Monday, 11 April 2016

An open letter to Owen Smith MP

The Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Owen Smith, has written to DWP head Stephen Crabb regrading the professional misconduct and inadequate testing systems involved in the privately outsourced assessment regime for the Personal Independence Payment disability benefit, as administered on behalf of the DWP by Atos and Capita since PIP replaced Disability Living Allowance. These reports are a continuation of medically illegitimate assessments and abuses, resulting in unnecessary suffering and in some cases death, impacting thousands of disabled people across the UK for multiple years. I have emailed Owen Smith with my own perspective and views on how Labour should challenge the Conservative government on PIP and other disability benefits. I hope he will take it into account.

Dear Mr Smith,

I am writing regarding the situation with DWP assessments for Personal Independence Payments which you have written to the Secretary of State with concerns about, following tonight's Channel 4 documentary on the practices being engaged in by privately contracted assessors such as Capita and Atos.

I sent you some tweets relaying these concerns but am writing long-form to express these fully. I would appreciate it if you would take these concerns into consideration and relay them to Jeremy Corbyn.

I am a Labour member and a disabled person who has been through the DWP assessment process for PIP, and I would like to offer you my personal experience and views on how Labour should approach a regime that is causing immense suffering to thousands of disabled people across the UK. Numerous charities and public bodies such as the BMA have similar concerns.

I have Asperger syndrome, dyspraxia, mental health problems for which I have been under psychiatric care for the past three years, and I was recently diagnosed with Tourette syndrome by a neurologist. I am also a neurology outpatient. I was receiving DLA but was transferred to PIP after informing the DWP of my autism diagnosis.

Despite my severe and complex health problems causing me disabilities that affect my self-care and mobility on a daily basis, I was awarded 0 points in my PIP assessment by the DWP after having an assessment with Atos. I am making an appeal and will attend a tribunal if this is turned down, but I am immensely disturbed by how the assessment system for PIP is functioning.

I have sent the DWP all the medical evidence about my conditions, but despite this they relied on the report provided to them by Atos to assess my eligibility for PIP. The Atos assessor themselves was not medically qualified and clearly did not understand the detail or complexities of my health conditions during the assessment.

The Atos report itself was filled with outright lies and fabrications about me, my medical history and statements I made in my assessment. Despite this the DWP said that they had referred to my full medical history, but the Atos assessment was not based on the medical evidence I sent.

From friends and numerous other people on social media, I have heard stories involving similar ignoring of medical evidence and fabrications in reports sent to the DWP. The United Nations is already making inquiries into whether the UK government is breaching international laws concerning the human rights of disabled people in relation to cuts to benefits and other austerity. 

One of the definitions of a crime against humanity is any state action causing deliberate bodily or mental injury against a social group on a mass scale, and I believe how disabled people are being treated in the benefit system could meet this criteria.

Based on my experience and other anecdotal stories, I am concerned that assessors like Atos are being financially incentivised by the DWP to engage in systematic fraud in order to prevent PIP claimants from getting the benefit. I am also concerned that criminal laws pertaining to fraud, professional misconduct and the abuse of vulnerable adults are being engaged in by privately contracted assessors such as Atos in the process.

I reiterate that Labour should press for full statuary inquires and consider whether there could be criminal prosecution of these companies due to the reported widespread and abusive/discriminatory professional misconduct, and fraudulent reports, of DWP disability benefit assessors.

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