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Benefit test firm under attack by Scots minister

Jul 30, 2013
Benefit test firm under attack by Scots minister

Housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess has written to the French multinational outlining concerns

Housing and welfare minister Margaret Burgess has written to the French multinational outlining concerns arising from a number of recent high-profile cases, including one where a mother-of-three died after being told to find work.


Ms Burgess has also written to UK welfare minister Iain Duncan Smith calling on the Coalition and Atos to ensure there is no repeat of welfare reform controversies.


However, the minister also said Atos operated without controversy in many areas, while the Scottish Government moved to distance itself from the sponsorship role the firm has with the 2014 Commonwealth Games.


The intervention follows a wave of criticisms directed at the Coalition's welfare reform programme and Atos and days after a UK Government review admitted reports by the firm's assessors were of poor quality.


This week it emerged Elenore Tatton, 39, was told by Atos to begin the process to find a job despite never having worked due to suffering a brain tumour when she was 15. She died after a scan showed the tumour had returned.


Archbishop of Glasgow Philip Tartaglia has singled out Atos, speaking of terminally-ill individuals being summoned to back-to-work checks, people having benefits stopped while seriously ill and raising the role of Atos as a Glasgow 2014 sponsor.


Ms Burgess said: 'There is mounting concern regarding both the policy and administration of work capability assessments. It is clear they have caused many individuals and families across Scotland undue stress and hardship.


'I have today written to- Iain Duncan Smith and directly to Atos highlighting these concerns and urging them both to do all they can to ensure these worrying instances are never repeated.


'However, Atos is a big company and substantial employer in Scotland and many other areas of its activity operate without controversy.'


The Scottish Government also said that while it was 'proud to be the largest funders of the Commonwealth Games' it was the organising committee who 'are responsible for securing sponsorship'.


A source said: 'The dilemma in some ways is that Atos is a big employer, does good work and is providing services to the Games no-one else really can. But with these work assessments its a totally different ball game.'


A spokesman for campaigners Glasgow Against Atos welcomed the move and accused the firm of 'humiliating thousands of chronically sick, dying and disbaled people', but accused the 2014 Games organisers of being sponsored by a 'toxic brand'.


An Atos spokesman said: 'Atos has invested heavily and continues to invest in jobs and development in Scotland employing 1500 people in Aberdeen, Dundee, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Inverness, Linwood, Livingston and at our recently opened Development and Innovation Centre in Moray.


'We are proud of what our -business technologists deliver for all our clients in Scotland across a wide range of business sectors and to be an official supporter of the Glasgow 2014 Organising Committee providing Games Management Systems and Games Information Systems.'


A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: 'A -decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence provided by the claimant.


'Since 2010 we have -considerably improved the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process. The percentage of people -entitled to Employment and Support Allowance is now at its highest level, with over half of people completing a WCA eligible. However, everyone has the right to appeal a decision if they disagree with it.'


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