Increasing condemnation of the Work Capability Assessment

By Bernadette Meaden
March 25, 2013

In the House of Commons on 21 March 2013, Michael Meacher MP asked why the Work and Pensions Minister Mark Hoban had refused point blank to meet a delegation from the Spartacus network of sick and disabled people. The Minister had expressed this refusal in a bizarre confrontation which Mr Meacher described in his blog.

Replying on behalf of Mr Hoban, Esther McVey MP, Minister for Disabled People, said that Mr Hoban did not feel a dialogue would be constructive, 'because of the words used by Spartacus [in the People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment] in this regard:

“The WCA is a statement of political desperation. The process is reminiscent of the medical tribunals that returned shell shocked and badly wounded soldiers to duty in the first world war or the ‘KV-machine’, the medical commission the Nazis used in the second world war to play down wounds so that soldiers could be reclassified ‘fit for the Eastern front’.”

Because of that wording, my hon. Friend felt that there would not be a constructive dialogue.”

This statement was in fact taken from the foreword to the review, which had been written completely independently by Professor Peter Beresford OBE, BA Hons, PhD, AcSS, FRSA, DipWP who is Professor of Social Policy at Brunel University.

The Professor has now responded with this open letter.

25 March 2013

I am writing this open letter as I am seriously concerned about an inaccurate statement made in the House of Commons adjournment debate on 21 March 2013 by the DWP Minister in relation to the Work Capability Assessment and the People’s Review offering evidence on it, written by a member of the We are Spartacus network.

The Minister said she did not necessarily feel that a dialogue with the Spartacus network would be constructive because of the words used in the foreword to the People’s Review. There seems to have been a misunderstanding of the part I have played in relation to the report. Perhaps I can clarify this matter to ensure accuracy.

Neither I nor Brunel University played any part in the production, writing or dissemination of the People’s Review. As is generally the case with such forewords, I am entirely independent of the report and its author. While I am completely independent of Spartacus, I value the work they do under difficult circumstances and the important evidence they have brought into the public domain in this and other reports. The Minister quoted comments I made as if they are part of the report. However, it is made very clear in the report that these words are offered in a separate foreword that is quite clearly distinct from the body of the report and its evidence. I should also make clear that I stand by my comments both as a senior academic and as someone who has had their own long term experience as a mental health service user.

Sadly, the current welfare reforms, because of their deficiencies and crudity are, whether intentionally or otherwise, having a highly detrimental effect on the lives of many disabled people, undermining their rights and inhibiting their capacity to be full contributing citizens in our society.

This seems to extend to all groups of disabled people including, I am particularly shocked to say, from examples brought to my attention independent of the People’s Review, people with life-limiting and terminal conditions and people with the most significant and difficult impairments.

The Minister is rightly concerned to advance constructive dialogue. This has been my longstanding commitment too, and my and many disabled people’s worry is that there hasn’t yet been such adequate dialogue; this is now a concern augmented by the issue of a member of the Spartacus network apparently being excluded from such constructive dialogue with the Minister and her colleagues.

I would be happy to discuss this issue publicly with the Minister if she is prepared to do so in any helpful and appropriate way.

Professor Peter Beresford

One year ago the BMA called for the WCA to be scrapped ‘with immediate effect’ because it was causing harm to patients. In a recent meeting of the Work and Pensions Committee in the House of Commons, executives from the Work Programme, who have a vested interest in getting sick and disabled people back to work, complained about sending seriously ill people to prepare for work.

Richard Clifton of the Shaw Trust told of, "a customer referred to us who had to go onto dialysis three times a week. They were more concerned about that, obviously, and maintaining their benefit, than our helping them into work. It was not appropriate at that point that they should be in Work Programme."

Sean Williams from G4S spoke of "a client who was terminally ill with cancer referred to us whose life expectancy was shorter than the work-ready prognosis."

What is happening to this country, when the government can hound the dying and the desperate, with no general outcry?

It is good that people of the stature of Professor Beresford should speak up and condemn this process, which he rightly compares to the practices of the First World War, or the Nazi military machine. It belongs in the past, and should be consigned to history. It is incumbent on all of us to do what we can to see that this happens as soon as possible.

The WOW petition calls for an end to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the BMA. Please sign it, and perhaps spread the word by displaying a poster, which can be downloaded from


© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor.

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.