Prospect has issued the following news releases drawing attention to the damage that the spending cuts will cause:
Health professionals who assess disabled benefit claimants feel ‘bruised and demoralised' as they are turned into scapegoats for a policy they neither designed nor were consulted on, Prospect said today. In a letter on the Guardian website Prospect national secretary Geraldine O'Connell said the union "fully supports the absolute requirement for all claimants to be treated with dignity and respect."Prospect represents 135 medical professionals employed by ATOS Origin to carry out assessments of benefit claimants.O'Connell's letter stressed: "The criteria for qualification for benefit are determined through government policy and not by ATOS – and while medical advice is provided to assist in the processing of assessments, health-care professionals do not make any decisions on claims themselves."She pointed out that it is the Department of Work and Pensions which raised the qualification bar for claimants remaining on the new Employment and Support Allowance beyond 12 months "with the firm intention of taking claimants off long-term benefits. Health-care professionals are simply the pawns in this process."Figures released by the DWP on Tuesday showed that only one in 14 new claimants assessed for the ESA (introduced to replace the current incapacity benefit) between October 2008-November 2010 will be entitled to claim the payout in the long term. However, more than 400,000 appeals have been lodged against refusals to grant the benefit since its launch in October 2008, with 39 per cent succeeding.In addition, ministers are requiring existing claimants to lodge fresh benefit claims and be retested.TUC general secretary Brendan Barber said : "The new incapacity benefit assessment is a much tougher test than previously and is designed to save the government money by excluding more people."Yesterday (Wednesday) parliament's work and pensions select committee raised serious criticisms of the reassessment process.Committee chair Dame Anne Begg said: "The government's aim of helping benefit claimants back into work is laudable, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated, and nor should the level of anxiety which surrounds the process. People are suspicious that the government's only objective is to save money."The MPs called for necessary funding to implement the new scheme, so that decisions can be ‘got right first time.’Last October Prospect told a review of the Work Capability Assessment by Professor Malcolm Harrington that health professionals were not given enough time to assess complex cases such as those coping with multiple sclerosis or Parkinson's disease; and were expected to assess too many claimants in a day.One of Harrington's interim recommendations was that ATOS's ‘tick-box' computer systems should be improved to allow health professionals to include personal summaries of their recommendations, copied to claimants. He also called for job centre and benefits staff to handle claimants "in a more empathetic and less mechanistic way." He is seeking further evidence by September 16.