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Eilidh Whiteford, MP for Banff & Buchan

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Whiteford Raises ATOS Contract Concerns with Duncan-Smith

Sunday, 5 August 2012

An SNP MP has written to the UK Work and Pensions Secretary expressing concern at the decision to award ATOS Healthcare a new five year contract to run assessments for ‘personal independence payments’, the replacement for disability living allowance (DLA).

ATOS already have a £100 million a year contract to run the widely-criticised computer-based work capability assessments (WCAs) for Employment Support Allowance claims, which removed lifeline benefits from thousands of sick and disabled people deemed ‘fit to work’. Problems with WCAs were widely acknowledged and highlighted both by disability organisations and by medical professionals including the BMA. Forty per cent of appeals of decisions are successful, rising significantly when legal representation is sought.

A third independent review of the Work Capability Assessments is still underway, led by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP said:

“It is astonishing that the UK Government have awarded ATOS Healthcare these contracts given the widespread concerns around the operation of the work capability assessments and before the independent review has even been completed.

“While the UK Government have properly promised a moratorium over future G4S contracts after the Olympic security shambles, a similar robust approach should be taken with other private partners who have failed to deliver on multi-million pound public contracts.

“These inadequate tick-box tests removed lifeline support from thousands of sick and disabled people. The UK Government have questions to answer over this decision – which has been taken before the review looking at the problems with the WCA has even been completed. By awarding ATOS with this new contract, it suggests the Tories are either not listening to the harrowing experiences people have faced, or they simply don’t care.

“Other organisations have had to deal with the impact of this failure. Citizens Advice Bureaux have seen a huge increase in numbers of people turning to them for help with Employment Support Allowance. So much so they are now dealing with an average 100 new ESA cases every working day. CAB also help with WCA appeals and win nearly 70% of them, showing the inherent flaws in the original system. We do not want to see this replicated for thousands of disabled people who currently rely on DLA to help them with increased costs of being disabled.

“It is deeply concerning that the same company have been awarded the new contract – and does not bode well for the welfare reforms the UK Government are putting in place.

“The UK Government must give clarity over what measures are being put in place to ensure the new assessments are safe and rigorous, protecting sick and disabled people instead of putting them at risk of harm.

“With decisions like these, it’s no wonder the Tories are known as the nasty party of UK politics.”

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