Disability: ‘man in coma declared fit to work’


8:30 am - January 20th 2012

by Sunny Hundal    


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A man in a coma was declared to fit to work, it was alleged this week on an online forum dedicated to discussing welfare rights.

The discussion drew a storm across Twitter and is now being investigated for its veracity.

Forum member ‘1964’ – who said they were at Reading Community Welfare Rights Unit wrote:

Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA50. Client contacted DWP to explain situation and was asked to obtain letter from hospital confirming he is in a coma. Did so. Was told to send it to ATOS rather than local BDC. Did so.

Husband has now received decision letter- yep, as he has failed to return the ESA50 without good cause and is therefore capable of work and no longer entitled to ESA…

You couldn’t make it up.

At this point the story has not been confirmed yet, though there is no reason to doubt its accuracy.

The forum participant said they were going to get in touch with journalists to highlight the case.

(H-T Matt Leys)

If the story were true however, it would not surprise most disability campaigners, who have said for years that the assessment tests are absurd.

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About the author
Sunny Hundal is editor of LC. Also: on Twitter, at Pickled Politics and Guardian CIF.
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Reader comments


I can well believe this – but it is important to discriminate between an admin cockup – which this clearly is – that could occur in any system, and the basic inequities of the assessment system eg people being assumed to be fit to travel to work because they have, exceptionally, put themselves through hoops to attend the assessment.

Look, I’m as uncomfortable with some of the assessment systems as the next manbut what we have here is an allegation by an anonymous person on the internet which even if true points to an administrative cock up and not a decleration that someone has to work even if in a coma. Shall we all just calm down a little bit?

If I’m honest the difference between the headline and the facts of the story are worthy of the Mail or the Express.

Frankly Sunny I’m a bit disapointed.

The allegation would appear to be:

“Man who failed to return form suffers consequences”.

Obviously, he couldn’t return the form himself, and his wife may have been told to send the form to the wrong place.

As for this: “At this point the story has not been confirmed yet, though there is no reason to doubt its accuracy”. It’s a bit self-righteous brothers isn’t it?

At this point the story has not been confirmed yet, though there is no reason to doubt its accuracy.

It must be true – an anonymous person on the internet says so!

tbh I thought it was the daily mash.

” but it is important to discriminate between an admin cockup – which this clearly is ”

The problem is correcting an admin cockup can take months before its rectified, which in the meantime means a person gets evicted for not paying the rent. Its a problem with the entire system, including the standard JSA, and happens too frequently to be entirely by error.

Grrr being in a coma is no excuse not to work! Do you know hundreds, thousands nooooooo MILLIONS of people in comas are claiming benefits and sponging off the hard working decent law abding reasonable decent law abiding British taxpaying reasonable decent law abding non coma people! It’s hell in a handcart!

@4. It writes itself really, doesn’t it? Next up on LibCon, the scandal of the failed asylum seeker with six kids who’s just been given a new Ferrari by the DHSS – a bloke in the pub told me so!

If true, we shouldn’t be too quick to dismiss this as an ‘admin cockup’. It could be that the rigid box-ticking structure of the assessment system is simply incapable of accommodating the fact that someone is in a coma, just as it’s incapable of accommodating the fact that a person who can walk a short distance on the day of their assessment may not be fully mobile every day of the year; or the fact that someone with terminal cancer may be in no fit state to attend an assessment. That is to say, this case may be different in degree but not in kind from many others.

If I’m honest the difference between the headline and the facts of the story are worthy of the Mail or the Express.

Frankly Sunny I’m a bit disapointed.

Obviously some of your disablist friends don’t come round here that much……..

10. Leon Wolfeson

I’m sure you’d like Necromancy, Pagar, since you could raise the corpses of the poor to work on after death…

11. Chaise Guevara

G.O. makes a good point – if this story is true (and it’s presently a big “if”) then it would be a good idea to find out whether it was an honest error, or whether the system actually allows for someone to be in a coma and still pass as “fit for work” by the rules.

If so, this could indicate that there are less-obvious cases (i.e. where the person is conscious) of people being totally unfit to work but still falling through the cracks.

However, as has been pointed out, the story would need to be confirmed (BTW, there’s no more reason to assume it is true than to assume the opposite), and even it it is, for my money it’ll turn out to be an admin error. It looks like one.

Sunny: why go to pains in the article to point out that the story isn’t confirmed, then present it as a certain fact in the headline? A quote mark before ‘man’ and another after ‘work’ would have kept you the right side of honest.

@ 10:

Personally, I think it entirely reprehensible of the last Labour administration that they did so little research to enable the abolition of death. Death was invented by the Right, and more should be done to eradicate it. Everything will be possible under real socialism, thank goodness.

I’m sure you’d like Necromancy, Pagar, since you could raise the corpses of the poor to work on after death…

I’d only be up for it if they’d work for less than minimum wage…….

14. Leon Wolfeson

Just on a more general level, this sort of anecdotal reporting is going to present a one-sided picture anyway. If the system is not working, there will be two forms of error – people who cannot work being assessed as fit to work, and people who can work being assessed as unable to work. Wierdly though, those who are the subject of the former decisions will much more likely complain than those who are the subject of the latter…

So regardless of this particular case (which seems unlikely, but possible), basing anything on anecdotal sources (which also assumes the person reporting is a more reliable assessor than the person making the assessment, which seems methodologically flawed to me) is always likely to present a particular slant on a process such as this. It may be a slant you want, but it is going to be difficult to win an argument with it.

Incidentally, can anyone tell me if there are any official figures (regardless of views on their reliability – and I guess official figures will generally slant in the opposite direction to anecdotal reporting by their nature…) that are relevant here. I have my severe doubts about the current system (shocking I know – right-wing liberal has doubts about government’s ability to do something…) but everything I see is either this sort of anecdota (albeit, normally better sourced…) or the even more ignorant assumptions about scroungers you hear from the generally unpleasant (if self-defined as hard working, perhaps another case of bias in reporting?) parts of the population.

Tim J @ 4

It must be true – an anonymous person on the internet says so!

Surely the answer is; does it sound likely? Given that the system was invented by a useless Labour Minister and further ratified by ConDem arseholes to appease Sub Human Tories and fuckwits, is it likely that such people would design a system to take into account something like a coma?

Given, that the system cannot ‘recognise’ terminal cancer, debilitating neurological illness, complex variable diseases, mental illnesses and a plethora of other completely debilitating conditions, is it feasible that the system would bypass all of that and pick up a coma?

Personally I wouldn’t be in the least bit surprised if this is entirely true. Given the past record of these reforms, common sense is not exactly built into the system, is it?

17. Chaise Guevara

@ 16 Jim

What matters is whether it’s true. If you’re assuming it’s true because you consider it likely, you can’t then hold it up as evidence of how likely it is that the system will produce such problems. It’s double-counting.

Surely the answer is; does it sound likely?

According to a source I just made up, that brain in a jar from the Roal Dahl story was declared fit to work. More proof that the evil Condems are lizard people. According to the voices in my head, they dug up the remains of the Duke of Wellington and Iain Duncan Smith personally declared him fit to work.

“Anonymous person on the internet” really truly doesn’t deserve the benefit of the doubt in the absence of any corroborating evidence whatsoever.

Although +1 to Sunny for the correct use of the subjunctive in the last line of this otherwise utterly worthless story. So, there’s that.

they dug up the remains of the Duke of Wellington and Iain Duncan Smith personally declared him fit to work.

Now that is worth 100 retweets……

Chaise @ 17, Tim @ 18

Only time will tell whether or not someone in a coma was unable to fill in a form and has been declared ‘fit for work’ in the absense of said form. It is plausible that the default position in such cases is the case is dismissed if the correct form is not produced.

Here is a rather typical case of stupidity:

http://www.thescottishsun.co.uk/scotsol/homepage/news/4073614/Wife-blasts-get-a-job-letter-to-dying-man.html

Now, how long would it take to move this man from the database?

22. Chaise Guevara

@ Jim

“Only time will tell whether or not someone in a coma was unable to fill in a form and has been declared ‘fit for work’ in the absense of said form. It is plausible that the default position in such cases is the case is dismissed if the correct form is not produced.”

I agree that it’s plausible.

“Here is a rather typical case of stupidity:

Now, how long would it take to move this man from the database?”

Depends on the database. Some older ones do take ages to update.

More pertinently: why was he still on the database as someone who should be in work? Were the people in charge made aware that this was not appropriate? If so, had someone just accidentally failed to untick a box?

While it’s understandably upsetting to the people involved, I really don’t think it’s worth the rest of us getting het up (and far less drawing politicised conclusions) over what at the end of the day will be down to a badly designed system or normal human error, not malice. The newspapers always make it sound like someone at the organisation saw that the person was ill and decided to send the letter anyway out of spite. The headline in the one you linked is essentially a lie designed to make it sound worse (no fault to you, that’s the Scottish Sun’s decision).

I suspect half the time you get a story like this, nobody’s actually informed the organisation in question about the change of circumstance, yet they get blamed when an automatic letter goes out as a result.

Chaise @ 22

The system has not been designed with anything other than a desire to be seen as cracking down on benefit claimants. This has not been done to achieve anything of substance, fraud being a vanishingly small percentage of disability claims. This is mainly due to the fact that doctors use advanced diagnostic tools to determine a prognosis. I do not have a link to the appropriate peer reviewed study, but my instinct would be that MRI, cat scans, X rays, blood tests are a better indicator of a person’s long term health and likely outcome of a disease than merely, looking through a net curtain would indicate.

This has been done because of a mixture of two groups, namely the ‘nasty’ and ‘fuckwitted’ among us require evidence that the government of the day (previously, Labour but now Tory/Lib Dem) are ‘doing something’ about ‘scroungers’. The entire system has now been designed against the needs of these two groups rather than that of a man in a coma. People in comas, tend not to make complaints to newspapers, nor do the vast majority of people. The ones that make most noise are those petty minded people with more time on their hands than is healthy.

So, rather than tackle the idiots we have designed a multi million pound system that checks amputees, ‘just to make sure’ new legs have grown in the last six months. A fucking triumph of democracy.

24. Chaise Guevara

@ 23 Jim

Well said, and no argument from me. You mistake me if you think I’m defending the overall system. I was talking about opportunistic stories based on minor admin fuck-ups in general (you know, those along the lines of “Gas Company Sends Bill To Woman Who Is DEAD!!!”). I don’t like these stories, and the events alleged in the OP seem to be a case in point.

None of that has anything to do with the fact that the government seems to be merrily fucking disabled people over even as we speak. It’s probably the nastiest thing done by a particularly nasty version of the nasty party. When people tell me “I don’t bother voting, ‘cos they’re all the same anyway”, this is the sort of thing I point to, to show that an incompetent Labour administration is far preferable to a competent Tory administration.

Here is a joke that is going around that sums up the reality of ATOS : A retarded man that cannot control his dribbling was run over by a bus and lost both arms and legs so he is recalled to ATOS to be re-assessed. The ATOS assessor asks the retarded patient : Do you feel pain. The retarded patient replies ; No sir. The ATOS assessor then asks the retarded patient : Can you get an erection. The retarded man replies : Yes Sir.

After a three day wait the retarded patient receives a letter from ATOS passing him fit for work on the grounds that he would be able to work in a Florist Shop by bouncing to work on an erect penise and dribbling over the flowers to feed them.

Only a joke but it is becoming reality. Cameron’s idea of Big Society : If the cripple is having trouble getting down the stairs just give them a push.

This is like something out of Terry Gilliam’s Brazil. Only in Britain, eh?

27. the a&e charge nurse

The significance of Sunny’s piece has nothing to do with the possibly that an unfounded story found might have found its way onto the net, but rather the fact the atmosphere around disability claims has now become SO toxic that such a development would merely represent the next logical step in the process of demonising certain groups of ‘scroungers’ – I mean that’s what ATOS & Co are all about aren’t they?

Chaise @ 25

Trust me on this, I accept that there are admin errors and form letters/forms that get sent out every day in this Country. Here in Scotland we have the ‘Sunday Post’ that has entire columns based on letters being sent out to people who cannot comprehend that a standardised application form may exist. One of my favourites being a couple of years back when some biddy took the two minutes to write regarding a form for X-rays, housing benefit or whatever asking if she may be pregnant: ‘I am 73’ she told the paper.

Nobody is suggesting that we tailor every application form to fit the demographics of the entire Country. Old Betty there will still be asked if she is in a same sex relationship or pregnant from time to time.

However, a system that is designed to deal with severe illnesses that cannot understand the implications of being in a coma has been designed to fail. The fact that no-one has looked at this case with a pair of ‘common sense glasses’ and made a decision is symptomatic of a system designed to appeal to the fuckwitted morons that dominate Westminster politics.

A classic example of a fuckwit decision:

http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2012/jan/15/catherine-bennett-abuse-of-interns

Again, no one with half a brain can look at this story and miss the flaws, but because the average ‘complainer’ has got the IQ of an unflushed toilet, common sense has been worked out of the system. So, the person who works the claim cannot fix it, the supervisor cannot fix it, the office manager cannot fix it, the junior minister for paperclips at the relevant department cannot fix it, because fixing it would mean taking on the ‘constantly furious’. Millions of quid every year is wasted on this type of crap, simply because the cunt at the end of the road is too stupid to understand the consequences of their actions and no-one has the balls to tell them.

29. Chaise Guevara

@ 28 Jim

Good analysis. I wonder if organisations (the government, the BBC, private companies) should just automatically ignore complaints where the same individual has complained about 10 things in a few months. I’m willing to bet that more than half of the complaints lodged with the BBC are by regulars, who practically sit there watch TV with a notebook and the BBC complaints line on speed-dial.

Chaise @ 29

A couple of issues come to mind.

First of all, we had the Ross, Brand and Sachs thing. A dozen people complained, the newspapers went to town, then thirty thousand people complained about a week after the initial broadcast.

The Clarkson thing. a couple of thousand people complained during or shortly after the broadcast.

31. Chaise Guevara

@ 30 Jim

I’d be interested to know (if it’s knowable) how many of the people who complained about Clarkson’s comments had actually listened to the show (all of it, not the clip, and at the time, not after being told what he’d said).

In context I didn’t see anything wrong with it. I might not have even identified it as controversial if I’d been listening. I can still why people found it offensive, but his comment in the context of the show was a world apart from his comment taken out of context (and as often as not presented as something he actually believed).

Sometimes it’s fair to complain about a broadcast. But I believe a lot of broadcasters go in for that idea that the number of complaints should be multiplied by 10 (or 100, or 1,000) to find the actual number of people who objected to the content. It’s a lazy way off thinking that focuses solely on the negative, and it leads to shows being axed and people being fired for no sensible reason.

@28. Jim: “Nobody is suggesting that we tailor every application form to fit the demographics of the entire Country. Old Betty there will still be asked if she is in a same sex relationship or pregnant from time to time.”

One thing of which we can be certain is that some lefties or some righties will argue that the wording of a particular standard form represents bias against them. However innocently the question is asked, somebody will be offended. The most probable reason is that “somebody” is looking for offence and cannot bring him/herself to write “does not apply”.

In a heavily managed organisation it is difficult enough to create any document that is intelligible and grammatical after “scrutiny” by “senior management”; should any heavily managed organisation create an intentionally offensive (rather than illiterate) form it would rank among the work of Hercules.

Jumping up the thread…

@5. Planeshift: “The problem is correcting an admin cockup can take months before its rectified…”

Yes. Most people accept that mistakes are made; our tolerance is determined by how quickly mistakes are rectified and by how important the mistake is to us.

The author of the allegations isn’t “anonymous.” She gives her job title on the thread, and has been a regular named source for the Guardian.

Chaise @ 30

The point I was making is that if you complain, during or shortly after a TV programme that is one thing, but if you complain a week after the Daily Mail have been banging on about something, then that is different. You are not complaining about the show, you are merely doing what you are told by the Mail.

I agree about it being an administrative mistake. A hospital inpatient automatically has so-called ‘limited’ capability for work.

But such a cock up can have very serious consequences for people. I have seen people in this situation (wrongly) told they are barred from re-applying for 6 months, for example, and an appeal takes 9-12 months to be heard.

Also Rightsnet is not just an anonymous forum. It is a well recognised forum for professionals and membership requires a work email address.

36. Chaise Guevara

@ 34

Agreed.

Anyone know if the allegation has been substantiated yet?


Reactions: Twitter, blogs
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  74. Fuad

    Startling allegation made that man in coma was declared 'fit to work' by govt programme http://t.co/cVeBOjDL

  75. Pamela Heywood

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/zJ0Y7HIh

  76. Kimberley

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/zJ0Y7HIh

  77. sheppeyescapee

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/zJ0Y7HIh

  78. John D Clare

    Liberal Conspiracy – Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/r8UINpY2

  79. Casperati

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/1OVfx1Fj via @libcon

  80. Simon Watkins

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/AUEVU4OU via @libcon

  81. Alice in Blunderland

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/yWvwloZQ

  82. Rhys Morgan

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  83. Jack

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  84. Saranga

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  85. Terry Harvey-Chadwic

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  86. MagnusStreifengrauer

    @gargathlupus http://t.co/v0XoAjTI

  87. Colin Jackson

    Startling allegation made that man in coma was declared 'fit to work' by govt programme http://t.co/cVeBOjDL

  88. Daniel Lalander

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  89. Canton Greens

    Startling allegation made that man in coma was declared 'fit to work' by govt programme http://t.co/PMzxBazz (via @sunny_hundal) cc @ATOS

  90. Raphael

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  91. Clare O'Neill

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  92. Andrew Gillard

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  93. Nick H.

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/J5j5DK6s

  94. Andrew Pang

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  95. Michael Weatherburn

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work http://t.co/J5j5DK6s

  96. Paul Gadsden

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  97. Martin Guest

    Startling allegation made that man in coma was declared 'fit to work' by govt programme http://t.co/cVeBOjDL

  98. Snickerer

    Startling allegation made that man in coma was declared 'fit to work' by govt programme http://t.co/cVeBOjDL

  99. IpswichCAB

    Disability: ‘man in coma declared fit to work’ ~ http://t.co/1b1mn3q3 #ATOS #DWP #ESA

  100. David Jones

    Disability: ‘man in coma declared fit to work’ ~ http://t.co/1b1mn3q3 #ATOS #DWP #ESA

  101. Volunteer Exeter

    Disability: ‘man in coma declared fit to work’ ~ http://t.co/1b1mn3q3 #ATOS #DWP #ESA

  102. Peter English

    Disability: man in coma declared fit to work | Liberal Conspiracy http://t.co/8ibl9Imf via @libcon If true, FFFFFFFFFFFFFFUUUUUUUU-

  103. neBhasikoro

    Disability: ‘man in coma declared fit to work’ ~ http://t.co/1b1mn3q3 #ATOS #DWP #ESA

  104. Eco Treedweller

    RT @libcon: Disability: 'man in coma declared fit to work' http://t.co/5sMKZIS7 #atos #dwp #benefits #cuts #coma #disability

  105. Allan R

    #ATOS are sponsoring #London #Paralympics? The same company who thinks a man in a coma is"fit for work": http://t.co/1E31C2rg

  106. The Full Facts

    @michaela_65uk @Mylegalforum Not bad!!! Want ATOS stories? Got a few up my sleeve ‘man in coma declared fit to work’ http://t.co/Ehj4e2Xn

  107. Thomas Seymat

    @sunny_hundal Hi Sunny, did you read any follow-up/confirmation re your blog post http://t.co/zTUOs7w8 man in coma declared fit to work?

  108. kenny blong

    @onthecouchagain this one IS real http://t.co/ozpUFQ5k





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