On Thursday the DWP announced that Atos is withdrawing from its contract to run Work Capability Assessments, the controversial assessment for people too sick or disabled to work.

Interestingly the DWP both claim that they sacked Atos (“We removed them. It’s not them walking away”) and that Atos paid them for leaving. Which to me sounds like Atos chose to leave, as I’d have thought that the one responsible for ending the contract early would be the one that pays the penalty fees.

Read more: Atos to leave WCA contract early

Today the government launched its most recent benefit fraud campaign. They’ve had these before and it’s unclear what effect they had. Did they result in more calls to the benefit fraud hotline? Does more calls mean more detection of fraud, or more unnecessary fraud investigations?

Read more: New Benefit Fraud campaign launched

Dear government,

Let’s stop talking about what you think happens in theory and start talking about what is happening in reality.
In reality, people are being told they can’t claim JSA after you have told them they can’t claim ESA.
In reality, other countries are looking at your handling of social security and using it as an example of what NOT to do.
In reality, women are asking for free sanitary towels from foodbanks. But perhaps this isn’t an expense it would be reasonable to expect middle to upper class men to have thought of.
In reality, foodbanks do not need publicity to increase their reach and operate on charity not business principles. They seek to meet need not create demand.
In reality, people are being abandoned by you, their government, to fester in destitution.
In reality, whether the people to blame for the crisis are rich Labour MPs or rich Tory MPs or rich bankers, the ones paying are the poor, and it is not their mistake to pay for.

Read more: Dear government: Let's talk about reality

The government has been carrying out a study of suitable descriptors to use for assessments for ESA. The results were supposed to be released in spring of this year, then summer, and then finally were released earlier this month.

The superficial results suggest that the current descriptors are better than the alternative descriptors tested in the EBR. But there are number of provisos that indicate that the current descriptors and assessment process are still very flawed. Atos assessors and members of the expert panels self-assessed as carrying out good assessments, but the data suggests poor information-gathering and decision making; the expert panels reported that the majority of those whom they considered ‘fit for work’ still faced potentially substantial barriers to work; and independent reviews of the ‘expert panel’ decision making by experts in relevant health conditions suggest that even the ‘experts’ on the panels were minimising the extent of people’s barriers to work.

Read more: Evidence Based Review shows up flaws of ESA

Disabled people and their organisations have long been worried that ESA is assessed to targets. This has been consistently denied by the DWP and Atos, as a requirement to keep within a certain limit is not a 'target' when it can be called a 'statistical norm.' But data released today shows what has been going on - and unsurprisingly, a badly managed norm is in practice a target.

We need an audit system to ensure that all assessors are capable of delivering accurate reports. But this would be done more appropriately by taking a random selection of reports from each assessor and checking them for accuracy. It would not be done by insisting that all assessors keep within 20% of a national average.

Read more: New evidence shows there are quotas for ESA awards

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