Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Atos: tick-box tyranny

Tim Hunt looks at Atos, the company charged with assessing who should receive disability benefit

February 27, 2011
4 min read


Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


  share     tweet  

Successive governments have fed us the line that they want to help those with disabilities to become ‘more independent’ by giving them the ‘incentive and opportunity’ to work. To help them in this noble aim, they have enlisted a company called Atos.

But this public-private partnership acts less like a professional carer aiding a client and more like a Metropolitan police officer tipping a disabled person out of their wheelchair.

Atos uses a computer system to assess disabled people’s ‘fitness to work’ for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). This assessment consists of tick-boxes on a screen, and it doesn’t allow for any medical or qualitative evidence. In fact it often undermines medical evidence.

Claimants complain they are asked irrelevant questions – for example, sufferers of depression are asked if they can load and unload a dishwasher. The system nets the company a massive £500 million from its seven-year contract with the DWP, but as you might expect with this sort of unscientific approach to assessment, the company’s record is terrible. There are 8,000 tribunals hearing ‘fitness to work’ appeals every month across the UK – and 40 per cent of decisions are being reversed.

In November, this poor treatment of claimants was recognised in the House of Commons following the release of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s report on work capability assessments. The report concluded: ‘Atos has damaged the public perception of medical assessments, and has also created a serious risk of maladministration of incapacity benefit checks.’

MPs called on the government to ‘act swiftly so that medical assessments are more localised, humane and sympathetic’. But the system remains unchanged.

Despite its poor record, Atos – a French multinational with offices all over the world – keeps on winning contracts. It has expanded quickly by buying up smaller companies, including KPMG Consulting and Sema Group in the UK.

In total Atos now employs 50,000 staff and operates in 50 countries. The company is deeply involved in military applications: it has contracts with the Chinese, French, Dutch and UK militaries.

Atos eats up tax revenue by ensuring that the firms it takes over lobby for and win government contracts – all the while setting up subsidiaries in tax havens, as Ethical Consumer magazine has revealed.

In Britain, Atos has 6,500 staff and is one of the top 20 suppliers to the state. As well as the DWP contract, it has two substantial IT contracts with the NHS, one with the Ministry of Defence Veterans Agency and one with the Scottish government, delivering more than 100 projects annually. Last year the NHS alone paid the firm more than £36.5 million.

Beyond IT, the company claims to be the biggest provider of medical services in the UK after the NHS, with 2,500 staff on its books. This includes direct provision of healthcare services, including two NHS walk-in centres in Manchester and Canary Wharf in east London, as well as GP and nursing services for NHS Tower Hamlets. It also provides various services to individual NHS trusts.

Atos was also at the forefront of the now defunct ID cards scheme. It advocated the use of automated fingerprint identification software, used by the US Department of Homeland Security among others.

As if all that isn’t enough, the company even provides software and communication technology for oil and gas exploration, and has been selected to provide the Dungeness B nuclear power plant in Kent with a new computer system.

With its tentacles in so many pies, it’s perhaps no surprise that Atos is doing pretty well. In the first quarter of 2010 alone, its revenue hit the 1,231 million-euro mark, while last year the company had revenue in excess of 5 billion euros.

After all, hoovering up taxpayers’ money is a lucrative business.

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.
Share this article  
  share on facebook     share on twitter  

Tim HuntTim Hunt is a Red Pepper commissioning editor.


Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite

Power to the renters: Turning the tide on our broken housing system
Heather Kennedy, from the Renters Power Project, argues it’s time to reject Thatcher’s dream of a 'property-owning democracy' and build renters' power instead

Your vote can help Corbyn supporters win these vital Labour Party positions
Left candidate Seema Chandwani speaks to Red Pepper ahead of ballot papers going out to all members for a crucial Labour committee

Join the Rolling Resistance to the frackers
Al Wilson invites you to take part in a month of anti-fracking action in Lancashire with Reclaim the Power


254