Lib Dem MPs have called for a ban on private companies carrying out benefit eligibility tests on behalf of the government.
The party’s work and pensions spokesman Stephen Lloyd - who has a disability - has called for an immediate end to private sector involvement in tests for sick and disabled people, which he says have “undermined the principles of the welfare state established by Liberal reformer Sir William Beveridge”.
Despite receiving contracts for personal independence payment (PIP) tests and work capability assessments (WCA) worth hundreds of millions of pounds from the DWP, the Lib Dems say large multinationals including Atos, Capita and Maximus have consistently failed to meet government standards.
“Just over 70 years ago, the great Liberal reformer William Beveridge set out the foundational principles of our modern welfare state,” Eastbourne MP Lloyd told HuffPost UK.
“He called for a social contract between citizen and state, and a minimum standard below which no individual should ever fall.
“Today these principles are under threat from the privatisation of benefit tests, which continue to cause immeasurable suffering. While I am a strong believer in the benefits of a market economy, the profit motive has absolutely no place in determining the safety net for the most vulnerable.”
The companies have been accused of subjecting claimants to “dehumanising and humiliating” procedures, failing in many cases to accurately determine eligibility, and inappropriately cutting costs by not hiring qualified medical professionals.
Lloyd, who is partially deaf after contracting measles as a child, wants assessments to be brought in-house and any future private sector involvement banned, with a more “humane” system devolved to local councils.
He added: “Enough is enough. Private firms should play no further role in deciding whether sick and disabled people are eligible for benefits.
“Both the Work Capability Assessment and PIP tests should be brought in house immediately, with a ban on further private sector involvement.
“The Liberal Democrats would go further by scrapping the WCA all together and replacing it with a more humane system devolved to local authorities. This would ensure that people – not profit – form the basis of our safety net.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said all benefit eligibility decisions are ultimately made by department staff, based on reports provided by assessors.
A spokesperson said: “We expect the highest standards from assessment providers. The latest official research shows that 83% of Employment Support Allowance claimants and 76% of PIP claimants are satisfied with their overall experience and we continue to work closely with our providers to identify areas for improvement.”