Tuesday, 19 June 2012

My Battle With Atos Healthcare and the DWP

Raymondo (a nom de plume) who provided us with his tips for surviving Work Capability Assessments (WCA) by the private healthcare provider and arbiter of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claims, tells us his story.

Raymondo recently underwent his third Work Capability Assessment. When he first applied for ESA he had been awarded 0 eligibility points at the medical three months after the ESA50 form completion. That 0 eligibility points score was turned into 21 eligibility points at the tribunal that he later attended with an advocate from a local disability charity, and the tribunal panel also placed him in the Support Group, ensuring no ‘back to work’ sanctions and such bullying, but not exempting him from the stressful experience of being systematically retested.

It took the Disability Benefits Centre’s Assessments & Appeals Section of Department for Work & Pensions two months to wade through the ‘sandbags’ of correspondence to get to his tribunal outcome and pay the back money he was owed, and yet just six months after getting the back money, he was summonsed to re-apply for ESA, with six weeks before the deadline for receipt of the ESA50 application form. Diligent devotion to getting the form content as strongly in his favour as possible, and attending with a McKenzie Friend (i) that he had become well-acquainted with in the intervening period helped ensure that he secured Support Group status for the second time. But his third WCA was conducted under a revised ‘simplified’ test that allowed fewer point scoring options toward the eligibility threshold of 15 points awarded him by the tribunal.

The newer test had been proposed by the last Labour DWP Secretary Yvette Cooper as more and more people won their tribunals in order to get what was rightfully theirs. (ii) So the then DWP Secretary who is now Labour’s Equalities Spokesperson decided that the law needed to be changed. (Atos and its staff seem to be above the law, but tribunal panels have to abide by it.) The ESA tribunal panel consisting of judge and doctor had awarded Raymondo 15 of his eligibility points on account of the time it takes him to execute tasks. The ‘simplified’ WCA has completely removed that relevant descriptor which has been a major bugbear of Raymondo’s ‘working life’. So how did he manage to overcome that difficulty?

Raymondo’s preparation this time around was increased.

With an enhanced relationship with a legally qualified advocate and disability rights activist who he first contacted as a friend of a friend, he felt less embarrassed about ‘telling it like it is’ than he did when originally going through the form in an interview with a vocational support adviser with whom he lacked a true rapport and who was too blasé and ignorant about the nuances of ESA compared to Incapacity Benefit. Getting it out as an electronic document in his own time helped enormously for shaping the document to text boxes for copying and pasting onto the actual form. And his anticipation of the changes brought in by the revised test cued him to take a real diagnostic battery of tests with Camden Learning Disability Services before undergoing his third WCA.

The report from that test helped explain and outline how, say, slow mental processing speed made him more inclined to experience ‘information overload’ and accident proneness in real world work situations. He also emphasised that as a genuine jobseeker from November 1977 till early 2009 he only acquired only 17 MONTHS total waged employment, 11 months of which had been for less than ten hours per week.

Now a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group that meets 40 minutes bus ride away, Raymondo realises that while he is still very poor and has extremely limited career prospects in his 59th year, he has much to contribute to helping make the world a fairer place, and has been helped to feel more human through being a member of that group.

“Those like Liz Sayce of Radar who talk of ‘integration of disabled people into the workforce’ as they smash Remploy communities with factory closures get paid for giving government-for-market-forces-by-market-forces what it wants. ‘State-subsidised’ Remploy factories are more sustainable and sustaining than transporting sweat shop produce around the globe from China where 600,000 die per year from intolerable working conditions that operate under the name of ‘competitiveness’.

“I might not get paid as much for helping people to the truth, but being a member of Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group and Social Work Action Network London activist gives me a greater sense of purpose while making new friends.”

Notes and Sources

(i)  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mckenzie_friend


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