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A parliament fit for purpose?

A month ago the Government was defeated in a vote on the floor of the House of Commons on a very important issue – the question of the level of the EU budget. The Government whips strained every muscle they could to avoid defeat, but having been decisively defeated, the Government simply ignored the vote.

Two days ago a similar event occurred. In the debate on the Atos Healthcare treatment of disabled people not a single MP spoke in defence of the Government’s position and the Minister made a very poor speech in defence of the indefensible. One senior Tory MP, Charles Walker, now chair of the Procedure Select Committee, solemnly pronounced that “Atos is now so discredited that we should park it on one side and go off again in a different direction”.

But having been unanimously overturned, will the Government change course? I said in my concluding remarks at the end of the debate that this issue has now become a test of the accountability of the Government to the House of Commons. It has, and we are not going to let go.

There’s another reason why this is so important. Rarely have I known a debate in the House of such passion – poignant, focused, always well-evidenced – yet perhaps some of it was not as well directed as it should be. What did not come out of the debate as strongly as it should have was that, dreadful as the things done by Atos are, they are not ultimately in control. It’s not Atos’ fault that there are no recording machines, DWP blocked them.

The arbitrary descriptors – sending cancer patients to the Jobcentre, insisting you must be blind and deaf to qualify, as well as so many other cruel demands – were all designed by the DWP. The one year limit was laid down by DWP. The targets that they call norms, that too is a DWP device. Even the inaccessible buildings are DWP buildings, they’re not Atos properties.

One other piece of evidence is clinching. When Atos work for other employers like the Royal Mail or the NHS, their decisions about unfitness for work are wholly different. That points ineluctably to the real truth, as I said at the end of the debate, that DWP are quite ready to accept, even require, this inhumanity if it is the only means to get 1.6 million disabled persons off Incapacity Benefit. The evil is not Atos – I make no excuse for them whatsoever since they could, and certainly should, walk away from so brutal and dehumanising a contract – but the real evil is the DWP (and no doubt the Treasury behind them) and the Ministerial instructions that set up this system – the descriptors, the regulations, the guidance, and all the rest. In fact in Kettering Atos have implemented all Harrington’s proposals and the accuracy of assessment is almost 100%, but it means only doing 4 assessments a day and DWP insists on 11.

We must be careful. Getting rid of Atos would seem a triumph, but there’s always a private company greedy enough to step into the breach where contracts like £110 millions are involved. Would G4S or Capita be a jot better if the underlying system and the DWP/Treasury instructions remained the same? It’s the system itself we’ve now got to destroy.


  1. Ian Davies says:

    I’m chronically ill because NHS didn’t treat my injuries properly, been on IB for quite some time but I’ve never sat back. Whilst ill I’ve worked for two charity shops but had to reduce my hours because of effect on my health, in one of the shops I helped acquire & install CCTV to help reduce shoplifting. As well as my voluntary work I’ve used the problems my condition gave me to invent products to help others, one of my solutions The Plugster® has created work for UK businesses and been given to elderly & disabled people around the UK. My main intention was to create something positive from a negative situation but it was also to show potential employers I had something to offer. This worked to some degree as I have people that want me to work for them but my Permitted Work Trial only consisted of 3 hours a day 2 days a week & after a fortnight they ended it because of the obvious effects on my health. Support from the DWP is difficult to access and can be restricting, even my potential employer had difficulty discovering what help might be available for them. I didn’t choose to be ill & I’ve done all I can to find help to either find work I can cope with or create work I can manage. My efforts have created work for over 12 UK businesses but the worst part of being ill is the pressure from the medical tests & the problems of appealing because claims end instantly but can take 6 to 8 weeks to reinstate. The last time I was found fit by ATOS all my benefits ended instantly & my landlord was chasing me for money I didn’t have, it took between 4 & 6 weeks to sort out income support & housing benefits, then when I won my appeal after 6 to 8 months of surviving on Income Support at reduce rate (£10 less than the amount Government says a person needs to live off) I won my appeal. Again instantly my Income Support & Housing Benefit stopped & this time it took 6 to 8 weeks to sort out my Incapacity Benefit. The current system is designed to have as many hurdles and punishments as possible to deter people claiming anything. With support & help I might be able to find a way to work part time but it would need to be flexible & understand how my illness is so debilitating but the truth is there is no support just obstacles that deter my attempts.

  2. This is all true Mr Meacher. But the fact remains that 30,000 British citizens have been Murdered by this Coalition and its cuts.Deliberately, Cold-blooded & heinous crimes against Humanity.British Democracy has been dragged into the realms of the United nations. There is going to be a price to pay for this Malicious Conduct

  3. Anthony Turtle says:

    ” but there’s always a private company greedy enough to step into the breach where contracts like £110 millions are involved.”

    Yes I agree, a very worthwhile organisation already fully staffed with people able to ascertain the level of a persons Capability for Work. They have some amazing pieces of diagnostic equipment already in place and also some methods to improve the claimant’s health, in some cases.

    Who is this unknown company that could give two or more opinions about a person’s fitness? It’s this strange company that at present has tentacles that reach into virtually every town in the country.

    It’s name? The National Health Service!

  4. treborc says:

    It was not designed by the DWP they did nothing in designing this, it was done by a bloke called Freud with his lap dog Purnell, with Brown being the top man who even demanded that DLA be ended since it was a wasted benefit.

    I do not like the Tories and never will, sadly the fact is Labour took over the mantle of the Tory party, and now we have Miliband who’s like a school boy, his statement on the sick and the disabled are no better then anyone in the Tories.

    Or do I need reminding people again at conference his speech about the man who answered the door.

  5. misspiggy says:

    What can Labour do about Government’s blatant and serious disregard of Parliament? You are among the most powerful people in the country, and you are writing a blog article about these issues. What else are you doing? What do you want the public to do?

  6. Jenna says:

    This is all very true and all credit to Michael Meacher for his stance.


    When is Labour opposition to the effective manslaughter and terrorising of Britsh citizens going to come out of the realm of the blog and appear in the media?
    Most important of all, when is ED going to find his balls and speak out n public. Waiting till the polls turn against this hate fest?? Or waitng to see if welfare bashing remains a popular British pass time.

    “I met a man” Ed. Of course the public will back horrendous policies if they have been fed lies.
    Be radical. Tell the truth -LOUDLY. Or share the blame.
    If MPs cannot hold the government accountable, that is as good as admitting we have a dictatorship, and the rest of you are just there for the perks.

  7. Dave says:

    Jenna – If Ed offers a non-Tory alternative the influential, Sainsbury financed, Progress wing will most likely walk in the run-up to the next general election (remeber: David Sainsbury bankrolled the SDP breakaway in the early 80s). And if Ed doesn’t offer a non-Tory alternative he’ll lose the next election. It’s win-win for the Tories, lose-lose for Labour.

    What we need, as noted by Owen Jones in yesterday’s Independent newspaper, is a left version of UKIP:–a-movement-on-the-left-to-counter-capitalisms-crisis-8459099.html

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