Of all the privatisation of services undertaken by the last Labour Government, one of the most dangerous and damaging was their privatisation of the review of disability benefits under a contract with ATOS. Long before the coalition Government was formed, ATOS were blundering and blustering through appeal after appeal.
Their ineptitude resulted in more than 600,000 of the 1.8 million assessments carried out by ATOS since 2009 being the subject of an appeal, at a cost of £60m. An astounding Around 30 per cent of the appeals succeeded and as I have said before this could only be the case if the Company was not following Government benefits policy.
From the first day that Labour privatised the assessment of disability benefits and hired ATOS to do it’s dirty work those of us who have been fighting to help people living with disabilities have been calling for a review of this company’s handling of benefits claims. In many cases they have made rulings that have been wrong, based on unsupported assumptions, or simply outrageously unfair to the claimants.
Finally the DWP has heard the myriad voices calling for the quality of ATOS’s assessments to be reviewed and the contract they have for providing those assessments to be brought to an end, and commissioned an Audit of around 400 of the company’s written reports into disability claimants, grading them A to C. Of these, 41 per cent came back with a C, meaning they were unacceptable and did not meet the required standard.of the quality of the service provided by ATOS.
Whilst the lowest grade does not necessarily mean the decision was wrong, it does indicate that a serious error or omission occurred, such as no evidence to justify the recommendations, or inconsistencies in the evidence provided.
Following the findings the company will be stripped of its monopoly on deciding whether people with disabilities are fit to work. The DWP said the poor quality of the company’s written reports were “contractually unacceptable” and announced on Monday it would be inviting other companies to bid for fresh regional contracts by summer 2014 to help reduce waiting times. I repeat here what I have said many times before, for this scale of incompetence in dealing with some of the most vulnerable people in our society ATOS should have been sacked altogether.
Whilst Labour will claim that the failings are a direct consequence of three years of coalition Government, I must remind regular readers of my blog that I was raising issues about ATOS a matter of days after they took over the service when it was privatised by Labour.
Richard Hawkes, Chief Executive of the disability charity Scope, is reported to have said: “It’s about time the Government told ATOS to smarten up its act. But, it’s also strikingly clear to disabled people that the whole £112m per-year system is broken.”
I happen to disagree with him. It is high time that ATOS were sacked and that the determination of benefits claims and appeals were placed in the hands of local councils, with the support of the specialist medics working on the care of the patient in their local health trusts where needed, and second opinions from medics from other health trusts where appropriate.