Thursday, June 16, 2011

By George, he'd got it!

KV, or "Fit for Active Service" by George Grosz, 1917

I'VE been meaning to use this classic cartoon by German artist George Grosz since hearing friends talking about the way people are being assessed as fit for work, and taken off disability benefit, by ATOS, the company contracted by the government for this purpose. The other day it was a guy who can barely walk unaided, earlier I heard from a social worker in the Midlands whose client has alzheimers and can hardly recognise his wife. The police have had to bring him home on three occasions.

The assessor ticking the boxes put down "slight memory problems".

Like the German army physician in Grosz's picture finding the skeleton "KV" - A1 fit for duty.

George Grosz had been through the German military in World War I, and along with the irreverence of Dada artists his no-nonsense eye sharply dissected the society around him. He.was arrested during the Spartakus uprising in January 1919, but escaped using fake identification documents, and joined the newly formed Communist Party of Germany (KPD). . In 1921 Grosz was accused of insulting the army, which resulted in a 300 German Mark fine and the destruction of the collection Gott mit uns ("God with us"), a satire on German society. Grosz left the KPD in 1922 after having spent five months in Russia and meeting Lenin and Trotsky. Remaining a man of the Left, he was fortunate enough to get a teaching invitation in the New York in 1932, and though returning briefly to Germany, got out with his family in January 1933, as the Nazis came into power.

A Facebook group set up called "After Atos" says:
"Many facts and stories appear everyday about the Atos assessment and whether it is helping people back to work and off benefits or whether it is causing undue distress and harm to disabled people and people with long term disabilities and even terminal illness.

"The fact is, that no one know the facts. Despite numerous attempts by both professionals, concerned MPs and various members of the public and charitable and care support bodies no one in government or at Atos is willing to give the facts about how many and what type of disabilities are being assessed by Atos, what type of disabilities are being assessed as fit for work. how many of these assessed for work have gross, complex, permanent and even terminal illnesses or what effects these assessments and their results are having on people's lives, their carers and their families. No one has got or been able to supply the most important facts. The facts of whether it is doing harm or doing good".

After Atos Assessment has devised an on-line survey for those who have gone through the Atos ESA Medical Assessment to complete. As it says:
"Since 2008 Atos has assessed 100,000s disabled people to see if they are fit for work and get them off benefits. From April 2011 Atos seeks to assess over 10,000 disabled people per week. No one knows what happened to the 100,000s disabled who were assessed before and no one will know what happens to the disabled who will be assessed in future unless those assessed tell it for themselves. After Atos Assessment form provides that very opportunity. Thank you for your contribution".

Some more definite, and damning, information is being aired. About people who committed suicide after being assessed. (A recent survey by Mind revealed that 51% of people with mental health conditions were left with suicidal thoughts at the prospect of a work capability assessment by Atos). About other people who though seriously ill were wrongly found fit, and then died before entering any work, but were allegedly chased and harassed right to the end.

There is even a group now called "Nurses Against Atos". Maybe doctors who don't want to fit the George Grosz picture will also form up.

Around 60 disabled people, supporters and benefit claimants protested on Tuesday outside a recruitment event held by the Atos Origin company. The firm is recruiting healthcare workers as Disability Assessors to carry out the computer based ‘health’ assessments which have seen thousands of disabled and sick people losing benefit entitlements. Groups including Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), London Coalition Against Poverty, Mental Health Resistance Network and Winvisible Network were all present at the event. As the evening wore on someone turned up with a megaphone, and angry chants of ‘Atos Kills’ rang out across Triton Square.

Next Wednesday there is to be a demonstration in Manchester. I'm sorry I missed the London protest, and wish the Manchester comrades every success.

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