Coffee House

Would ending unpopular benefits test contract really solve the problem?

22 February 2014

8:30 AM

22 February 2014

8:30 AM

What will happen to the much-maligned contractor that carries out the government’s work capability assessments which determine whether a sick or disabled person is fit for work or needs long-term disability benefit? Atos Healthcare is reported to be seeking an early end to its contract with the Work and Pensions department, which certainly won’t dismay ministers who have been privately unhappy with the company’s performance for a while. Although DWP isn’t commenting beyond the statement below, it now looks as though it won’t be difficult to end the contract mutually.

‘Atos were appointed the sole provider for delivering Work Capability Assessments by the previous government in 2008. In July last year we announced Atos had been instructed to enact a quality improvement plan to remedy the unacceptable reduction in quality identified in the written reports provided to the Department.

‘We also announced in the summer we will be bringing in additional provision to deliver Work Capability Assessments with the aim of increasing delivery capacity and reducing waiting times. The Invitation to Tender will be published shortly and will set out that the quality of assessments and service delivery is central to how Work Capability Assessments are delivered.’

One of the reasons that Atos is so disliked is that a significant proportion of appeals against its tests are successful. Around 40% of decisions are appealed, which isn’t surprising as the decisions that the government makes based on the WCA tests carried out by Atos can have pretty life-changing effects on a claimant But what’s significant is that around 40% of those appeals are successful. It could be that a new contract is drawn up that involves Atos but that has more stringent requirements for the assessment, which is certainly hinted at in the spokesman’s statement.

But, as I’ve explained before, it’s not just Atos that’s the problem here. The whole process that this government inherited from Labour was pretty much unworkable, and in spite of a series of reviews to improve the WCA, it still has a fundamental flaw, which is that it isn’t strictly based on someone’s ability to do a job, merely on their fitness to perform a series of tasks that remain quite removed from daily or part-time work.

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Show comments
  • Jane Hopkins

    At last someone else has spotted the flaw in the plan.
    As long as the purpose of the WCA is to “get people off benefit” and not to “give benefits to those that need them”. Then it doesn’t matter who is doing the assessments the result will be the same.

  • monty61

    Anecdote is not data but …. I have a friend whose foot was run over by a van some years ago and who lives with constant severe pain and can only get around in a wheelchair. Not only was he declared fit for work on the basis of these tests – which were done without any consultation with the specialists who have been treating him for years – but his wheelchair-friendly car (driven by his partner – he is in too much pain to drive) has been taken away.

    This is a proud former solider who is utterly brought down by this injury and who would far rather (if at all possible) be working than relying on help from anyone least of all the state.

    I’m all in favour of benefit cuts in some areas (perks for wealthy pensions being top of the list, followed by feckless young single mothers whose lifestyle I utterly resent funding with my taxes) but something is SERIOUSLY wrong with the Atos process and it needs to be fixed. If we can’t look after the genuinely disabled what kind of society have we become?

  • http://janeyoung.me.uk/ Jane Young

    Some appalling comments, but all I’ll say is that I’m very pleased that the Spectator is running articles like this. I’ve always wondered why the ability to press one button on one single occasion indicates that someone’s fit for work. The issue is not whether someone can move parts of their body, but whether or not they’re ill. And it’s well known that very ill people are frequently found fit for work.

    And in relation to appeals, remember that appealing takes a certain amount of ability and self-confidence; now that CAB and similar advice services have been cut back due to the legal aid changes and the lack of funding via local authorities it’s much harder to get proper help to appeal.

  • Agrippina

    It will make no difference at all as the companies seeking to take over the contract are, G4S, Capita and A4e and we all know how successful they have been.

    They will simply hire the staff that Atos will let go!

  • Alex_Cheshire

    The big problem with these assessments is that they assess, if person can do a task, without considering the time it takes them to do it or the discomfort they suffer. So we end up with people being assessed as fit for work that no employer would consider employing.

  • Marie Louise Noonan

    Divide and conquer. good for them. it never fails. I wish it would; just once.

  • Mynydd

    Atos was appointed in 2008 by the previous government, The present government came into power in 2010. So why wasn’t a review undertaken then why wait until 2013. The government had three years, why didn’t they act sooner, it seem as if it’s another case of, it’s nothing to do with us, it’s all Mr Brown’s fault.

    • notme3

      the system has been reviewed several times. One review was to removed people with cancer from the need for assessment.
      The article outlines the nature of the contract, you cant break a contract without both sides agreeing.

      ATOS isnt at fault here, it is only carrying out the tests.

    • Paul Wells

      because, as atos will tell you the criteria for the assessments on the disabled, changed under the coalition government. They make the standards for claiming disability a lot harder than it was under the previous government & judging by the amount of appeals won you would say this government got it wrong

  • IanH

    So where’s the Police investigation. It is somehow okay to make threats against the person, and plod will ignore it? The people who made such threats should not be in receipt of benefit they should be housed at her Majesty’s pleasure.

    • lgrundy

      I thought that too when I heard that one of the reasons ATOS cited for pulling out of the contract was its staff had been subject to “death threats”.
      After all, if someone so much as says boo to a goose on social media it seems unlimited police time and resources are brought to bear to bring the perpetrator of the ‘offensive’ comment to ‘justice’. Yet, apparently, here we have death threats being made against employees of a company delivering government policy and plod does nothing.
      While I acknowledge that, post-New Labour, the British police have ‘favoured’ groups to whom they afford extra protection, I would imagine that at least one of the ATOS employees who have been threatened belongs to such a group and thus is deserving of extra-special, politically-correct police protection?

  • drydamol1

    BROKEN BRITISH POLITICS –LIES UPON LIES WONT GET VOTES

    ID Smith has all the outward signs of being a Psychopath but
    could the signs be misleading for that interpretation and have a more basic
    significance .An insider told me yesterday that Smiths latest proposal was to
    Sanction anyone involved in a Protest against the Tory draconian regime .

    Nick Clegg and his Cohorts actually think Smith and the Tory
    hierarchy are really losing the plot desperately to hang on to any threads of
    credibility endorsed by their dwindling number of supporters by desperate
    measures such as Smiths .

    Whilst Smith a well known Liar and Public Purse Thief is
    pontificating to us about Idle ne’er do wells his own Department recently spent
    £471,000 on an office within the Department that was totally left empty for
    over eight months .

    We all agree that the Benefits System has become out dated
    and needs Systematic Reform to allow it to run more efficiently but Smiths rants about Scroungers and Fraud has no basis
    backed by the fact that the Department paid £2.3 Billion in income related
    benefits to households that do not need them .Reform was needed but after the
    Debacle ID Smith has made of the process Millions have so far been written off
    and the reformed system under Smith and the Tories will waste Millions if not
    Billions on reverting back to the original state is was in to keep it running .UC
    was being rolled out in October 2013 we are probably looking at another
    Government to implement it by 2020 if we are lucky .The Tories are Morally and
    Financially trying to drag us down with them into Bankruptcy on both issues .

    http://brokenbritishpolitics.simplesite.com

  • drydamol1

    BROKENBRITISH POLITICS – ITS NOT BENEFITS AT FAULT IT’S THE SYSTEM

    ID Smith has all the outward signs of being a Psychopath but
    could the signs be misleading for that interpretation and have a more basic
    significance .An insider told me yesterday that Smiths latest proposal was to
    Sanction anyone involved in a Protest against the Tory draconian regime .

    Nick Clegg and his Cohorts actually think Smith and the Tory
    hierarchy are really losing the plot desperately to hang on to any threads of
    credibility endorsed by their dwindling number of supporters by desperate
    measures such as Smiths .

    Whilst Smith a well known Liar and Public Purse Thief is
    pontificating to us about Idle ne’er do wells his own Department recently spent
    £471,000 on an office within the Department that was totally left empty for
    over eight months .

    We all agree that the Benefits System has become out dated
    and needs Systematic Reform to allow it to run more efficiently but Smiths rants about Scroungers and Fraud has no basis
    backed by the fact that the Department paid £2.3 Billion in income related
    benefits to households that do not need them .Reform was needed but after the
    Debacle ID Smith has made of the process Millions have so far been written off
    and the reformed system under Smith and the Tories will waste Millions if not
    Billions on reverting back to the original state is was in to keep it running .UC
    was being rolled out in October 2013 we are probably looking at another
    Government to implement it by 2020 if we are lucky .The Tories are Morally and
    Financially trying to drag us down with them into Bankruptcy on both issues .

    http://brokenbritishpolitics.simplesite.com

  • telemachus

    ATOS has to go
    No one trusts it anymore and it could never regain trust
    It’s successor will inevitably given time constraints do the same task but could easily do it to greater quality standards leading to less appeals
    The misery of those 40% needlessly forced to appeal is a crime forever to be hung round the neck of ATOS

  • Darnell Jackson

    84% of people are correctly assessed as fit for work.

    This is a remarkable success.

    • anyfool

      Quite so, but never let it be said that reality, should play any part in the fantasies of the left that is driving the country to the wall.

      • telemachus

        An unfeeling comment
        What about the misery of the 40% (see above)

        • anyfool

          Do not talk utter nonsense, the fantasy that an advanced country should have more young people unfit for work now, than 200 years ago proves your pathetic lies.
          Most of the made up ills, are just what the so called doctors order.

          • telemachus

            A ridiculous uncaring remark
            How can you compare today to the times when children died tending looms

            • Alexandrovich

              Turns chin to left and lowers on to clavicle. Extends left arm whilst making bowing movements with right.
              Hums Hearts and Flowers.

              • telemachus

                No laughing matter for our forebears

          • Rowdie111

            “I suffer from ‘depression’, I have mood swings, I can’t seem to cope,”…..now prove that I am lying?

            • anyfool

              Why, it has never stopped people from working, in fact working would alleviate the effects of these conditions.

              • Rowdie111

                Fully agree with you….I am pointing out the problem.

          • Darnell Jackson

            Remember, labour created more disabled people in 13 years than the entire first world war.

            • Paul Wells

              that is a conservative lie, the true figures show that claimants actually went down under 13 years of the Labour government there was less people claiming benefits at the end of their term, then there was when Labour took office in 1997. http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2014/02/19/david-cameron-benefits-workless_n_4813606.html — in the port o’ Westminster

            • Paul Wells

              in fact, the highest number of people claiming benefits was under Margaret Thatcher & John Major’s government & it was Margaret Thatcher who bought in the DLA to hide the true amount of unemployed people there was under her government

        • Darnell Jackson

          When did labour stop being the party of the working class and become the party of the underclass?

      • Kitty MLB

        Hear Hear !

    • Anita Bellows

      Would you care to explain how or where you get these 84%?

      • anyfool

        Add up the figures in the article, or are you a product of the last 20 years of educational advances.
        Around 84 out of 100 are claiming money they are not entitled too, and you have the nauseating nonsense spouted about ATOS who in effect were the Labour parties choice of messenger.
        They got a very few people totally wrong a few dozen at most, so leaving hundreds of thousands fiddling benefits is okay, these are the most expensive voting bribes ever paid, but Labour needs these votes to keep its vastly over manned public sector employed who in effect are the only viable source of money for unions.
        A merry go round of destruction that fools want to speed up.

        • Anita Bellows

          Here are the latest DWP figures (May 2013 but published in January 2014) for the New claims where there is the highest number of people found fit for work:

          Found fit for work 980.400

          Entitled to ESA 834.500

          For repeat assessment and Incapacity benefit conversions, the number of people fit for work is much lower, around 20%

          So it is a long long way from 84%

          https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/esa-outcomes-of-work-capability-assessments-january-2014

          Check the table

          Of all the people found fit for work, 60% appealed and 43% of decisions are overturned in the claimant’s favour.
          There is well over 1 million of appeals.

          • anyfool

            Even on the data in your last paragraph, if I have read it right just under 750,000 out of the million are turned down.
            Also why does someone ill or disabled unless in a serious condition need multiple times more than a fit person.
            The link is for new claims not reassessments for which Atos received so much bad publicity.

            • Anita Bellows

              The link includes New claims, repeat assessments (reassessments) and Incapacity benefit conversions (reassessments).
              People are turned down at appeals because the test has been made stricter.
              If you check the number of disability benefit claimants in 2010 and now, the number has hardly gone down, but you have all these people who are being found fit for work. Where are they? they are not in work, and there are not on JSA. The DWP keeps reassessing very sick people, for some up to 7 times in 4 years because they want people like you to believe that they are getting rid of the scroungers. So the number of people fit for work is really impressive, which begs the question: why has the number of disability benefit claimants not come down drastically?

        • lankou

          What nonsense you spout. I suggest you study the latest dataset for new claims. In other words people NOT on ESA:-

          https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274090/esa-wca-outcomes-jan-14.pdf

          Claimants with an outcome for their claim can be broken down as follows*:

           61 per cent of claimants were entitled to the benefit.

           39 per cent of claimants were assessed as Fit for Work (FFW) and are no longer eligible for Employment and Support Allowance

          • Darnell Jackson

            You misunderstand. Following assessment, of all the people found fit for work only 40% appeal, of these only 40% are upheld. This is only 16% of the total originally found fit for work.
            I repeat, 84% of all claimants found fit for work should work.

            • lankou

              I suggest you read mark learn and inwardly digests ALL of this dataset. (Especially the changes over time.)

              Page 7 is the most interesting:-

              https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274090/esa-wca-outcomes-jan-14.pdf

            • Anita Bellows

              Not 40% but 60%. The figures of the ministry of Justice are very clear on this. Never read the bulletin, but the tables. And check how many times IDS has been found fiddling the statistics by the UK Statistics Authority. The point of is there is almost the same number of disability benefit claimants than in 2010, although over 1 million people have been found fit for work. The figures don’t add up and DWP knows it.

              • Darnell Jackson

                My comment was based on the 40% figure in the article.

                If you believe this to be wrong please request that Isabel make a correction.

                • Anita Bellows

                  I know it is wrong, and yes, it would be good if it was corrected. But I also understand why so many different figures are being thrown around. Look at this link, second document from the top. http://www.statisticsauthority.gov.uk/reports—correspondence/correspondence/index.html
                  DWP has repeatedly been manipulated the ESA and WCA statistics, mainly to push through cuts in benefits, by pretending that disability benefit claimants were ‘parked’ or scroungers. Look at the numbers: over 4 million assessments since 2008, over 1 million people found fit for work, and almost the same number of disability benefit claimants

        • westerby1

          “Add up the figures in the article, or are you a product of the last 20 years of educational advances.”

          You have some room to talk!…”Labour parties” should read Labour party’s,denoting of the, or belonging to the Labour party, “parties” is the plural of party!…”claiming money they are not entitled too” should be “entitled to”, too is used to denote as well as, or in excess. For example my sister came too, or these shoes are too big.

      • Darnell Jackson

        Would you care to watch a re-run of the Paralympics?
        Really, what percentage of disabled people are incapable of any work at all?

        • lankou

          14% of the working age population is disabled.
          Which is someone more than the numbers getting ESA.

          • Darnell Jackson

            I’m disabled

        • Anita Bellows

          And many employers are rushing to employ disabled people?

          • Darnell Jackson

            Anita, it is poor form to continually blame someone else for your own failings.

            The best advice I can give you is to cut the mysticism out of your life and generate some luck for yourself.

            • Anita Bellows

              My failings? I am not disabled and I have a job.
              Next.

              • Darnell Jackson

                Hope your job does’t involve basic arithmetic.

                • Anita Bellows

                  Actually I have been working on DWP statistics for over 2 years now and have helped uncover some of IDS manipulated statistics.

                  Which is why I know what I am talking about.

    • lankou

      It is an abject failure, given the deadly consequences to those wrongly “fit for work” who die between that decision and an appeal date.

      • Darnell Jackson

        Please post a link to the official statistics in support of your comment.

        • lankou

          Extrapolated from the ONS data that the death rate for the general working age populations is 2.9/1000/annum and a Freedom Of Information reply from the DWP about off flows due to death.
          The death rate for those found “fit for work” who appeal but die before a tribunal date is 14/1000 during that time.

          • Darnell Jackson

            Where’s the link?

    • hindleA

      Usual conflation that so easilly fools people.More pertinent is the over 90% that are deemed not fit to work long term because unsurprisingly they are not,like my better half straight into the support group on paper only.Of course she is part of the abandoned,left to rot of IDS’s misanthropy and denigrated by the ill informed.A misanthropy that casually bellows that one million people were so scared off they dropped their claims because of the new test.The same percentage that that existed before the new test and included people that had died.The 90% figure is the astounding figure,given the timelimitting introduced,and that they are very ill people and proof positive of the exact opposite of the claims made by Ministers,pity a continual loop of reassessment/appeal has to be made by most at a cost far outweighing any savings and people spending their last days being lied about and fighting for what is rightly theirs ,most after decades of contributions.

      • Darnell Jackson

        This is gibberish.

        Do you agree that we are correct to identify and eliminate fraudulent claimants.

        • hindleA

          Sorry, I posted under the assumption of some prior knowledge.This is nothing to do with identifying and eliminating fraudulent claims so your question is irrelevant .The slight reduction in numbers over five years now is only due to death,the timelimiting of contributary ESA and people giving up on the continual loop of reassessments/appeals.

          • Darnell Jackson

            More gibberish.

            Do you really believe that every single disability claim is valid?

  • swatnan

    No… someone is always going to feel left out.

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