THE coalition government’s favourite private benefits testing company, Atos, is desperately attempting to jump ship after pocketing a fortune for driving people off sickness benefit.
Having faithfully and enthusiastically carried out the wishes of Ian Duncan Smith and his Department of Works and Pensions to force the sick and disabled off all benefits, Atos now finds itself at the eye of the storm as the repercussions of this brutal assault on the most vulnerable sections of society become a public disgrace.
Atos has recently revealed that it is trying to weasel out early from its £500 million contract with the DWP amid allegations from government sources that the company’s ‘mis-management’ is responsible for the crisis that has emerged.
Atos has made the ludicrous claim that it wants to get out of the contract because its staff have received ‘death threats’.
The only threats that have been documented have come from Disability minister Mike Penning, who described the contract with Atos as a ‘mess’ in the Commons this week.
It has also been revealed that since last summer Atos has quietly been stopped by the DWP from carrying out repeat assessments on people currently claiming work-related disability benefits.
This ditching of the French-owned multi-national company, whose total outsourcing contracts with the government are reported to exceed £1.6 billion, is a blatant attempt by the DWP to shift the blame for the scandalous treatment meted out to the sick and disabled.
According to a DWP memo obtained by the Benefits and Work organisation, repeat medical checks for claimants have been suspended until another company can be found to replace Atos.
The memo stresses that they are not stopping referrals due to ‘quality issues’ but because of the backlog of cases.
The backlog of cases is bound up with the fact that a huge number of decisions made by Atos staff – the vast majority of those testing claimants having no medical training and merely ‘ticking boxes’ – have been successfully challenged on appeal.
Figures released show that even the DWP itself had to overturn 158,300 decisions made by Atos that people were ‘fit for work’.
Of the 600,000 people who have appealed against decisions made by the government to support the Atos decision to cut their benefits, 60% were successful.
The latest scandal to engulf Atos emerged this week over the introduction of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) which is designed to replace the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) – an allowance made to the disabled to help with the cost of living at home.
Atos is still carrying out assessments on over three million people, either on the allowance or who have already been transferred to PIP.
So far, Atos has only carried out assessments on 30,000, and out of these only 15,000 have been assessed by the company as qualifying for benefit.
10% of this number – 150 people – are terminally ill.
At this rate, half of disabled and terminally sick people who currently receive DLA will have this lifeline cut off completely.
It is clear that the government’s policy of piling the blame on Atos has more to do with their inefficiency in carrying out its war against the sick and disabled with the greatest possible speed than with any ‘mistakes’ made in kicking people off benefits.
For its part Atos is only too keen to ditch the contract with the DWP – it has already pocketed a small fortune and clearly wants to dodge all the flack while still retaining all the rest of its billion-pound privatisation contracts.
While Labour ministers berate Atos for being ‘not fit for purpose’ this avoids the issue that the real villains are this coalition government and its austerity policies designed to make even the terminally sick pay for the banks’ crisis.
Today it is a question of not just seeing Atos slink off but of kicking this government out along with all the privateers, and advancing to a workers government and socialism.