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A Review Of Panorama: Disabled Or Faking It?

July 31, 2012

Why don’t you just stop it,” you wanted to say. “Just stop doing this cruel, pointless, terrible thing to people. Stop adding to the sum of human misery in the world and start working for our betterment instead.”

It wasn’t too many minutes in to Panorama: Disabled or Faking It? (BBC2) that this thought began beating steadily inside your head, and it didn’t let up until long after the credits had rolled on this examination of the new assessment tests being administered by the French company Atos Healthcare. Their purpose is to determine which of the claimants of disability benefits should be allowed to remain so when the government wants to cut £10bn from the welfare budget.

The Department of Work and Pensions’ own estimate is that fewer than 0.5% of incapacity claims are fraudulent. Via the new, computer-led tests – no further questions or external evidence required! Oh, brave new world! – Atos is currently deeming about a third of the people it assesses “fit to work”. Panorama showed us a handful of them. They included Christopher Davies, who has emphysema, cannot climb stairs or walk 50 yards without needing to stop and recover his increasingly elusive breath. Maybe the government’s austerity measures are to include the use of human draught excluders in public buildings to cut heating bills. I do see that Mr Davies could do that. As long as there was someone to help him up and take him home afterwards, of course. But they’ll have to find something else for Shannon Thompson because she uses a wheelchair and is permanently on morphine to help with the pain caused by three types of bone disease and although – like 60% of the assessors – I’m not a doctor, I imagine cold air might aggravate her condition. And Panorama showed us Steven Hills, though only in family pictures because he died of a heart attack 39 days after being pronounced fit to work for the second time. He had successfully appealed against the verdict of the first assessment. That was the one at which his heart problem had first been noticed. The assessor advised him to see a doctor as soon as possible. It was while he was waiting for the operation that resulted that he received the news that he should, apparently, be at work.

It is hard not simply to regurgitate the vast numbers of astonishing, appalling figures, facts, attitudes (Chris Grayling’s, I trust not to your surprise, foremost among them – he’s still wishing “the [appeal] judges would sometimes look beyond the first impression and think ‘Is it really the case that these people could not return to any form of work?'”) that scrolled across the screen in the course of a programme that was basically one 30-minute-long howl of despair. Clear, educational, informed and informative, but despairing nevertheless. We are at the point now where even our documentaries can’t believe what they have to show us.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. John Rippon permalink
    August 1, 2012 1:52 am

    If you watched the “Panorama” programme on BBC 2 on Monday 30th. July at 2030 why did not also watch the programme on Channel 4 at 2000 which immediately preceded it on EXACTLY THE SAME ATOS SUBJECT????
    Both were half-hour programmes and if you hurry you can still see the Channel 4 programme on “Catch up TV”.

  2. samedifference1 permalink*
    August 1, 2012 10:17 am

    Hello John,

    I did watch Dispatches. This review of Panorama was taken from the Guardian- maybe they just didn’t review it.

    Best wishes

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