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Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Welfare Benefits - who gives ATOS?

We are constantly reminded of the need to ‘reform’ the welfare benefit system. This seems to be achieved by a combination of cuts and the portrayal of claimants as scroungers who are living off honest tax payers.

The reality is that many claimants simply unable to work due to disability or ill health. They have no alternative but to seek help from the state and remain amongst the most vulnerable in our society. But despite this they seem to be a group which has come under relentless attack from ministers. This is partly due to the creation of what is ironically called the Employment Support Allowance. In truth its aim seems to be the opposite.

To be entitled to this benefit a claimant’s ability to work is assessed by a company called ATOS who for various reasons keep getting it wrong. I mentioned in an earlier post that appeal rates are reported to be as high as 70%, especially for those claimants who are represented –

A BBC Panorama documentary on 30th July told the tragic tale of one claimant who was declared fit for work and denied benefits and who died a few weeks later. There are reports that as many as 31 claimants have died whilst appealing these decisions.

Now both the government and ATOS would deny that they have a brief to reduce the benefit numbers. But when the numbers are being reduced alongside so many bad decisions one can understand the obvious suspicion.

There is a further problem for claimants linked to the removal of any entitlement to legal aid for benefits advice. So those who most need advice and who can least afford it will be left without support after April 2013. Solicitors, Law Centres, Advice Bureaux are all in the same position.

There have been many critics of the legal aid cuts. But this is surely the worst and the least justified. Our Law Society in Liverpool is committed to keeping up the arguments. I hope that others will do the same.

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