Fit-To-Work Benefits Test 'Unfit For Purpose'
More than 150,000 people have raised serious concerns about fit-for-work tests administered by a private healthcare company on behalf of the Government.
Figures obtained exclusively by Sky News show the charity Citizens Advice has been inundated by huge numbers of complaints about assessments carried out by Atos.
It warns that genuinely disabled and seriously ill people are being stripped of benefits following inadequate tests.
Meanwhile, doctors are warning that the service is "unfit for purpose".
Gillian Guy, the chief executive of Citizens Advice, warned: "Atos is failing to do its job properly, failing to give taxpayers value for money and worst of all, failing thousands of sick and disabled people who bear the brunt of wrong assessments."
It comes as a woman recently widowed tells Sky News about how the decision that her husband was fit for work was not even overturned while he was dying from a rare and aggressive cancer.
Lyn Coupe's case was raised in Parliament this week by her local MP Dennis Skinner.
The 81-year-old Labour politician famed for his passionate performances in Parliament implored David Cameron to "abolish this cruel, heartless monster called Atos".
The Prime Minister admitted that every MP had heard similar stories in their own constituencies.
Mrs Coupe, from Calow near Chesterfield, said she felt compelled to speak out even while organising her husband David's funeral.
He was assessed as able to work late last year despite ulcerated legs, back pain that left him in agony, diabetes and heart problems.
Mrs Coupe said the couple were forced to sacrifice food and heating to deal with the cut in benefits.
"We didn't have any heating on in the winter like other people would have had. We sat with coats on or blankets. I would go to bed at about eight in the evening to try to get warm."
Food was also sacrificed and the couple never went out.
The Coupes tried to launch an appeal but were told they would have to wait at least 10 months because of a backlog of cases.
Once Mr Coupe was diagnosed with terminal cancer that would kill him within months, his wife contacted Atos again but still the appeal was not brought forward.
Mr Coupe told her he wanted to survive long enough to see the decision overturned - but it was not to be.
Citizens Advice have also found that GPs are charging up to £130 to provide medical evidence for use in appeals.
Letters from health authorities, seen by Sky News, warn their GPs are not resourced to provide the services.
One says it understands the Atos system is viewed as "unfit for purpose" and says patients often complain of this, but says doctors cannot help because they are under "huge and increasing" pressure each day.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: "The Government's fitness for work test is utterly broken."
He said most disabled people wanted to work but faced significant barriers such as a lack of skills, experience, confidence and even negative attitudes from employers.
"The Work Capability Assessment ignores all this. It's a tick-box test of someone's medical condition."
Atos said it did not set policy but was simply carrying out the tests in line with Government guidelines.
It warned the attack on the organisation was scaring those facing the tests and creating hostility for medical staff employed to carry out the assessments.
They said all their doctors and nurses were fully trained and registered with their relevant professional body.
A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said: "Our sympathy goes out to the family of Mr Coupe during what is obviously a very difficult time.
"A decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough assessment and after consideration of all the supporting medical evidence we are given.
"The previous Government appointed Atos. We have made significant improvements to the Work Capability Assessment and we are bringing on board additional providers to carry out assessments."