Richard Lochhead

Moray SNP News



Member of the Westminster Parliament for Moray Angus Robertson has pointed to the recently published “Contracted-out health and disability assessments” study from the National Audit Office which shows that cost of the new fit for work tests introduced by the DWP are actually costing the taxpayer more than they save.

While some delays in testing have been improved the overall costs of the tests have increased dramatically with ongoing issues over the quality of the tests which remain unresolved.

SNP MPs have long criticised the tests which have frequently taken months, leaving people without support at a time in their life when they need it most. The poor quality of the tests has resulted in a very large number of successful appeals where people have been incorrectly refused support on the basis of a wrong test conclusion.

Speaking on the findings of the study Angus Robertson commented:

“I regularly deal with new cases for constituents in Moray who are having serious difficulties getting welfare support at crisis points in their life, whether through unemployment or through significant health problems preventing them from working.

“One of the biggest issues has been DWP medical testing with both huge delays and a large number of people who have had their health assessed incorrectly. In the case of incorrect health assessments this has left people having to appeal for welfare support that they urgently need and which they are entitled to receive. The testing regime is highly damaging and completely irrational.

“It was clear from the start that the draconian changes being introduced by Ian Duncan Smith at the DWP were both ill-advised and extremely harmful to some of the most vulnerable in our society. However we now know from this new National Audit Office report that the changes are also economically nonsensical. £1.6bn is projected to be spent on private contractors to carry out these tests alone, while the forecast from the Westminster Government’s own financial watchdog suggests that savings in benefit payments are likely to be even less than expected.”

“The report also found that the cost of carrying out each ESA test had risen from £115 to £190 after Atos pulled out of its contract to run the tests, that some benefit claimants are still waiting for more than six months without full payments before they are assessed and perhaps worst of all that all of the companies carrying out the tests are still failing to meet the Government’s own quality assessment threshold.

“Poor quality tests will undoubtedly mean that people with perfectly reasonable claims at really difficult times in their lives will be incorrectly assessed, leaving some claimants without welfare support and putting continued pressure on the appeals system and the mean charities and organisations that find themselves having to step in with advice and support.

“Due to the unrealistic targets set by ministers there is currently a backlog of at least 280,000 new claims.  This number is unlikely to change significantly as only 37,000 face-to-face assessments are being carried out each month as opposed to the target of 57,000.

“Only half of all doctors and nurses who were hired to carry out the assessments completed their training against a target of 95% and average staffing costs climbed from £26,000 in 2014 to £44,000 in 2015.

“The SNP has long argued that the Tories plans to dismantle large sections of the welfare state are hugely damaging and hit the poorest in society the hardest. This latest report confirms our severe concerns over so-called welfare reform and it’s deeply damaging impact on society. We will continue to argue the corner of those who are in need of support.”

The report and summary can be found here : https://www.nao.org.uk/report/contracted-out-health-and-disability-assessments/