Increasingly disliked Atos assessors judged a dying Government scientist fit to work even though his doctors were pushing him to have a heart transplant. Before his death, Robert Barlow, 47, could barely read or walk and had given him just 18 months to live.
Yet Atos cut his state benefits, telling him he was expected to work. He even lost his right to free NHS prescriptions.
Little money left
Barlow – he died last November after a fall – underwent an Atos fitness-to-work examination in early 2012; shortly afterward his Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was cut. “He was a trained classical pianist,” his aunt, Joan Westland, told the Mirror. “He could cook and he had a beautiful sense of humour.”
She went on: “Robert had very little money on benefits and nothing at all when his money was stopped. I know there are scroungers but he was not one of them.”
In fact, Liverpool-based Barlow had worked for the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs as a microbiologist for more than a decade until deteriorating health forced him off the job nine years earlier.
It’s thought Barlow originally took issue with the DWP when his benefits were cut – though aunt Joan Westland thinks he became too weak to take the DWP’s heartlessness head on.
In a statement the DWP said Barlow did not die after being found fit for work. “Mr Barlow appealed to the Tribunal Service, but the appeal was then withdrawn so we couldn’t continue the benefit claim.”
“The WCA [Work Capability Assessment] was introduced by the previous Government and we knew it wasn’t working as well as it should, which is why we introduced a series of independent reviews and have made significant changes to make it better.”
Overhaul from the ground up
Meanwhile the Government is ditching Atos following its £500m contract with the company. Originally Atos’ contract was supposed to run to mid-2015.
Local MP Luciana Berger, shadow health minister, told the Independent it wasn’t enough to re-shuffle the provider. “The whole process needs to be totally redesigned. My constituent is someone who lost his life at a time when his ESA was suspended.”