Middlesbrough South and East Cleveland Labour MP, Tom Blenkinsop, today (12th September 2012) called for the “total overhaul and reform of Governments Work Capability Assessment” (WCA) following a House of Commons debate on the issue.
“Over recent months I have had more and more constituents coming to me to complain about the farcical and seemingly indiscriminate result of WCAs carried out on claimants for Disability and Incapacity Benefits by private contractors, ATOS, for the Department for Work and Pensions.
“The complaints are often that a person who is seriously ill or incapacitated is questioned – sometimes only over a phone – and then on the basis of what look to be random questions, later told that they are fit for work, therefore losing their benefits. I always tell people in this position to appeal, and if need be to take the case to independent tribunals, and indeed sometimes we have also directly represented people at such hearings.
“The other criticisms of the WCA programme refer to poor management, long delays and the high number of overturned decisions. I believe these criticisms are utterly valid. I believe that the Work Capability Contract with ATOS was poorly drafted and poor value for money. Under the terms of that contract, ATOS receives money for the number of people they assess and process, with little to no regard for the accuracy of the results. In addition, no financial penalty is handed down to ATOS when they get things wrong. Given the terrible impact an incorrect assessment will have on the life of a disabled person, this is shameful.
“Despite all of this, in June ATOS pocketed an additional £5.47 million for implementing the changes recommended by a review of their work – the equivalent of a shoddy workman being rewarded for making right his own mistakes.
“The truth is that the tribunals often overturn the decision in favour of the claimant. But these claimants need help. In particular they need to provide up to date medical statements from GP’s or specialists to help the tribunal members make a proper informed decision. I now fear that with the new changes coming into the NHS, cash strapped Clinical Commissioning Groups and Hospital Trusts may start charging for such statements which at the moment are generally provided free. We need as well to review the ATOS medical examinations. All them should be held face to face – and not over the phone – and in addition should be recorded on CCTV so that a tribunal can see exactly what was said at the time instead of having to reply on often partial written notes typed up long after the examination was held.
“The system is a shambles. The weakest and most vulnerable in our local communities deserve better – and these suggestions are a start in this.”