FRENCH INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY COMPANY Atos will stop conducting so-called "fit for work" assessments it has been providing for the UK government.
Widely criticised for its 'by the numbers' treatment of claimants, it announced on Thursday that it will withdraw from its Work Capability Assessment contract early and return unearned monies to the UK Treasury.
Both sides claimed to have sought the contract withdrawal, with ATOS maintaining that it has been "endeavouring to agree an early exit" for some time.
The wisdom of employing a company that managed the lives of sick and disabled people through a computer infrastructure was criticised across the board, with Scope chief Richard Hawkes telling the BBC, "I doubt there's a single disabled person who'll be sorry to hear that Atos will no longer be running the fit-for-work tests."
Although Atos used trained doctors to carry out its assessments, they were bound by a computer system that offered them only yes and no answers to questions, with no room for medical judgement, grey areas or benefit of the doubt.
This led to Atos declaring people fit for work and denying benefits when they clearly were not fit for work. Recently a woman was told to find a job in spite of being in a coma.
Atos is an IT partner of the Olympic and Paralympic events, which caused many paralympians to hide their Atos branded lanyards during the London 2012 opening ceremony, though they denied this was an organised protest.
At present, Atos will continue to provide "fit for work" assessments in Northern Ireland under a separate contract. It also holds the contract to assess people for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefit, which is being rolled out as a replacement for Disability Living Allowance (DLA).
Not only will this once again leave matters of human judgement, fairness and compassion in the hands of machines, it will force sick people into DWP offices after the DWP confirmed that it has no plans to upgrade its online systems to work beyond Windows XP. µ