CAMPAIGNERS across Bolton have welcomed news that Atos, the company tasked with carrying out fit for work assessments by the government, has pulled out of its contract a year early.
The company had agreed a £500 million deal with the Department for Work and Pensions to assess sick and disabled people’s capability to work until August, 2015.
But it has now been announced it will not complete it, due to thousands of complaints about an ‘inhumane’ handling of cases, and evidence that hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people had been wrongly judged as fit to work.
The Bolton branch of Unison and Bolton Against the Bedroom Tax organised a demonstration against Atos back in February outside its offices just off Great Moor Street, calling for the contract to be terminated.
Julie Hilling, MP for Bolton West, spoke at the rally and said she was delighted to hear Atos is no longer be handling to work capability assessments, as they had “completely lost the trust” of disabled people.
She added: “Atos was previously a well respected company for its IT systems but that reputation is in tatters.
“However, the removal of Atos does not solve the problem. The whole system of work capability assessments needs to be radically reformed.
“No-one disagrees with the principle that everyone who is able to work should be assisted into work, but a system that finds people who are terminally ill or who have been medically retired fit for work and that ignores reports from GPs and consultants is not fit for purpose and should be radically overhauled.”
The Bolton News reported last year how Daubhill resident Mark Evans was declared fit to work by Atos — despite the fact he could not walk and struggles to talk after a tumour left him brain-damaged.
Linda Charnock, chairman of Bolton Against Bedroom Tax, said many people affected by the under-occupancy penalty had lost out because of Atos’ assessments.
She added: “It’s good news that the contract has ended early, but for the people already affected will it change anything for them?
“The new company that takes over the contract needs to look properly at people’s medical history, have a proper qualified doctor to assess people and do home assessments.
Chief executive of Atos, Ursula Morgenstern, said: "We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the Government to allow us to exit this contract early and we remain committed to delivering essential services to the UK Government as a strategic supplier.
"Our team will work hard to support transition to a new provider and we believe that we have reached a settlement that is in the best interests of all parties.”