Commons inquiry comes to Newcastle to ask residents about Atos

MPs are asking residents to meet them at St James' Park to talk about their experiences claiming disability or sickness benefits

Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery
Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery

An influential Commons committee is asking Newcastle residents for first-hand accounts of a controversial testing regime for people claiming disability benefits.

MPs are asking residents to meet them at Newcastle United Football Club on Tuesday, May 13, to discuss the Work Capability Assessments carried out by Atos.

The event has been organised by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, a cross-party group of backbench MPs from across the country which scrutinises the work of the Government.

They are holding an inquiry in to Employment and Support Allowance, the new allowance which has replaced incapacity benefit, and the Work Capability Assessment, a test which claimants are forced to undergo to see if they are able to work.

The Committee would usually meet at Westminster and hear evidence from senior figures ranging from Government Ministers to charity managers.

But they have taken the unusual step of asking any member of the public with experience of applying for the benefits or going through the assessment to meet them in Newcastle.

The Work Capability Assessment has been the subject of bitter criticism. Speaking in the House of Commons earlier this year, Wansbeck MP Ian Lavery said: “The attack on the disabled and the vulnerable is relentless.”

Anger has focused on the role of Atos Healthcare, the firm contracted to carry out the tests. Critics claim Atos gets decisions wrong and declares people fit for work when they have a disability or serious illness which makes finding a job impossible.

Committee chair Dame Anne Begg, said: “Committee Members, not least in our role as constituency MPs, have heard many concerns about Employment and Support Allowance and about the Work Capability Assessment in particular.

“We are therefore keen to get out of Westminster and find out how the system is working on the ground.

“We want to hear from people who have experience of making a new claim for Employment and Support Allowance or who have been through the incapacity benefit reassessment process.

“Their observations on how the system is working and, crucially, suggestions for how it can be improved, will help inform our ongoing inquiry.”

The meeting will take place in the Moncur Suite, St. James’ Park, between 10.30am and 12.30pm on May 13.

Anybody with experience of applying for Employment and Support Allowance or going through a Work Capability Assessment is invited to speak to the MPs.

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