Along with a number of other MPs from across the political spectrum, I have been lobbying the Minister for Disabled People about the need to reform the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people with debilitating progressive conditions. Our lobbying has been supported by the Parkinson’s Disease Society and three other charities representing people who have severe progressive conditions.
We recognise that a key aim of ESA is to enable those who are able to work to find suitable employment. The government’s stated intention for reviews is to ensure that individuals receive the right level of support, taking into account developments such as changes in treatment and people’s ability to adapt to their condition.
However, evidence suggests that the current approach is failing to recognise the needs of people with progressive conditions, particularly those who have a clinical diagnosis that their condition is extremely debilitating and set to worsen over time.
Recent research conducted by the charities found that 45 percent of people with these progressive conditions who put in a new claim for ESA between 2008 and 2011 were unable to work at the time of the assessment but were deemed able to eventually return to work and many were given a prognosis “recommend return to work in x months” - a length of time based on a “recovery period”. This directly contradicts the definition of a progressive condition, which can only get worse over time.
In addition, no evidence was found that Atos healthcare professionals or decision makers sought to clinically justify the improvement or prognosis periods of “recovery”, for example through discussion with claimants. Indeed the research found instances of compelling medical evidence being disregarded.
This is just the latest example of the unsatisfactory performance of ATOS. It is little wonder that the National Audit Office and the Select Committee has been less than impressed with ATOS. Now we learn that ATOS wants to get out of its contract early, suggesting that the reason for this is the level of abuse it has received.
There is no excuse for threats against staff – that is unacceptable. But there is every reason for criticising ATOS’s performance. It is more likely that it wants to break its contract because it realises that there is no chance of it being renewed and that it can only make a profit by not doing the job properly.