So, after years of complaints that Atos was making poorly judged assessments of people’s fitness to work, it now seems they are to be stripped of their role in 2015. It is, of course, entirely fair that Atos be singled-out for blame in the long-running fiasco which resulted in the devastating withdrawal of benefits for some and forced inappropriate work upon others – leading variously to sickness, workplace deaths and even claimant suicides – because that’s what their job was: they were the designated scapegoats, behaving in a reprehensible and indefensible manner that was precisely prescribed to them by the Department for Work and Pensions, under the instruction of Iain Duncan Smith. After all, if that wasn’t the case then they’d have been stopped long before now, surely.
It increasingly appears that a large part of the premise behind out-sourcing is to give the government the defence of plausible deniability, allowing ministers to distance themselves from the consequences of decisions that they have made and actions which they have implemented. In exchange for shouldering the blame for ministerial evils and incompetencies, out-sourcing giants such as Atos, G4S, Serco, Capita and their ilk get paid millions of pounds of public money to deliver consistently sub-standard and/or controversial performances. Indeed, Atos is now attempting to negotiate an early release from its £500m contract because its staff have been receiving death threats.
Surely out-sourcing the work of state departments undermines the very basis of our democracy, since no-one is truly held to account any more. What we desperately need is a return to the days when our elected government actually took responsibility for the running of our country, rather than merely overseeing this delegation of duty: distributing tasks to anonymous corporations and then shrugging off the blame when things turn out badly (like Olympic security, asylum centres, prisons, young offenders’ institutions…)
Before long, this lack of accountability will have crept into our schools and our hospitals too. It’s time that we brought an end to the insidious culture of notmyfault.gov