The Government has awarded a contract worth hundreds of millions of pounds to two private sector companies, ATOS and Capita, to reassess disabled people for a disability benefit they need to help with the essential higher costs of living (Personal Independence Payment, or PIP).
ATOS already conducts face to face assessments for people accessing Employment and Support Allowance (the benefit for disabled people out of work), but continues to draw intense criticism due to the high rate of inaccurate decisions, successful appeal rates (40%) and waste of restricted resources. Appeals to ESA decisions cost over £26 million in 2010/11.
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), a coalition of charities representing hundreds of thousands of disabled people, is concerned that many disabled people will be stressed and fearful of the new process – as well as mistrustful given the overarching policy aim of reducing expenditure. DWP plans show that 500,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for support.
The consortium is calling on ATOS and Capita to learn lessons from the Work Capability Assessment, used to assess people for ESA since 2008, and sign up to ten pledges that will help alleviate concerns, establish a greater trust in the new system and deliver a process that is as fair as possible under Government plans.
PIP is being introduced as the Government abolishes Disability Living Allowance (DLA) which was introduced from 1992 to help disabled people with essential higher living costs. The change affects working age disabled people (16-64 years of age) from April 2013.
Hayley Jordan, of the MS Society and co-chair of the DBC policy group, says:
“PIP will be a lifeline for disabled people and it is essential that this difficult process is managed well. We urge contractors to learn lessons from previous experiences and sign up to our proposed pledges to demonstrate a commitment to making the process as fair as it can be. Failure will result in tragedy and devastate the lives of disabled people.”
Tom Pollard, of Mind, and co-chair of the DBC policy group, says:
“It is essential that every penny reaches the disabled people who are supposed to be accessing support and doesn’t get wasted on repetitive bureaucracy or avoidable appeals. It’s now more important than ever before that lessons are learnt and that the process is as fair and as transparent as it can be. The DWP must ensure all contractors meet high standards and that disabled people’s anxieties and fears of losing support are not heightened by procedural problems caused by any contractor.”