Disabled treated like animals, claims North East Labour MP

North East MPs have condemned the Government's treatment of people with disabilities

Iain Buist Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck
Ian Lavery, Labour MP for Wansbeck

The testing regime for people claiming disability benefits was compared to human rights abuses in Chile and apartheid South Africa in a heated Commons debate.

Ministers were accused of treating disabled people like animals by North East Labour MPs.

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “The attack on the disabled and the vulnerable is relentless.”

The comments came as the Commons backed demands from Labour backbenchers for an independent inquiry into the impact of the Government’s policies on disabled people, after Conservative and Liberal Democrat whips chose not to oppose the call.

Anger focused on the role of Atos Healthcare, the firm contracted to assess people claiming Incapacity Benefit and determine whether they are fit to work. Critics claim Atos gets decisions wrong and declares people fit for work when they have a disability or serious illness which makes finding a job impossible.

Atos has announced it is seeking an early exit from its contract with the Government, due to continue until August 2015, following death threats to its staff.

Gateshead MP Ian Mearns told the House of Commons the Government was deliberately “demonising and attacking the poorest and most vulnerable.” He claimed more than 10,000 people had died within six weeks of being stripped of a benefit paid to disabled people between January and November in 2011. He added: “In my youth I was actively involved in many Amnesty International campaigns, such as those on Chile and South Africa. I never would have imagined then that in 2014 the UK would be the subject of an Amnesty campaign, yet at its annual general meeting in 2013, Amnesty UK passed a resolution recognising that the human rights of sick and disabled people in the UK had been dreadfully compromised.”

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said one constituent had told him she was being treated like an animal. He told the Commons: “That rocked me. Why are disabled people being made to feel as if they are being herded into a corner and treated like animals?”

Work and Pensions Minister Mike Penning defended the tests, known officially as Work Capability Assessments - but admitted he was worried about the performance of Atos. He said: “Frankly, the problems with Atos and the Work Capability Assesment have been there for everybody to see.”

But he added: “It is not quite as simple as saying, as some Members have, that we should go out tomorrow morning and sack Atos.”

Atos would lose its contract, he said.

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