MPs criticise Atos' role in assessing ill and disabled for work

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Thousands of sick or disabled people have died after being assessed to find out whether they were fit to work, according to a former Labour minister.

Michael Meacher opened a backbench business debate on the Atos Work Capability Assessments, on 17 January 2013.

Atos is the firm contracted to conduct work capability assessment (WCA) tests for the government.

Mr Meacher accused the firm of "ruthlessly" pressurising the sick and disabled into work.

He said 1,300 people had died after being placed in the "work-related activity group", for those currently too ill to be in a job but expected to take steps towards an eventual return to employment.

Some 2,200 died before the assessment process was completed and 7,100 died after being placed in the group for those entitled to unconditional support as they are too ill or disabled to work, Mr Meacher told MPs.

"Atos is an IT firm and uses a so-called logic integrated medical assessment, often described as rigid and tick-box because computer-based systems make it very difficult for health professionals to exercise their professional judgment."

Conservative Robert Halfon also criticised Atos, saying: "As a major contractor, they have repeatedly failed to inspire confidence and they need shaking up."

Labour's Kevan Jones went as far as to say the government had "blood on their hands" as a result of the reported suicides of claimants who were found fit to work by Atos.

He said: "There are... a number of well-publicised cases where people have taken their own lives because of this system. It is not too strong to say that this coalition government has blood on their hands for the deaths of those individuals."

Responding to the debate, Work and Pensions Minister Mark Hoban said that he agreed with Michael Meacher's words, when serving as a minister, that for too long, too many long term sick and disabled people has been "written off" by the welfare system to a life of dependency.

But Mr Hoban acknowledged there was a need to improve the system and added the government have implemented recommendations from Professor Harrington.

"The system we inherited needed refinement. That's why we accepted and have largely implemented 40 recommendations made by him over the course of the last two years."

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