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Atos to lose WCA contract: our response

19 February 2014

DR UK urges public to see beyond ATOS incompetence in administering fit for work tests.

The Work Capability Assessment  (WCA) for the main out of work health related benefit (Employment Support Allowance) was devised by officials inside the Government and approved by ministers. The contract to deliver the assessments was drawn up by the Government and then Government inadequately monitored and managed the contracts.

Whilst it is certainly true that ATOS has been brutal and incompetent in conducting the assessments it is vital that it is the system that is overhauled and not just the providers. The reality is that four “independent” reviews have failed to evaluate fundamental flaws in the WCA such as the lack of any known link between what is being assessed (like whether you can walk up a set number of steps) and whether you can do a job: it all depends on what kind of job it is and whether barriers can be removed.

The test itself is simply not grounded in any evidence. Instead these reviews have been the equivalent of polishing driftwood; in other words trying to make something shine that’s simply broken. Disability Rights UK calls for a new purpose to be defined for the assessment, a real world test reflecting the barriers disabled people face in obtaining work, descriptors (the criteria against which points are scored to determine eligibility for ESA) that are fair and transparently, and an assessment that allows people’s support needs for obtaining work to be identified and provided for.

“ATOS should not be allowed to be the only fall guys when the blame also lies inside Government for the stress and duress faced by people living with disability or long-term health conditions undergoing the assessment. A good system would not only match those in genuine need to the allowance but also match support to those able to work. The present system for obtaining Employment Support Allowance fails on both counts. The Government must stop looking to others to do more polishing and instead provide the fix,” said Philip Connolly, Policy and Communications Manager for Disability Rights UK.