A grieving boy of 13 has accused Atos of killing his disabled dad. Kieran McArdle told the Daily Record in a harrowing letter how his father Brian, 57, collapsed and died the day after his disability benefits were stopped. He had been assessed by Atos and deemed “fit for work”.
The youngster said a previous stroke on Boxing Day last year had caused a blood clot on Brian’s brain. He was left paralysed down his left side, unable to speak properly, blind in one eye and barely able to eat or dress. But he was still summoned to an Atos “work capability assessment” – part of the Con-Dem Government’s drive to cut billions from the welfare bill.
Kieran says he had another stroke days before his appointment because of stress, but was still determined to attend. A month later, former security guard Brian got a letter telling him he would lose his disability benefits on September 26. Kieran said his dad’s health went rapidly downhill. He believes constant worry about how he would survive without the cash he needed robbed Brian of the will to live. The day after his benefits were stopped, Brian collapsed and died in the street near his home in Larkhall, Lanarkshire. He had suffered a heart attack.
Kieran poured out his anger about the tragedy in his letter. He wrote: “Atos need to know their changes are killing genuine people like my dad. It has to stop before more people lose their lives.” The Record is campaigning for a fair and decent system that protects the rights of the genuinely disabled. Scots have repeatedly told us how Atos deemed them fit for work despite their illnesses after humiliating assessments. Kieran told us in his letter: “I write to you regarding your fight for a fair assessment for the sick and disabled people. My dad was assessed by Atos and told he was fit for work. After his assessment he was very low and worried how he was going to cope with no money as he was informed his benefits would stop on September 26. He died on September 27. My dad was severely disabled after he took a massive stroke which caused a blood clot in his brain.”
Kieran said Brian had a panic alarm around his neck in case he fell or became ill, and had to use a mobility scooter. He added: “How disabled do you have to be to get disability benefits? That’s what I want to know. My dad was a very proud man and didn’t like asking for help, financial or otherwise, but the money helped him retain some kind of dignity. He couldn’t come to terms with the fact he was disabled and needed help. The left side of his body was completely paralysed. He couldn’t walk properly, see out of his left eye, use his left arm, which meant he really struggled to feed himself, get dressed or perform even simple tasks. I was gobsmacked when he got the letter saying he was fit for work and that his benefits were being cut. How could he possibly be fit for work? It is an absolute disgrace and those Atos people should hang their heads in shame for what they are doing to these poor disabled people.
“They are supposed to be targeting the fraudsters, not killing off the genuine folk with their disgusting tactics. Even though my dad had another stroke just days before his assessment, he was determined to go. He tried his best to walk and talk because he was a very proud man, but even an idiot could have seen my dad wasn’t fit for work. He was under a great deal of stress the moment he was told about his assessment, and then after he got the letter telling him his benefits were being stopped he completely changed and he was very down. In the three weeks leading up to his death his fighting spirit was gone. I feel Atos caused my dad stress and unnecessary suffering which brought all this on and didn’t help. So they and David Cameron need to see the bigger picture and know their changes are killing genuine people like my dad. It has to stop before more people lose their lives. I decided to write to the Record to highlight my dad’s case. I know it won’t bring my dad back but maybe it will save some other family the loss of their loved-one.”
We spoke to Kieran, a pupil at Holy Cross High School in Hamilton, after receiving his letter. He told us: “Atos destroyed my dad. They knocked the stuffing out of him. He was always a fighter , but I knew he wouldn’t survive after he got that letter stopping his benefits. It completely changed him. He was stressed out about how he was going to live. No one should have to suffer like that. Atos should hang their heads in shame for what they have done to my dad and other genuinely disabled people. It is disgusting. I will never forgive them. I have not been able to grieve for my dad because I had so much anger inside me. I won’t be able to come to terms with my dad’s death until I get justice for him.”
Kieran said his parents split up years ago but were good friends. He saw his dad “all the time”. “I thought the world of him,” he added. “My last words to him were ‘I love you dad’ which gives me some comfort at least. Maybe I could accept his death a bit better if he had died of natural causes, but knowing that the stress of the Atos stuff killed him makes me sick to my stomach. I refuse to come to terms with it. He was very independent and wanted to live on his own. He had recently bought some disability aids to help him feed himself and was getting on with this life the best way he could. Me and my mum visited him all the time and helped him. He had great difficulty washing himself, getting dressed and feeding himself. He hated that he had to ask for help. He was a great dad and he was saving up to buy me a laptop for my Christmas, but after the terrible news from Atos I knew he would never see Christmas. My life seems empty now without my dad. I don’t know how I’m going to live without him. We were each other’s world.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “Our sympathy goes out to Mr McArdle’s family during what is obviously a very difficult time. Through employment and support allowance (ESA), we help people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable of doing so, while giving unconditional support to those who need it. A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough face-to-face assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist. We encourage people to provide as much medical evidence as possible when they apply for ESA. Often, people found fit for work only provide the necessary evidence when they ask for a reconsideration or an appeal.”
Atos Healthcare said: “Our sympathies are with the friends and family of Mr McArdle. Although we cannot comment on individual cases, our trained doctors, nurses and physiotherapists strictly follow the guidelines given to them by the Government when conducting assessments, which form a single, although important, part of the process.”
Atos have raked in millions assessing ESA claimants. And despite fury over their methods, they won contracts worth £400million to assess disabled people for the new “personal independence payment” which replaces disability living allowance from next year. Secret papers revealed Atos could make £40million profit from the assessments in Scotland and the north of England. But after our campaign, they announced that they had sub-contracted the assessments in Scotland to an NHS agency. Opponents called it “a humiliating climbdown”.