Mind responds to Harrington review of the Work Capability Assessment
Posted Tuesday 23 November 2010
Mental health charity Mind today welcomed Professor Harrington’s independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) as an important step towards making access to benefits fairer, but also warned that plans to start pushing incapacity benefits (IB) claimants through the test need to be delayed if the recommendations are not implemented in time.
Harrington’s report, which was scrutinised by a panel including Mind’s Chief Executive Paul Farmer, has made over 20 recommendations to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the test. These cover issues including:
- Recognising the particular difficulties in assessing mental health problems
- Building more empathy into the assessment process
- Improving the transparency of the medical assessment
- Providing better communication and feedback
The Government plans to start migrating the 1.6million IB claimants over to employment support allowance (ESA) or jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) from April 2011, which will involve putting an additional 10,000 people through the WCA every week.
Paul Farmer, Mind's Chief Executive, said:
We have had grave concerns about the WCA since its introduction in 2008 and our involvement in Professor Harrington’s review of the assessment process has been a welcome opportunity to put across the numerous challenges faced by people with mental health problems who are applying for ESA. We welcome the Government’s positive response to the review, but it is imperative that the recommendations are implemented and the updated WCA is ready in time for plans to start migrating people from IB onto ESA.
It is clear from this independent review that the WCA in its current form is flawed and that it is not a fair or effective tool to determine whether or not someone is capable of working. Some of Harrington’s recommendations are ‘quick-fixes’ which should be easy enough to action, but many more will require cultural shifts in the delivery of the WCA, which will take time to fully implement and evaluate. In addition to this there will also be the results of the revised WCA pilots being run in Burnley and Aberdeen as well as the amendments that Mind along with the National Autistic Society and Mencap have been asked to propose to further improve the test.
It would be counter-intuitive to push ahead with current plans to start migrating the people who are on IB over to ESA in April if the changes to the WCA are not embedded in sufficient time. We will be monitoring how the recommendations accepted are implemented and whether they have the desired effect on the assessment process. However if the test is not ready by April then it would be unjust and unethical to start putting IB claimants through the WCA when it is still not fit for purpose and is likely to undergo further changes. Given that currently at least 40% of those found fit for work are appealing this decision and that 40% are winning their appeals it would also be extremely expensive and wasteful to continue with plans if the system is still producing so many wrong decisions.
Liz applied for ESA last year as she could not work due to her depression and anxiety, but was refused in December 2009 having scored 0 points in her WCA (15 points or more are required to be eligible for ESA). She launched her appeal in February 2010 and last week at her tribunal was awarded 21 points, placing her in the ESA Support Group. Liz said:
My experience of the test was horrendous. Despite two GPs, a psychiatrist and a senior nurse all stating I was not able to work, a 54 minute, poorly carried out assessment disagreed. I seriously doubt how much understanding my assessor had about mental health though- comments in my report included things like ‘did not appear to be trembling... sweating... or make rocking movements’.
The whole process has been so stressful and definitely damaging to my mental health. The fact that in my appeal I went from 0 to 21 points in about 20 minutes flat shows how wrong the test was. I’m relieved it’s over though, so now I can focus on recovering and eventually getting back to work, which is what I want to do.
- For more information, interviews, photographs and a range of case studies please contact the Mind media office.
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