THE agency that assesses the disabled and sick for government benefits has been accused by a 13-year-old boy of killing his handicapped father.
Kieran McArdle has claimed that his father Brian collapsed and died shortly after Atos, which is employed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to carry out capability assessments, had deemed him as being “fit for work” despite being paralysed down his left side following a stroke last year.
The stroke had left him unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress. He relied on a mobility scooter and carried a panic alarm at all times in case he became ill.
Despite his condition, the schoolboy said, Mr McArdle, 57, who lived in Larkhall, was asked by Atos to attend a work capability assessment – part of the Westminster Government’s drive to cut the amount of money spent on welfare benefits. Days before the meeting, the former security guard had another stroke.
A month later, he was informed he would lose his disability benefits on 26 September.
According to Kieran, whose parents are separated, the news had a devastating effect on his father’s health and the constant worry of how he would cope sent him into a steep decline.
The day after his benefits were stopped, Mr McArdle suffered a heart attack and he died the following day in hospital.
Kieran said that Atos had to take responsibility for his father’s death.
“My dad was severely disabled after he took a massive stroke which caused a blood clot in his brain,” he said.
“How disabled do you have to be to get disability benefits? That’s what I want to know.
“My dad was a very proud man and didn’t like asking for help, financial or otherwise, but the money helped him retain some kind of dignity.”
Kieran, who is a pupil at Holy Cross High School in Hamilton, said he was “gobsmacked” when his father was turned down for sickness benefit, adding: “How could he possibly be fit for work?”
He said that the loss of his father’s benefits meant that in the weeks leading up to his death, Mr McArdle’s “fighting spirit” had gone.
“Atos destroyed my dad,” he said. “They knocked the stuffing out of him. He was always a fighter but I knew he wouldn’t survive after he got that letter stopping his benefits. It completely changed him. He was stressed out about how he was going to live. No one should have to suffer like that.
“Atos should hang their heads in shame for what they have done to my dad and other genuinely disabled people. It is disgusting.”
Kieran added that he felt he would not be able to grieve properly for his father until he had got justice for him.
Earlier this month, the UK government was criticised in a report for its attitude towards disabled people.
The Tipping Point, published by disabled people’s organisations, claimed that 500,000 people currently on disability living allowance (DLA) would be excluded under the proposed new benefits scheme.
The report said: “Thousands of the very sick and disabled people are being wrongly labelled fit to work under the government’s new scheme.”
A spokeswoman for Atos Healthcare said: “Our sympathies are with the friends and family of Mr McArdle.
“Although we cannot comment on individual cases, our trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists strictly follow the guidelines given to them by the government when conducting assessments, which form a single, although important, part of the process.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our sympathy goes out to Mr McArdle’s family during what is obviously a very difficult time.
“Through employment and support allowance, we help people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable of doing so, while giving unconditional support to those who need it.
“A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist and a thorough face-to-face assessment where necessary. We encourage people to provide as much medical evidence as possible. Often people found fit for work only provide the necessary evidence when they ask for an appeal.”
Atos profile: Controversy dogs IT firm that sponsored the Olympics
ATOS has been dogged by controversy ever since it took on the £110 million-a-year contract to carry out Disability Living Allowance assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Critics accused the UK government of mounting a crude money-saving exercise, designed to cut the annual £13 billion benefits bill rather than help those who need support. The assessments procedure was described as flawed and degrading, of adopting a ‘tick box’ approach and “not fit for purpose”.
In May this year, the British Medical Association voted for an immediate end to the assessments on account of the harm they do to patients, while investigative programme’s such as Channel 4’s Dispatches and the BBC’s Panorama have both suggested that assessment decisions by Atos doctors and nurses were following DWP targets for cutting benefits – a claim that has been strongly denied by the UK Government,
The French IT company was also targeted by protesters during the London Olympics and Paralympics over its sponsorship of the events.
There is also the prospect of further action after Atos, which employs 1,500 people in Scotland, was named as a sponsor of the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games.
Campaigners have threatened to occupy Glasgow 2014 premises unless organisers sever links with Atos, claiming that the company is “profiteering on the misery of disabled people”.
More than 30 SNP MSPs have also signed Holyrood motions critical of Atos.