An Englishman of forty years residence in Wales pontificates about politics (slightly off-message), films and trivia. Secretary of Aberavon and Neath Liberal Democrats. Candidate for Neath in the Westminster elections of 1997 & 2017 and the Welsh general election of 2016.
The previous Labour Government’s 2005 contract awarded to Atos Healthcare has been a long term thorn in the side of the policy of fairly assessing people on Invalidity Benefit for transferring to Employment and Support Allowance. The contract has been dogged by decisions taken which have been overturned on appeal, and longer and longer queues as people wait for their assessments.
At the root of the problem was Labour’s decision to award the contract to a single supplier for the whole of Great Britain. Now, we know Labour loves monopolies and centralising power – and this contract was no exception. Vesting so much public money and effort in a single provider meant the present government had almost no room for manoeuvre when making adjustments or seeking changes to the contract.
It was no surprise to me that this single provider contract has failed. I live in Wales under a Labour government and centralising decisions is almost a watchword for all public services. This mantra has meant our health and education services lag far behind those in England.
So the first message I want to send to our coalition government is to ensure that any new replacement contract is split – so that the government can turn to an immediate alternative when performance falls. This contract utilises a huge number of healthcare professionals – doctors, occupational therapists, mental healthcare specialists and the like. With a common assessment test in place it is the quality of the provision which is at stake. And that needs people with the right qualifications.
This government has put in place a set of independent on-going reviews of the assessment test – the Work Capability Assessment – under both Professor Harrington and now Dr Litchfield. This has assisted government thinking on changes but much more can be done. What customers need now is certainty – certainty that their full conditions are taken into account, and certainty that the assessors are appropriately qualified. That’s my second message to our government. People deserve fairness and accuracy. This new contract, to be up and running next year, is a chance to put both of these in place.