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As the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions insists that all is well at the DWP, Universal Credit is on track, and attitudes towards disabled people have improved, an independent report this week delivered a damning verdict on how the DWP itself treats sick and disabled people.
‘Assessing the Assessors’ published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, (CWR) drew on the experiences of 884 people who had been through a Work Capability Assessment. They described how they had been treated through the assessment process and what impact it had on their lives.
Ninety-five per cent found the assessment damaged their health, 29 per cent severely; 95 per cent gave the assessment a mark of five out 10 or less and 43 per cent gave it the lowest possible mark. For 80 per cent of the time, the respondent felt the assessor did not listen to them.
Even more disturbing are the personal comments: "The process was terrifying, humiliating and degrading..." "Tragically, my friend has committed suicide since losing her appeal." "It was the second worst experience of my life after my severe accident."
Dr Simon Duffy, Director of the CWR, who analysed the data, wrote: "The report reveals a culture of contempt for disabled people within the DWP itself. Instead of trusting disabled people or their doctors to judge readiness for work, the DWP has replaced common sense with an expensive and painful bureaucratic process. What is more this 'assessment' serves only to divide disabled people into meaningless groups who are then subject to further disrespectful treatment. Instead of paying attention to research on when and how people can actually find work, its policies seem based on prejudice and discrimination."
The report was published to coincide with the launch of New Approach, an alternative system devised by disabled people with the help of Nick Dilworth, a welfare benefit specialist, who says, "It is abundantly clear to me that the WCA is broken and beyond repair…. I’ve seen enough of the WCA and the people it torments to realise that the only solution is to work towards persuading those in positions of power to fully understand the disastrous implications of getting this so horribly wrong."
With 4.1 million assessments carried out, at enormous cost to the taxpayer and a huge negative impact on sick and disabled people, the numbers receiving Employment Support Allowance have barely changed. An enormous financial and human cost, with no economic benefit to the taxpayer. No army of fakers and scroungers exposed. The whole thing has been an enormous and very damaging waste of time and money.
The proposed NewApproach, ‘social protection – not exclusion’ is based on trusting people’s doctors, believing them when they say someone is unfit to work, and excluding from assessment those people with serious conditions for whom an assessment would be an unnecessary ordeal.
For those who are assessed, the emphasis would be on understanding their barriers to work, and supporting them in the most appropriate way. It would be the opposite of the punitive and crass approach of the current system. And it would save money.
© 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. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeadenTweet