Labour vows to sack "disgraceful" firm responsible for fitness to work tests (From The Northern Echo)
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Labour vows to sack "disgraceful" firm responsible for fitness to work tests
LABOUR yesterday vowed to sack the French firm blamed for bungling fitness to work tests – branding it “a disgrace”.
Atos Healthcare was accused of wrongly finding sick people able to work, providing a poor service and inflicting huge delays, as the party’s conference got underway in Brighton.
And Liam Byrne, Labour’s work spokesman, said: “I say to David Cameron, Atos are a disgrace. You should sack them and sack them now.”
The call follows angry protests at the growing number of people on sickness benefits winning appeals after being found fit for work – and only after waiting many months.
Earlier this year, Atos was accused of having “blood on their hands” by Durham North MP Kevan Jones, who said: “People have taken their own lives because of this system.”
The region’s MPs revealed a series of worrying cases involving constituents, including:
* A 59-year-old with severe schizophrenia told to retrain as a security guard because that was the last job he carried out ten years ago
* A man with no legs who was told to undertake an 80-mile round trip for his work test
* A cancer victim judged fit for work before the results of an operation came through
* A 51-year-old woman judged fit for work who, because of a bowel disease, soils herself daily, requiring a change of clothes
* A woman judged fit for work despite Crohn's disease, leading to severe diarrhoea, incontinence and abdominal pain, who was told she could wear a nappy for work.
Last night, Mr Jones welcomed Mr Byrne’s announcement, but said: “Atos need to be sacked, but we also need a completely new system.
“This is not just Atos’s fault, but also the Government’s. People are being found fit for work, winning their appeals – and then being called back by Atos again.”
Mr Jones said the problems were as bad as ever, adding: “This is still the biggest issue in my constituency."
And Helen Goodman, the Bishop Auckland MP, said: “Sacking Atos is a very good start, because they have made their lives of some of my constituents an absolute misery.”
However, Atos has pointed out that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – not the firm itself - sets the guidelines for the work capability assessment (WCA).
And Mr Byrne did not say how Labour – which introduced the WCA and first employed Atos – would change the rules used to find people ‘fit for work’.
Instead, he highlighted a rising backlog of cases and a growing number of people being sent home without being assessed, causing “unnecessary frustration and stress”.
Mr Byrne also questioned the value for money of a £100m annual contract with Atos that is also running up a £20m bill for appeals.
Over three years, Atos will test about three-quarters of the 122,000 people in the North-East and North Yorkshire who claim incapacity benefit (IB).
The announcement was among a blizzard of pledges as the conference got underway, including pledges to:
* Make firms train a UK apprentice for every foreign worker they employ.
* Make apprenticeships tougher – after a report found 57 per cent of those introduced since 2010 were “low quality”.
* Offer ‘wraparound’ childcare for all primary school pupils from 8am to 6pm – which Labour insisted “won't cost any money”.
* Increase maximum fines for firms failing to pay the minimum wage from £5,000 to £50,000 – and explore a higher minimum in finance, IT and construction.
But the Conservatives insisted the apprentices plan was unravelling, because firms would be required to offer them across the EU, not just to the UK-born.
And they claimed Labour had already opened up a £28bn “black hole” of unfunded promises – despite promising “iron discipline” on spending.
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