Axemen ATOS face £40m payday for work making disabled Scots miserable
SECRET figures obtained by the Daily Record show the full scale of the “misery money” Atos will rake in.
THE Atos axemen are set for a £40million payday as they cash in on the misery of disabled Scots.
The Record has seen secret figures outlining the huge sums the French IT firm could collect from the taxpayer for their humiliating assessments of whether the disabled should still receive benefits.
Panicked Con-Dem ministers have desperately tried to suppress details of the new Atos Healthcare contract for carrying out the tests on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions until 2017.
But in a move that will lead to major recriminations in Whitehall, a dossier has emerged that outlines the full scale of the “misery money” Atos will rake in.
MSP Kevin Stewart, who obtained the figures, said: “That Atos may be set to profit by more than £40million is absolutely disgusting.”
Titled “Atos Risk Management Plan”, the dossier shows a predicted £40,535,679 profit from the £206million Atos contract for Scotland and northern England.
That would pay the disability living allowance of 10,851 people for a year, based on the average weekly payment of £71.84.
Atos will collect the colossal sum if they manage to put 15 per cent more people through their tests than broadly expected.
Even if the number of tests carried out is in line with predictions, they will make £28,636,419 by 2017 – enough to pay a year’s disability allowance for 7664 people.
And if they drop 15 per cent below their expected total, Atos will still be in the money, making a profit of £16,712,945.
The Record has been telling the harrowing stories of Scots who felt bullied and harassed after Atos work capability assessments.
The tests, which have already been going on for years, have been slammed as degrading by doctors and charities.
The new contract will see two million disabled people across the UK tested to see if they should still receive benefits when the Con-Dems replace disability living allowance with “personal independence payments” and slash the welfare state.
There was uproar over the summer when Atos, one of the sponsors of the Paralympics, won £400million worth of contracts to carry out the tests in different parts of the UK.
SNP Aberdeen MSP Stewart used freedom of information laws to request details of the deal for Scotland and northern England.
The DWP tried to keep the vast Atos profits secret by blacking out the figures before sending the paperwork. They claimed, to Stewart’s fury, that they were protecting “commercially confidential” information.
But the blundering bureaucrats failed to censor the documents properly, and the staggering sums became visible when transferred to another computer format.
Stewart, who says he has been swamped by calls from constituents terrified about the Atos tests, called the contract “absolutely disgraceful”. He added: “That a company is making profit like this from other people’s misery is terrible. The UK Government should hang its head in shame.”
He called for an urgent review of the “sickening” sums being paid out.
The revelations will heap more pressure on Tory Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has defended the Atos contract.
Earlier this year, the National Audit Office criticised the DWP for setting performance targets too low, failing to adequately fine Atos for poor performance and not checking the accuracy of data from the company.
A succession of MPs have tried to find out more about the performance targets and financial penalties in the Atos deal. The UK Government have refused to answer the questions, claiming the days is “commercially confidential”.
Official figures show that 40 per cent of appeals against decisions not to award employment and support allowance, largely based on the Atos assessments, are upheld. The figure rises to 70 per cent if the claimant gets help from Citizens Advice or other groups.
Atos said: “All our contracts are competitively tendered and subject to strict Government procurement rules.”
The DWP said the contract was part of a “new approach, working with regional providers, for a service which best meets local needs”.
They said they were making the system better by replacing an “over-complicated 40-page claim form” with “a discussion with a health professional”.
And they insisted: “Atos were chosen in Scotland following the usual procedures for open and fair competition.”
COLIN Grieve is living in fear as he awaits his Atos assessment. He is terrified of being forced into poverty if his benefits are removed.
The 59-year-old from Selkirk has been unable to work for more than a decade, after being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and suffering two mental breakdowns.
He receives incapacity benefit but was recently told he would have to attend an Atos assessment.
Colin said: “I keep reading about this Atos and I’m absolutely petrified.
“You don’t know what’s going to happen and it’s playing on my mind.”
Colin says he would be unable to pay for food or other essentials without his benefits. He worries that his lifeline will be taken away and he will be left to starve.
He says mental health patients currently living independently could be forced into residential care, creating a further burden for the public purse.
Ayrshire gran Jane Ramsay is facing yet another Atos assessment, only months after she successfully appealed against the findings of a work capability test.
Atos decided last year that the 59-year-old was “fit to work” even though a number of doctors had found that a recent hip replacement and crippling arthritis in her knees had left her unable to hold a job.
Jane is also waiting on word over a potential knee operation.
She said: “I have been receiving disability living allowance and incapacity benefit since 2000.
“But last year I was told by Atos that I was fit to work and my money was going to be stopped. I’d failed their assessment, despite being told at loads of other meetings with doctors that I was unable to work.
“When I spoke to my GP about an insurance line, she laughed and said there was no way I could work.
“I was helped by the Citizens Advice Bureau to appeal the Atos decision, and I won in April this year.
“However, just last week I received more forms in the post from Atos.
“It looks like I’m going to have to go through the whole process again.”
James Girdwood, 58, was badly hurt in a road accident in 1995 as he headed home from work at Yarrow Shipbuilders in Glasgow.
He suffered serious foot and ankle injuries and needed several operations. He has since developed a catalogue of other ailments including an elbow injury, arthritis, high blood pressure and a heart condition.
But DWP officials ruled James, of Muirkirk, Ayrshire, fit for work. Now he has been summoned to an Atos assessment and faces an agonising wait to see if he will lose his incapacity benefit.
James said: “I asked the DWP to explain why they think I’m fit to work, but they didn’t answer.
“Instead I have an appointment with Atos to assess me. I have to go or they will stop my payments.
“I’ve been unable to work for years and I rely on lifts from friends to get me about. I also need that extra money from incapacity benefit.
“The assessment they’ve made about me is ridiculous. They are more interested in cutting the money than a person’s health.”