For months the Department for Work and Pensions were insistent that the critics of the Work Capability Assessment – and ATOS in particular –were wrong; the Department instead said the system was gradually improving.
Now, one working day into the Westminster recess, the Department allows a major about turn to slip out. After years of condemnation from campaigners, charities and MPs, the DWP has finally admitted that the quality of some of the ATOS work is so poor that staff are going to have to be retrained and monitored more thoroughly. And, because the problem is endemic ATOS will be losing its monopoly of carrying out these assessments, with other providers picking up the slack.
Logo of Atos Origin used prior to July 2011. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Had this come out last week my colleagues and I would have been demanding that Iain Duncan Smith come to answer an Urgent Question on the matter in the Commons. But because MPs are on recess back in their constituencies, that hasn’t happened.
It turns out that while IDS and his employment minister Mark Hoban were telling MPs that all was well, they had in fact commissioned an urgent audit of ATOS in May because of concerns that an earlier smaller audit had thrown up.
We are now asked to believe that that the problem is only one part the process, not substance.
Minister Hoban now tells us that this doesn’t mean that the decisions have been wrong, rather ATOS don’t write very good reports on the individuals they are assessing. While the assessment is only part of the process of assessment, it is the DWP’s Decision Makers who wield much greater power.