Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.
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.
Corbyn just won a prize for peace activism - so why is the Labour Party still committed to renewing trident? Lily Sheehan investigates.
Connor Devine writes that whilst Brexit might be a car crash, we can't just side with an institution responsible for enforcing austerity.
Michael Coates reviews a new film revealing the shocking state of housing inequality in the UK.
The vicious media campaign against trans people is part bigotry, part strategy, writes Roz Kaveney
Jon Trickett MP reports on 'Dickensian' levels of poverty and hardship felt across the UK.
Natasha King busts some myths around the No Borders debate
He was once a radical icon, but now he's a mouthpiece for racism and nationalism. Time to get off stage, writes Michael Calderbank
Consensus seems to have shifted, but austerity is far from over. The chancellor has committed us to yet more years of misery while the rich get richer, writes Richard Seymour.
Frustrated at the idea of another royal wedding? You're not alone. Joana Ramiro argues we should stop idealising a fundamentally undemocratic institution.
Liberal elites are using Russian interference to minimise their own political failures, writes Matt Turner
Meet the frontline activists facing down the global mining industry
Activists are defending land, life and water from the global mining industry. Tatiana Garavito, Sebastian Ordoñez and Hannibal Rhoades investigate.
Transition or succession? Zimbabwe’s future looks uncertain
The fall of Mugabe doesn't necessarily spell freedom for the people of Zimbabwe, writes Farai Maguwu
Don’t let Corbyn’s opponents sneak onto the Labour NEC
Labour’s powerful governing body is being targeted by forces that still want to strangle Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, writes Alex Nunns
Labour Party laws are being used to quash dissent
Richard Kuper writes that Labour's authorities are more concerned with suppressing pro-Palestine activism than with actually tackling antisemitism
Catalan independence is not just ‘nationalism’ – it’s a rebellion against nationalism
Ignasi Bernat and David Whyte argue that Catalonia's independence movement is driven by solidarity – and resistance to far-right Spanish nationalists
Tabloids do not represent the working class
The tabloid press claims to be an authentic voice of the working class - but it's run by and for the elites, writes Matt Thompson
As London City Airport turns 30, let’s imagine a world without it
London City Airport has faced resistance for its entire lifetime, writes Ali Tamlit – and some day soon we will win
The first world war sowed the seeds of the Russian revolution
An excerpt from 'October', China Mieville's book revisiting the story of the Russian Revolution
Academies run ‘on the basis of fear’
Wakefield City Academies Trust (WCAT) was described in a damning report as an organisation run 'on the basis of fear'. Jon Trickett MP examines an education system in crisis.
‘There is no turning back to a time when there wasn’t migration to Britain’
David Renton reviews the Migration Museum's latest exhibition
#MeToo is necessary – but I’m sick of having to prove my humanity
Women are expected to reveal personal trauma to be taken seriously, writes Eleanor Penny