We believe that the Work Capacity Assessment process is badly flawed in both its design and implementation - its methodology lacks professional credibility, its reports lack rigour and accuracy with the inevitable result that its decision-making is rushed and poorly informed. There is little transparency in how WCA decisions are arrived at - locally or nationally. The Department of Work and Pensions contracted two private sector firms - a French company, Atos Healthcare, and the US insurance company, Unum - to design and deliver the WCA process at a cost of over 800 million with further input by Capita in Wales and Central England. None of these organisations show a willingness to accept any responsibility for the destructive impact of their decisions in the lives of the people they are assessing.

Our Event

We are holding a public meeting on Tuesday 8th April 2014 at London Scottish House, 24 Mount St, Manchester, M2 3NN. The event is titled "Work Capability Assessments: They Aren't Working".

Speakers include

  • Tom Griffiths: Co-ordinator, WCA Action Group
  • Anna Rae: Chair, Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People
  • Archdeacon Cherry Vann: Rochdale Deanery, Church of England

Our Problem

Work Capability Assessments were introduced in October 2008 to decide whether an individual is entitled to a new benefit called Employment Support Allowance. ESA is designed to support people who are unable to work due to disability or ill-health. It initially replaced new claims for Incapacity Benefit, Income Support and Severe Disablement Allowance and from 2011 was extended to the existing claimants of these benefits as well. On January 28th 2013, stricter rules were introduced on how claimants were tested on their limited capability to work or perform work related activities - including a new imaginary test on how claimants may be able to use aids or adaptations. By 2014, approximately 1.5 million people on incapacity or disability-based benefits will have been re-assessed for ESA.

So ... what are the issues?

  1. WCAs are based on a suspect design and methodology - founded on a business model with little support from health professionals or disabled people.
  2. WCA interviews are being administered and evaluated using an inflexible computerised tick-box system - that makes no allowances for nuanced responses.
  3. The assessment process takes little account of fluctuations or deterioration in the mental health, physical health or disability-related problems of individuals.
  4. Many interview questions are deliberately ambiguous or misleading - which results in misunderstanding by claimants so that they give inadequate answers.
  5. The assessment process is threatening and raises the anxieties of claimants - so that they feel totally overwhelmed and become more ill or opt out altogether.
  6. The reporting system lacks rigour, accuracy and transparency - no public guidelines have been published on how the WCA responses are to be interpreted.
  7. Voluntary sector organisations are being overrun - from day centres to drop-ins and food banks. Staff are neglecting other duties to assist with WCA appeals.
  8. Many GPs and health professionals are opposed to WCAs - as it results in higher patient distress, increased medication and growing demands on their time.
  9. There is an underlying attitude of arrogance by the DWP and its private sector partners - refusing to be accountable to local courts or networks for their decisions.
  10. Finally, WCAs are incredibly costly - both in terms of the negative impact on peoples' lives and in wasting taxpayers' money on appeals and administration.

Our solution

Many lives have been devastated as a result of these judgements. These errors have greatly worsened the physical and mental health of WCA claimants and their families. A complex point system is applied in a haphazard way so that claims for Employment Support Allowance are rejected even when a claimant is clearly incapable of working or able to work without adequate support. The true cost or scale of the consequences of these decisions is hard to quantify. Sadly many people have died or committed suicide, gone into debt, lost their home or ended back in hospital soon after an interview declared them fit to work. Appeals are lodged against approximately 40% of WCAs resulting in huge inconvenience and costs for the courts and claimants alike. There are few mechanisms to hold those who are managing the WCA process to account. This is in stark contrast to the experience of individuals at the sharp end who are repeatedly urged to attend interviews for which they ill-prepared, inadequately briefed, typically unsupported and with no opportunity to honestly describe their health or daily circumstances

These stories do not come from one interest group or agency - but across a wide spectrum of British society. Each story relates how the lives of individuals and their families have deteriorated - resulting in major setbacks, lapses and deaths in some cases. Multiply these stories by the thousands of people who are being assessed and you have a shared narrative of frustration, anger, anguish and despair.

We believe that it is our responsibility to support our fellow citizens who are being threatened by the WCA system and its damaging consequences. We decided to take action after attending meetings in which both DWP and ATOS managers gave inadequate answers to service-user complaints. They claimed to be listening but our impression is that evidence of poor practice is simply being air-brushed away.

We also recognise there are many professional bodies, user groups or networks, and charities protesting against WCAs and we are keen to publicise their efforts.

That's why we have set up our WCA Action Group to stand by and in support of disabled people, mental health service-users, carers, their friends, family and representatives who are threatened by this WCA / ESA debacle. We share vital information, offer guidance to those preparing for interviews or appeals, listen to their stories and actively campaign for change in the WCA system. Enough is enough. We are based in Greater Manchester though anyone is invited to back our stance to challenge this social injustice. So if you share our values and outlook then you are very welcome to join us – as an organisation or an individual.

We aim to be collaborative in all our activities. So working as an alliance on a shared agenda in support of claimants as fellow-citizens is vital to our approach.

Our Partners

Six organisations working in the areas of advice, health and well-being and disability issues have joined our WCA Action Group so far. They include:

We are also working with "Access to Advice", a consortia of advice agencies in Greater Manchester which is campaigning for publicly funded legal advice on social welfare issues.

Our Newsletters

As well as our meetings, we also publish a quarterly newsletter. You can download the latest newsletter by clicking the button below, or you can view our archive.

Our Meetings

The WCA Action Group usually aims to meet on the second Tuesday of every month. You can find a list of dates for your diary below. Any changes to these dates will be published here.

Our Details

It could not be easier to get in touch with us. Simply email us at [email protected] or complete the contact form below.

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