17.08.12

Public Spending Watchdog Critical of Fitness for Work Testing

The National Audit Office (NAO) has claimed taxpayers are losing out because of flaws in the contract and handling of the ‘fit to work’ tests that form a key part of the Government’s efforts to move people from sick benefits into work.

In the last financial year, the Department for Work and Pensions paid Atos Healthcare over £110m to carry out around 738,000 face-to-face medical tests on benefit claimants.

The tests, known as Work Capability Assessments (WCA) are used to decide whether people are fit to work or eligible to receive Employment and Support Allowance. However they have proved highly controversial; coming under attack from claimants, doctors and charities who claim they are degrading and not fit for purpose. Official figures show that 40 per cent of appeals against a decision not to award Employment and Support Allowance, largely based on the WCA, are upheld.

After he raised concerns, the NAO have sent a letter to Labour MP Tom Greatrex in which it criticises the Department for Work and Pensions for failing to set “sufficiently challenging” targets, not properly checking the accuracy of performance data submitted by Atos and subsequently not enforcing adequate penalties for poor performance. 

The MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, commented:

“This is a damning assessment of the failure of the Government to get value for money for the taxpayer or properly hold Atos to account for the chaos and confusion at the heart of the work capability assessment.

“The taxpayer is effectively paying for this service twice, yet the Government has failed to claw this money back from Atos to reimburse the taxpayer.

“People who are genuinely sick and disabled need to be helped, not hounded. The Government must bring forward serious proposals for reform.”

A spokesperson for the DWP commented that it had put in place changes to the process for applying financial penalties and a review of contractual targets was under way.

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