The care watchdog has been criticised for awarding a discredited outsourcing giant new contracts to manage the use of service-users as expert advisers in care homes and hospitals.
Two-thirds of the new contracts to run Experts by Experience – which pays people with experience of using care services to take part in Care Quality Commission (CQC) inspections – have been awarded to Remploy.
Remploy will recruit, support and manage the involvement of Experts by Experience in CQC’s north, south and London regions, while the contract for the central region has been handed to a consortium run by the charity Choice Support, which is one of five providers currently running the programme across the country.
Disability News Service has also learned that Remploy is offering disabled people who work as Experts by Experience under its contract about half the hourly rate they are currently earning under the programme.
Remploy, which will start delivering the Experts by Experience programme on 1 February 2016, was formerly controlled by the UK government but is now mostly owned by the US outsourcing company Maximus, which already has a huge chunk of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) contracts to provide employment support and assessment services for disabled people.
Since Maximus was awarded the DWP contract to take over provision of its controversial “fitness for work” tests from Atos, activists have repeatedly drawn attention to its troubling history in other countries.
The company has a lengthy record of discrimination, incompetence and alleged fraud in the US and has also been linked with allegations of exploitation and manipulation of government contracts within the Australian welfare-to-work industry.
The sheltered factories that Remploy previously ran have now all been sold off or shut down, so it currently focuses on its employment services division, which supports disabled people and those with complex barriers into work.
Professor Peter Beresford, co-chair of the service-user network Shaping Our Lives, said he was deeply concerned by the award of the contract to Remploy.
He said: “There was a time when the predecessor of the Care Quality Commission, the Commission for Social Care Inspection, was a national innovator when it came to involving service-users in its inspections and other activities.
“Its chief, Dame Denise Platt, was an enthusiastic pioneer of such involvement, taking it to new levels in a public body.
“Sadly it now looks as though the CQC, which made headlines for its appalling treatment of its mental health service-user board member Kay Sheldon, has hit a new low, in its efforts to recruit so-called ‘experts by experience’.
“Who have most effectively pioneered user involvement and developed some of the most exciting initiatives? User-led and disabled people’s organisations, of course.
“So has the CQC gone to them? No, of course it hasn’t. Instead it has gone mostly to Remploy which is now owned by Maximus, a DWP partner in ‘welfare reform’ with a heavily tarnished reputation.
“Effective involvement relies on the development of trust and the eradication of tokenism. Who will be betting on that happening with this problematic combo?”
A Remploy spokesman claimed that user-led organisations would deliver “the majority of the contract, supported by Remploy”.
He said: “Service-users are at the heart of the programme and will be involved continuously in the development and improvement of the programme.
“We are confident that we will be able to engage with sufficient numbers of Experts by Experience to successfully deliver the contract.
“Remploy is the prime contractor and although Maximus has a majority shareholding in the company it is not involved in the delivery of the contract.”
He added: “The level of payments to the experts will be set through the implementation of the contract, in discussion with user-led partners.”
But Beresford added: “Who are these user-led organisations Maximus is talking about? They certainly aren’t Remploy.
“Shaping Our Lives certainly hasn’t been contacted by Remploy – despite being a major national network of user-led organisations. There needs to be a lot more transparency about this development.”
CQC has so far not been able to respond to questions about the award of the contract to Maximus.