We at Disability Cornwall are pleased the Labour party has called for an investigation into how Atos were awarded the government contract to perform disability assessments. Broadly, it is unacceptable that Atos were able to secure any contract which included using the names of disabled people’s user-led organisations (DPULOs), without, at the very least, first checking with those organisations. But, in our case, we were horrified to hear that our name was mentioned by Atos on their tendering documents. We were never asked by them and I only found out a week ago – via information given to us by the Disability News Service – that our name was even on there in the first place.
An organisation like Atos, a private company out to make money out of the benefits system, is almost entirely at odds with the work we do here at Disability Cornwall. We are a charity, set up to provide a range of free services for the disabled community to help preserve their right to an independent life. We offer information advice lines, publish magazines and provide services aimed at empowering the community – our work could not be more different to the work of Atos.
Many criticisms have been justifiably levelled at Atos and, broadly speaking, we support the views expressed by our fellow organisations named within the contract bid. For a private company to seek some validation of their bid, by using the name of DPULOs is insulting at best.
The Department for Work and Pensions have made it clear the successful Pip (personal independence payment) contracts assessment bids had “demonstrated strong evidence… of close working with disabled people’s representative groups”. If Atos were serious in the approach to their work in this area then they would have already been speaking to these disabled people’s representative groups during the preparation of their bid.
We acknowledge the fear many disabled people are currently experiencing while the government continues to review the benefits system. It really does feel like we are being the hardest hit at a time when disabled people are quite possibly the part of society most in need of support. Almost every day our advice line takes calls from people in states of increasing upset and distress, feeling as if they are mainly being made to carry the burden of our national debt, the worldwide economic downturn and the subsequent banking crisis.
Perhaps much of the savings the government needs to make could have been achieved by applying greater scrutiny to its tendering and commissioning processes and ensuring that none of them fail as has been seen in the past.
I look forward to the outcome of any government inquiry and to reading the latest Harrington report into the manner in which Atos work. There are clearly many questions to be answered. The government needs to ensure important contracts such as these, which can have a wide ranging impact on disabled people, are awarded to organisations whose bids do not contain misleading statements.
By Steve Paget for the Guardian