Charities call for disability test overhaul
Posted Friday 16 September 2011
Mind, The National Autistic Society (NAS) and Mencap are supporting a motion to be proposed tomorrow (Saturday 17 September) at the Liberal Democrat Party Conference by Liberal Youth calling for changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
The controversial test assesses whether welfare claimants are eligible for Employment Support Allowance (ESA), and has been cause for concern for thousands of people with disabilities since its introduction in 2008.
The motion at the Liberal Democrat Autumn Conference comes at a crucial time, as the Welfare Reform Bill is currently being debated in the House of Lords. The speech will be made to delegates setting out concerns around the efficacy of the WCA. 1
Last year Professor Malcolm Harrington, in charge of independently reviewing the WCA, asked Mind, NAS and Mencap to develop a new set of mental, cognitive and intellectual descriptors for the WCA, following concerns that existing criteria were not fit for purpose. The current descriptors have been widely criticised for not being sophisticated enough to recognise the problems faced by people with mental health problems, a learning disability or autism.
The charities are disappointed that the Government has been slow to act on their recommendations.
Paul Farmer, Chief Executive of mental health charity Mind, said:
Mind has heard from supporters that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is not fit for purpose: it is not accurate or subtle enough to recognise the challenges faced by people with mental health problems when considering work.
We urge the Government to adopt the descriptors we have produced with NAS and Mencap, as we believe that this would dramatically improve the accuracy of the WCA and make the assessment process considerably less stressful.
We sincerely hope that the Liberal Democrat Party passes this motion and raises much needed awareness of this very important issue.
Tom Madders, Head of Campaigns at the NAS, said:
A poor assessment can have a devastating impact on people with autism, who may be forced into the workplace without having the right support. Autism is a serious lifelong condition and assessors should have both the right training and be working to the right descriptors to ensure that the 100,000 adults with autism currently living without a job or vital benefits receive the right support at the right time.
The NAS has been working with Mind and Mencap on proposals which would make the current tests fairer and less stressful for people with autism and all disabilities.
Should this motion pass, we urge the Lib Dem leadership to listen to the will of the party and address the inherent flaws in the system.”
David Congdon, Mencap’s Head of Campaigns and Policy, said:
We are pleased that this motion is being brought to the Liberal Democrat conference.
We hope that it will highlight to those within Government that there are a number of concerns about the current process.
We are keen to ensure that there is a new process for assessing welfare claimants that meets the needs of people with a learning disability and those with other disabilities.
Notes to editors
For more information or any interview requests please contact:
- Vicki Prout in the Mind media team on T: 020 8522 1743 M: 07850 788514 E: email@example.com ISDN line available: 020 8221 0817.
- Jennie Sheldon in the NAS Media Team on T: 0207 903 3523 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Eleanor Bradstreet in the Mencap media team on T: 020 7696 6937 E: Eleanor.email@example.com
- Mind is the leading mental health charity in England and Wales. We work to create a better life for everyone with experience of mental distress.
- Please note that Mind is not an acronym and should be set in title case.
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap fights on their behalf, and on behalf of their carers and families, to change laws and improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities, supporting thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
We are also the largest service provider of services, information and advice for people with a learning disability across England, Northern Ireland and Wales. See www.mencap.org.uk for more information.
- About learning disability: A learning disability is caused by the way the brain develops before, during or shortly after birth. It is always lifelong and affects someone's intellectual and social development. It used to be called mental handicap but this term is outdated and offensive. Learning disability is NOT a mental illness. The term learning difficulty is often incorrectly used interchangeably with learning disability.
- Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with, and relates to, other people. It also affects how they make sense of the world around them. It is a spectrum condition, which means that, while all people with autism share certain difficulties, their condition will affect them in different ways. Some people with autism are able to live relatively independent lives but others may have accompanying learning disabilities and need a lifetime of specialist support. People with autism may also experience over- or under-sensitivity to sounds, touch, tastes, smells, light or colours.
- Asperger syndrome is a form of autism. People with Asperger syndrome are often of average or above average intelligence. They have fewer problems with speech but may still have difficulties with understanding and processing language.
About the National Austistic Society
- The National Autistic Society is the UK's leading charity for people with autism and their families. Founded in 1962, it continues to spearhead national and international initiatives and provide a strong voice for all people with autism. The NAS provides a wide range of services to help people with autism and Asperger syndrome live their lives with as much independence as possible.
- The NAS relies on the support of its members and donors to continue its vital work for people with autism. To become a member, make a donation or to find out more about the work of the NAS, visit the NAS website www.autism.org.uk
- For more information about autism and for help in your area, call the NAS Autism Helpline on: 0808 800 4104 10am-4pm, Monday to Friday, (free from landlines and most mobiles).
- The NAS Autism Services Directory is the UK’s most comprehensive directory of services and events for people with autism. Visit www.autism.org.uk/autismdirectory to find autism services and support networks in your area.