Protests will be held Britain-wide on March 2nd to denounce US based company Maximus and its takeover of the Work Capability Assessment, previously run by the French IT company ATOS. In Edinburgh demonstrators are set to descend on the Maximus Assessment Centre in Argyle House on Lady Lawson Street from 1pm onwards on Monday.
The day of action has been called by Disabled People Against The Cuts (DPAC), disability rights organisation Black Triangle, Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty (ECAP), the Industrial Workers of the World and other groups, who are all demanding the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) be scrapped. The WCA is the current test which determines if claimants are awarded the disability benefit Employment and Support Allowance.
Previous administration of the Work Capability Assessment by ATOS proved controversial. ATOS was frequently accused of incompetence with assessors having no accredited medical training and the process by which they assess claimants repeatedly being described as “unfair” and “cruel”. Very often these tests amount to little more than a box ticking exercise for the assessor with little consideration taken of the complexity of the claimants often multi-faceted medical history.
DYING – BUT “FIT FOR WORK”
Numerous reports detail the inhumanity of the system. Claimants have been phoned up the day after their heart bypass to be told they are fit for work. Claimants dying of cancer have even been declared fit for work by a computerized test which assigns points based on what claimants can’t do and has been known to deny points based on whether the claimant arrived at the assessment centre unaided or something as simple as whether they were able to remove their coat without assistance.
Activists have little faith that the takeover will represent a change in the management of the assessment. Maximus, a US based company which provides services to government agencies, has a long record of failures and abuses in the US. It has repeatedly failed to achieve the duties in government services which it was contracted to do, has continuously been involved in Medicaid fraud, has been found guilty of disability discrimination, has been found guilty of paying lower wages to women than men and has had racial discrimination complaints filed against them.
Esther Macdonald of Edinburgh Coalition Against Poverty said: “These tests are completely inhumane. Private companies reap the profits while disabled people are suffering the cost. Under ATOS, people were literally killing themselves because of how horrific it was. Now given all we know about Maximus, we expect no better from them. The only solution is to scrap the Work Capability Assessment completely”.
The protests are also backed by UNITE the union. Unite equalities national officer Siobhan Endean told Welfare Weekly that “Unite disabled members are sending a message to Maximus. The company should realise it has taken up a poisoned chalice and pull out of this contract with the Con-Dem government”.