Posted 27/7-11 at 21.22
The Work and Pensions Committee report on the changes to assessment for incapacity benefit ( the benefit paid to people who are assessed as being unable to work) is highly critical of the way the new system has operated.
While the committee supports efforts to help disabled people into employment, it says this has not happened and deplores, among other things, the message about the way the changes are being depicted in the press and by the government.
For example, they point out that, "Media coverage of the reassessment is often irresponsible and inaccurate and we deprecate the pejorative language which some sections of the press use when referring to benefit claimants."
They also observe that the new test given to applicants, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), is flawed, with 40% of decisions being overturned on appeal. Furthermore, they estimate the cost of failure of reliable assessment is costing an additional £50m, as well as a great deal of unnecessary stress for claimants.
Atos Healthcare, the French company with the £100 million contract for assessing claimants, is strongly criticised for a whole range of poor practices. These include forcing people to attend meetings at non-accessible venues, an inflexible computer-based test, 20 minute interviews with no opportunity to provide medical evidence, overbooking appointments, difficulties in contacting Atos and administrative errors that have led people having their benefits stopped.
In order to give the full flavour of the report, a few quotes, highlighted in the report, are given below.
"Instances have occurred where vulnerable claimants have had their benefit stopped as a sanction for non-attendance at a WCA appointment when the non-attendance arose because of administrative errors on the part of Atos or JCP (Job Centre Plus) , or because the claimant was too ill to attend but was unable to get in touch with Atos to inform them of this."
"It is unacceptable that disabled people should be called to attend an assessment at a centre which is inappropriately located, inaccessible to them or where reasonable adjustments cannot be made to accommodate special requirements arising from their health condition."
"...we believe that the Government needs to do more to clarify whether the purpose of the WCA is to be an eligibility test for benefits or whether it is a diagnostic test to assess a person's ability to work. It is not yet clear whether it is quite achieving either of these effectively."
Editorial comment: This report is a must-read document for anyone wanting to understand the full horror of the way the government has set about cutting benefits. Although publicly advertised as an effort to get people back into employment, the new assessment regime is for the most part simply cutting entitlements and putting a great many disabled people into emotional and financial crisis. The report shows that the new system is both badly managed, as well as callous and unresponsive to the basic rights of disabled people and in apparent breach of the Equality Act (by not providing reasonable adjustment for equality of access).
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