Work and pensions minister Steve Webb has accepted the state benefit system for disabled people requires change

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Disabled people’s benefit system needs reform, says minister” was written by Daniel Boffey, for The Observer on Saturday 17th September 2011 21.29 Europe/London

Controversial assessments of disabled people that have led to many losing their state benefits will be reformed, said Steve Webb, the Liberal Democrat work and pensions minister.

He accepted there was genuine anger about how claimants of employment support allowance (ESA) had been treated. The “vast majority” of claimants for ESA, which has replaced incapacity benefit, are deemed fit for work by Atos, the French company which is paid £100m a year to assess claimants.

Yet four out of 10 of those who appeal against the decision by Atos are successful, a process that costs the taxpayer £50m a year. Last month Atos, whose staff assess around 11,000 benefit claimants a week, was savaged by the cross-party work and pensions select committee after it found that many people had “not received the level of service from Atos which they can reasonably expect”.

Webb said: “In the past, we accept, that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) folk just went ‘bang Atos says no’. We are now taking more control of that.” The system of “work-related assessments” which Atos carries out on the government’s behalf is currently the subject of an independent, state-funded investigation by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

Webb said he had held discussions with his Tory colleague at the DWP, Chris Grayling, over the future role of Atos in assessments and that the government understood that change was needed. He said: “One of the changes Harrington recommended is that you don’t just take what the Atos assessor says and tick the box. You say, ‘let’s see what the consultant says’. If I need more information I will ask for it.”

“I am sure there are brilliant Atos inspectors and very poor ones, it is a big organisation, but if someone hasn’t done the assessment properly there is much of a safety valve now to say hang on this assessment says no problem but I have got all these reports from the medics.

“The way Chris put it, is the contribution of the Atos judgment to the decision will be a smaller part. And that has got to help.”

On Sunday Lib-Dem delegates at their Birmingham conference endorsed calls for Atos’s “tick box” system of medical tests to be replaced by something more accurate and less stressful for those who go through it.

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Comments
  • Mozza September 18, 2011 at 11:45 am

    So, the penny is finally starting to drop… When the Minister was sent a personal copy of my recent report: Welfare Reform – Redress for the Disabled he had a very strong first reaction and hurled off an email to Maria Miller demanding to know if it was true. I personally contacted the Minister and reasured him that the report was true because I wrote it. Needless to say, yet another example of the Tories keeping the Lib Dems in the dark in this so called co-alition government.

  • Gail Ward on Facebook September 18, 2011 at 12:33 pm

    blimey thats sounds good progress if they actually get round to implementing it

  • Sasha Callaghan on Facebook September 18, 2011 at 7:32 pm

    hold on a second, isn’t Stevie boy a minister? A DWP minister, in fact? Surely he bears a little bit of a responsibility to keep ‘in the loop’. WHY WAS THIS SUCH A SURPRISE FOR HIM?

  • Joe Kane on Facebook September 18, 2011 at 11:27 pm

    That’s right Sasha and if that is the case, that this is a big surprise to him – then who is running the DWP, and who is in charge of making the decisions about its policy if not the government minsters responsible for the DWP?

  • Sasha Callaghan on Facebook September 19, 2011 at 12:08 am

    @ Joe – I’ guessing it could be Ming the Magnificent.

  • Mo Stewart September 19, 2011 at 8:36 pm

    No guys. The DWP is a vast department and, Ministers or not, they all just look after their own little bit. Steve Webb is Minister for Pensions and not likely to bother himself about the disabled unless some woman, who will not be silenced, throws it in his face…..

  • Mo Stewart September 19, 2011 at 8:39 pm

    I DOUBT very much that the Atos tick test system will be replaced, not least because the DWP would have to negotaite a new contract, that’s now funded till 2015. Furthermore, Aylward at his UNUM funded centre, has just produced the latest tick test softwear to be used by GPs when assessing their patients. This isn’t good news!

  • Mo Stewart September 20, 2011 at 3:13 am

    CORRECTION – I made a big mistake and apologise – senior moment. The MP I initially sent off the report to was Norman Lamb, who didn’t know about it – and not Steve Webb the Minister. He now has a copy and I will report his reply, if any.

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