Official policy on disability work tests is to deny reality

By Simon Barrow
November 14, 2012

The former UK minister for employment Chris Grayling was adamant that he was "unreservedly and implacably opposed to a real world test" when it comes to assessing people with disabilities and serious illnesses in terms of their fitness for work and eligibility for benefits. That position remains unchanged.

Yes, you read that right. Actual reality is regarded as an incovenience or an irrelevance by the government, because its Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is not, it seems, designed to be a fair, evidence-based test rooted in actual life conditions. It is simply a mechanism to force as many people off support as possible, regardless of the consequences for them, their families or their communities.

A "real world test", in case you were wondering, is simply one that considers the impact of impairment on an individual’s ability to function in life and at work - rather than setting an arbitrary measurement which largely or wholly ignores such realities.

As Kaliya Franklin puts it in an excellent article entitled 'Disability tests are a stain on Britain's conscience' (published on Politics.Co.Uk on 13 November 2012):

Ability to function in a workplace, or even to travel there, is not relevant [to the current WCA]. What matters is whether a person can extend their limbs, lift an imaginary empty cardboard box or push their own wheelchair unaided for 50 metres. Real workplaces with real, accommodating employers are not a part of the process, very deliberately, as to do so would set the line of qualifying sickness or disability at a very different level. This is why the former minister for employment Chris Grayling was so adamant that he was "unreservedly and implacably opposed to a real world test". Should those real world factors such as ability to access transport be considered it would render many hundreds of thousands more eligible for a benefit [that is now deliberately] being cut in the name of austerity.

As Kaliya, a doughty campaigner, says - this is why it is so important that journalists, policy makers, politicians, civic bodies, faith groups, charities and as many members of the public as possible read "the powerful and compelling report, produced by the We Are Spartacus campaign group, [which] has been penned slowly over the course of a year by an extremely unwell and anonymous author too fearful of potential repercussions to reveal their true identity. The report bears witness to the indignity and suffering sick and disabled people are experiencing as they go through a work capability assessment process designed to be harsh and devoid from 'real world' factors relating to employment. The despair and confusion of the many voices in this report, some of whom knew that documenting their story was all they had to leave behind them, is a collective and powerful plea for their experiences to be heard above the mainstream shouts of scrounger."

As she concludes, "'The cost of disability benefit reform to the public purse and national conscience is immense."

Equally, it's about time those who draft, pass and implement legislation started to live in the real world, and to take the insights, concerns and experiences of disabled and sick people as central to determining each of these activities, rather than marginal and disposable.

The report concerned is 'The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment'. It is available here:

* 'Disability tests are a stain on Britain's conscience', by Kaliya Franklin.

* More from Ekklesia:


© Simon Barrow is co-director of Ekklesia.

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.