Mike Penning told the Commons Work and Pensions committee this morning that there are now over 700,000 people waiting for a work capability assessment (WCA) and blamed Atos for the backlog according to the BBC. Meanwhile, official figures released today show that the combined number of ESA and incapacity benefit claimants has begun a sustained rise for the first time in four years.
Following evidence to the committee earlier this week in which Atos claimed that they had delivered what they were asked to by the DWP, the government now alleges that Atos failed to provide the quality of reports needed as each tries to blame the other for the huge waiting list for ESA medicals.
What may prove most embarrassing for the DWP over coming months is the probability of a relentless rise in the number of claimants on ESA, a benefit whose purpose was to reduce the number of people claiming benefits as incapable of work.
As the graph on the right shows, after a sustained fall in numbers since August 2009, the combined total of ESA/IB claimants is now rising steadily, month by month. Although the figures from November onwards are estimates, it seems highly unlikely that the trend will reverse significantly before a new provider replaces Atos next year. Even then it is likely to take many months before any significant reduction is made in the backlog of medicals.
You can watch this morning’s meeting on parliament TV (if you can get it to work, which we couldn't)