Private firms pocket £824m from ‘brutal’ disability benefit assessments
By Steven Preece: The amount of public money handed to private firms to carry out “brutal” disability benefit assessments has soared by around £40 MILLION over the last year, in spite of growing concerns about the fairness and accuracy of the hated tests, the Independent has revealed.
Figures obtained by the newspaper through Freedom of Information laws show Atos (now ‘Independent Assessment Service’) and Capita pocketed a combined £255million over the last year to carry out assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP), which is replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for all disabled adults and people with long-term medical problems.
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In total, the two firms have been awarded £824m since 2013 by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for their role in carrying out the controversial PIP assessments.
The shocking revelation comes less than a week after Capita shares plummeted by nearly 50%, after the outsourcing giant issued a dire profits warning, knocking £1.1bn off the value of the company on the share market.
And the Government announced last week that it is to review 1.6 million PIP claimsf ollowing a humiliating defeat at the High Court, that will see an estimated 220,000 PIP claimants receive backdated and higher awards.
Government figures indicate that neither Atos nor Capita are meeting the required target of 97% of assessments conforming to standards. Audits show 6.4% of PIP assessments were deemed “unacceptable” in the three months leading up to October 2017.
Labour’s Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary, Debbie Abrahams MP, accused the Government of “rewarding failure”, adding: “It is damning that the Government are spending more public money on private, profit-making contractors at a time when a record 68% of PIP decisions taken to tribunal are being overturned by judges.”
She also reiterated Labour’s pledge to scrap the disability benefit assessments when in Government.
Dr Jay Watts, from the Alliance for Counselling and Psychotherapy, said: “Atos and Capita are profiting, quite literally, from the suffering of claimants.”
He added: “It is difficult to communicate quite how brutal, fear-provoking and destabilising the process of constant assessment is.”
A DWP spokesperson told the Independent: “We’re absolutely committed to ensuring that disabled people and people with mental health conditions get the support that they need.
“PIP is a modern, dynamic and fairer benefit than the former DLA and focuses the most support on those experiencing the greatest barriers to living independently.
“Approximately 66% of PIP recipients with mental health conditions receive the higher rate of the benefit, compared to just 22% under DLA.”
There are growing concerns over the role of private firms in public services following the shock collapse of Carillion, and Unite has warned of a “Pandora’s Box of Carillion-type meltdowns” if NHS trusts in England continue to outsource contracts to private limited companies.
The Conservative Government was accused of propping up Carillion, after the company was handed £1.3bn of new contracts despite the Government knowing the company was in financial difficulty.
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has vowed to put an end to the “outsourcing racket”. Speaking to the Guardian after a showdown with Theresa May at PMQ’s, Mr Corbyn promised to “rewrite the rules to give the public back control of their services”.
He added: “Theresa May exposed the failure of the outsource-first ideology at prime minister’s questions when she said the government was ‘a customer’ not ‘the manager’ of Carillion.
“I’m sorry, but if these are public contracts we should be the manager and not have a middleman like Carillion creaming off the profits.”