Man in a coma is "fit for work," loses disability benefits

A post in a thread on claims that ATOS (a French private company that administers disability benefits assessments for the UK Department of Work and Pensions) has declared a man in a coma to be fit for work and cut off his benefits. This is part of a the stepped up campaign to stop "benefits cheats" by requiring complex paperwork from claimants. A companion piece on Libcom has comments from others who've been cut off, including a man who's suffered brain injuries that caused him to file his paperwork late.

Client’s husband is in hospital in a coma. He was sent ESA501.

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 [he is] no longer entitled to ESA…

Coma patient fit for work


  1. This is probably a case of ‘business rules couldn’t possibly cater for every single eventuality,’ rather than being a case of ‘evil capitalist corporations treat coma patient as bludger’.

    Not that that should get in the way of the usual BB ‘all corporates are born evil’ posts. Mainly because it’s true.

    1. It is, although creating a system designed to measure people’s disabilities that relies on them being able to fill in a form seems like asking for trouble.

      1. Anything which could cut down on the amounts to be paid out is to be welcomed. Although the cost of the ‘manual intervention’ required to deal with this anomaly has not been included.

        Which may be because the system’s designer was in a coma.

        1. “Anything which could cut down on the amounts to be paid out is to be welcomed.”

          Why? The whole point of welfare benefits is to pay out money as appropriate.

          1. You know that.
            I know that.
            Even those who came up with it know that.
            But sometimes an organisation given the task in managing and running it get so caught up with the process itself that they forget its purpose.

            You may need to adjust your ironidar.

          2. not if you are looking to cut costs and have a political bias that encourages ‘soft targets’ over business.

          3.  I have two friends who’ve just been forced to move out of their (small, 1-bed) flats because the government just decided that nobody under the age of 35 should be entitled to housing benefit.

      2. Most forms ask whether you have filled it out yourself or whether someone has filled it out on your behalf (at least they used to). There is a box to tick.

    2. The thing is though that as Cory puts it, the new system requires claimants to file frequent “complex paperwork”, despite the fact that those who most need benefits (the mentally/physically disabled and under-educated) are least equipped to do so. 

    3. In other words, this is an indicator that ATOS, in its duties as a recipient of taxpayers’ money, is incompetent, not malicious.

      So that’s all right then.

      1.  They’re not incompetent at all.  They’re doing exactly the job they were hired for – make the system so complex and frustrating that those in need stop being able to claim benefits.

        1. And that brings us back to “malicious”.

          Unless you think wilfully denying benefits to the incapacitated — benefits promised by Britain as a society — isn’t malicious.

          Whether it’s wilful is, I guess, the question.

          1. Maybe not necessarily malicious. Complicit? Willing horsey? Yeah, I’ll do that for you, and if we err on the over-zealous application of the rules side, we still get paid, right? sort of thing?

          2. “Sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice”

            I don’t know that the ATOS interviewer who only wrote down the half of what I told him about my depression that made it sound like I was fit for work deliberately or that he misled me about the procedure deliberately or whether it was because he was incompetent. But, you know, I don’t care. ATOS is a private company receiving Government handouts for fulfilling a political agenda using the bluntest tools possible. ATOS is malicious, even if individual elements of it are not.

      2. Hmm, are you sure ATOS isn’t ATMOS?

        M. EvilTerran (if this is your real name), you should know that the Terran Empire is not incompetent and only malicious when necessary. 

        1. The third pic is Tom Baker in Pier Paolo Pasolini’s  1972 film ‘The Canterbury Tales ‘ (I racconti di Canterbury.)

          The future Doctor had, like, a five minute part. When I saw this movie as a Jr. H-schooler on a friend’s fancy VCR in 1982 0r 83 my eyes popped ’cause this was Dr. Who, nude, in a tub, being spied on by portly red-faced medieval women, in a film that carried an X-rating on its label at our local video rental place, Flicks N’ Pics.

    4. Doesn’t seem very complex to me.

      If Patient = Coma then > Not able to work.

      But yeah those cuddly corporations and their silly little oversights. I love the way they accidentally blackmail governments into allowing them to pay less taxes by threatening to take their business offshore. It’s not like those governments need the taxes or the jobs for workers.

      1. If Patient = Coma then > Not able to work.

        Pish. The skiving slacker could be used as ballast.

        1. The skiving slacker could be used as ballast

          Only if we roll back minimum wage laws that prevent humans from competing against bags of sand in the global jobs market.

          1. Only if we roll back minimum wage laws that prevent humans from competing against bags of sand in the global jobs market.

            Imprison him for benefits fraud, then take the job away from the bags of sand and give it to him.

    5. I think you are being overly forgiving – if being in a coma doesn’t count as “without good cause” added to the fact that during such a traumatic event his relatives are sent round the houses with stock bureaucratic tactics “you need to send it to so and so” then the system is quite clearly & deliberately fucked.

    1. It could be that this claim has fallen on the wrong side of their quota. We know now that they operate a quota system, and as a recent C4 documentary showed it seems they just pick cases to refuse ESA with a pin the tail on the donkey approach.

  2. Well this isn’t very unusual – most countries around Europe all started the “benefit cheats” fear mongering a few years back and now in times of austerity they all ramp up  the rules and regulations. A man dying of cancer here (with an estimate of a year left to live) was considered fit for work and sent back out on the job market. Its the same story all across Europe.

    Just like Russel I’m sceptical of the “capitalists are evil” tale … although not for the same reasons. I see it as a flawed system incapable of handling various parts of society yet still it controls all sectors of our society – its not some evil dudes in a room thinking how they screw us over. Its a lot of people who just react in the only way they see available to a situation (on all levels of society). Although its “less flawed” than for example feudalism, it shouldnt be exempt from criticism or excused when it fucks up – thats just naiv obsessiveness.

    1. Since the government started on its benefit cheats Spiel there has been an increase of incidents of both verbal and physical abuse directed at the disabled. For many people the two are becoming synonymous. That’s the ‘we’re all in this together big society’ for you.

    2. I see it as a flawed system incapable of handling various parts of society yet still it controls all sectors of our society – its not some evil dudes in a room thinking how they screw us over.

      False dilemma.  There’s no contradiction in believing both these things to be true.

      What exactly is so hard to believe about evil dudes in a room scheming to screw everyone over?  It’s not like it would be anything new.  Evil dudes privately scheming to screw everyone over is like the major constant in human history.

  3. It’s the mindless sticklerism of unthinking drones hiding in beaurocracy, is what it is.

    Not a shred of humanity in anyone in the chain of responsibility. Imagine for just a second, that none of them could stand up like a real person and take steps to rectify the situation.

    Being able to think for oneself isn’t something the powers that be like to encourage, by any measure.

    1. The DWP is these days a model of capitalist corporate disaster. Staff are demoralised and harried in their dumbed-down mindless jobs with impossible targets. Detached from reality in centralised remote benefit processing centres they are kept permanently in fear of their jobs, with daily threats of disciplinary procedures, endless internal reorganisations and new procedures.

      It used to be different. 20 years ago someone in a local office would have phoned the hospital.

  4. I thought contracting out the “paperwork” to a private company would magically make everything better.  After all, the government is the one that is inefficient, outdated, etc.  Private companies are infallible – privatize everything! 

      1. I disagree.

        (If you’re not going to provide an iota of supporting argument, I don’t see the need to either.)

        1.  Actually that wasn’t an argument, just a declaration of opinion.

          A better reply would have been “You’re wrong”

          1. Supporting arguments that “ALL government are inefficient”, and that “some companies are efficient”.

            Or, better, supporting arguments to your implication that companies tend to be more efficient than governments.

            “Being alive and conscious on planet earth” doesn’t cut it, I’m afraid. Anyone in that position can equally see that the world is flat and the sun goes around it.

          2. Companies have someone to answer to every 12 months.

            They answer to themselves, their parents, spouses, children and in-laws. Privately owned companies don’t have to answer to anybody. Publicly traded companies answer to the board, not to the little people who bought stock.

          3. Some governments are inefficient, some are more efficient than any of the companies doing the role that they’re doing. See health care as one example.

            And, going in the pursuit of efficiency above all else can result in drastic reductions in actual efficiency, by diverting resources to policing “efficiency”, and the actual services being performed suffering. Or, worse, services being performed aren’t seen by the beancounters (in a for profit corporation) or conservatives (in a government) as having enough benefit, when it turns out that they have significant benefit, and are cut, reducing the efficiency of the system.

            Some resources should be diverted to making sure the system is running reasonably smoothly, but “efficiency” shouldn’t be the top priority, doing the things that are the mission of the organization (whether it be for-profit, not-for-profit, or governmental) should be the top priority.

          4. I’m just being droll – I don’t think companies are better than governments (failed privatisation shows this often enough) but at the same time government could learn a lot from business. The waste and busybodying i see in local government would sink a company in weeks. But there are governments that are better than others. Consider me a disenfranchised Brit hoping for something better.

          5. :)

            For what it’s worth I don’t remember using it on BB before, but I had in mind a particular scene in Frasier which led to its use, for whatever reason. I’m pretty sure it means what I think it means though, “amusing in an odd way” according to the internet. I was exaggerating in a way that would have involved smiling and the odd arm nudge, had the conversation taken place physically, that is. Online conversations suck for subtlety.

      2. Companies can choose their customers, governments and councils cannot. There are statutory obligations to make services accessible to as many people as possible for government which increases costs and bureaucracy. Companies at present have only limited obligations to have strategies in place for accommodating all potential users should such a need arise. Efficiency is not always the right tool for evaluating different types of organisation.

      3. Human enterprises are inefficient, and this is generally a good thing.  You don’t want the farmers to harvest every seed with perfect efficiency, and you don’t want the corporations to exploit every worker with perfect efficiency.  Unless you’re some kind of sadist who would prefer to see children chained to the machines and fed only gruel.

        People used to understand this.  They used to beat the rice grains on the side of the canoe so that some were certain to fall back into the water and propagate without direct human intervention, following their own evolutionary patterns instead of human ideas of efficiency.

        1. For what it’s worth I probably meant a combination of efficacy/efficiency – and when I say efficiency I mean not taking a year to plan spending £60m on a shiny swingset to modernise an area – not forcing employees to work through their lunch breaks. There are different grades.

          Also, as mentioned further down, I was of course exaggerating a little as well.

      1. Thanks but I just copied that one from wikipedia. I was hoping disqus would display an animated avatar so I grabbed a gif from wikipedia and hoped for the best. It doesn’t work.  Disqus takes the animation out of the image so I will try something different soon.

  5. I don’t know much about how these cases are dealt with in France, but I am surprised (well, maybe not very) that this happened in France, EU. 

    I’m in the United States, and I have worked as a counsellor and as a state Certified Rehabilitation Provider. I haven’t heard of anyone in a coma being denied benefits and being cleared for work here, yet, but I have knowledge of, and have personally dealt with more than a few really impaired people who have been denied Social Security benefits over and over for any reason, especially during their initial hearing. It is standard practice for SS judges to summarily decline benefits at a claimant’s first hearing, except for the occasional exception. 

    One justification a judge used in denying an autistic client’s SS benefits was that he had a paper route at 14. The client at the time of the hearing was 42 and his younger brother testified during the hearing with the same judge that he helped his older brother with the route every day. The now retired paperboy supervisor confirmed this in a notarized letter. This is just one of many cases, don’t care to and would not be appropriate to a blog comment to list more. 

    1. This is a French company doing contract work for the UK. I would imagine they subcontract further to local nationals.

      1. What  I don’t understand is why they contracted to a French company. Doesn’t the UK have perfectly good prisoners who could do this work?

  6. This isn’t just a normal case of evil corporation, or witless government bureaucrats.  This is the special kind of evil we get when we outsource our government bureaucracy to an evil corporation.

    I’ve actually been a government bureaucrat, and my fellow bureaucrats, while admittedly faceless drones, were also helpful and knowledgable and willing to do some work to help out a taxpayer.  When that work is outsourced to minimum-wage slaves, nobody wins…  except the CEO.  And the politician he or she bribed.

  7. Stuff like this happens because they have a really stupid form to fill out and the people running the show can’t look at medical records. A lot of people get turned down only to go through the appeal process, where the people handling it can look at the medical records, and it get reinstated. 

    It’s a big run  around and in the mean time you get cases like this where a guy in a coma can get labeled fit for work.

  8. If any readers are new to this story and unfamiliar with the background to welfare ‘reforms’ in the UK, may I suggest the following two personal blogs as the best sources of information:

    First, Sue Marsh:

    Second, Kaliya Franklin:

    They are both disabled, both activists, and they and their network know more about this subject than most.

    In addition, read which lists deaths that appear attributable to reforms.

  9. The fish rots from the head. Average government workers are usually knowledgeable, hard-working, and well-meaning. Average employees of a large corporation are usually knowledgeable, hard-working, and well-meaning. The people who DESIGN the rules and regulations, however, for ANY large organisation (governmental, private, MNO) are so out of their depth that they are not even able to realise that they are out of their depth.

    Everyone who processed the paperwork attached to this case, I am sure, followed the rules competently and exactly. It’s just that the rules were stupidly designed and entirely inflexible (because – you know – empowering the peons seems dangerous). Some ministerial advisor or corporate VP is unintentionally and indirectly, but solely responsible for this. The problem is that we have long since stopped tying power and remuneration to responsibility, but the solution is not to try to raise responsibility accordingly, but to lower power and remuneration.

    1. You’re still aiming at the wrong target slightly. These days, business process design  tends to be delegated to mid-level managers and their immediate subordinates – I know, I’ve been one of those subordinates. The people that design the process create the best thing they can to meet the objectives that they’re set – you’re right that it’s the ministers and executives who set those objectives and get it wrong, though. They just have an extra avenue to cover their asses, then – the mid-level manager’s job was to tell them that the process wouldn’t work!

      And sometimes of course, failure for executives to agree between themselves on objectives, and divisions therefore pulling in different directions, can cause further problems (that should ideally be cleared up by the MD or CEO – assuming they can be made to care).

      So yeah, it’s a mess – but don’t blame the poor Business Analysts who just did their course and want to do a job :)

  10. Lets get some facts into this, people were moved onto disability to fudge the employment stats for many years, so we ended up with something approaching half of all claimants being fit to work.

    The problem is how you get out of that situation, its simple, everyone who gets assessed gets turned down.  Real disabled people have to get more evidence and claim again, everyone who isn’t gets down the job centre.  Cruel and heartless yes, but what else could you do?  Give full medicals to everyone, that would take 30 years.

    1. 1. Acknowledge the mistaken policy, which ought to be easy to do, since it was the previous government that did it.

      2. Put some effort into reversing the damage.

      Yeah, good luck with either one.


      Democracies answer to voters every few years
      Businesses answer to someone every business quarter. That someone isn’t you.

      1. It was the Thatcher government which started moving people over to sickness benefits to reduce the unemployment figures. Their policies were at least partly responsible for the rise in unemployment and relieving individuals of their responsibility for their situation was the pay-off. The problem goes back much further than the previous government.

        1. Ah, I didn’t know that. But they could still blame Labour and make a show of fixing the mess. Unlikely, I know.

    2. You’re not going to get the medical exams done any faster by turning them down and forcing them to prove it rather than simply calling them in to prove it.

  11. Most people on here seem to have missed the point about what really happened.

    They didn’t kick the guy off benefits despite the coma.  Rather, they gave the wrong place to submit the paperwork and then kicked him off when the paperwork wasn’t submitted to the right place.

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