DWP and ATOS taken to task ... at last! / 19 October 2012
Someone in Parliament has finally found the guts to stand up and accuse the DWP of being totally inept in its dealings with ATOS.
I didn't have much time for Margaret Hodge MP, especially when she was Minister for Disabled People, but her recent statement in the House of Commons as Chair of the Public Accounts Committe will have redeemed her in the eyes of many of us Crips.
Pulling no punches, she told MPs: "The DWP's management of this contract has been unacceptably loose and permits loopholes that can all too easily be exploited by contractors. I am stunned to discover that the department does not check and challenge the key performance data that supports invoices. The financial model that informs contract charges was designed by ATOS and the department lacks an understanding of how it even works." She added: "The Department's inaccurate forecasting of demand for services has undermined its ability to hold ATOS to the terms of its contract."
Ms Hodge then went on to tell her colleagues that People with disabilities (sic) must be able to access the benefits to which they are entitled. She said: "The DWP relies on medical assessments to make sure it awards the right benefits to the right people. Getting this wrong can have devastating impacts on individuals and their families."
It is public record that Atos Healthcare billed the DWP for over £110 million to conduct the medical assessment of some 740,000 people in 2011-12. Over the same period, around 20,000 people received substandard assessments. In March this year, 1 in 4 cases was taking Atos more than 56 days to deal with.
Ms Hodge informed fellow MPs that this has resulted in distress, uncertainty and financial hardship for those people who are genuinely in need of and entitled to disability allowance. Indeed, she commented, it is a mark of this process's shortcomings that 38 per cent of appeals against the department's decisions on Employment and Support Allowance entitlement have been upheld.
She told MPs: "The number of substandard assessments must be slashed and the department needs to understand why so many appeals are successful.
Advising the DWP to "take immediate steps to get a tighter grip on this contract" she added that government wanted to see ATOS's performance improve dramatically
Concluding her statement, Ms Hodge said: "ATOS's performance must improve dramatically, and it is crucial that the department improves the accuracy of its forecasting so that it can take a much more robust line when contractors underperform rather than allowing them to hide behind unexpected demand."
Good on you Margaret ... better late than never!
PS. I do apologise for the poor caricature of Margaret Hodge, my only excuse is that it was drawn in a bit of a hurry ... I'll work on it though!
Keywords: disabled peoples movement,disabled peoples protest