The Atos questionnaire

Many of you will be, luckily, unaware of Atos, a French IT company. Googling Atos will produce mountains of complaints and criticisms about Atos Healthcare, a divison of Atos, that has been awarded the contract to assess scroungers’* ability to work on behalf of the Dept of Work and Pensions (DWP). To save you the task, here is a good overview of the Atos crapness. Well this company is raking in the casheroony in a big way. Bit like A4e (Action for Employment) and the infamous Emma Harrison, until recently, Cameron’s families *cough* *cough* *cough* tzar.

So, back to Atos. And LB. Well, as I’ve mentioned here before, I recently found out, through mates (rather than the enormous machinery of health, education and social care services) that LB has been entitled to Employment and Support Allowance since he turned 16 over a year ago. We can backdate claims by three months.

To start the claim, I did a phone interview with JobCentre Plus (JCP) which lasted about 40 minutes and included mind boggling questions like “Who is the head of your household?” The next step was to get a sick note (???) from the GP.  He sensibly gave LB an indefinite sick note. This was returned by JCP as it needed to be backdated by three months. Back to the GP for second sick note. Indefinitely sick since November 2011.

So a medical practitioner has authorised LB’s removal from job seeking indefinitely. But that’s no longer enough. There is a Limited capability to work questionnaire to fill in, so that experts (undefined) from Atos can judge whether or not LB has legitimate access to allowances in place of paid employment.

Well. Where to start? It’s 20 pages long, covering questions about medical condition, treatment/medication, physical and ‘mental, cognitive and intellectual functions’.

Questionnaires are always flawed but this one is legendary in its crapness. I feel strongly that if someone can’t fill in the questionnaire themselves, because they have severe learning disabilities, then it’s a done deal. Bin the questionnaire, it’s pretty obvious that this person is going to have a limited capability for work. I’m not suggesting at all that people with severe learning disabilities are not ever capable of paid employment, but that some limiting parameters are in place in terms of the engagement with the process. And if they can’t engage with the process, some other poor buggar (often parent) will have to instead to fill it in on their behalf.

Compounding this, the content of the questionnaire is baffling and ultimately meaningless. For example;

Can you learn how to do a simple task like setting an alarm clock or a more complicated task like using a washing machine?

How is setting an alarm clock a simple task? You’ve got to be able to tell the time for starters, before you even turn to the clock. Just a small consideration I suppose in the experts at Atos’ eyes.  Teaching LB the time has been an ongoing process for the last 2/3 years and no, the boy ain’t cracked it yet. Let’s park that (minor) detail for now. Do Atos mean a manual alarm clock, where you have to scooby round some second set of hands to the time you want the alarm to go off? Never an easy task. Or a digital alarm clock??? It is ill-thought out nonsense.

The next question is “Initiating actions” and asks; Can you manage to plan, start and finish daily tasks? Possible answers – never, sometimes or it varies. Again, gaping holes here. Do they mean unaided, or with prompts/support? Do they mean ‘sensible’ plans/tasks, like ‘today I’m going to buy some bread and milk’, or less ‘sensible’ plans, like ‘today I’m going to stay in bed and play with my willy all day’? Atos would possibly argue that the text box below each question enables the more nuanced details to be thrashed out, but how is that text going to be measured, counted or made sense of?

Well here is how; an outline of the way in which the questions are awarded points. So, for example, points for the simple task question;

Cannot learn or understand how to successfully complete a simple task, such as setting an alarm clock, at all. (15 points)

Needs to witness a demonstration, given more than once on the same occasion, of how to carry out a simple task before the claimant is able to learn or understand how to complete the task successfully, but would be unable to successfully complete the task the following day without receiving a further demonstration of how to complete it. (15 points)

Needs to witness a demonstration of how to carry out a simple task, before the claimant is able to learn or understand how to complete the task successfully, but would be unable to successfully complete the task the following day without receiving a verbal prompt from another person. (9 points)

Points mean prizes. Luckily, the details of the point scoring are available on various sites/blogs if you have access to the internet. A lot of people don’t. One of the strong criticisms raised in recent debates around the ‘abuse’ of Disability Living Allowance was that people sought advice, or even paid people, to help them fill in the forms. What the government fail to see, or choose to ignore, is that these forms are so overly complicated, and with hidden agendas, that most people would not qualify for the allowance without the help of people who understand the system and process. Not because they are scamming the system.

By page 15, I gave up with the game.  I started to write ‘LB has severe learning disabilities’ in each box. I don’t know how many points that will produce, but I’m willing to take it up with Atos or JCP. It’s a nasty, underhand, thoughtless and ultimately meaningless process designed purely for economic reasons; to reduce costs. The human costs are racking up of course. But hey ho.

*In case you didn’t know, benefit claimants are all scroungers until proved otherwise.

Update: 20 July.

Got DWP letter today. LB’s met the eligibility criteria for Support Group. “Success”.