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150209fitforwork

On the day Mrs Mike was at first supposed to take a new Work Capability Assessment, then told it was cancelled (then received a letter confirming this – and then this writer attended the centre to make sure), Ekklesia has published a piece by Bernadette Meaden asking whether there’s any point to the process at all.

She writes: “It’s important to remember that these assessments are not a ‘medical’, as the public may believe. They are officially described as a ‘functional assessment’: they assess people as if they are machines, to see which bits are working and which bits aren’t. They disregard many medical symptoms such as pain and exhaustion, which is why people who are obviously seriously ill can be assessed as ‘fit to work’, why so many people appeal their decision, and why the government’s own expert adviser, Professor Malcolm Harrington, once described the WCA as ‘mechanistic and inhumane’.

“Not all the people who have been through a WCA will have been given a face-to-face assessment. Some will have received a decision based on their completion of the lengthy and complex ESA50 form, and supplementary information they have supplied. But for all who have been assessed, whether face to face or via bureaucracy, it will have been an added stress at a time when they may be coming to terms with a life-limiting diagnosis, or going through unpleasant treatment.

“To have your doctor say you are unfit to work, but to have the decision as to whether you will receive support in the hands of a medically unqualified DWP Decision Maker is not conducive to anyone’s health.”

Surely, she suggests, the only way all of this stress and effort can be justified is if the WCA found that people who were actually fit for work had managed to get themselves onto an incapacity benefit instead – but this is not what the figures show.

After no less than 4.8 million stress-inducing assessments (and remember, stress can kill), “the numbers receiving Incapacity Benefit and Employment Support Allowance have barely changed, and in fact have reduced at a slower rate than they did in the years prior to the WCA being introduced”.

The 4.8 million figure comes from Nick Dilworth, who blogs on the excellent iLegal site.

He writes, “the most recent DWP figures for the tougher than tough Work Capability Assessments” show that “until November 2012 an average of 28,500 claimants a month were being found ‘fit for work’ [when adding the totals for those claiming Employment and Support Allowance as a ‘new’ claim, those who had been re-assessed, and also those undergoing conversion from older incapacity benefits to the newer allowance]. However, since then the numbers found fit for work have steadily decreased to an all-time low of just 1,600 claimants recorded for the month of December 2013 (the most recent DWP figure available).

“It’s almost as if they don’t want anybody being found fit for work these days,” he writes. “One thing is for certain, it will all change once Maximus gets going properly after March 2015. Little wonder ESA appeals have fallen, eh?”

At least it suggests that people aren’t simply giving up on the system, as is happening due to the JSA sanction system.

The random factor in all of this is the fact that we are dealing with the Department for Work and Pensions, which is notoriously untrustworthy when dealing with claimants.

Why do you think this writer had to seek confirmation that Mrs Mike’s new assessment had been cancelled in triplicate? It was the only way to make absolutely sure. Having fallen foul of the DWP’s hair-trigger benefit cancellation machine in the past, we weren’t going to let it happen again.

But Mrs Mike is lucky in that respect – she has the services of an able-bodied and articulate carer. How many of the 28,500 who were found fit for work every month until November 2012 could say the same thing?

Having attended Mrs Mike’s original Work Capability Assessment back in mid-2012, this writer knows that she found the experience of having to carry out physical tasks for an unqualified “healthcare professional” both painful and humiliating. She spent the following three days on the sofa, unable to move because of extreme pain – and the DWP put her in the work-related activity group and told her she should be better in a year.

And now it’s 2015; she still isn’t better and this writer had to humiliate several DWP representatives when they tried to claim otherwise and cut off her benefit lifeline. Again, how many people who were thrown off the WRA group had someone who could do the same?

Now, Nick tells us this is just the deep breath before Maximus turns up and tries to knock the wind out of all our sails.

As Ms Meaden suggests, wouldn’t it be better to get rid of the Work Capability Assessment and replace it with something else?

Nick is a member of New Approach, an organisation calling for that to happen.

Please have a look at the website and consider giving it your support.

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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