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What we're fighting: Not only are work capability assessments leading to many deaths every week (we don't know how many because the DWP won't release the numbers), but administrative idiocy has led to at least one of the deceased being harassed AFTER DEATH, for failing to attend an interview. And Mark Hoban says no significant reforms are required. Dream on...

What we’re fighting: Not only are work capability assessments leading to many deaths every week (we don’t know how many because the DWP won’t release the numbers), but administrative idiocy has led to at least one of the deceased being harassed AFTER DEATH, for failing to attend an interview. And Mark Hoban says no significant reforms are required. Dream on…

The Coalition government is launching a call for evidence to help with its fourth annual independent review into the Work Capability Assessment process – and I, for one, will be delighted to be part of it.

The review will be carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield, a senior occupational physician replacing Professor Malcolm Harrington, who ran the review process for the previous three years.

According to the Department for Work and Pensions’ press release, it “will continue the process of monitoring whether the assessment is effective in identifying people who could be helped back to work, while ensuring financial support goes to those who are too sick or disabled to seek employment”.

We all know that the WCA is a total failure in those terms. Recent Work Programme and appeal tribunal statistics are unequivocal in making that clear.

Now – if you have had the same experience of the assessment process as I, and Mrs Mike, have – it is time for you to have your say.

If you are an individual or a member of an organisation with information on how the Work Capability Assessment is operating and further changes that may be needed to improve the process, then you can submit it using the online form on this web page:

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

It also includes links to more information about the reviews, large print and Easy Read documents. Audio and BSL versions “will be made available on this page shortly”.

The DWP press release has a lot to say about how well they have performed in changing the system so far. It is worth quoting here, just to show you the importance of the need to challenge this attitude. It states:

“In launching the call for evidence, Dr Litchfield will be considering both how the suggested improvements from previous reviews are working, and what further refinements can be made. Dr Litchfield is particularly interested in hearing how the WCA works for people with mental health conditions.

“Dr Paul Litchfield said: ‘This fourth review is an appropriate time to review the impact of the changes that have been made to the WCA in recent years, including those recommended by my predecessor Professor Malcolm Harrington. I will also be considering if more can be done to ensure that the assessment process is both effective and perceived as being objective by all stakeholders.

“‘I am keen to hear from people who have constructive and evidence-based ideas for improvement. The WCA touches many lives and it is in the interest of all of us to try and make it as good as we can.’

“Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: ‘Helping people who can work into a job, while giving financial support to people who need it, is one of my top priorities. That is why it is so important that the Work Capability Assessment is as effective as possible.

“‘Following the previous independent reviews we have already made considerable improvements to the assessment process, so this new review is a great opportunity to build on that progress.’

“This is the fourth in a series of 5 annual independent reviews into the Work Capability Assessment. The previous reviewer, Professor Harrington, made a number of recommendations, and in his third review found that – as improvements were starting to have an impact – no fundamental reforms were needed to the current WCA. Over 40 recommendations have been, or are being, implemented including:

  • Better communication with claimants, including phone calls from decision-makers to ensure all medical evidence has been provided
  • Introducing 60 mental health champions into assessment centres to provide advice to Atos healthcare professionals
  • Working with charities to test out new descriptors covering mental function and fluctuating conditions
  • Simplifying the process for people undergoing treatment for cancer – reducing the need for face-to-face assessments and ensuring more are placed in the Support Group.”

If “no fundamental reforms are needed”, then why is the DWP refusing to provide details of the number of people who are dying while going through the assessment process, appealing against its decision, or after having been thrown off-benefit? Clearly it seems to have something to hide and until we find out what that is, such claims should be considered to be wild fantasies with no basis in reality.

You’ll notice the possibility of having the Work Capability Assessment recorded is not mentioned, even though there was a debate within the last month. Does Hoban really think our memories are so short?

A submission from myself and Mrs Mike would include information on the run-up to the assessment, including the fact that we were not told we had to announce in advance our desire to have the interview recorded. When I arrived, dictaphone in hand, the Atos employees kicked up a fuss about it that could have stopped the interview taking place at all. That would not have been our fault but theirs, for failing to make the situation clear. We would also point out that claims by the DWP to have only 31 recorders are in error, as the tick-box assessment they use is carried out on laptop computers that can easily – and probably do – carry recording and CD-burning software. It would be simplicity itself to provide simple microphones for both assessor and assessee to use, to make questions and responses clear, and concerns over tampering with recordings may be addressed by a time-check at the start and finish.

I would raise issue with the ESA50 form, that includes ‘descriptors’ that are said to be intended to help describe a claimant’s condition. In fact they do no such thing. They are there to help Atos assessors fit you into the categories laid out by Unum when it originally devised the process as a way to avoid making payments to customers whose insurance policies had matured. It would be far better to allow claimants to describe their symptoms and provide medical evidence from their doctors; the fact that this would require the DWP staff reviewing the forms to use their brains in consideration of the individual situation, rather than slavishly follow instructions that try to shoehorn people into pre-defined groups, is of no concern to the claimant.

I would raise issue with the Work Capability Assessment itself, which also attempts to bypass explanations of the issues in order to shoehorn claimants into providing “yes” or “no” answers to its questions. We have seen from the Conservative Party’s own ‘voodoo’ polling that, if a question is framed in a particular way, the questioner will get the answer they want, and this would not necessarily be productive.

Mrs Mike has mental health issues. There was no concession to those issues during her assessment and I do not recall them being explored at all.

Mrs Mike has fluctuating health conditions. There was no inquiry into how those changes affect her daily life.

Changes for both of the above may have been brought in after the assessment, but they are still relevant to my partner. However, no attempt has been made to contact her or explore her situation in the light of these developments. That is a grave omission.

She was put in the work-related activity group and asked to visit her local Job Centre Plus for interviews. After doing so, and being passed on to a Work Programme Provider, it took just one half-hour telephone conversation to establish that this organisation could do nothing for her, and she was advised to seek re-assessment. This was six months into her one-year period on ESA (remember, those in the work-related activity group get benefit for one year only). Nobody had contacted her during the first four months she was on the benefit.

Mrs Mike did ask for reassessment but nothing was done about it. She is, in fact, going through the assessment process again, but this is because a year has passed since her initial assessment and it is therefore time for her to go through the whole torturous process again. The form went off in mid-May and we have yet to hear back from the DWP.

From our point of view, the whole situation has been a farce.

If you have been through the process, how did you find it?

https://www.gov.uk/government/consultations/fourth-independent-review-of-the-work-capability-assessment-wca

Don’t just tell us – tell the independent assessor.