Published in Business on Saturday 1 September 2012 19:35
By Jeff Salway
The government did its best to exploit the feel-good buzz of the Olympics, but the Paralympics may now supply a few uncomfortable moments for Cameron & Co.
Let’s hope so too, given the continued demonisation of benefits claimants by an administration hoping to surf a wave of Paralympics-inspired positivity.
The greatest anger surrounds the work capability assessment tests being used to determine whether those claiming employment support allowance, the new version of incapacity benefit, are fit for employment.
Incapacity benefit fraud is just 0.3 per cent, the government’s own figures show, while disability living allowance fraud is 0.5 per cent.
Undeterred, the government wants to slash spending on disability benefits by a fifth. It doesn’t quite compute, does it.
Thousands of people have been wrongly judged by Atos – the firm being paid £100 million a year by the government to run the assessments – as being fit enough to work.
They include people with disabilities, serious illnesses and even some who are terminally ill. More than 40 doctors and nurses working for Atos have been reported to medical regulators for professional misconduct, it emerged this week.
So it’s no surprise then that almost seven in ten Scots helped by Citizens Advice in appealing Atos rulings last year were successful in getting their assessments overturned. Across the UK, the appeal success rate is around 40 per cent.
However, the process itself is causing untold grief, with umbrella group the Scottish Disability Equality Forum warning that work capability assessment tests – even the prospect of undergoing them in some cases – are driving people to attempt suicide.
But still the tests go on, with thousands of people subjected to them every week despite overwhelming evidence that they are not fit for purpose.
Atos has also been awarded the contract to assess the work fitness of claimants for disability living allowance, which is being replaced by the personal independence payment.
And guess which French IT company is among the sponsors of the Paralympics? Yes, Atos. You’d laugh if it’s actions weren’t so ruinous and devastating.