Demonstrators in Manchester gather outdoors the Atos centre to protest towards the French-owned business. Photograph: Steven Purcell/ Steven Purcell/Demotix/Corbis
As forecast, Atos Healthcare has left its controversial £100m-a-yr contract with the Division for Perform and Pensions to deliver the operate capability assessment, the notorious “match for work” test that for its several critics has grow to be a grim byword for out-sourced state incompetence and callousness.
There will be some relief among campaigners that Atos has quit but most understand that although the French-owned company could have been the lightning rod for public anger above disability benefit reform it was ministers and the state who the two brought in the test and created and enforced the norms and laws by which it is delivered.
Two queries arise: why, after many years of mounting concern about Atos’s efficiency and the accuracy and safety of the WCA has it taken so lengthy for matters to come to a head? And second: does Atos’s departure signal a want on the element of ministers to genuinely reform a approach that handful of outdoors of the DWP – whether campaigners, GPs, MPs, or benefit claimants – think about to be either humane or match for goal?
Ministers indulged in the usual political blame game on Thursday morning: the WCA was a undesirable contract inherited from Labour. But 1 of the earliest acts of this government, back in November 2010, was to extend the Atos contract for a additional five many years. It was Coalition ministers who made the decision on a large and fast expansion of the test, in May possibly 2011, to re-assess one.5m existing incapacity benefit claimants, despite obvious warnings from their personal skilled advisor, Professor Malcolm Harrington, that the rollout ought to be delayed right up until what he described as an “inhumane and mechanistic” test could be additional refined.
A long list of reviews, campaigns and inquiries more than the past 3 years testify to the terrible human consequences of that austerity-led dash to pull vulnerable individuals off incapacity benefit as a way of driving down welfare investing. In the publish-industrial functioning class communities the place incapacity advantage take up was highest the WCA became a kind of terror: for years, claimants had been advised they had been too sick to perform now they would be tested and if they failed, their currently slender weekly revenue would be cut by 30%. Not just did they face becoming pitched into deep poverty overnight but they would endure the stigma of currently being labelled a “scrounger”.
The widespread distress amongst claimants brought on by the re-evaluation of incapacity advantage was swiftly picked up in GPs surgeries, welfare tips bureaux and food banking institutions. Right after an attempted suicide in a Merseyside jobcentre, DWP staff were warned by officials to be “empathetic” in direction of folks impacted by the changes. Alarmingly, the WCA cropped up with regularity at coroner’s inquests, the place fear of imminent re-assessment, or depression brought on by currently being declared fit for perform, was more and more noted as a factor in the deaths of vulnerable folks.
There is no company proof that the WCA drives folks to consider their life but this week a report by the Psychological Welfare Commission for Scotland concluded that the check straight led a lady with a historical past of stress related depression to consider her own existence. She died significantly less than a month soon after an Atos assessor declared her match for perform, resulting in her £94.25 a week benefit cash flow getting minimize to £67.50. “There was not something else which we could identify that would lead us to think that there was any other aspect in her existence that resulted in her selection to finish her daily life,” stated the commission. The WCA, the commission concluded, was flawed. The DWP disagreed. It declared that its methods were “largely robust and proper.”
WCA appeals tribunals tell a diverse story. The WCA – dubbed by a single MP as a “crude pc check” – is notorious for delivering seemingly incomprehensible decisions. Tales of claimants with terminal cancer who are located match for work, for example, have grow to be a stock neighborhood newspaper story. There have been above 600,000 appeals towards fit-for-work decisions in latest years, clogging up tribunal courts and costing the taxpayer above £60m a yr. Nationally, 4 out of ten appealed selections do well. Where claimants have skilled representation this figure rockets. Oxfordshire Mind reported not too long ago that a startling 98% of WCA appeals taken up by its advisors on behalf of mentally-unwell customers had been effective.
Nevertheless it was not until relatively lately that Atos and the government dropped the fiction that all was properly. In January, Atos boss Joe Hemming informed a sceptical committee of MPs: “We have a genuine passion for delivering solutions to the citizen in a way that continues to satisfy the way the citizen needs to be served.” But tensions between government and Atos had come to a head final summertime. The DWP had raised issues about Atos’s efficiency for its element Atos was desperate to leave a contract that it regarded as both undeliverable and a public relations disaster.
The disability minister, Mike Penning, explained on Thursday morning that Atos will quit the WCA ahead of its contract ends in August 2015 (even though it will proceed to operate a separate WCA contract in Northern Ireland). The choice will not impact Atos’s other huge government welfare contract, to carry out the Individual Independence Payment assessments (although the National Audit Workplace has raised concerns that this contract also is working into critical problems). There are number of indications that the government sees the WCA issue as something other than a technical contracting concern. Outsourcing giants Serco and G4S are believed to be in the frame to substitute Atos.
Campaigners, on the other hand, think that Atos’s departure alone will consequence in minor materials alter to the WCA. No government is probably to abandon the principle of incapacity benefit re-evaluation but they will look for a root and branch assessment that make certain that the check gets to be far more sensitive and puts the person first, rather than welfare money financial savings. “The check must be more than an exercising in obtaining men and women off rewards,” said the Scope charity chief executive Richard Hawkes: “It need to make sure disabled individuals get the specialist, tailored and flexible help they need to have to locate and preserve a job.”