New reports show harm to disabled and sick from 'fit for work' tests

By staff writers
December 9, 2013

Two new reports draw attention to the damaging impact of 'fit for work' assessments on many sick and disabled people, giving more evidence of the misery and hardship they experience, and providing further clues as to the underlying cause of the flawed process.

The People's review of the WCA: further evidence, produced by the Spartacus network of disabled researchers and campaigners, is published today, 9 December 2013. It is also being made available through the think-tank Ekklesia and other supportive NGOs.

How Norms Become Targets: Investigating the real reason for the misery of ‘fit for work’ assessments, by leading independent disability campaigner Kaliya Franklin, also part of the Spartacus network, was published on 2 December by the Centre for Welfare Reform.

Despite minor improvements in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), politicians, doctors, other medical professionals, church leaders, journalists, disabled people and thousands of others continue to express serious disquiet over its impact on sick and disabled people, critics say.

The assessment is used to determine eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which provides support for people who are unable to work for health reasons, but there remains little confidence in its operation.

The People's review of the WCA: further evidence has been written by an anonymous author determined, despite seriously failing health, to do everything she possibly can to raise awareness of the impact of the WCA on the lives of sick and disabled people.

Like the first People’s Review, published a year ago, this new report aims to give a voice to those whose lives have been devastated by the impact of the assessment on their physical and mental health and financial security.

It shows how the WCA very often fails in its purpose – to identify those who need secure financial support because they are unable to work due to an impairment or serious health condition.

The Centre for Welfare Reform paper includes whistle-blower evidence and analysis showing that – despite consistent denials by ministers – outcomes for sick and disabled ESA claimants are governed, to some extent at least, by a system of “norms”.

In practice these norms behave as quotas, ensuring that no more than a certain percentage of claimants are eligible for ESA. This cynical approach to assessing claimants for sickness benefits has its roots in Lord Freud’s report 'Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work', published in 2007, and provides a distressing explanation for the experiences described in the second People’s Review, says the Spartacus network.

In a news release, the group says: "It seems clear that without de facto quotas, explained in Kaliya Franklin’s report, it is much less likely that the process of being assessed for support would inflict so much suffering on so many people. Taken together, the reports add more detail to an emerging picture of the political manipulation at the heart of an assessment process that continues to cause sick and disabled people immense hardship and suffering a full five years after its introduction."

Simon Barrow, co-director of the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, says that the two reports illustrate the need for government to shift its approach and attitudes to welfare radically.

He commented: "The accumulating research evidence of the hugely damaging impact of 'fit for work' assessment processes on a significant number of disabled and sick people is not something a civilised government or society can ignore.

"We agree with the British Medical Association and other expert bodies and analysts that the Work Capability Assessment is not fit for purpose. Further serious questions are also being raised about intentions and actions of the Department of Work and Pensions.

"The publication of new evidence about the impact of WCA from the Spartacus network of disabled researchers and campaigners illustrates the crucial need for policy in this area to be formulated with the substantial involvement of those most directly affected.

"The case for an independent, cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform in the UK, together with a new deal for disabled and sick people based on their needs and aspirations, is now overwhelming.

"Ekklesia is delighted that this proposal will now be discussed in parliament, following huge public support for the WOW petition, and urges that this should take place in the parliamentary chamber itself, not in a Westminster annex."

* People's review of the WCA: further evidence -

* Spartacus network -

* ATOS and DWP stand accused over flawed 'fit for work' assessments -

* Centre for Welfare Reform -

* Urgent action: letter to MPs asking parliament to listen to disabled and sick people -


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.