Some positive news on the Work Capability Assessment

One of the most difficult aspects of the welfare reforms for many Liberal Democrat activists to bear was the removal of Employment and Support Allowance after a year from those placed in the Work Related Activity Group. Our anxiety is compounded by what we see as a deeply flawed assessment system which does not take fluctuating conditions seriously. I wrote a critique of the application form earlier this year which explains some of the problems.

The Work Capability Assessment was introduced by Labour in 2008.  The Coalition has improved it under the guidance of Professor Malcolm Harrington, but not to the satisfaction of a group of disability charities. They have put a huge amount of effort into making the case for changes in the descriptors used in the decision making process. Today, Tim Pollard, Senior Campaigns and Policy Officer at Mind, used a guest post on campaigner Sue Marsh’s blog, Diary of  a Benefit Scrounger, to announce that the Government is currently testing a new set of descriptors developed by the charities.  Mind is slightly wary of the process but, as Pollard says

…we felt it was too good an opportunity to turn down and since then we have been involved in intense and long meetings with the DWP and the other charities involved to try and finalise a common set of proposals that can be tested.

Mind knows this is fairly unique opportunity and we are acutely aware that the circumstances aren’t ideal: our proposals were suggested reforms to problems with the current assessment, not a perfect alternative; we are not experts in producing assessments; we are not in control of the design and timeline of the project; and there are many people not round the table who could make important contributions. However, it is clear that the DWP will go ahead with or without us and so we feel that it is important to try and make the process as rigorous and constructive as possible.

You might find it useful to read the Government’s own guide to ESA which includes the current descriptors (page 17 and 24 if you’re in a hurry). Sue Marsh has published the new descriptors currently being tested. As you’ll see there is more emphasis on what percentage of the time people are affected by their symptoms and also more detailed sections on concentration and ability to focus on tasks.

The WCA is still a long way from being changed, but the fact that the Government has listened to the charities and decided to go ahead with this testing has to be a step in the right direction. Let’s hope it leads to an Assessment that gives confidence of a fair decision.

* Caron Lindsay is Editor of Liberal Democrat Voice and blogs at Caron's Musings

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  • DAVE WARREN 2nd Aug '12 - 7:21pm

    Any improvement is welcome.

    I went through the WCA assessment process in 2010 and thinking back it was appalling how i was treated.

    It doesn’t surprise me to hear that some people who have been ‘victims’ of this procedure have experienced a worsening of their condition and in extreme cases attempted suicide.

    I still have an outstanding complaint relating to ESA which is being passed from one person to another within the system.

    If welfare reform doesn’t create a system that is a lot less bureaucratic and more user friendly then it will have failed.

    As someone who paid into the state through tax and national insurance i feel it didn’t want to know when i went to them for help.

    Things need to radically improve.

  • mike cobley 2nd Aug '12 - 8:19pm

    Ah, but now we learn that ATOS has just been awarded another wacking great £400m contract doing the same thing. So despite the increase in avoidable misery and suffering, the DWP clearly think that ATOS is performing wonders!

  • Stephen West 2nd Aug '12 - 9:15pm

    The whole system is inhumane as it does not take in to account how someones health and disability, not to mention their mental health might be at the time the rug is pulled out from under them after 12 months and their ESA is withdrawn and then they are placed on JSA.

  • I really think the DWP has no idea what they have done by awarding ATOS the PIP contract, it is the straw that broke the camel’s back it just will not be tolerated.

  • pauline Barrett 2nd Aug '12 - 9:51pm

    An improvement in the reports written by the employees wouldn’t go amiss!

  • philip todd 2nd Aug '12 - 10:07pm

    I was told I am disabled, I didnt want it, but as a result of doctors, specialists and occupational health, I lost my full time occupation hours of 40hrs plus overtime, reduced to 2 x 4 hour shifts per week and as a result of that I was put on ESA assessment . ATOS claimed I was fit to work. I was also put on the WRAG. I was told to appeal the ATOS desicion, at the the same time I was told to claim DLA mobility which was also turned down, which also led to an appeal. Both appeals were heard albeit approx 8 months beyond the target date on the same date. My appeal for ESA and DLA were upheld with the decision given within 5 minutes, for an indefinite period. Then the government changed the law to ESA 365 days. Now they will be going after my DLA mobility. A recent visit to my specialist revealed I have lost 40% use of my legs with other complications. My condition will not get better, it is in-operable, so it will get worse. How can the DWP or ATOS reverse a decision taken by an appeal tribunal when the DWP was represented at that tribunal?

  • Tim Bennett 2nd Aug '12 - 10:24pm

    The fact that Atos wins the contract to use Neuro linguistic programming sales techniques to try and solve the complete failure in getting ESA claimants onto the work programme in most of the UK,and also the demolition of DLA,and the fact that UNUM,the US Insurance/welfare conglomerate behind this from the start does lead to a certain scepticism. Disability campaigners will not be convinced,and the crisis will continue to grow.

  • Fiona Greig 2nd Aug '12 - 10:46pm

    The only way to “improve” the WCA, the current, and impending, Welfare “reforms” is to chuck Atos & Tory blabbering and pay attention to the doctors and consultants who actually know the victims condition.
    To suggest a computerized scoresheet understands the variations of diverse human sickness/disability is totally absurd.

  • Tony Dawson 3rd Aug '12 - 12:36am

    This is a step forward but realise this. The quality of the test and descriptors is only one factor in attempting to get a fair assessment. The quality of the ATOS assessors and the quality of the DWP ‘decisionmakers’ are both critical to the accuracy of the outcomes. Neither are anywhere near good enough at the moment.

  • Really,, the decision to support these attacks on the vulnerable was appallingly cruel and profoundly undemocratic.. We know full well that people who have had decades of mental health problems are not going to be employed. and are just being plunged into deeper poverty. What has been done and is still being done is an unforgivably nasty thing . And ATOS only do what they’ve been hired to do. The villains in this are really the Government who plainly set targets and the DWP who have the final say on the decisions.
    The more I think about it, the, more I realise I can’t vote for you guys until the leadership is gone..

  • James Sandbach 3rd Aug '12 - 9:14am

    I notice Professor Harrington is now leaving his role wIth DWP, having been very critical of the assessment process from an occupational health perspective. Ok he was only brought in to do the first 2 years of a 5 year review, but reading between the lines welfare ministers have clearly not found his increasingly strident criticisms welcome, so are looking for a tamer “new set of eyes” to complete the review process..

  • James Sandbach 3rd Aug '12 - 9:18am

    With Harrington gone, and ATOS back in the saddle I’m very skeptical that the WCA can be rescued and turned into a meaningful assessment of capabilities..the process needs to be fundamentally more supportive and understanding.

  • Caron – I think your comments about “improved” were a profound misjudgment. I think you can see what the general views (esp among the disabled people’s community) is. The whole issue of ATOS’s involvement has been a disaster, and their winning of another contract is also a disaster from all perspectives. All those involved should show a proper sense of shame, but there they go, just perpetuating this cruel shambles.

  • @Simon McGrapt

    ATOS refuse to release details of their contract as they say it is “commercially sensitive”. However, despite denials from that appalling man Grayling, it was clear from Monday night’s investigative programmes, that ATOS assessors are forced to work to a statistical target ie. they cannot put more than 12% of patients in the support group regardless of needs. If the assessors go above 12%, they get into trouble with their supervisors.

    Therefore the ATOS assessors are forced to work to targets which are targets in all but name. Grayling can deny the existence of targets all he wants but the evidence from the undercover filming was clear for all to see.

  • @Simon McGrath 3rd Aug ’12 – 10:02am
    “The villains in this are really the Government who plainly set targets ” any evidence for this, which has been repeatedly denied by this Government and the last one ?

    Yes BBC Panorama sent a undercover GP to go work for ATOS, and during the training he was informed they had targets “set by DWP” to only place 12% of claimants into support group, If they over hit their targets they would be placed under “watch”

    Atos declined an interview and to comment along with the DWP who just spouted out the same old trot, neither DWP or ATOS have set targets to reduce claimants.

    This is just utter nonsense and anyone with half a brain can see the lies being spun.

    If the Government is stating they want to reduce DLA by 20% then clearly they have “targets” to remove “X” amount of people, after all they are not reducing the “allowances” but the “claimants”
    The same is true for ESA the government have set targets to reduce the welfare bill by “X amount of £” this is not from reducing the amount of “Individual Benefits” but by reducing the number of claimants.

    So to deny Targets is utterly ludicrous.

    people need to wake up and smell the coffee and see that as a society we are losing all our moral fibre and failing miserably to support the most vulnerable, we are no better than the government if we allow ourselves to be drawn in to their foul stench.

  • The problem, as almost every charity has pointed out in the last few days, is with the DWP outsourcing assessments as a means to impose targets.

    I know in these dark times Lib Dems are looking for every faint glimmer of policy success, but this is not an area in which to find them.

  • James Sandbach3rd Aug ’12 – 9:18am………….With Harrington gone, and ATOS back in the saddle I’m very skeptical that the WCA can be rescued and turned into a meaningful assessment of capabilities..the process needs to be fundamentally more supportive and understanding…………..

    Very true. The over-riding claim of our whole tenure in coalition has been ‘making bad things less bad’. This thread is yet another example of our claiming ‘a victory’ (albeit a small one) when a complete rethink of the policy is the correct approach..

  • Graham Hughes 4th Sep '12 - 9:30pm

    I just read this so apologies for the late comment. The work capability test is a disgrace. The assessors ignore what you tell them and just pick out anything they can misrepresent to show you are capable of work. While ever we have a system of welfare benefits for sick and disabled people which does not concern itself with the health and well-being of the individual but merely on whether they can be made to look for work or not, the system will continue to be cruel and inhumane. Finding someone who is sick or disabled fit for work does not help them find a suitable job. It just provides the DWP with an excuse not to pay them the benefits they need to live. Just because someone can raise their one arm above their head or can make themselves a hot drink isn’t going to give them a competitive advantage in the jobs market. It is merely going to condemn them to wasting their time applying for jobs they are never likely to get and a dispiriting life of repeatedly being rejected while trying to satisfy the benefits people that they are seeking work.

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