Time to give Work Capability Assessments the boot?

9 April 2014

Rosanna Singlerby Rosanna Singler

Today the Spartacus Network kickstarted a long overdue debate about the way unemployed disabled people are supported in this country. Based on over 1,200 responses from disabled people, Beyond the Barriers (PDF) gives a hearbreaking picture of what happens when the benefits system can’t work out who is too sick to work, or what support to give people who could work.

We must remember that 1 in 6 of us has a disability, and that sickness or disability could affect any of us at any time. Part of living in a compassionate society is knowing that we will get the support we need to live if sickness or disability means we can’t work, and the right help to get us back to work if we can.

Currently, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) test fails on both counts. With 4 in 10 people successfully appealing assessments that they are fit to work, it is clear something is seriously wrong with the system and that it needs to be fixed.

The report is right to say that benefits assessors should use information and evidence from professionals with experience of working with disabled people, as well as from people close to those being assessed, to reach their decision. Too often, the advice of GPs and social workers is ignored, leading to thousands of disabled people being found wrongly fit for work.

The WCA assessment process is simply not fit for purpose. Disabled people who find it hard to travel are put through unfair tests over and over again, sometimes as often as every three months, and we hear from people every day that it feels like they are ‘guilty’ (and labelled scroungers), until proven ‘innocent’ (that is, genuinely not fit for work).

People with progressive illnesses like multiple sclerosis or Parkinson’s, for example, are needlessly asked to go for follow-up reassessments, when their condition is only going to get worse. The report recommends time limits on how soon a person can be reassessed — a recommendation we know disabled people across the country will welcome.

But it’s not just people who are too sick to work who are being failed. People who could work, with the right support, aren’t getting it. The report suggests giving disabled people more control and choice in their back to work support. Often disabled people will have a much better idea of what help they need to work, more than someone without any expertise in disability who has only met them a few times.

It is time to make these changes. We have known for too long that the WCA test doesn’t work. And we have wasted too much time trying ‘one size fits all’ work support that doesn’t take account of people’s skills and needs. The government needs to listen to disabled people about the support they need. It is long past time to reform the WCA and the work support people get.

Follow Beyond the Barriers on Twitter. The account will have news, updates and links throughout the day, so do keep an eye on it as a central info source. Join the conversation with the hashtag #BeyondBarriers.

Rosanna Singler is Leonard Cheshire Disability’s policy officer.

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