For disabled people, and those with learning disabilities, the ‘sacking’ of Atos won’t change anything

It will be the same people asking the same assessment questions as before

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Today the government have announced that they are ‘sacking’ Atos, the company who carry out the Work Capability Assessment used to decide if a sick or disabled person is sick or disabled enough to qualify for Employment Support Allowance. The Chief Political Correspondent for the BBC, Norman Smith says:

“Govt insist they dismissed #ATOS over running #disability assessments. "We removed them. Its not them walking away."

But, last month the Financial Times reported that Atos had been asking the DWP to let them leave their contract since October 2013 because;

“in its current form the test is not working for claimants, for DWP or Atos Healthcare”

So who is telling the truth and what does all this mean for disabled people, and especially for people with learning disabilities?

At People First England physically disabled and learning disabled people work together to support each other. My colleague Gary Bourlet, who has a learning disability, says:

“There needs to be  a political shift.... these TESTS ARE NOT FAIR or accessible - this is what needs changing the process of the test not the colours or the company. Signing on for people with a learning disability is confusing and their needs and wants are not being met, which makes them feel like a third class citizen and worthless.”

For now, Atos will continue to carry out the WCA on behalf of the government until the new provider is in place. This will probably take 6-12 months. Employment law means the staff currently working for Atos will be transferred to the new provider, most likely to be Capita, G4S or Serco as only very big companies are able to manage these contracts nationally. So it will be the same people asking the same assessment questions as before, but they will work for a different company.

Atos currently work to rules set by the DWP which say what they are allowed to ask claimants. They also use a system of statistics which work as targets to limit the amount of people who can claim ESA. The DWP say this is Atos’s fault. Atos say the DWP set the rules and so it’s really their fault. The contract used to set these rules says that the DWP are Atos’s ‘customer’. This means Atos carry out the tests to serve the DWP not the disabled people who they are testing.

Gary Bourlet explains that the WCA system “IS NOT GOING TO IMPROVE unless the people involved with the processes and procedures receive learning disability awareness and equality training. They need to work with learning disability groups and have an empathy with all organisations to make a difference to this service.”

What all this means for disabled people being assessed for ESA is that the rules that DWP set will be the same for the new company as they are for Atos. Until these rules change so the test is made fair and easy to understand for everyone, disabled people, especially people with learning disabilities, nothing will change except the colours of the walls of the assessment centres.

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