The computer says no

THE Government is using computers to decide if people are fit for work despite being signed-off by a doctor.

A MAN suffering from spinal TB and its medication had his benefits cut when a computer-based medical assessment deemed him fit for work.

The move left the claimant, who attends the Kilburn Unemployed Workers Group, without income and in fear of losing his home.

The claimant, who didn’t want to be named over fears it may affect his appeal, had previously been kicked off JSA after an advisor ruled his condition meant he was not fit for work.

The Work Capability Assessments are part of a government drive to get a 1,000,000 off incapacity benefit and onto Job Seekers Allowance, which pays �30 a week less, as the Department of Work and Pensions looks to cut its welfare bill.

Support groups have since sprung-up to raise awareness and offer advice as claimants are left disparate and alone.

The claimant, who also wears a body brace to support his spine, said: “After that I really didn’t know how I was going to survive. I was in no condition to do anything as the medication affected me almost more than the condition at times.”

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The claimant, who lives by himself and has no family to support him, said the ‘so-called’ doctor who assessed him was not interested in his condition.

He said: “He didn’t take a blind bit of notice. I had to tell him what the standard treatment is for TB. This so-called doctor didn’t have a clue.

“He was asking me can you kneel and can you raise your arm above your head and in my situation I was not supposed to bend. I could kneel with difficulty which I did, but he just seemed to ignore the limitations I had.”

A DWP spokesman admitted doctors are not used to carry out the assessments, describing them as healthcare professionals, although insisted they were trained and that some had been nurses before.

During the assessment the healthcare professional asks a series of questions and enters a score into a computer based on the response.

The computer then calculates if the claimant is fit for a work and a letter with the questions and points scored sent to them.

The claimant said: “The letter was nonsense. They had put something different for most of the points completely contrary to what I said which got me really angry.”

David managed to appeal after calling the processing centre in Dublin three times and was told his appeal would be in April, 2010; he is still waiting.

He said: “I’m in limbo but that’s better than them trying to get me off ESA. The whole process was very, very stressful, you think any minute now you are going to be kicked off and there’s no other recourse.”

Statistics from the Tribunals Service revealed there has been a 128 per cent increase in ESA appeals during the first quarter of 2010 year-on-year.

The WCA costs the DWP $10 million in administration and a further $100 million is paid to private contractor, ATOS Healthcare to carry them and other services out.

Clarence Jackman, a member of the KUWG, said: “The government overrides GP’s professional judgement by getting private medical company assessments to say they are well enough to work yet they want to transfer NHS decision making and $80 billion of taxpayers’ money to GP’s despite not trusting them to know if a patient is well or not.

“It seems like money saving exercises with excuses to hit the sick financially and reward private enterprise “scroungers” with lucrative contracts.”

A DWP spokesman said: “The Work Capability Assessment has been developed in consultation with medical professionals to look at what a person can do as well as what they cannot, while ensuring that those too sick to work get the support they need. It is based on the effects of a person’s condition, not on the condition itself, and people are entitled to appeal against any decision made about their benefit entitlement. Everyone who is found able to work will get the help and support they need to get a job.”

*The Kilburn Unemployment Workers Group meets on Thursdays at Kingsgate Community Centre, in Kingsgate Road, West Hampstead.