THE BLOG

'Atos Declares Coma Patients Fit' and Other Disability Related Welfare Urban Myths

08/08/2013 16:56 BST | Updated 08/10/2013 10:12 BST

Since the start of the welfare reforms in 2010, I have noticed a number of urban myths being created which I would like to unpick for a moment. I say urban myths as the examples I will give are shortcut statements that appear to have no origin or have any meaningful evidence to support them. Rather than just being 'old wives tales', these myths have quite damaging consequences, bringing unnecessary fear and anxiety to the situation.

As my headline suggests, the first urban myth is a belief that Atos, the company who assesses people for ESA, has declared one or more coma patients as being fit for work. I think we are being led to believe some health professional from ATOS has visited a person in a coma, took one look at them, and said yep, they are fit for work! I mean really?

Since there is no evidence of this happening, I think what will be very more likely to be the case is that someone who is already receiving ESA and needs an assessment has received a letter which they clearly are unable to reply to. Since Atos and DWP can not mind read, they would have no choice but to reject their application because of a failure to communicate. It would be hoped when they wake up from their coma, it could be sorted out with a phone call. It must be noted at the same time, they may have their mobile phone cut off for non-payment and many other things going wrong that they were clearly unable to deal with.

The next urban myth, which has been at the cornerstone of the attacks on Atos on extremist groups like 'Disabled people against cuts' and 'Black Triangle', is that Atos kills 40 people a week, or whatever it is currently. This myth is based on real statistics in terms of the number of people receiving or applying for ESA who have died in a certain timescale for WHATEVER reason. These would be like finding out many people who eat baked beans last year also died and then summarising that baked beans killed them.

If Atos was killing people, there would be arrests, trials and public investigations as this mass corporate killer was uncovered. But this is simply not the case and in reality, it has been a ploy to change the conversation away from the fact of what ESA is about and the social responsibility to work.

The next urban myth is one I find deeply frustrating because it is the whole basis of the victimhood culture that has engulfed disabled people. The myth is that the welfare reforms and the discussions surrounding them has caused a rise in the 'hate crime' towards disabled people. This is really hard to unpick as its is based on so many misunderstandings and prejudices. It is clear to me it is not the Government nor the right wing media that ensures the language of benefit scroungers has been kept in the public minds but those who claim to be campaigning on behalf of disabled people, because it suits their agenda of victimhood and tries to close the debate of welfare reforms with emotive guilt tripping.

While hate crime does of course exists, I do not think it is as widespread as many wish us to believe. I have tried without success to get to the bottom of individuals' claims that they been victims of hate crime. While people want us to believe faultless disabled people are being openly abused in the high street and other public places by complete strangers, I think the reality that this is more about anti-social behaviour in the traditional places where the offenders will pick on the first thing they see, in this case disability, and that some 'victims' have chip on their shoulders believing they can be rude to others without consequences. I also feel the hate crime mentality provides unhelpful attention to bullies, glorifying their actions.

A final urban myth that is personal to me, is about the Independent Living Fund, that funds social care for disabled people with high support needs, who are closing in 2015, and its monies is being transferred to local authorities to administer with the monies they already manage. The extremist groups would like the public to believe this will result in users ending up in residential care (where they are likely of course to be abused) without any evidence that this will be the case. I regard the lies being told here very unhelpful and unfair, as either they are very ignorant of the social care system, or they wish to deliberately cause unnecessary distress to inflame the situation simply for their own agenda, using people's fears in a way I find immoral.

What I find worrying about all these urban myths is how the public accept than as fact without asking, like I do, for hard evidence. And in this context, I ask people commenting to just not 'huff' how wrong I am but to provide me with hard provable logical evidence that some of these myths are in fact true.