Posted Tuesday 31 July 2012
Last night's Dispatches and Panorama on welfare and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) shone a light on the realities faced by millions of disabled people, including people with mental health problems, who try to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
It made for uncomfortable viewing.
We have been campaigning on these issues for many years but sadly we know that there hasn’t been a lot of public interest in welfare except in attacking 'workshy scroungers'. Too often people claiming disability benefits are put into the same box without much thought about the nuances of the debate.We know that this demonisation of disabled people claiming welfare benefits, for example in the media, only serves to compound the stress and anxiety caused by the WCA process.
So last night's programmes are an important wake up call for the Government, ATOS (the company which carries out the test) and wider society.
They gave us a glimpse of the way that too many people are being treated at the hands of a system which doesn’t work. Put through a test which isn't fit for purpose by assessors who get it wrong too often, people are left to cope with the devastating consequences of this bureaucratic nightmare. The facts bear this out - 40% of people declared fit for work appeal against the original decision, with 40% of these appeals being upheld. The programmes highlighted these problems to an unprecedented audience of millions.
These uncomfortable truths now need facing up to. Designing a system to determine who should be eligible to receive sickness benefit was never going to be easy. However this system is clearly not fit for purpose - a view shared by Malcolm Harrington, the Government's own assessor, who went as near as he could to suggest that the system was failing too many people at present.
The current contract for the WCA is due to end in 2015. Between now and then, three actions must be taken.
First, those currently on Incapacity Benefit should not be forced to take this test and the reassessment process should be stopped until this mess is sorted out. For some, support to help them find work will be welcome in a tough economic environment, but for many others, being required to take the test when physical or mental health is at such a low ebb is counter-productive.
Secondly, the whole approach to disability benefits needs reviewing, so that any overhauled system involves disabled people more, so it can better identify and respond to people’s needs.
Finally, we must continue to challenge lazy assumptions about “workshy scroungers”. It's time for a whole new way of thinking about the outstanding contribution that disabled people make to our society.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive, Mind
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