The fitness for work assessments carried out by the UK company Dependability Ltd are not a cost-cutting exercise but a genuine attempt to restore people’s self worth, the island’s Treasury Minister has told the House of Keys.
Eddie Teare, whose department appointed the organisation on a three-year contract in 2014, was answering questions from Liberal Vannin Leader Kate Beecroft MHK, who wanted to know how much money had been saved by people being deemed capable of work, whether the assessors had specialist knowledge of drug and alcohol dependency, and whose opinion prevailed, if an assessor’s view differed from that of a claimant’s own GP.
‘This is not a cost saving exercise so no cost benefit analysis has been done,’ he said.
‘It is simply a question of whether or not they are capable of work and of helping them to get back to work. We have had positive feedback from the overwhelming majority of customers,’ he said.
Mrs Beecroft questioned why no figures were available, adding: ‘We are talking about the number of assessments carried out and the number of people found fit. Surely it is an easy calculation.’
Pressed for more information on the ‘overwhelmingly positive feedback’ Mr Teare told MHKs 97 per cent of people had assessed the professionalism of the process as ‘good’.
Onchan MHK Peter Karran accused Mr Teare of spin, adding if he could not provide figures he was ‘unfit to be a minister’. Douglas West MHK Chris Thomas suggested similar measures in the UK had saved the government there £8 million to £10 million.
But Mr Teare refused to provide any figures and thanked Mr Karran for his ‘vote of confidence’. He said of the assessments carried out so far, there had been 40 reviews and eight appeals against the decision made, half of which had been successful.
Speaking on assessors’ qualifications, Mr Teare said all had ‘a clinical background and medical knowledge of drug and alcohol dependency and were trained in the effects of drug and alcohol misuse’.
He added: ‘A person who has had drug and alcohol problems is not necessarily incapable of work and for many of them work will aid their recovery.’
Input from a person’s doctor as well as a range of other information from other agencies was considered before an assessor makes a recommendation to the social security adjudication officer, Mr Teare said.
‘If a GP says a person is not fit to work and the assessor says they are, who carries the responsibility?’ Mrs Beecroft asked.
‘The final responsibility rests with the department,’ Mr Teare said.