A SUICIDAL lorry driver who was declared 'fit for work' by the multinational firm Atos despite his own doctor saying it would be unsafe for him to be on the roads has won his appeal against a decision to strip him of his sickness benefits.
In October 2012. the SNJ reported on Graham's case after the 39-year-old received a letter from the Department for Work and Pensions telling him his benefits had been stopped.
The father of three began claiming Employment Support Allowance (ESA) in February after falling ill with severe depression.
Although his doctor said it would be unsafe for him to get back behind the wheel of a HGV, Atos declared him 'fit for work' following a 30-minute Work Capability Assessment in June.
A sick or disabled person needs to score 15 points on the test to be deemed unfit for work but Graham, who suffers from suicidal thoughts and on more than one occasion has tried to kill himself, was awarded none - an outcome his doctor described as 'bizarre'.
Despite his condition, the Atos worker who conducted his half-hour assessment concluded that Graham was 'unlikely' to have 'significant difficulties with mental health function'.
But on Friday, February 8, Graham won his appeal at a tribunal before a judge and a doctor in Bristol.
He was told his ESA never should have been stopped and he would not be reassessed for two years to allow him sufficient time to recover.
Graham, who lives in the Five Valleys, said the stress of the appeal process caused his mental state to deteriorate further and had hindered his recovery.
"The pressure it has put on all of us and my family is unbelievable," he said. "If the appeal had gone against me I was worried about losing the house because I wouldn't have been able to pay my rent and bills."
He added: "It seems as though the system has just been set-up to push people off benefits rather than actually assess their health."
"The whole time I have been trying to prove that what my doctor was saying is true and it is nice that the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) have finally acknowledged that."
Graham thanked Stroud MP Neil Carmichael for writing to the DWP on his behalf.
Atos Healthcare has said it meets all of its obligations as part of its contract with the DWP and delivers a 'complex and challenging' service.
A DWP spokesman said: "The old incapacity benefits system condemned too many people to a life on benefits with little hope of moving back to
- Atos is a French multinational corporation which has a £110m-a-year contract with the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out Work Capability Assessments - tests which are used to determine whether or not people are fit for work.
- The company does not make the final decision about whether or not people are entitled to claim benefits but it makes recommendations to the DWP based on its assessments.
- Official figures show that nearly four out of 10 people who have challenged Atos' decision to declare them 'fit-for-work' have had their cases upheld on appeal.
- Campaigners claim the company is arbitrarily cutting the number of people in receipt of disability benefits in order to meet government targets intended to reduce welfare expenditure.
- Atos and the government have insisted that no such targets exist.