threatened that he had guns raised? It gives another clue as to why the man probably failed his officers’ exams. Clearly his judgement when it was appropriate to use deadly force, and when not, was lacking, with the result that he would place himself and the men under his command in serious danger.

Someone once said that ‘No-one trusts the man, who trusts no-one’. Smith has shown himself deeply untrustworthy through this show of excessive force. The attitude behind it is one of suspicion and contempt for the general public and especially the poor, unemployed and disabled he has penalised and victimised with his policies. Going into the Committee chamber surrounded by armed guards like the Fascist generalissimo of a banana republic, he is a contemptible petty tyrant, who has therefore shown himself totally unsuited for public office.

Roll-Call of the Poor and Disabled, Killed by the Government’s Policies

November 28, 2013

A day or so ago I reblogged the video Still Oaks had made on the people, who tragically committed suicide due to the government’s welfare policies. Many were disabled people, who had been declared ‘fit for work’ by ATOS, when they clearly were anything but. Others were simply unemployed, who found it impossible to live on the meagre income supplied by the DWP. There’s a list of the people mentioned in the video posted by Still Oaks and Annanna, who helped Still Oaks make the video, over on the web forum DWP Examinations. The forum’s subtitled ‘Free Speech for the Disabled’, and is clearly intended to allow the disabled themselves to discuss and criticise the DWP and its policies. The people included in Still Oaks’ video are:

1/ John Walker

2/ Linda Wootton

3/ Elenore Tatton

4/ Brian McArdle

5/ David Groves

6/ Stephen Hill

7/ Nicholas Peter Barker

8/ Mark and Helen Mullins

9/Richard Sanderson

10/Martin Rust

11/Craig Monk

12/Colin Traynor

13/Elaine Christian

14/Christelle pardo,Kayjah Pardo

15/Mark Scott

16/Cecilia Burns

17/Chris Cann

18/Peter Hodgson

19/ Paul Willcoxson

20/Stephanie Bottrill

21/Larry Newman

22/Child EG

23/Paul Turner

24/Christopher Charles Harness

25/Sandra Louise Moon

26/Paul Reekie

27/Leanne Chambers

28/Vicky Harrison

29/Stephen Cawthra

30/George from Chesterfield

31/Wayne Grew

32/Kevin Bennett

32/Iain Hodge

33/David Elwyn Hugh Harris

34/ Elaine Lowe

35/ Lee Robinson

36/ Ian Carress

37/ Edward Jacques

38/ Charles Barden

The list is part of a wider discussion, ‘Death by Government’. Other posts by Annanna in this thread give some details on these poor souls. It’s a depressing mixture of people from all walks of life and types of disability. Some of them were obviously extremely talented academically. Christelle Pardo, who killed herself and her baby, Kayja, was a philosophy graduate. Others were manual workers, whose talents clearly lay with their hands, such as a farm labourer. Several of them had psychological problems, such as a young man who suffered from schizophrenia, epilepsy and alcoholism. This man’s alcoholism is not necessarily an indication that he was somehow responsible for his own poverty. It looks from here like self-medication. This is the term psychiatrists and mental health experts use to describe drug and alcohol use by the mentally ill to try and alleviate their condition. In our society, one of the ways people try to cheer themselves up when their down is to go for a pint or two. So it is with those suffering from depression or anxiety. It’s not hard to see how that can lead to dependence on this socially accepted drug, which in turn will exacerbate the sufferer’s condition. The important point here is that in these cases, alcoholism can be a consequence or a symptom of the disease, not a result of moral weakness of the part of the victim. Other victims included severely disabled people, for whom there should have been no question of them being able to work, such as a triple amputee.

I’ve come across a few severely disabled people, who nevertheless possessed the talent and strength of character to hold down often extremely well-paid and responsible jobs despite their appalling physical condition. One young lad I met a few years ago had a disease that left him almost totally paralysed. Nevertheless, he was a computer whizzkid, and his expertise allowed him to earn the kind of money some of us only dream about. And he wasn’t the only one. A young woman in a wheelchair told me over twenty years ago about one of her friends, who was also paralysed from the neck down. This man, was also a computer genius, working on them with the kind of stick attachment, which you see Stephen Hawking using to work his wheelchair and speech synthesiser. It’s one of the positive advantages of information technology that it has allowed disable people like these two to have a career of their own. The problem is the DWP seems to assume that if a few, very talented people can do it, then others in a similar position should. If they can’t, then it must be their own fault, somehow.

It should be self-evident that severely disabled people need considerable support and care. When I met the lad I mentioned above, it was in a meeting of one of the clubs in Cheltenham at the time. I think they were holding their AGM. He was taken in by his nurse, who then went to the bar to sit quietly drinking coffee once the lad had been wheeled to the table to talk about rules of procedure and the financial status of the club. Or whatever. Stephen Hawking is one of the foremost examples of a man, who has made spectacular achievements despite his terrible condition. Helping him do this, however, have been a supportive family, nursing care, and the type of advanced motorised wheelchairs and voice synthesis technology that many people can only dream about. All too many other disabled people simply don’t have that level of social, medical and technological support.

There is also the question of how much support or care an employer is prepared to spend adapting their premises to the needs of their disabled employees. Now I have to say I really have little knowledge of the equalities legislation in this area. I understand that businesses, or at least public organisations, like museums and libraries, are required to make their premises wheelchair-accessible. I’m also pretty sure that they cannot legally discriminate against a disabled applicant when it comes to jobs. I am also aware that there have been some very good employers out there, who have adapted their workplaces to accommodate their workers, who suffered from particular physical ailments. One lady I used to work with had a severe back condition, and so she sat in an orthopaedic chair at work. Others may not be so fortunate to have such caring employers. And in a crowded labour market, an employer can always find some other reason not to take someone on, regardless of whether or not they’re disabled.

My point here is that there should be no question that severely disabled people like the triple-amputee are not able to work. This does not mean that they should not be given the resources they may require to work, or that their talents should not be cultivated and neglected. It also doesn’t mean that they should be discriminated against either. It just means being realistic about the immense impact severe disability has on someone’s ability to work. IDS and his wretched crew, however, have decided that as exceptionally talented people like Stephen Hawking have succeeded in having a career, so people with less support and more modest intellectual gifts should do also. There’s a parallel here to the Stakhanovite system through which Stalin industrialised the Soviet Union in the 1930s. Stakhanov was a miner, who was given state of the art tools and support. His output was then measured by the bureaucrats, who then made it the standard for other miners, regardless of their ability, and the tools and other resources available to them. Stakhanov and his team smashed production records, and the USSR industrialised extremely quickly. The human cost, however, was immense. Cameron’s and IDS’ policies towards the disabled similarly makes the exceptional the norm, and, like Stalin, punishes those, who can’t keep up.

Still Oaks and Annanna’s thread, ‘Death by Government’, is at http://dwpexamination.org/forum/the-governmants-agenda/death-by-government/. It’s grim, moving reading. Like Still Oak’s video, it puts the people forward from behind the statistics, so you can see, who IDS’ policies have killed.

Labour History at M Shed, Bristol

November 26, 2013

The M Shed museum in Bristol is also the venue for a series of public seminars on various aspects of the city’s history. These are held jointly by the Museum and the Regional History Centre at the University of the West of England. UWE is Bristol’s second university. It was formerly Bristol Polytechnic. I took my MA there, and it does have some extremely good, lively teachers. Many of them had a background in women’s and social history. I can remember that one of the courses run by the history department is on the Slave Trade, taught by Madge Dresser. Dr Dresser has also organised conferences at the university on the subject, and was one of the organisers of the ‘Respectable Trade’ exhibition on Bristol and the slave trade way back in the mid 1990s. Other courses included Bristol Corporation of the Poor, which looked at the operation of the poor law and the workhouse in Bristol from its establishment in the mid-17th century to its abolition in the 20th.

The talks for this academic year, 2013-14, include the following:

Peter Fleming, (UWE), Bristol’s First Historian? Robert Ricart’s Maire of Bristowe is Kalendar and Notions of History Writing in 15th-c Bristol, Thursday, 24th October 2013;

Nigel Somerville (Bristol Record Office), The Dreadnought Journal: A Cruise Against the Enemies of Great Britain, Thursday, 21st November 2013;

Nick Rogers, (York University, Toronto), Naval Impressment in the South West in the Eighteenth Century, Tuesday, 10th December 2013;

M Shed Curators’ Roundtable, Moved by Conflict: Collecting and Curating the First World War, Thursday, 16th January 2014;

Richard Coates, (UWE), Place-Names and History in the Bristol Area, Thursday, 20th March 2014;

Kent Fedorowich (UWE) ‘Returning Home to Fight’: Bristolians in the Dominion Armies, 1914-1918, Thursday 17th April 2014;

Paul Tobia (UWE), Life Stories and the Photograpic Image: Patients in the Bristol Lunatic Asylum in the Nineteenth Century, Thursday 15th May 2015;

Andrew Flack (University of Bristol), Animal Commodities: Bristol Zoo, the Wild Animal Trade and Imperial Networks in the Nineteenth Century, Thursday 19th June 2014.

The seminar on the 20th February 2014 is on a piece of the city’s labour history. Given by Mike Richardson of UWE, this is on Bristol and the Labour Unrest of 1910-14. The description for this seminar in the Museum’s pamphlet on them states

‘1910 witnessed a renewed outbreak of industrial strife in Britain, as significant sections of the trade union rank-and-file began to express their frustration at the lack of progress made in their struggle for better working conditions and a new social order. Strikes reached levels not seen since the ‘new unionism’ upsurge of 1889-92. Workers unrest combined with clashes over Home Rule for Ireland, and the militant tactics of Suffrage campaigners, which added to the problems of the ruling class. Confronted by these parallel rebellions, the ruling class feared their convergence, and some warned of the dangers of revolution.

This talk will focus on Bristol’s experience of labour unrest between 1910 and the outbreak of the First World War. Rather than focus solely on Bristol’s famous union leaders, Ben Tillett and Earnest Bevin, this seminar will examine the events from the union rank-and-file perspective.’

The pamphlet notes that Mike Richardson, who gives the talk, is a Visiting Research Fellow at the Centre of Employment Studies Research at UWE.

The seminars run from 18.00 – 19.30, or from 6 O’clock to 7.30 in the evening. Admission is free.

M Shed is down on Bristol’s docks. It’s at Princes Wharf, Wapping Road, Bristol, BS1 4RN.

Observations on the Suicide of Jacqueline Harris

November 26, 2013

Like very many other people, I was saddened and angered to read Johnny Void’s and Tom Pride’s posts on the death of Jacqueline Harris. This lady took her own life after ATOS found her fit for work, despite her multiple disabilities and the great pain she suffered from them. This poor woman, like me, came from Bristol. I’ve also had a run-in with ATOS. Here are a few more of my observations and comments on the case. I intend to write a much deeper article attacking the pseudo-scientific nature of the ATOS assessment form later.

I don’t know if there are any other ATOS centres in Bristol, but there’s one at Flowers Hill in Brislington. This is a suburb of Bristol, which contains a mixture of light industrial buildings and former warehouses along with residential homes, and some of the most historic buildings in Bristol. It has Arnos Vale cemetery, dating from the 19th century. The funeral monuments there are impressive, with one of the most striking the tomb of Rajah Rammohan Roy, an Indian reformer and one of the founders of his country’s independence movement. He was married to the daughter of Bristol Unitarian minister, and preached in her father’s chapel. I believe there is an annual visit to his grave every year by members of the City’s Indian community. Other monuments include the Black Castle, an 18th century factory in the shape of a castle, made from black stone. There is also a 19th century mental hospital. Established by those guardians of peace and humanity, the Quakers, this was pioneering in its day for the humane treatment given to the inmates. It possessed extensive grounds and gardens for the patients’ enjoyment, as it was found that this greatly assisted their healing and recovery.

If I recall correctly, the ATOS offices are in a complex of buildings just down from a DIY centre and other stores. ATOS share the site with a complex of buildings, which include an NHS administration and a driving test centre.

When you go for an assessment, bring someone into the interview with you, or record it. It has been my experience that ATOS will lie and try and falsify your answers. You need to keep some kind of record of the interview, and that other person will remember or pick up on things that you may not notice or forget. Similarly, when going through the form it is very wise to photocopy it after you have filled it out, so you have a record of your answers there.

This poor woman’s suicide, along with so many others, raises the following points and questions.

Firstly, ATOS have tried to distance themselves from the tragedy. They state that they have no part in any decision on benefits. This is disingenuous. While the decision to end someone’s claim is taken by the DWP, rather than ATOS, ATOS clearly have the contract for the development and administration of their tests on the express knowledge that those, who fail it will lose their invalidity or disability entitlement. With this in mind, they cannot justly deny responsibility for the loss of benefits from those they judge fit to work.

In view of the number of people, who have committed suicide after ATOS declared them fit for work, it should be asked what training ATOS gives its personnel to deal with extremely distressed or suicidal interviewees. Johnny Void and the other left-wing bloggers have carried stories reporting that some Job Centres are training their staff to deal with such emergencies. I myself have seen a stack of cards for the Samaritans on the desk of one of the interview staff at the Job Centre Plus in Eagle House, St Stephen’s Street in Bristol. Are there similar items stocked by staff at ATOS? If not, why not?

Seventy-five per cent of ATOS decisions that someone is fit for work have been overturned on appeal. This suggests that either the ATOS assessors are criminally negligent when administering the tests, or that they are under pressure to falsify results to get a negative decision which will please their paymasters in the DWP. I said before that it has been my own experience that ATOS will lie in order to be able to turn down your claim. There have been revelations of secret quotas for benefit sanctions within the DWP and Job Centres, along with bonuses and gifts awarded to staff, who have the most number of claimants disallowed. Is there are a similar system operating within ATOS? What pressure are its staff under to declare someone fit for work? Are they also given financial incentives and gifts, like Easter Eggs, for so doing?

What policies and procedures does ATOS have to protect the vulnerable adults they interview? We have had reports of people with severe mobility problems forced to take their assessment in centres, which are some distance from where they or their lifts may park, or else on the upper floors of buildings. Does ATOS consider this acceptable? The ATOS form itself is heavily biased towards physical disability. It and its administrators therefore appear to have little experience or awareness of mental health issues. What procedures have been put in place to safeguard people with schizophrenia or disorders, like depression during the interview and afterwards? Shouldn’t their fitness for work or otherwise be assessed by a trained, objective psychiatrist or psychologist?

Johnny Void and the others have also reported that many of the employees administering the test are not doctors, but nursing staff. This is unacceptable. However, the medical qualifications of ATOS’ assessors are, in my experience, superfluous and irrelevant. They do not examine you themselves under their own initiative, but simply ask you the questions on the form. Presumably medical staff are employed in case a physical examination, such as to confirm some of the claims made by the interviewee, is necessary. Mostly I think it’s just to provide a pseudo-professional medical gloss to the proceedings.

The interviewing staff do at least have some medical qualifications. What are the medical qualifications of the decision-makers? Are they doctors, surgeons, psychiatrists? Or is that an entirely risible question, and they are really just another bunch of faceless bureaucrats? Again, from the procedure it seems that no proper medical experience is required or needed. All the decision makers do is go through the form, tot up the answers and then declare a person fit, even if that person is in a coma or possibly dead. This is no exaggeration. These things have happened. If the decision makers are medical personnel, have any of them expressed reservations or criticisms about the tests? Or resigned? What mechanisms are in place to assure that any criticisms or complaints they have about the test are passed on and accepted?

The ATOS assessment has also led to violations of British disability law, and contravenes the Hippocratic Oath. This was for centuries taken by British and European doctors. It has now been discarded, but is, I believe, still held in great respect by parts of the profession. At its heart is the stipulation that the doctor should ‘first do no harm’. Clearly this lies at the heart of all medical practice. If you can’t cure something, then for heaven’s sake don’t make it worse. But ATOS does make it worse. Clearly the individuals who have suffered heart attacks due to the stress of their assessment, or mentally ill people who’ve taken their own lives, have been made worse by the procedure. Private Eye a few years ago ran a story about one woman, who had already frequently attempted suicide. Tragically, she succeeded after ATOS told her she was fit for work, and no longer eligible for benefits. ATOS broke the law. According to the Eye, it is explicitly against the law to force the mentally ill to undergo such tests if this will exacerbate their condition. Has ATOS ever been prosecuted for one of these incidents? Were staff disciplined for such legal and medical negligence? What procedures were set in place to stop this ever occurring again?

Well, it seems to me that the answer is obviously none, but the question still needs to be asked.

Ordinary doctors, nurses and other medical professionals can be sued for malpractice. They have medical insurance to provide for this, and practice under the knowledge that they are responsible for the care of the patients and may be sued and convicted if they abuse or criminally neglect this sacred trust. The Coalition are considering passing legislation that will further criminalise and inflict severe penalties for negligent hospital staff. The question must be raised here of whether similar procedures are in place to discipline and try ATOS staff generally – the interviewers and decision makers – for similar negligence and malpractice in or through the administration of the test, quite apart from the horrific incidents mentioned above.

These are a few of the questions I feel still need to be answered. I believe strongly that the ATOS assessment form and process does not constitute proper, valid medical practice but a form of pseudo-medical bureaucratic quackery to provide a professional gloss to what is at heart an entirely bureaucratic procedure. Science is meant to be objective. According to Popper, the essence of science is falsification: the experimenter arranges his tests not to prove a theory, but to disprove it. If this occurs, new theories must be devised, and further experiments conducted. This is how science has progressed, and it has resulted in astounding advances in nearly all areas of endeavour, including biology and medicine. The ATOS test is the exact opposite of this. It has been devised and administered according to a narrowly and ideologically driven pre-conceived notion of what constitutes ‘fitness for work’, regardless of the personal needs and abilities of the individual to whom it is administered. It has been expressly designed to get as many people off benefit as possible according to the Neo-Liberal imperative of reducing government spending (but only on the poor). In this, it is strongly reminiscent of other pseudo-medical and pseudo-scientific fads, such as monkey glands, the removal of vestigial organs in order to make us more evolved, and the Stalinist ‘proletarian’ science of Lysenkoism. The only proper solution to this is to have ATOS shut down immediately, its wretched assessment permanently expunged from responsible, ethical medical practice. Oh yes, and the prosecution of Thierry Breton and his minions for culpable negligence and serious malpractice.

In Memoriam for the Victims of ATOS and IDS’ DWP

November 26, 2013

This video was posted by Stilloaks in the comments to Johnny Void’s piece on the death of the Bristol woman, Jacqueline Harris. Mrs Harris had a serious back condition and lack of mobility in her wrist. she also had only partial sight. Despite this, ATOS decided after a two minute interview that she was fit for work. Her benefits were duly stopped. In despair, this lady took her own life. The question that determined her fate was ‘Did you come here by bus?’

She isn’t the only tragic victim of a cruel and malignant system. Many others have been driven to do the same, though odiously IDS will not release the true figures. This video shows some of the others, who’ve also committed suicide due to benefits cuts. These include not just those, who have suffered from ATOS, but also victims of the bedroom tax, and the poverty inflicted through the current levels of benefit payments. Most horrifically, one of them was a young woman, who killed both herself and the baby in her arms.

Several of these victims are definitely what is known in law as ‘vulnerable adults’. Apart from the physically disabled, they also include several with mental health problems, such as depression and schizophrenia. A couple were walking 12 miles a day to collect free vegetables due to cuts to their benefit. Another woman could not afford to heat her home, and lived on tinned custard.

To paraphrase the Doctor to the Daleks in the episode, ‘Asylum of the Daleks’: And I thought IDS had run out of ways to make me sick’.

Here’s the video.

I’ve reblogged Johnny Void’s article, and support every word he says about the case. I’d say that this was another death IDS has on his conscience, but he clearly hasn’t got one. There should be no more excuses from IDS or the rest of the Coalition. ATOS needs to be closed down now.