Guest post by Henry Benedict Tam @HenryBTam Author of the blog Question the Powerful
There was a time when the Spanish Inquisition hunted down those with the
‘wrong’ beliefs and made them recant their heresy. Now the British
Government has rekindled its spirit, but with the aim of confronting the
sick and the maimed so as to make them recant their disability.
Imagine you have been struck down by an illness, and according to your
doctor, you will no longer be able to carry out work that would earn you
a wage in today’s economy. For a time, you draw solace from the fact
that you live under a state that maintains a genuine safety net for all,
and you will not be left jobless, homeless, or having to beg for
charity to keep you alive.
But then a Conservative-led Government comes along and decides that the
best way to deflect public attention from its refusal to curb the
excessive powers of the corporate elite is to serve up scapegoats. So
it tells two and a half million people incapacitated by diverse forms of
illness and injury that it will no longer pay any attention to what the
doctors who have actually dealt with them have to say. Instead, it
brings in the corporation, ATOS, to light the flame of recantation.
ATOS Inquisitors, armed with the mandate to interrogate and declare as
many disabled people as undeserving of public support, have plunged
countless vulnerable people into the deepest despair.
Examples of ATOS callousness and incompetence abound. Calling
themselves ‘assessors’, they ask those summoned to appear before them
questions such as “how long have you had Down’s Syndrome?” or “when did
you catch autism?” A middle-aged woman, registered blind, was simply
told that her benefit would be withdrawn. In another case, a
24-year-old epileptic, who was subject to grand mal seizures, had his
benefit cut after he was ‘assessed’ to be fit for work. Just three
months later, after living in fear that he could not pay his rent or buy
food, he had a major seizure and died. People with debilitating and
terminal cancer have also been told they had to surrender their
For those who managed to find help to appeal against ATOS, a third have
had their assessments overturned. But many are too stressed or isolated
to mount a challenge. Justice can only prevail if the entire
inquisition regime is cast aside. The National Audit Office has
investigated and found ATOS work to be unsatisfactory. The British
Medical Association has asked for the assessment system to be scrapped.
But the Government is not relenting for one moment, even if people are
dying from the fear and reality of losing what little money they had
hitherto relied on to stay afloat. The Government is bringing in even
more stringent inquisitional criteria to cut the provision of
life-saving benefits. Meanwhile, they reward ATOS so handsomely that
its chief executive is given a £1 million bonus.
If the ATOS Inquisition had featured in a dystopian novel about what a
rightwing government might do, it would be decried as irresponsible
scaremongering. Sadly it is all too real.
[To learn more about the Employment & Support Allowance (ESA), take the ESA Quiz. Note: the number of people claiming benefit as they are unable to work has not actually risen since 1997]