Private companies will be given around £630m of government money in the next two years to test people claiming disability benefits, despite ongoing concerns about the “flawed” medical assessment process.
Ministers at the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) have been accused of “rewarding failure” after the two companies that currently determine who gets Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment Support Allowance (ESA) had their contracts extended.
Atos will be given up to £394.7m to carry out further PIP tests, while a subsidiary of Maximus will be given up to £236.4m to run more of the ESA tests until July 2021.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed the sums, but told The Independent they represent a maximum budget and the amount spent on the tests over the next two years could be less.
Genevieve Edwards, of the MS Society, condemned the decision to extend the contracts.
“It’s nonsensical to reward this lack of understanding and failing system with extra millions of pounds, when what is really needed is an overhaul so people don’t have to fight to get the support they need," she said.
The assessment process for PIP – a benefit that replaced Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013 – has been strongly criticised by charities who say it forces claimants to “fight” for the support they are entitled to.
It is available to anyone who needs help with daily activities or getting around because of a long-term illness or disability.
Government figures released last month show 9,320 complaints were received about PIP assessments in the year to February 2019 – a 6,000 per cent increase in three years.
Jess Leigh, policy and campaigns manager at disability equality charity Scope, attacked the DWP for sticking with the same two firms until at least 2021. “Extending these contracts is rewarding failure and neglecting the flaws in the assessment system,” she told The Independent.
“We know that the assessment processes for PIP and ESA aren’t working for disabled people. Disabled people rely on these financial lifelines to live independently and be part of their community.
“Without urgent action, vast numbers will continue to be unfairly denied this support. The government must overhaul the assessments for PIP and ESA to iron out the mistrust, lack of transparency and routine inaccuracies which disabled people continue to report on.”
Labour MP Marsha de Cordova, shadow minister for disabled people, said: “It is scandalous that hundreds of millions of pounds more have been handed over to private companies … that are wreaking havoc on disabled people’s lives.
“Labour will end the hostile environment that these assessments have created and bring them in house.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the sums agreed until 2021 did not mean the nature of the medical tests would change.
“These figures refer to the previously announced extensions of the PIP and ESA contracts to 2021, and not to any additional extensions or new costs,” she said. “We’re committed to providing the best possible service for disabled people, which is why we’re continually improving the assessment process for PIP and ESA. We regularly monitor our assessment providers to ensure they are delivering against the high standards we expect.”
Register for free to continue reading
Registration is a free and easy way to support our truly independent journalism
By registering, you will also enjoy limited access to Premium articles, exclusive newsletters, commenting, and virtual events with our leading journalists
Already have an account? sign in
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies