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31/03/2014 - Atos out the door but will the system stay the same?

atosThe controversial firm responsible for assessing disabled people is ending its contract early. The £500m agreement to carry out work capability assessments had been due to end in August next year but following widespread public anger and protest the agreement will be terminated early next year.

Atos are out the door according to a government announcement and will not be getting any compensation.

Mike Penning, the minister for disabled people, said:

"I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract; quite the contrary, Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the department."

Just last Wednesday the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland blamed the work assessment after a woman took her own life when her benefits were cut following a test by Atos. It is far from an isolated case with many taking their own lives in similar circumstances.

The government’s own figures last year showed that 10,600 people died within six weeks of being declared ‘fit for work’ by Atos.

In December the appeal court upheld a ruling that the tests discriminate against claimants with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism.

More than 600,000 appeals have been lodged against Atos judgments since the work capability assessments began, costing the taxpayer £60m a year. In four out of 10 cases the original decisions have been overturned. However the appeals process can take months while some of the most vulnerable disabled are plunged into poverty.

Charities and Unions have welcomed the exit of Atos but warned that the entire system needed overhauling.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: "The test should be more than an exercise in getting people off benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job."

Steve Winyard, RNIB head of campaigns and policy, said Atos's departure "might be welcomed by some but it leaves blind, partially sighted and other disabled people in a very uncertain situation. DWP will face lots of questions but it also has an opportunity to re-examine the whole process."

Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive at the deafblind charity Sense, called for root-and-branch reform.

Pat Harrington, general secretary of Solidarity, said:

"The assessments are flawed and harass vulnerable people. They are about taking essential benefits from people in need and not about providing support and guidance. Rather than just replace Atos with another private firm under the same rules we need to bring the work in-house and change the ethos to one of genuine help for people."