Replacing Atos with another private provider will not solve flaws in disability benefits system, MPs warn

 

Political Editor

The Government has been warned that replacing Atos, the company which assesses whether the sick and disabled are fit for work, will not solve “fundamental flaws” in their treatment by the benefits system.

In a scathing report published today, MPs said that merely "rebranding" the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and appointing a new contractor would not help the many claimants who have been badly treated.

Atos is to pull out of its contract early after its staff were “vilified” over the work capability assessments the company carries out for the Government. But the cross-party Work and Pensions Select Committee said Atos had become "a lightning rod" for negativity about ESA itself. It urged ministers to take the opportunity of Atos’s withdrawal to "fundamental redesign" ESA.

Dame Anne Begg, the committee’s Labour chairman, said: “It is the Department of Work and Pensions that makes the decision about a claimant’s eligibility for ESA – the face-to-face assessment is only one part of the process. Just putting a new private provider in place will not address the problems with ESA and the work capability assessment on its own. The current system is clearly causing claimants considerable distress and anxiety.”

She said the new contractor could be paid more for providing a better service and should face immediate penalties if standards are not met. “Unnecessary and too frequent reassessments should also be avoided,” she said.

People found “fit for work” are ineligible for ESA. Claimants found to be unable to undertake any work-related activity are placed in a “support group”, where they do not have to prepare for work in return for their benefit. But the committee said this regime leaves a large and disparate middle group of claimants who are not yet fit for work, and may even have a deteriorating condition, but who are still required to undertake activity to help them find work in the longer term.

The MPs called for support to be tailored more closely to individual circumstances. They said ESA is not properly joined up with employment support because an health-related barriers to working are not properly assessed.

Rosanna Singler, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said the “fit for work” test had had a devastating impact on the lives of the disabled since its introduction six years ago. “Some people have have ended up with very little money to live on because the test hasn’t recognised they cannot work. Others have ended up in pain and under severe stress during the test process. It is heartening to hear the committee say that it isn’t just that Atos is doing the tests badly – it is the test itself. Fundamentally, it is unfit for purpose,” she said.

Mark Harper, the Minister for Disabled People, said: "We are bringing in a new provider and a new contract for work capability assessments to deliver the best possible service for claimants, increase the number of assessments and reduce waiting times. More than 700,000 people who were on Incapacity Benefit are now looking for, or making steps to return to work after a work capability assessment - it is crucial that we continue this important process to ensure that people are not written off and we get a fair deal for the taxpayer."

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
2015 General Election
May2015

Poll of Polls

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk