Monday, 1 November 2010

Osbourne's Deceptive Portrayal of the Poor and Why Labour Couldn't Give Atos

Aldi: Nice work if you can get it...
The Telegraph's chief political commentator has written an interesting piece, shooting down George Osborne's attempts to portray the poor in the UK as a group of conniving benefit fraudsters, racketeering the nation and nicking money out of the public purse when respectable tax-paying, hard-working citizens are not looking.

Three British churches (Baptists, Methodists and United Reformed) were quicker on the uptake than our own Bishops, usually so hot on 'structural sin', noticing that Osbourne...

'...grossly exaggerated the scale of benefit fraud in his spending review two weeks ago. George Osborne told MPs: ‘Nor will fraud in the welfare system be tolerated any more. We estimate that £5 billion a year is being lost in this way – £5 billion that others have to work long hours to pay in their taxes.’

However that figure is not true. I have now been onto the Treasury and it is clear that the real figure for fraud in the benefits system is £1.5 billion a year, or less than one third of the sum which Osborne claimed in his spending statement. It is true that there were benefit overpayments of some £5.2 billion in the last financial year (2009/10) but the majority of these according to HMRC figures were error rather than fraud.

It was obvious from the outset that the Government would hit those who vote less and who are largely voice less first, but the cuts look like they will be disasterous for many poor and vulnerable people in the UK. Even the middle class will get hit eventually, a 'new poor' possibly being created by cuts in national and local budgets for the public sector. Men and women who were once disgusted by heroin addicts and alcoholics could soon be standing by the taxi rank with a bottle of Lambrini in their hands throwing their arms up in outrage when the police come and pour their drinks away.

Homeless charity, Shelter, are saying that in London alone, many could be forced into homelessness by the cap on housing benefits, many could be evicted with the possibility of getting rehoused diminished by exhorbitant rents that they cannot afford, even with State help. In time, others argue, rents will have to come down, but that will take time. Among other vital services, like, er, diversity training, local authorities are cutting home care support, which will hit the elderly, as Councils in desperation try to slash their budgets. In Brighton, I wanted to apply for a Home Care Support Worker job the other day, but suddenly, the application form and advertisement online had been removed. Hard times. I can't even get a job wiping elderly people's arses.

I applied for a job at Aldi recently. Other interviewees at the group interview comprised of another English man, a Lithuanian and two Kosovans. My personal enthusiasm for working at Aldi was never that high, but others in more desperate situations will grow to resent the success of immigrants in obtaining employment, they will view, at their expense. The popularity of far-right parties such as the BNP will thereby increase, God alone knows by how much. I don't want to be downbeat, but the possibility of the appeal of fascism in five years time, in the face of a weak coalition, is not negligible, especially with all the talk of electoral reform. We are living in dangerous times and entering a spiky point in history.

UK politics has always had something of a puppet show about it. Labour have been the 'good guys' on poverty and social conscience, but rabid overspenders. The Conservatives have been the 'bad guys' who tell the poor to 'get on your bike', but can manage the public purse.

It has to be said that Labour, however, has only ostensibly been the 'party of the poor' and working class.  More recently, Blair, Mandelson and Co. Ltd managed to consign Labour's popularity with the left and the working class to history. Labour's concern for the poor has, arguably, always been something of a sham. Even the architects of the welfare state who seemed to be so enthusiastic about raising the lot of the poor, like Beveridge and Keynes, it turns out, were dyed in the wool advocates of eugenics.

Yet, in contemporary times, nothing could highlight Labour's two-faced attitude to the poor more than Atos Healthcare.  The consultancy were given the DWP contract by the former Labour Government, while Tony Blair was Prime Minister, in 2005. The British Medical Association confirms this...

'In March 2005, Atos Healthcare won the contract to deliver medical advice and assessment services to the DWP (formerly operated by the Benefits Agency). The contract came into effect from 1 September 2005 and, under the contract, Atos Healthcare manage the provision of medical advice and assessments on behalf of the DWP for Incapacity Benefit, Disability Living Allowance, Industrial Injuries Disability Benefits and other benefits. Atos Healthcare also provides services to the Veterans Agency.'

Hard information on this huge multi-national consultancy seems scarce. What a surprise! New Labour's devout love of outsourcing public contracts to blue chip companies is perhaps one reason why Mr Blair and his cabal will never go without.

"How much of taxpayers money is being spent on this consultancy which has the mandate to assess claims for Incapacity Benefit!?" I hear you cry. Well, the simple answer is that we don't know the accounts of the company but we do know that Atos Healthcare has the £80million-per-year contract for 7 years to act for Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) to assess sick people claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA). The Atos Healthcare office in Brighton is down the road from St Mary Magdalen's Church on Upper North Street. I walk past it every time I attend Mass.

From my time at the Brighton Unemployed Centre Families Project, I can tell you that long before the Conservative/Liberal Government came to share power, the figure of 90% was being banded around, as to the percentage of assessments in Brighton resulting in the removal of Incapacity Benefit and shifting of the sick onto Employment Support Allowance (ESA). I found that figure shocking. Now, I wouldn't argue against the idea that there are some people on Incapacity Benefit who could work, but the idea that of 90% of incapacity benefits are capable of holding down a job is probably not taken seriously by even your average, die-hard Daily Mail reader. Atos Healthcare Benefits Assessments are certainly causing a great deal of financial pain and perhaps actual back pain to many. For some examples, see this internet forum discussing the consultancy. The obligatory Facebook campaign group is here.

One commenter, Margaret Nuttall says, "There appears to be no consistancy with the ESA assessments. Heard yesterday that a young man had been assessed fit for work, had scored 0 points, despite having schitzophrenia, as a result has ended up back in hospital."

Hmm...I wonder who persuaded the DWP to award the ATOS contract. Anyway, if you are interested, below is a documentary by BBC Scotland, who should be congratulated on their journalistic endeavours in this circumstance and below it, parts 2 and 3.

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3


hairybiker said...

Atos Origin are used by the MOD on defence contracts and also the Lord Chancellor's office. They have been intertwined with government since the days of John Major when SEMA took over the BAMS medicals from Medical Services. SEMA was taken over by Schlumberger the oil company and then that was taken over by Atos Origin. Philips electrical used to own a large slice of Atos, who are a Dutch/French company (the part that was SEMA was a French company.

vesper said...

@ Lawrence England

I have posted the following thread on the Friends Reunited UK General Election group's message board ,I hope it meets with your approval:

Osbourne's Deceptive Portrayal of the Poor and Why Labour Couldn't Give Atos

I love this blogger's work

Comment 1 by Christine Remnant ..and the point is ?

Comment 2 by Roy Hobson..In his thread 'Osbourne's Deceptive Portrayal of the Poor and Why Labour Couldn't Give Atos', Lawrence England attempts to defend the poor in Brighton and the UK, from the lies and black propaganda that results in the unfair and unreasonable treatment of vulnerable people among whom he exists

Disabled Catholic said...

I don't know how you got the 90% figure from (probably by twisting or misinterpreting some statistic!). Many people on disability and incapacity allowances could probably work but maybe not full-time. Indeed the current social security system often makes people financially and emotionally dependent since they are in the poverty trap where they are better off and more secure on benefits (at least initially) therefore discouraged to take a risk.

I would like to see a system where they are assessed for work on a % basis rather than all or nothing (e.g. 50% = half time; 20% = one day p/wk). This would encourage people to do what they can and provide a gradual trasition to working as much as they can achieve without compromising their health.

The current phase of the DLA review is being targeted at those cases most likely to be able to work in some way. Therefore the % assessed as such is going to be significantly higher than those at the end of the project in 2013. The assessment criteria has been changed to assess what people can do rather than what they can't. This is a change which disability groups have been campaigning on for many years. That said there is a definate problem with some of atol's assessments to date and they are being investigated to see whether they are fit for purpose and should have their contract revoked.

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