Shouldn’t we call time on the Work Capability Assessment?


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

Join the Vox Political Facebook page.

If you have enjoyed this article, don’t forget to share it using the buttons at the bottom of this page. Politics is about everybody – so let’s try to get everybody involved!

Vox Political needs your help!
If you want to support this site
but don’t want to give your money to advertisers)
you can make a one-off donation here:

Donate Button with Credit Cards

Buy Vox Political books so we can continue
suggesting alternatives to failed government policies.

Health Warning: Government! is now available
in either print or eBook format here:

HWG PrintHWG eBook

The first collection, Strong Words and Hard Times,
is still available in either print or eBook format here:


7 thoughts on “Shouldn’t we call time on the Work Capability Assessment?

    1. Mike Sivier Post author

      The response to the third question is rubbish; it’s the answer they give when they have no intention of responding to the question.
      I’m currently running through an appeal against a similar response with the Information Commissioner’s Office. I’ll try to put up my reasons for appeal if it works, so others can get past this annoying and unnecessary hurdle.

  1. Sandy

    If you haven’t already read it, I think this article goes a long way to explain the ‘inexplicable’ of WCA.

    It’s not just down to the ‘Tick box’ mentality of WCA – and JSA sanctions – the very system itself is wrong from the off.

    That’s why I don’t think Sue Marsh working for Maximus will make a blind bit of difference.

    If you haven’t read this report before – 12 pages long – stick with it. It actually gets easier to read as it goes along.

  2. Rupert Mitchell (@rupert_rrl)

    There can be no two ways about this. The only people qualified to make these judgments are qualified medical practitioners. Any deviation from this logic can be dangerous for the person being interview and also life threatening if an incorrect judgment is made. We need good legal advice here.

  3. Chris

    There should be no conditionality to benefit at all.

    Many blogs show that the admin cost of benefit has soared by the billions, whilst the money to the starving has decreased by the billions during the Coalition’s rule. The cost of welfare has remained at £220 billion.

    Somewhere it was said that the Citizen Income idea, of automatic and universal £72 per week for all, in or out of work, would cost £280 billion.

    But this is not cost.

    It is investment in the economy.

    Because the minimal admin cost of Citizen Income would mean the bulk of the £280 billion would pour into local businesses which in turn would help with business rates to cash strapped councils.

    And would be the biggest solution for cost of living crisis.

    The con of the flat rate pension, adds to the millions of part time workers that are out of the welfare state and state pension system as below the low entitlement level by low wages / low income, to be in the National Insurance Fund.

    The Full Citizen State Pension is also minimal admin, unlike the flat rate that will have individuals with different rates from a complex calculation for decades to come.

    Mature shoppers are the main customers on the high street.

    So a Citizen State Pension of £278.10 per week for all citizens at 60, with perhaps raising the retirement age for those with, say, £100,000 income and above, to 75 years, would mean nil need for Winter Fuel Allowance and other benefit top ups to pensioners, on the lowest state pension of all rich nations. So minimal admin costs.

    The £278.10 is the £113.10 basic state pension today (with flat rate forecasts coming in for retiring next year as low as £55 per week with no top ups) and the mis-sold opt out from SERPs / S2P that began on 6 April 1978. Without contracting out of SERPs, it is said to be around £165 per week of lost top up to the state pension, bearing in mind Pension Credit is lost next year.

    Without most of the admin of the DWP, shutting all 750 Jobcentres (now just about sanctioning with a trebling of number of sanction decision makers) and nil private welfare admin for constant re-assessments, these policies would pay off national debt and end starvation.

    Now that would put Labour into a majority government from 7 May 2015.

  4. beastrabban

    Mike, I’ve just put up a piece on my blog about a piece George Berger wrote on Gordon Waddell and the development of biopsychosocial theory, which basically puts everything down to ‘malingering’. According to George’s article, amongst the diseases Waddell thought were psychological in origin was chronic fatigue syndrome, repetitive strain injury and fibromyalgia. Now you know exactly whom to blame for the hoops Mrs Mike has had to jump through.

    George also makes the point that Waddell’s bizarre and stupid theory was strongly influenced by B.W. Skinner’s Behaviourism. Behaviourism was the school of psychology that argued that there was no such thing as the mind, and you should look to behaviour to assess someone’s mental state, rather than what they actually said. Skinner was also the inventor of the ‘Skinner Box’, the enclosed environment which could be used to condition creatures, including people. It’s been sent up several times in The Simpsons.

    This article illustrates just how much Behaviourism has influenced the Atos assessment form with Ekklesia’s observation that it does not take into account conditions like extreme fatigue and exhaustion. Indeed not. These are subjective mental states that Behaviourism did not believe could be reliably assessed scientifically, and so tried to exclude from objective scientific research.

    Behaviourism has long been discredited. It’s time this piece of pseudoscience went the same way as well.

  5. Thomas M

    The WCA is just a way to take benefits away from those who need them, meaning the affected people either starve, work as slave labour, steal from shops to feed themselves or at best are totally dependent on their families.

Comments are closed.