It seemed that little else could go wrong for Tory welfare reform. Reams of negative headlines, bad publicity, IDS seemingly as hapless and callous as ever regarding the effects of his policies on the sick and disabled and so on ad nauseum. Even ATOS, the original contractor hired to administer the hated Work Capability Assessments (WCA’s), suffered so much bad press that, with their share price beginning to suffer, they withdrew early from their contract with the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and were replaced by Maximus. This boded badly for claimants from the start. Maximus being part of UNUM, an American company that has attracted the interest of American law enforcement, many claimants were suspicious from the beginning. The report from the National Audit Office has proved us to have been right.
Well, it seems that just when things couldn’t get any worse for IDS with his disastrous mismanagement of Universal Credit and increasingly negative press over welfare policies, they have got worse. Very much worse. On January 8 the National Audit Office, the UK’s chief bean-counters reviewing Government policies and deciding whether they give taxpayers value for money, issued their report on the DWP’s delivery of value for money. Or to be exact their failure to deliver any.
The NAO report makes grim reading for anyone hoping that IDS’s brutal welfare policies would be in some way justified by the savings made. They haven’t been justified. Nor have savings seemingly been made. So, with that in mind, let’s take a look at the NAO’s report and see the highlights.
In 2014-2015 the projected spending on Work Capability Assessments was £275 million. For 2016-2017 projected estimates are £579 million, an increase of 65% since ATOS fled the field. An average cost of £115 per assessment is predicted to rise to £190 per assessment. The NAO also predicts that some £1.9 billion will be spent on delivering assessments. So, where’s the value for money?
The short answer is that there isn’t any unless you happen to have shares in the assessment providers. Not only does the NAO expect assessments to cost 65% more under the new contractors but, for 2014-2015, only 13% of the assessments made actually met the quality threshold expected under the terms of the contract according to the NAO. Yes, not only are they charging 65% more per assessment, they’re still only providing a small percentage of assessments conducted properly according to their contract with the DWP.
The NAO report also contains a litany of choice remarks about the DWP’s management of the assessment programme. According to the NAO the providers haven’t found it easy to meet the agreed performance targets for either ESA (Employment Support Allowance) or PIP (Personal Independence Payment). Unless, of course, you consider performing only 13% of assessments to the agreed standard as meeting a target. The NAO damns the DWP’s attempts to improve their management of the assessment programme with very faint praise, stating that:
“While the Department has more robust performance management, this does not address the fundamental challenge created by shortages of capacity and a desire to complete large numbers of assessments quickly and accurately.”
Anybody having the misfortune to undergo a Work Capability Assessment under ATOS (and seemingly under their successors) might well have cause to question the idea of WCA’s being performed quickly and accurately. Especially the latter. Stories abound of claimants accusing the assessors of peppering assessments with anything from misinterpreting a claimant’s health problems to inserting outright falsehoods into assessments. DWP decision makers then decide whether or not a claimant meets the qualifying criteria for either a new disability claim or to keep their existing benefits at all.