Work Capability Assessment not fit for purpose, says new report

By staff writers
12 Nov 2012

A damning new report published today, 12 November 2012, shows that the government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) systems are not fit for purpose.

The coalition government's provisions are supposed to support people who are too sick or disabled to work, but the 70-page independent People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment (http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-peoples-review/) warns that disabled people are at risk because of the government’s refusal to consider a ‘real world’ test of actual barriers to employment.

The new report has been researched and written entirely by disabled people through the network that evolved from the headline-hitting Spartacus Report in January, now called We Are Spartacus and named after the famous slave revolt. That document focused on the flawed demise of Disability Living Allowance, and was followed by a comprehensive examination of 'The Hidden Economic Costs of Welfare Reform' in June 2012.

The People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment comes ahead of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third and final official review of the WCA, and includes harrowing examples of people who have wrongly been told they are fit for work, including someone with no short term memory mechanism, a man with a terminal brain tumour, and an incontinent disabled man who is both blind and deaf.

Other examples of claimants’ experiences cited in the report include a man whose benefits were stopped for failing to return the necessary forms, despite his wife confirming with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that he was in a coma; and a man who died 48 hours after filling in his questionnaire. After informing everyone of his death his wife received a call three months later asking him to come in for his assessment.

These examples cannot be discounted as exceptional, say campaigners. Overall the report highlights the stories and experiences of more than 70 people who have been inappropriately assessed, forced to go to tribunal, felt humiliated or treated inappropriately.

Professor Harrington steps down as advisor to the DWP this month. His resignation was announced in July this year, just days after the broadcast of two widely-publicised 'Panorama' and 'Dispatches' television documentaries exposing the reality of claimants’ experience of the assessment process.

The People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment also highlights serious concerns about the numbers of people who have died after being told by the DWP they were ‘fit for work’, or have taken their own lives in circumstances where applying for ESA and going through the WCA appear to be factors in their deaths.

Professor Peter Beresford OBE, professor of social policy at Brunel University and chair of Shaping Our Lives, a national network of service users and disabled people, said today: “The work capability assessment is unreliable and unhelpful, as well as being arbitrary and cruel."

He continued: "No-one – not the doctors who make the assessment decisions, nor Atos which has responsibility for providing assessments, nor the Department of Work and Pensions which commissioned them – takes responsibility for the problems and failures in the system. It is a perfect storm of irresponsibility and unaccountability.”

The new report, published by the We Are Spartacus network, and backed by a range of allies, includes an analysis of the position of a number of professional and regulatory organisations on the WCA – including the British Medical Association, the Royal College of Nursing, the General Medical Council, the National Audit Office and the Citizens Advice Bureau.

It also outlines government statements and background information on Atos, the controversial company employed to carry out the assessments.

"These issues are a matter of survival for people living with illness and disability," said a spokesperson. "It is unacceptable that in 21st century Britain vulnerable people are being treated so appallingly."

"We hope The People’s Review will spur the Government into prompt and concrete action on the failures of the WCA. Radical change is needed, and it is needed now.

"While there has been some acknowledgement of the problems following Professor Harrington's previous Reviews, our evidence from those at the sharp end of the process, including the high rate of successful appeals and the huge backlog of unheard appeals, shows the whole system is still failing badly.

"The cost to the taxpayer is enormous and the cost to those going through it goes way beyond money. In the meantime, sick and disabled people continue to be severely affected by what they’ve experienced, and terrified of what the future holds."

Supporters of the People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment are being urged to make it known and available through social media, including Twitter, using the hashtags #realWCA, #spartacus and #wearespartacus

* The new report can be read and downloaded from: http://wearespartacus.org.uk/wca-report/

[Ekk/3]

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