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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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