Blind man leaves job over sight: told he's fit to work

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braille

Richard Alcock, a 62-year-old former civil servant from Bury, was registered blind at 18 months old. He walked with a stick and read using braille, but he still worked for 28 years for local government. Unfortunately as computers became ubiquitous in the office, he was unable to continue to work - so 12 years ago he took early retirement and relied on benefits.

Now he has been assessed as fit for work.


Fit for work

He told the Bury Times that he had been assessed as part of new welfare reforms. The tests found he could lift one arm above his head, stay in the same place for an hour, control his bladder, and stay conscious. And as a result they concluded he was well enough to work. He had his £350 a month Employment Support Allowance withdrawal.

The Daily Mail reported that details were sent to him by letter in small print - despite the fact he required a braille version. He has to wait for a carer to come to read it to him - a carer that he is worried that he won't be able to afford in future. He will now appeal the decision.

Criticised

The company tasked with making these assessments has been under fire recently. Atos was slammed by the shadow work and pensions secretary, Liam Byrne, last week. He said that too many tests were done poorly.

This came after the firm was criticised by MPs in July. They responded to complaints by checking 400 reports, and concluded there had been an 'unacceptable reduction' in the quality of written reports.

Atos said at the time in a statement: "Our priority is the quality of our work and, following the recent audit, we quickly put in place a plan to improve the quality of written reports produced following an assessment. The professional and compassionate service we provide to claimants and the well-being of our people remain our primary consideration."

Atos told AOL: "Atos Healthcare assessors take their responsibilities very seriously and endeavour to treat people with compassion and professionalism through a process we know can cause significant anxiety."

Victims of the system

However, there's no denying that there have been some odd decisions.

In July Elenore Tatton, a 39-year-old mother from Dedridge in Livingstone, was ruled fit to work. She had suffered a brain tumour at the age of 15, and the complications meant she was never able to work. After her assessment, Atos started the process to get her into work. She died three weeks later from the brain tumour.

In March, Mark Evans, a man who was left brain damaged by a tumour, and had his left leg amputated due to deep vein thrombosis, was assessed as fit for work. He appealed the decision, but was unable to travel to the hearing 127 miles away because of his disability, and lost his appeal.

In January, Atos assessed heart and lung transplant patient Linda Wootton from Rayleigh as fit for work. When she received the letter informing her, she was in hospital suffering from blood clots in her lungs. She died nine days after her benefits were stopped.

Last November, Brian McArdle was declared fit for work - despite being paralysed down one side of his body, blind in one eye and unable to speak. He died of a massive heart attack the day after his benefits were stopped.

Clearly assessing whether people are able to work is difficult. Assessors have to deal with the fact that people's conditions change regularly, and that some will not be entirely honest. There are some illnesses which are difficult to detect, and some which are intermittent.

However, when decisions like these are made - where patients are dead a matter of days after being told they are well enough to work - it begs the question of whether there is a serious problem with the system. Is it the way the tests are being carried out? Is there a fundamental flaw in the tests themselves? Or is there a problem with the whole notion of being able to assess disability according to a tick box approach and a number of inflexible questions?

Atos said: "It's important that people understand that the assessment process is designed by DWP and that all decisions about benefit entitlements are made by DWP decision makers against the criteria defined by Government. The assessment report is one of the pieces of information DWP uses to reach a decision but often they have other evidence collected independently of Atos Healthcare."

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