Cathy Bakewell: the Government must replace the fit for work test entirely


Cathy Bakewell, our new Shadow Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, has not been slow in writing about her brief.

The Government is planning to review the Work Capability Assessment, and she agrees that a review is a ‘step in the right direction. But, and there always is a ‘but’ with this Government: 

… if the Government wants to restore trust in the benefits system they need to replace the fit for work test entirely.

Most people want to work, but sadly some people simply can’t.

Forcing them to look for a job, often against doctors advice is cruel and pointless.

Any new system should be based on doctor’s views of their patients’ health and on a real-world test that determines what kind of jobs a person might be able to do.

Liberal Democrats wants to see a system that doesn’t just look at if someone is fit to work, but that looks at what kind of work is fit for them.

The real test of the Government’s announcement today will be if the new system is one which sick and disabled people can trust.

The failures of the Work Capability Assessment have meant that too long fit-for-work tests have been a terrifying prospect of people who need support. That has to end.

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  • Sue Sutherland 31st Oct '16 - 3:18pm

    There is much to criticise in the present system, not just the fit for work tests. I felt distressed by changes which happened under the Coalition. People that I know were treated with total disrespect. One lost her benefit because of a change in her diagnosis which still meant that she was unfit for work. Another had to go to her interview by taxi, spending she couldn’t afford, only to be told on arrival that the appointment had been cancelled, although I have read about people being sanctioned because they missed appointments. The attitudes they found were that interviewers assumed they were trying to pull a fast one and were totally unaware of what it’s like to be disabled or too ill to work and the emotional and physical effort that it takes to turn up for an interview. When I first received benefits the system was much kinder but even then it took me months to complete the application form which also created deep despair as I had to face up to all the things I was unable to do.
    The fact that a significant proportion of people win their case on appeal shows that the original assessments are too severe and are actually wasting money by extending the process. I am deeply cynical and distrustful of what is happening at the moment and wouldn’t be at all surprised if suddenly the appeal system started to back up the original assessments as a result of a diktat from on high.

  • Richard Underhill 31st Oct '16 - 4:21pm

    A Labour MP asked David Cameron to confirm that ATOS had passed Richard the Third as fit for work. If the PM attempted a reply it was not audible. He used to try to draft unanswerable questions when he was an assistant to Michael Howard.
    We should give him credit for ambition in difficult circumstances. For instance he wanted to try to find a answer to SF members being elected as MPs but declining to takes their seats in the Commons, ostensibly because of the MPs oath of loyalty. More research would have shown him that a different oath, or no oath, would not have solved the problem. Gerry Adams had told Speaker Betty Boothroyd that the issue was the inclusion of Northern Ireland in the UK.
    ISBN 0 712 7948 0 pages 251-259 Random House

  • Doctors should not be the gate-keepers to the benefits system. That would risk GPs getting assaulted for giving unfavourable assessments .
    As for the point in the comments about “a significant number of people win their cases on appeal”, well that seems perfectly ok – if the “borderline” cases are the ones being appealed then you would expect some to go one way and some the other.

  • Katharine Pindar 31st Oct '16 - 9:41pm

    So good to see you responding to this with a reply which follows the excellent Social Security paper and policy, ‘Mending the safety net’ , passed at the Brighton Conference. I hope you will be able to publicise and promote all of this policy, particularly when a new study has found that sanctions are indeed the cause of much of the need for Food Bank provision nationally – a need which unfortunately is also likely to grow as prices rise and if the threatened no-growth of welfare payments for working families happens regardless.

  • As so often with the Tories, they take a reasonable sounding idea, in this case helping people back to work/ensuring that local GPs aren’t put in no-win situations with opportunist patients, and ruin it by encouraging the media to label all existing claimants as shirkers and/or thieves, so they can appear strong by bringing this to an end, and responsible by treating it as a money saving opportunity, distracting from the real need to do something about the tax dodgers.

    The reality of their scheme in action is cruel to the vast majority who are genuine, unhelpful to those who are on the path to returning to useful work. It has no regard for the mental health problems associated with chronic ill health and disability, and with no serious attempts to improve public transport for those with limited mobility, it’s doomed to failure.

    I am pleased we have had a commitment that there will be no more need for repeat assessments for who are found to have a disability that will never improve. That was such a ridiculous waste of money that even the most heartless Tories had to accept it should end. I hope that a bit more thought and common sense can be introduced into the system, although I think the whole thing is so troubled that a complete overhaul is necessary.

  • Alan Jelfs 31st Oct ’16 – 7:45pm…..Doctors should not be the gate-keepers to the benefits system. That would risk GPs getting assaulted for giving unfavourable assessments ….

    I’m sorry, but that is nonsense!…..The idea that a doctor/specialist who know the patient and/or have expertise in the claimant’s condition should be overruled by an unqualified stranger in a short, ‘one size fits all’, assessment is utter madness…

  • Daniel Henry 1st Nov '16 - 9:51am

    Great news.

    My biggest regret from the Coalition years is that we failed to address this issue.

  • Jane Ann Liston 1st Nov '16 - 10:03am

    I noticed that there is at least recognition that disabled people might be failing to get jobs because of the employer’s concerns. The government needs to realise that this is the case for claimants without a disability as well, rather than shortcomings on the part of said claimants.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov '16 - 10:22am

    expats: language please.
    There are also receptionists and line managers who are not doctors.

  • Richard Underhill 1st Nov ’16 – 10:22am…

    Apologies….However, as the father of a disabled daughter who has been forced to jump through more hoops than a ‘three ring circus’; has had assessments revoked, reinstated, upheld, revoked, reinstated (all at financial, physical and mental cost), I get annoyed at what consider ill-informed, ‘one liner’, fixes to a system that is unfit for purpose…

  • Sue Sutherland 1st Nov '16 - 2:16pm

    When I first was given DLA and mobility allowance an independent doctor assessed my condition. He treated me with empathy and this would solve the problem of GP gatekeepers.

  • Dean Crofts 2nd Nov '16 - 9:20am

    The welfare benefit system for sickness benefits needs to be joined up with Health and Social care including NHS provisions in each local area. If a GP or medical professional is assisting an individual with a health condition particularly mental health then benefits should be paid, if the individual wants to claim them. Why is the government wasting money on endless independent assessments, sanctions, admin and tribunal hearing costs via county court tribunals??? The medical ;profession also has to understand that ill health affects peoples finances (with even getting into debt causing mental health problems) and therefore there is a link between GPs and medical professionals being involved in whether a person is able to work or not.

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