Sunday, 1 September 2013

Why ATOS assessments get it so badly wrong - Part 1

I've been back working on ESA appeals, representing appellants, for a few months again now.

In my previous post I looked at how ministers are very confused about what role ESA is supposed to have, and how this is causing some of the problems with it.

Now, in a series of posts, I'm going to look at the far more familiar problem of ATOS assessments being of very questionable quality in and of themselves, and will attempt to explain why I think this is the case.

Contrary to the popular view, I don't think that the explanation is that the government pays a bonus to find against claimants. Although this wouldn't necessarily surprise me, there are enough other problems that this additional factor isn't needed to explain what's going on. The present setup already makes sense without it.

Here's part one of why there are serious problems:-

1. Constant reassessment means errors are inevitable

When I was on ESA, I questioned the DWP's intention to reassess me after one year, as the condition I had was not ever likely to change and would always present the same barriers to work. The answer I received was that in effect I should be grateful, as most people are reassessed after three or six months.

In the previous post linked to above, I discussed why the government's explanation of why it thinks constant reassessment is good is flawed. ESA is supposed to support people with limitations towards work, so kicking them off it is clearly not conducive to providing that support.

The problem with constant reassessment is that it makes errors inevitable in the long term. If the error rate so that an ill claimant's ESA is wrongly stopped is 10%, then over the course of a  lifetime, a chronically ill person faces a probability approaching 100% of having their ESA stopped wrongly at some point. Having this happen even once is catastrophic for that person.

In practice the error rate is almost certainly higher than 10%.

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