London and Edinburgh, January 17, 2013: The UK government’s proposed changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which assesses claimants’ fitness to work, will have a "huge impact" on the way peoples’ illnesses are reviewed, experts have warned.
In a briefing published today, a professional disabled community made up of campaigners, academics and freelance researchers cautions that the government’s amendments would result in hundreds of thousands of vulnerable and sick people being found fit for work while losing vital financial support.
Sam Barnett-Cormack, co-author of the briefing, explained: “The government’s proposals, which have not been discussed by Parliament, will reduce entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), meaning that Work Capability Assessments will find even more genuinely sick and disabled people fit for work.
“These tests are already deeply flawed. Making a series of assumptions without fully understanding a person’s condition, failing to take into account all impairments and putting a spurious division between physical and mental health is going to have a huge impact for the person involved.”
The government’s proposals include:
* Withdrawal of benefit if an assessor believes that medication would reduce the risks posed by a claimant's condition, seemingly without regard for whether it would be appropriate in a work context.
* Withdrawal of benefit if an assessor believes that a reasonable adjustment could be made in a workplace to reduce the risks posed by a claimant's condition, without explicit assessment of whether that adjustment is likely to be available.
* The imaginary wheelchair test, where assessors considers the effect on a claimant’s mobility were they to use a wheelchair and bases their decisions on these assumptions, is to be extended to other aids and adaptions such as guide dogs, walking sticks and even prosthetic limbs, without discussing the prospect of such aids with the claimant.
* Dealing with the claimant's physical and mental health conditions separately, rather than looking at the combined effects that physical and mental health has on a person’s ability to work. This would include ignoring the mental and cognitive side effects of treatments for physical conditions, and the physical side effects of treatments for mental health conditions.
“I have grave concerns about this guidance for decision makers,” Dr Stephen Carty, Medical Advisor for disability activist group, Black Triangle Campaign, said. “For an unqualified decision maker to presume to have a role in chronic pain management, or for that matter in any other element of health care provision, represents an ill-formed leap of faith into the abyss of complex risk management.”
Tom Greatrex, Labour and Co-operative MP for Rutherglen and Hamilton West, added: “The effect of these government changes is deeply concerning. The fact that people can be assessed as fit for work on the basis of an imaginary guide dog, without taking any account of the availability of guide dogs and the time taken to train both dogs and users, highlights just how far the DWP seem to be prepared to go to find people fit for work without the support they need to make work a reality.”
Simon Barrow, director of the beliefs and values thinktank Ekklesia, which is co-publishing the briefing with its authors and project leader, said: “What the coalition is proposing in these ESA/WCA changes runs entirely contrary to its claims to be protecting and supporting sick and disabled people in a climate of austerity, cutbacks and hardship. Equally disturbing is the government's habit of introducing changes in ways that bypass proper debate, while ignoring the concerns and expertise of those most deeply impacted. Parliamentarians of all parties need to challenge these proposals and seek an independent, cumulative impact assessment of recent and impending welfare changes.”
NOTES TO EDITORS:
 The Briefing on Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 can be read and downloaded in full, and as an executive summary, here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/ESAbriefing
 Contacts for further comment: briefing co-author, Sam Barnett-Cormack (email@example.com); disability campaigner and project leader, Sue Marsh (firstname.lastname@example.org, tel: 07851 547217); PR executive, Annie Makoff (email@example.com)
 The government's Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012 can be found here: http://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2012/3096/made
 Founded in 2001/2, Ekklesia examines politics, values and beliefs in a changing world. More information here: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/about
 Ekklesia co-director Simon Barrow, T: 07850 120413, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org