Fri. January 18, 2013
Diolch Mr Deputy Speaker
Atos and the work capability assessment should be seen in the broader context of the UK Government’s assault on, and demonisation of, disabled people. We have seen first the reduction in the disability living allowance and then its replacement by the personal independence payment, about whose workability we have grave concerns.
Many disabled people’s groups say that the reductions in benefits have had a catastrophic effect on recipients, and there have been a number of reports of suicides and untimely deaths brought on by immense distress. In my surgeries, I have heard several harrowing and very sad accounts from constituents who have been subjected to impersonal and inhumane work capability assessments by Atos. One has been diagnosed with an aggressive brain tumour, which cannot be completely removed because that would leave her paralysed. In August and September of last year she had radiotherapy to slow down the growth of the tumour, but in October she was told that it would grow back even more quickly, and that she would have to have further radiotherapy or she would die. I should add that this lady also has polyarthritis and asthma. Why has this lady been placed in the work-related activity group? Her doctors and consultants have specified that she should be placed in the support group as she is fighting for her life. Her only concern should be winning that battle.
Robert Halfon: The hon. Gentleman said the disability living allowance has been reduced. Can he explain that, because benefits went up by over 5% last year and are not subject to the 1% increase this year?
Jonathan Edwards: I was speaking about my constituents’ experiences, and I think I should concentrate on that in the limited time available to me.
Another constituent contacted me who had been ill for two years and was eventually diagnosed with cancer following a serious bout of pneumonia. Prior to her illness, she had an unblemished employment record. She was certified as unable to work by her GP and had attended many DWP hearings about the employment and support allowance, with the final one being in April 2012. She won her tribunal hearing against the Atos decision. She had not received a single penny in state benefits from before April 2012 until she died at the end
17 Jan 2013 : Column 1068
of November. She faced immense distress and was denied any financial assistance at a time when she was vulnerable and in desperate need of assistance.
As with a lot of current UK Government policy, this is a matter of completing the job left by the last UK Government; it is another example of the Labour-Tory tag team in action. Labour introduced WCAs in 2008 and signed up Atos. As a Welsh nationalist and a socialist, I believe an independent Wales would choose a different path, where Governments do not offer contracts to private companies to make profits from inflicting misery and suffering on the most vulnerable people in our society. We would treat people who need support with the dignity and respect they deserve.
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