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.
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".
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.
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.
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.
Meetings for the WCA Action Group can be found on this list below. The next two meetings will be held on 14th October 2014 and 10th November 2014.
We hold regular WCA Action Group meetings at:
Meetings are open to all to attend, but capacity is limited. If you would like to attend, please email Tom Skinner, WCA Co-Ordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org.