The mainstream media is accused of ‘spinning’ the latest DWP travesty

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Steve Topple

On Tuesday 5 June, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced the extension of its contracts with its health assessors, Capita and Independent Assessment Services (formerly Atos Healthcare). The announcement prompted widespread anger over its rewarding of existing contractors’ less-than-satisfactory track record.

But tucked away in the same announcement was another worrying detail; one that campaigners accused the mainstream media of ‘spinning’.

A strong and “stable” DWP?

Sarah Newton, the minister of state for disabled people, health and work, made a written parliamentary statement on the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). In it, she said:

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It is vital for claimants that we continue to have a stable service. My department therefore, intends to explore options to extend the current contracts for approximately two years as this will better allow for a stable transition to any new provision.

This means that Capita and Independent Assessment Services (formerly Atos Healthcare) will now continue to run the contracts until July 2021. Newton also said that the DWP will be developing an “IT system” for PIP, which it will own.

Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Frank Field welcomed the DWP’s proposed IT system, saying:

Having the capacity to bring assessments back in house will put it in a far stronger position to turn the screws on its hitherto failing contractors…

But he didn’t mention a crucial detail: that, according to Newton, by having its own IT system the DWP:

will look to enable more providers to deliver PIP…

And as BBC News noted:

A [DWP] source said the re-tendering process for assessments would begin after the two-year period – in which other contractors may be successful.

Media coverage

Most of the media [paywall] coverage focused on Field’s statement, but failed to explore the fact that the DWP will still give the job of PIP assessments to private companies. It will just have its own IT system for them to use.

The DWP told The Canary that:

Once these contracts expire they will be open for re-tendering, both to Atos/Capita and others who want to bid.

So essentially, once the DWP’s existing contracts run out, both companies will be free to bid for them again, along with any other company that fancies its chances.

Disabled people: had enough

Campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) reacted angrily. Rick Burgess from DPAC told The Canary:

The spin put on this announcement (of giving failed and abusive companies another two years) has been about Frank Field trying to salvage his chairmanship of the Select Committee.

Nothing has been achieved. If you read Newton’s statement carefully (‘At the same time we will look to enable more providers to deliver PIP by developing a DWP owned IT system’), at best the DWP are looking to take more of a role in administering the assessment IT system, so other private contractors could more easily get the contract after 2021.

Changing the IT system will do nothing to improve the assessments or the qualifications of the assessors. Field has been taken in by the government’s fudge if he thinks this will lead to anything better for disabled claimants. The whole process must be scrapped, because neither Field or the DWP has accepted the system is defrauding people and harming them by design.

Much of the media quite rightly focused on existing contractors’ less-than-satisfactory track record. But it seems that the government thinks yet more outsourcing, potentially to even more companies, is the answer to the broken assessment system. It’s not. The DWP needs root and branch reorganisation, and quickly.

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Featured image via UK government – Wikimedia

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