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WCAcartoon

This cartoon was created to highlight the difficulties created by the Conservatives for people attending a work capability assessment. But would Labour’s proposed changes make any difference?

According to Benefits and Work, the Labour Party has been emailing people with proposals for three “crucial changes” it is proposing for the way the work capability assessment works for disability/incapacity benefit claimants.

The three problems are:

  • That the WCA is ‘not integrated with employment support’ and so is not helping claimants back into work;
  • That the WCA ‘lacks credibility with disabled people, causing anxiety and stress’; and
  • That the system is ‘riven with poor decision making’, leading to a ‘staggering 45 per cent of appeals against the test’ being upheld last year.

The Benefits and Work report addes that “critics may point out that not only did Labour devise and introduce the WCA, but also that the level of appeal success under Labour was very similar to what it is now” – all valid criticisms, as long as it is also noted that Labour has accepted those criticisms and is trying to do something about them.

Unfortunately – well, see for yourself. Here are the “crucial changes” being proposed:

“Labour will ‘start by transforming the way the WCA is designed to make it more effective at helping disabled people into work’.” Benefits and Work says “there are no details of what this transformation will involve, except that ‘disabled people would receive a copy of the assessor’s report of how their health condition may affect their ability to work, and information about the support that is available in their local area to help them’.”

What about disabled people with progressive degenerative conditions, who cannot, under any circumstances, be put back to work? This “change” makes no allowance for them whatsoever – it is as if they do not exist.

“Labour will also ‘continue to produce an independent review of the WCA’. In addition, they will ‘ask the Office for Disability Issues to support an independent scrutiny group of disabled people to work together with the independent reviewer to assess whether the test is being conducted in a fair and transparent way’.” Benefits and Work tells us “Labour says it will only ‘commit to responding to the recommendations of this report’; there is no undertaking to actually act on them.”

How is the promise of a paper exercise with no commitment to act at the end supposed to reassure anybody?

“Labour will introduce ‘penalties for poor performance by assessors, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by DWP decision makers, and the number of times they are overturned on appeal.’” Benefits and Work suggests that these penalties “undoubtedly” would be “hidden behind a cloak of ‘commercial confidentiality’” and “will offer no reassurance whatsoever” – but this is unfair, in the light of Labour’s promise to make commercial firms working in the public sector subject to public sector Freedom of Information laws. Any punishment meted out to these firms would be a matter of public knowledge under a Labour government.

If the information provided to Benefits and Work is correct, then this plan is, at best, weak. At worst, it’s catastrophic.

This blog has been arguing that the work capability assessment should be abolished altogether – and Vox Political stands by that.

Decisions about whether a patient should be granted disability or incapacity benefits should be made by their doctor, in conjunction with the specialists who would naturally be consulted to confirm the nature and extent of the patient’s medical condition.

What – you think doctors are going to be unduly influenced by the fact that they know the patient? That is precisely why their opinion is the most important.

It seems strange. We know some people believe doctors need to be bribed by the government into sending sick people back to work before they are better. They don’t get any extra financial reward for signing patients off-work, though.

Doesn’t this suggest that they are more likely to be honest when signing the sicknote?

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