What's the real story on the WCA?

14 May 2014

Rosanna Singlerby Rosanna Singler

Today Professor Malcolm Harrington will be taking questions from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, a group of MPs who scrutinise the Department for Work and Pensions. Disability campaigners are on tenterhooks waiting to see what he is going to say.

Professor Harrington is an occupational health specialist who was asked by the government to independently review the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). That's the test the goverment uses to see if people are fit enough to work. In December 2013, Professor Harrington said that he warned the government not to go ahead with a roll out of the test as far back as 2010 — a warning that they ignored. The government says this isn't true. We want to know what Professor Harrington said and why.

Today’s meeting is the first chance for MPs to ask him more questions on why he believed the WCA test was so flawed — even at the earliest stages — and how he feels about the test today.

A flawed test

The history of this is important. The previous (Labour) government designed this test in 2007. The idea was to test whether disabled or sick people can or can't work. If the test says you aren't able to work as a result of a disability, you would get a benefit payment called the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) to cover your basic costs — things like food, heating and electricity.

But if the test wrongly said you could work, when in fact your disability means you can't, then you'd be left without the money for these basics.

At Leonard Cheshire Disability, we know the test has major flaws. 4 in 10 people who ask for their initial result to be reviewed are later found to be unable to work. In other words, 40% of people who are told they are fit to work — and would lose support payments — are not able to work. That's far too high. We have already called for:

  • the people carrying out the tests to listen more to GPs, social workers and others who know about someone's condition
  • the test assessors to have proper training in different conditions
  • everyone going through the test to be listened to and treated like an individual — everyone’s condition affects them differently

We will be interested to hear Professor Harrington’s views on what needs to change. Disability could happen to any of us and we need a benefits system that protects us when it does.

Help us to keep up the pressure on the government: join our campaigns network now.

Rosanna Singler is Leonard Cheshire Disability’s policy officer.

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