MPs blame DWP over fitness tests

MPs criticise DWP’s role in fitness to work tests

A parliamentary committee has blamed the Department for Work and Pensions for most of the problems over testing of benefit claimants on their fitness to work.

Margaret Hodge, who chairs the Public Accounts Committee, said the DWP was getting ‘far too many’ decisions wrong on claimants’ ability to work.

“This poor decision-making is damaging public confidence and generating a lot of criticism of the department’s contractor for medical assessments, Atos Healthcare, but most of the problems lie firmly within the DWP,” she said.

Prospect is the union representing Atos Healthcare staff who undertake assessments, and has consistently argued that the focus of criticism by the media and politicians should be on the DWP, which manages the contract.

Prospect submitted evidence to each of the three stages of Professor Harrington's review of Work Capability Assessments and expressed concern over the media's reporting that over one-third of appeals going to Tribunal were being upheld, even though no new medical evidence had been submitted.

Evidence provided to the PAC also acknowledged that appeal tribunals had cited only  0.4 per cent of decisions being found in favour of appellants a due to the fault of Atos at the WCA stage.

The PAC took evidence from a number of stakeholders, including the Permanent Secretary and Chief Medical Officer in DWP on both the experiences of clients and responsibilities of government for the Work Capability Assessment, which supports payment of the Employment Support Allowance.

The committee's work looked at a number of issues, including the recording of assessments; mental health score criteria; appeals and tribunals; mandatory reconsiderations; accessibility of Atos WCA Centres; overbooking and turn-away rate; computer-driven processes; targets and media stigma.

See the full report on the parliament website.