Atos announced that they want to terminate their contract with the government early. Apparently this is after months of talks trying to reconcile differences.
According to today’s mainstream media reports, Atos is pulling out of the contract after threats to staff. However, the story originates from one source, The Financial Times, and has just been copied by other news sources. The Financial Times is hardly the champion of the man-in-the-street, so we will remain sceptical about their ‘journalism’.
It also seems very convenient that this story has appeared after Atos were accused by the government of breaking corporate confidentiality by publically revealing that they were seeking early release from the contract. The government claim is that by releasing the information any future bids for the contract will be devalued.
The government had already lined up several firms to add capacity to the Work Capability Assessment later in the year. This could possibly be because Atos has been in negotiations with the government to end its contract early for several months.
Companies who are most likely to take over the Atos contract are G4S, Serco, A4E and Capita Group, who are all listed on the government’s existing “framework” group of preferred bidders for outsourced welfare work.
As far as the differences between Atos and the government are concerned we can only speculate. All of the statements by the government refer to the government being unhappy with Atos for not meeting ‘targets’, although we are unsure what those ‘targets’ include.
One of the targets seems to be the time people are waiting for their Work Capability Assessment appointments, which would be reason for the government to seek additional provision from other providers. It also means that decisions to disallow benefit applications would be made quicker, with the resulting cost savings to the welfare bill. The quicker people are rejected the quicker their benefit payments can be stopped.
One of the problems we face is that this is very much a situation of ‘he said she said’. We have the government making claims about Atos, and Atos making claims against the government, and no way of knowing which one is telling the truth.
What we do know is that the government, through Iain Duncan Smith and his happy band of fellow psychopaths at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), are seeking to persecute anyone on benefits in any way they can, as quickly as they can – especially those who are sick and disabled.
The DWP would have set out the procedures and criteria for conducting the Work Capability Assessments, and Atos would have been contracted to carry them out – acting as agents. So the government is responsible for the criteria by which a person is deemed fit for work or not.
On the other hand, the way the assessments are conducted on a practical day-to-day level is down to Atos. So if they are failing to use the right professional people to conduct thorough assessments, and that information is then passed to the DWP who make the final decision, then Atos is a very weak link in the chain.
Factor in that most staff on the front line of the DWP are completely demoralised and (perhaps) don’t give a damn anymore, only trying to hit the targets they have been set by the government, and we can see that the whole system is a total shambles and merely an exercise in statistics.
Perhaps the failure of the Work Capability Assessment system is not just down to Atos. Perhaps it is a combination of stresses on staff within the system on the front line who have been told to meet targets, regardless of the impact on the people being assessed.
The government decide criteria and policy, Atos implements those criteria and policies, the DWP makes decisions based on information from Atos in-line with those criteria and policies.
Although Atos has been constantly criticised (and rightly so), perhaps the way they have conducted the assessments is not entirely of their doing. The government have a habit of blaming anything or anyone but themselves for the failure of their policies.
Whichever company takes over the Work Capability Assessment contract it is highly unlikely to change in any significant way. It will be different faces doing the same thing, so if people are expecting the system to suddenly become fair and decent with a change of assessor then perhaps they need to think again.
In the end, the company conducting the assessments will do as they are told by government – and what will matter to them is the cash – and there will be a lot of it.
So the story started by the Financial Times and carried by other news providers, although credible, is probably not the whole story of why Atos wants to finish the contract. Perhaps their relationship with the government has become unworkable because of the constant changing demands of Duncan Smith et al as they march forward in persecuting the sick and disabled.
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