Are Labour’s work capability assessment changes really ‘crucial’?


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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11 thoughts on “Are Labour’s work capability assessment changes really ‘crucial’?

  1. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    Your following paragraph “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.” is one of the most important omissions on behalf of the Labour party and it needs to get its house in proper order over this most important situation. It is unfortunate that they have rushed in with promises without really detailing them or, it appears, even having considered them fully.

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      My desktop is littered with bits of information – quotes from various sources for which I haven’t found a decent place yet – and I think this one is quite relevant, from June 30 this year. It runs as follows: “Iain Duncan Smith on Rachel Reeves: A little while ago, in March, she is recorded as having said that, left to her, “all the changes that the Government has introduced” in welfare reform would be reversed “and all benefits” could be and should be “universal”.
      “She agreed.”
      It seems to me that she would be much better off putting that forward to the people, rather than some half-baked attempt at claiming legitimacy with the incapacitated community that in fact denies the existence of most of them.

  2. James

    It’s the same old waffling PR speak b****cks from Labour, and as usual it’s an insult to the intelligence of anyone who doesn’t have a vested interest in keeping the corporate welfare flowing.

    The real solution is simple. A person puts a claim in, including a signed letter from the Dr, nurse, and any other medical professional they see regularly in the treatment of their illness. The DWP opens this letter, and seeing the medical professionals opinion, they decide to award the claim, or deny it. No WCA, no visiting centers, no humiliating treatment necessary. If the claim is awarded, then the people are left alone to deal with their illness in the best way they see fit. No forcing people onto ridiculous training courses that serve no purpose to the people they’re being forced upon, if the illnesses are lifelong, the type people will not recover from, then they’re left alone, and should never hear from the DWP again, unless the person themselves needs something from them. Anyone else should be contacted once every 2 years to see if their condition, or circumstances have changed, if not, they tick a box that says no, and get the medical professionals who treat them to sign it as well.

    That would be the sane, humane way to treat people. If Labour wanted to head off the absolute b****cks excuse of the medical professionals being threatened by the claimants, then by all means introduce a law to make sure any person doing so is dealt with through the law, but we all know that doesn’t happen, and it’s an excuse to keep the corporate gravy train .

      1. Lori Homayon-jones

        As the parent of a young adult with complex needs of course I agree the NHS is crumbling because of the raping of its resources and the billions that could be spent on relevant professionals is being diverted to putting people like my daughter through irrelevant tests whilst making atos Mark 2 richer. Scrap the wca. Btw if you want to be further disgusted have a look at the dept ed funded preparing for adulthood site which promotes the ideology that everyone can work including people who may not have the mental capacity to dress independently. I am ashamed of my country

  3. Michele Witchy Eve

    Offering information on local support [for employment]? Good luck with that. What hasn’t been cut out of existence is struggling under the strain. What happens to the poor souls in areas where there is nothing on offer?

    Assessor’s report detailing how your health affects what work you can do? As you say, Mike, GPs and consultants trained long years to be able to tell us this – and do. So why keep repeating the exercise (badly) and having the tax-payer cough up more cash for the privilege?

    I see the politicians are still telling – but rarely asking – the ill and disabled what they should be doing. Nor has it been clarified anywhere that employers are happy to employ the ill and disabled. Regardless of equality laws or schemes to ‘enable’ too many employers are unwilling (to put it mildly) to employ anyone but the fittest, in all senses. It is an unequal battle.

    If we woke up tomorrow with full employment there would still be at least a million (more if some stats are true), able-bodied and relatively well people looking for work that does not exist. There will never be full employment without some real reforms in the employment and jobs sector, so to base any reform on that principle is dishonest and cruel. Even with full employment we are still going to have a huge number of people without work who want it. What happens then?

    You are right, Mike, this processing of attrition needs stopping. Root causes, not claimants supposed culpability, should be what all politicians focus on improving – and that extends to all benefit claimants and beyond.

  4. RL

    “But would Labour’s proposed changes make any difference?”

    Yeah… I guess scrapping them would make quite a difference.

    “If the information provided to Benefits and Work is correct”


    Two sources suggest Labour WILL scrap WCA:

    Disability News Service:

    And, ermmm, this one by someone called Mike Sivier…

    Danger of being a Friend Of Old Lynton, there, Mike??

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      Nope – danger of reporting developments as they happen. A week in politics is a long time; six months is almost equivalent to a geological age.

  5. Phil The Folk

    You know my thoughts Mike. In full agreement with you..scrap the WCA!! GP’s are the best qualified to make the judgement and already cost the taxpayer dearly without unqualified private companies costing us even more! But I’ve just had the most awful shock this morning, as I’ve found out my GP, who has supported me for 22 years is no longer practicing as a GP and is now practice manager. I feel like my safety net has been removed and have to deal with a new GP, who doesn’t know my case history 🙁

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