Groundbreaking research aims to displace flawed sickness benefit test

LONDON & EDINBURGH, September 25th, 2015: The independent researcher, Stef Benstead, and the beliefs and values think-tank Ekklesia, have today announced the start of a research project aimed at developing an alternative to the failed Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The project is based on the premise that the WCA is beyond fixing and needs to be abolished. The research will develop a new system, designing a ‘real world test’ driven by the views of sick and disabled people. It employs crowdsourcing techniques to draw on the widest range of expertise.

The research will begin with a survey designed for people with long-term illness to contribute their views on what affects their ability to find and keep work, what support they need and what a proper assessment process should look like.

The survey results will then be analysed and turned into a report presenting an alternative to Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), based on the views of users provided by the survey.

This innovative project follows a series of earlier research reports produced by disabled people and published by Ekklesia, including ‘Responsible Reform’ (2012) and ‘Beyond the Barriers’ (2014).

It comes at a time when a recent coroner’s verdict found the work capability assessment directly responsible for a claimant’s suicide, stressing the urgent need to abandon the current system.

Virginia Moffatt, Ekklesia’s Chief Operating Officer, commented: “Ekklesia is delighted to be working with Stef Benstead again as she undertakes this life-changing research.

“Earlier this year, we published correspondence between leading Catholics and Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, highlighting serious problems with the government’s approach to welfare issues.

“The Minister has yet to take us up on our offer of a meeting to discuss alternative approaches. We believe this project provides an ideal opportunity for him to engage with sick and disabled people who are calling for an end to the failed Work Capability Assessment. We hope he will now accept our invitation to meet.”

NOTES FOR EDITORS

1. Founded in 2002, Ekklesia is a think-tank examining beliefs, values and religion in politics and public life (www.ekklesia.co.uk).
2. Creating a future beyond the Work Capability Assessment (WCA): http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/esawcasurvey We are grateful to the Passionists General Fund for supporting this initiative.
3. The survey consists of thirty questions, mostly multiple choice. It can be accessed directly at: http://tinyurl.com/wcasurvey
4. Correspondence with Iain Duncan Smith: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21928 and http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21932
5. Stef Benstead has been working on issues relating to disability and social security for over four years, since she first became ill herself. Prior to becoming ill, she was at university studying for a PhD but was unable to sustain this programme due to her condition. Most of her research work in the last four years has centred on ESA and the WCA, investigating the multiple flaws in the WCA and examining how other countries assess incapacity benefits.
More on disability issues locally and globally from Ekklesia: http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/disability
7. For further details and comment, contact: Virginia Moffatt: 07729 380471; Simon Barrow 07850 120413