The private firm running the Government’s controversial new sickness benefit tests has got heavy-handed in an attempt to silence its critics.
Upset about material on carerwatch.com, Atos Origin contacted the website’s US hosting company and the entire site disappeared
Archive for August, 2011
A disability campaign group forum forced to close after a legal threat is now back online.
Privateer Atos Healthcare, hired by the government to carry out “fit for work” assessments on disabled people claiming employment support allowance, contacted CarerWatch forum’s internet service provider last week over alleged libels on the site.
The forum’s US host was not prepared to risk keeping the site online, even though CarerWatch was not told which posts were libellous.
Ministers must "learn the lessons" of past welfare changes or risk their proposed shake-up of disability support leaving many in poverty, it is claimed.
Plans to replace the disability living allowance (DLA) could lead to 85% of claimants cutting back on basics like food and transport, a charity warned.
The Papworth Trust said there was also anxiety over the reassessment process.
Much has been written over these past days about Atos versus the supportive/campaigning CarerWatch forum. Just as much has been speculated.
Why didn’t Atos approach the administrators of the forum with their threatening letter?
Why didn’t Atos initially state what the offending comments were?
Why didn’t CarerWatch receive an apology?
Questions people want answers too but won’t get from CarerWatch.
Why I hear you ask?
CarerWatch has done nothing wrong. What an opportunity to make something out of the mighty billionaire company Atos’s bullying tactics. Threats to what is a private members forum.
I will tell you why.
The admins of the CarerWatch forum are 2 ordinary hard working ladies. No they aren’t. Hard working ladies they may be but there is absolutely nothing ordinary about either of them.
The site was set up 4 years ago, it had 7 founder members, to help other unpaid carers campaign, signpost to support if needed. Full stop.
It is not political, although comments do arise through people’s fears of what the future will bring to us all. Both of these ladies are unpaid carers themselves and know only too well the battles a family carer faces on a daily basis. These range in magnitude from empty promises made by successive Governments to ‘support’ the wonderful unpaid job we do, to ignoring requests for a decent carer’s allowance. The fears we all face from this flawed and ignorant Welfare Reform are real.
Some carers have access to a local group where they can go one afternoon a month, Wow, to meet with other like-minded carers. Others aren’t so lucky. They don’t have a group anymore. They used to but the cuts saw to its closure.
Some may not be able to leave their loved one even if they did have a local group to attend or they may have been a former carer. It doesn’t matter their reasons for joining the forum. To them it is a lifeline to other like-minded people. An invaluable service where carers can chat about their worries, gain information and campaign.
I, as a long time carer, am new to the cyber world of ‘chatting’ on line. I am slowly getting used to learning the new language of abbreviations, initials, one letter for u or r, blogs and forums. Twitter is an unknown to me but Stephen Fry has 2 million followers I believe. Fine but then he is a TV personality so you would expect lots of ‘Twits’ following his every word.
CarerWatch forum has about 460 members, which is fantastic. Each has a different story to bring to the table and they are able to take so much away with them.
Our 2 ladies offer the unconditional support, advice, comfort and often a shoulder to cry on which goes with the territory of being an unpaid carer. I know. I have had that shoulder to support me recently. This takes up what time and energy they have left after their own commitments. This is the important path they have chosen…to help others.
This is why they don’t have the time to pursue Atos. They are concentrating on those they care about… US.
To Frances and Rosemary…thank you for being you.
Pat Onions 29th August
CarerWatch received this letter from ATOS
Thank you for your email and for agreeing to remove the post in question. We have contacted the ISP and believe that the forum has now been reinstated.
We understand that the closure of your forum has caused distress foryour members. We would like to reiterate that this was never our intention. We requested only that the post in question be removed. We can assure that going forward we will bring any concerns directly to you.
CarerWatch are pleased that the original CarerWatch forum has now been reinstated and that ATOS have undertaken that in future they will settle any dispute with us in a more sensible manner.
So as far as CarerWatch is concerned this matter is now settled. We recognise for some groups their battles continue.
We are very grateful to all the people who supported us in getting our forum reinstated. Particularly to BlackTriangle who helped us out hosting a new forum in our hour of need.
Thank you one and all.
CarerWatch campaign on a wide range of issues including carers issues, social care and welfare reform. Our campaigns have always been directed at government policies.
ESA is only one of our concerns. We feel that an impossible task has been set to divide people with serious long term disability in to two unclear, overlapping and undefined ESA groups when most people with serious long term conditions do not fit clearly in to either group. See the CarerWatch ESA campaign One Simple Change
We also believe that as this is the biggest shake up of Welfare Reform in 60 years, the issues surrounding Carers need addressing immediately.
We would like to update CW members, along with our supporters, of the latest exchange with Atos. (Having trouble with wordpress so cannot link back to other posts which details this situation. Will try later)
Received from Atos
Thank you for your email. The posting which we consider to be defamatory against Atos Healthcare and our employees is dated March 23rd, 8:51 pm.
As I said in my previous email, we fully support the right of people to express their opinions and would very much like to work with you to ensure your forum is reinstated as soon as possible.
If you have further questions, please do call me on: *********.
Our response below
Thank you for supplying the date and time of the post that concerns you.
We have finally traced it. We run a live discussion group and posts are normally only current for a few days. In this case the post is five months old. It did not create any interest at the time and has long since become inactive.
Having seen the post we are even more confused as to why you took this aggressive action against us. We were surprised to see that this post was not written by a member of CarerWatch but is merely a link to an article on another site. We were also surprised when we followed the link to see that the original article is still visible on the site of origin. We cannot understand why you would take this matter up with us when your dispute is with the authors of the linked article. We feel like collateral damage in this.
We would like to point out that we are running a private discussion group for members and we do not know how you saw this link on our site. But if you have some how been watching the posts in our group you will know that members post on an enormous breadth of topics and post links to a wide variety of other sites. Members often post links to material on other sites precisely because they are vehemently opposed to the material.
We repeat – this is a discussion group and posts have to be read in the context of open discussion.
We are concerned that this type of extreme hyper vigilance of discussion groups could seriously damage free and open discussion.
You say that you embarked on this action to protect the reputation of your company. But you can call on unlimited resources to obtain legal advice and you should bear in mind that groups like us have no resources and cannot obtain legal advice. We think you should bear this in mind when making your actions proportionate and appropriate.
We are sure you, like us, wish to bring this situation to a speedy conclusion. As it was your action that resulted in our forum being taken down, we suggest the following. We will remove the post in question (without prejudice), and in turn you will make arrangements to have our forum reinstated, whilst also giving us a guarantee that should you have any concerns in future, you will bring them directly to us and not to the hosting company.
Considering the immense distress caused to our members, and the volume of unnecessary work created for us, we consider these to be extremely reasonable requests.
We await your reply.
As most readers of this blog will know Carerwatch discussion forum was taken down last week. Full details here.
We contacted Atos and our initial letter to them can be read here
We stated that all communications would be posted in the open as this blog is the only means we have left to reach some of our members.
Today we received a reply -
Thank you for your email. We acknowledge that the closure of the forum has caused unnecessary concern for your members and would like to assure you that this was never our intention. Our request was that the libellous content relating to Atos Healthcare and our employees be taken down in order to protect the reputation of our employees and company against the false and malicious allegations that were posted.
We fully support the right of people to express their opinions and would very much like to work with you to ensure your forum is reinstated as soon as possible. I would invite you to call me on the number below, so we can discuss further.
CarerWatch never received any such request.
We are still not aware of which content Atos considered ‘libellous’
We are unaware of false and malicious allegations
We are pleased Atos have agreed to work with us as there are still issues to be resolved.
Our latest reply to the above statement was sent earlier and reads –
Thank you for your letter. We are pleased that you want to take steps to resolve this matter.
We can’t imagine that any content on our site is libellous to ATOS. Obviously if it was we would remove it but we cannot think how this can be the case.
Please can you supply details of the comments on our private discussion group that you consider libellous to ATOS so that we can understand what you are concerned about.
Any further communications will be posted here.
A lack of support for carers is costing this country billions of pounds every year, according to a new report from The Princess Royal Trust for Carers and Crossroads Care.
The publication, Supporting Carers: The Case for Change, shows how funds to increase support for carers also benefits the people being cared for as well as reducing demand on other health and social care services.
CarerWatch cannot understand why ATOS have this problem with us.
CarerWatch have always made it clear that we have no criticism of ATOS. They are a private company and doing exactly what the government is paying them to do.
Our objections are to government policy. In particular we think the Work Related Activity Group of ESA has been styled exactly like JSA with time limits, threats and sanctions.
This is not appropriate for people with serious long term illness or disability who are trying to work. It intimidates them and may make them more ill.
We believe that if the sanctions were taken off the WRAG – the WRAG would become a supportive constructive place for people to find work - and all the problems with ESA would be solved.
Why is this a problem for ATOS?