US private healthcare company ‘Maximus’ is to follow in the footsteps of French firm ‘Atos’ from April after being contracted by the government to carry out Work Capability Assessments (WCA) on people receiving sickness and disability benefits. WCA are used to strip benefits from thousands of sick and disabled people after appointments with non-medical professionals and quick computer-based ‘tests’.
Atos will be a tough act to follow. Its legacy includes thousands of the most vulnerable members of society left with no income at all after being ruled ‘fit for work’. Precisely because they are actually in no fit state to work they get sanctioned by the Job Centre when unable to attend appointments, etc. There have been a large number of documented cases where Atos have ruled people with terminal cancer as being able to work, as well as those in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s disease and severe MS. A growing number of suicides and suicide attempts have been linked both by charities and by healthcare professionals to the ordeal of facing these assessments. The Atos pre-assessment questionnaires tend to be tailored to physical disabilities only which has led to people with ‘invisible’ illnesses and severe mental health issues also being found to be ‘fit for work’.
Will ATOS successor Maximus have what it takes to step up to the plate? Undoubtedly so.
Who are ‘Maximus’? They are a multinational company from the USA which is already part and parcel of the NHS sell off. They run the Fit for Work Occupational Health Service designed to bully those on sick leave into going back to work – after 4 weeks of sick leave you will be assessed (usually via telephone) by a Maximus employee. In addition, Maximus already runs the ‘Work Programme’ in parts of the UK on which many of the disabled people who have been declared fit for work will then find themselves. They have the distinction of having been involved in a massive amount of scandal in the US: violations of wage law, race discrimination complaints, fraud, misuse of expenses payments, workers failing drug and alcohol tests, etc. and they are renowned for greasing the palms of various right-wing US politicians with huge sums of money and being heavily involved with lobbying. It is clear their track record makes them entirely suitable for the job now assigned them.
Across the UK there have been large and sustained protests at grassroots level and by groups such as Disabled People Against the Cuts (DPAC). These admirable campaigners have applied constant pressure, raised public awareness and given help and advice to the victims of Atos’s wilful blindness. It is widely believed that these campaigns were a large factor in Atos departure after a lacklustre ‘investigation’ conducted by the DWP concluded that Atos had made a large number of errors in their assessments – but still ruled that the outcomes of ‘fit for work’ in these cases were correct!
Maximus have also stated that they will not face or be intimidated by protests. What do the sick matter when they can ‘maximus’ their profits and increase their power?
What is clear is that we need to remove the rose tinted specs that give the illusion that Labour will ride in on a white steed and save us from the evil Tories. Labour are no better. It is Labour who in 2007 brought in the Welfare Reform Act. This replaced Incapacity benefit with ESA (Employment Support Allowance) and personal capability assessments with the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) in order to make the tests more stringent. Remember also that Labour have not scrapped the illegal Workfare (where the unemployed are forced into work for their benefit payment or face being sanctioned!) they have simply suggested an ‘alternative’ which is Workfare by a different name. Labour have not said they will scrap the bedroom tax which it in any event backed to the hilt. They are merely ‘looking into it’ – and Labour brought us PFI. Like every bourgeois party in and out of office they are 100% committed to milking the poor in order to preserve the wealth of the capitalists whose interests have been affected by the present economic crisis of overproduction. We can be certain that any promise of any concession will, if kept at all, only be a question of robbing Peter to pay Paul.
We have to face facts. If the working class is to benefit from the massive increase in productivity that modern technology has brought about, rather than to find itself impoverished through having produced too much, the rule of the capitalists must be overthrown, something that cannot happen through parliamentary elections, since these are merely instruments of bourgeois class rule. We need organisation and to build real socialism in this country. While supporting these grassroots campaigns and direct action we must realise the need to link them all up in one common fight – the fight against one common enemy – the global imperialist system.