THE privatised assessment tests which find sick and disabled people ‘fit for work’ are ‘failing claimants and taxpayers’ and must be ‘brought back in-house’, civil servants union PCS said yesterday.
The PCS was responding to the latest National Audit Office (NAO) report released yesterday which shows disability benefit assessments have doubled in cost, costing the taxpayer a whopping £579m last year alone.
Labour MP Meg Hillier, who chairs the public accounts committee, said the cost was ‘staggering’ and sick and disabled people needed ‘a better deal’. Private provider Atos was forced to quit its contract in 2014 after the government itself admitted that Atos ‘was not fit for purpose’ and that the ‘process was riddled with problems’.
Figures show that thousands of disabled and sick people died or committed suicide within weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’. Atos was replaced last year by US firm Maximus. Now the NAO report states that problems ‘have not been tackled – and may even have exacerbated’ under Maximus.
PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: ‘This report, while disappointingly limited in its scope, casts grave doubts on the policy of privatising this very sensitive public service. ‘Claimants need to feel they are being supported, not targeted, and we will continue to press for this work to be brought back in-house.’
The key findings in the report include:
• Schemes still suffering from backlogs, delays and poor quality
• Providers continuing to struggle with hiring and training staff, with knock-on effects on costs and standards
• DWP not learning from its mistakes, with recent performance showing ‘it has not tackled – and may even have exacerbated’ – problems when setting up recent contracts.
An example of one of the tens of thousands of disabled and sick people wrongly assessed as being ‘fit for work’ is the tragic case of Dawn Amos. Dawn Amos was a 67-year-old woman who suffered from severe breathing problems which meant that she could not even walk to the shops.
Nevertheless she was told to attend a test and was assessed as ‘fit for work’. Dawn Amos was sent the letter telling her that she was ‘fit for work’ and not eligible for disability and sick benefits on the day after doctors turned off her life support machine. She died of chronic lung disease.
Her husband Mick said: ‘By the end she could only just get down to the bottom of the garden, about 45-50ft, and that was about it. She had to sit down before she could walk back. She couldn’t even get to the shops on her own. How ill do you have to be?’
Shadow Labour minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams, said the report exposed a ‘shambles’, adding, ‘Too many disabled people have been badly let down by these assessments.’