12 May 2011
Labour MP Angela Smith (Penistone and Stocksbridge) raised a debate on ESA in the House of Commons, 10 May. Hansard records the MP as saying:
"The work capability assessment has been in use for some time, and I am confident that I am not the only Member of the House being approached regularly by constituents who are angered by how it works, or whose disability benefits have been withdrawn after an assessment. Work capability assessments have been contracted out to a private organisation, Atos Healthcare, in a £300 million deal by the Government. Atos Healthcare is part of the Atos Origin group of companies, most noted for its IT outsourcing operations. It has Government contracts in the Home Office and elsewhere.
"...Atos’s own staff have said that the assessments are too harsh. Prospect, the trade union representing 135 Atos doctors, has stated that the target of seeing 10 or more people a day is unrealistic and will lead to inaccurate assessments, especially in complex cases. It should come as no surprise, then, that ESA appeals have increased by 56%. Figures rose from 25,700 in the second quarter of 2009-10 to 52,000 in the same quarter of 2010-11. Almost half of cases were overturned on appeal. Such a degree of failure is staggering and makes a powerful case for change."
Summarising the debate UK parliamentary monitoring service Dehavilland said:
Conservative Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling argued that the system the Government inherited was not adequate.
The Government had sought to address issues surrounding Atos, he added, insisting that it was a myth that contractors were incentivised to find people fit for work. The only indicators and targets that Atos had related to the quality of the work it did, Mr Grayling maintained.
He detailed that, of 25 recommendations made by Professor Harrington on the ESA assessment process, all but two had been implemented to date. When reassessments were undertaken in June, all recommendations would have been implemented, the Minister confirmed.
Jobcentre Plus staff would now be able to take into account other evidence outside the work capability assessment (WCA), including GP evidence, in order to determine if a person was fit for work, Mr Grayling told MPs.