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We were 'vilified' says Atos, as fitness-for-work firm quits

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We were 'vilified' says Atos, as fitness-for-work firm quits

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Health and also in Central Government, Communities

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Atos, the company the government hired to assess benefit claimants’ capability for work, has said its staff have been "vilified" for carrying out ministers' orders.

The French firm is quitting its contract, which was due to run until August 2015, by mutual consent with the government in the wake of widespread criticism of its performance.

Now Atos has warned any firm that takes up the reins after its departure that they will struggle unless procedures are improved.

Questioned by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Lisa Coleman, Atos' senior vice president, admitted that the company had got things wrong, and also confessed that a lack of profit was one the reasons driving its decision to pull out of the contract.

However, she also claimed that the firm had become a "lighting rod" for public fury over controversial fitness-for-work decisions.

Ms Coleman said: "We often find that when somebody makes a comment that Atos has done an assessment incorrectly, actually, against the policy, what has happened has been right,.

"It is very difficult to understand that somebody with a very challenging or quite a difficult condition doesn't go through the process as you might expect."

According to Atos' head of communications and customer relations, Helen Hall, more than 24% of the company's assessors had quit their jobs because of the abuse they had experienced.

There have been complaints that Atos has passed people with motor neurone disease, serious heart conditions and even someone with a broken back fit for work.

In November 2012, a bereaved 13-year-old wrote a letter to a newspaper, blaming Atos for his father's death.

Brian McArdle was blind in one eye, unable to speak and paralysed down his left side after a stroke - yet Atos assessed him as capable of working.

As a result, the Department for Work and Pensions ended his disability allowance.

Mr McArdle died of a heart attack the day his benefits were stopped.

And last October, Islington Council's executive hit the French firm with a vote of no confidence because of significant concerns over its performance.

According to the government, almost a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work.

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