Last year I wrote about my friend Yvonne, who had undergone an Atos Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and been placed in the Work Related Activity Group, meaning she was expected to attend the Jobcentre and prepare for work.
This decision was so wrong it was ludicrous. Many years after a double lung transplant Yvonne is experiencing all the problems of organ rejection, and at the time of her assessment, had a collapsed lung. One only has to look at her to see she is not a well person. But the Work Capability Assessments treat people like machines, probing and testing each mechanical function of the body, and awarding points for the bits that don’t work. So one can be seriously ill but pass a WCA. An executive from the Work Programme has complained about being sent dialysis patients and people with terminal cancer.
Thankfully, Yvonne was recently told that her appeal had been successful. Her Doctor said she had written ‘the most strongly worded letter I have ever written’ on her behalf. This was almost a year after her assessment, a year in which Yvonne had contemplated losing her income and tried to make arrangements to move in with a friend if she could no longer pay the rent. Her health has also deteriorated. But this is not the end of it. Employment Support Allowance, unlike Incapacity Benefit which it replaced, is time-limited to 12 months, so there is every possibility that Yvonne will soon be dragged into this extremely stressful process once again, with no guarantee that next time the decision will be correct.
There is really no way the WCA should be described as ‘a medical’ because it fails to take into account a person’s overall medical condition. This is why Dr Greg Wood, who was employed to carry out WCAs, has blown the whistle, branding the whole process cruel and unfair. Indeed the whole medical profession has now rejected the WCA, with the BMA calling for it to be scrapped with immediate effect in 2012, and the RCN condemning it at their conference this year.
These deeply inappropriate assessments are not only cruel to the people who are put through them, and devastating when the decision is wrong, which is so often the case, they are extremely bad value for the taxpayer. Tom Greatrex MP has written to David Cameron asking for an urgent investigation into this matter.
In February this year the Public Accounts Committee issued a highly critical report, in which it said that, over and above the £100million Atos is paid each year to carry out assessments, ‘The Department does not know the full cost to the taxpayer of the overall decision-making process for Work Capability Assessments. Whilst some costs are known, such as the £26.3 million paid to HM Courts and Tribunals Service for its work on appeals, there is little information on the cost and impact on the National Health Service……….’
It is obvious that this process is damaging the health of many people, so disability rights group Black Triangle is running a campaign to highlight two ESA regulations, which GPs can use to help their patients. Regulations 25 and 31 can be invoked by a doctor who believes that being found ‘fit for work’ would pose a substantial risk to their patient’s mental or physical health. More information can be found here.
When talking about her awful experience of a WCA, Yvonne made a very sobering and thought-provoking point. She received lungs from a donor, for which she will be eternally grateful, and worked for ten years after transplant, until her Doctor told her to stop. But now she’s asking, why offer people transplants if, when they run into problems, which they inevitably will, society is not prepared to support them? Why pull out all the stops to save the lives of very premature babies, if they are going to become sick or disabled adults who find support being taken away, or given very begrudgingly? Society must decide if it has a place for disabled people, and if so, commit to giving them the support they need.
Meanwhile, the government continues to misuse statistics to imply that many in receipt of disability benefits are frauds, so eroding sympathy within the general population. The government falsely claimed that when assessments were made more stringent, almost a million people dropped their claims. This was completely untrue, the figures issued to support this assertion were an accumulation of four years ‘churn rate’ where people get better and, being honest, go back to work and drop their claim. But it is still being repeated on a regular basis. Only last week on the BBC’s Daily Politics Matthew Paris, a Conservative but hardly a ‘swivel-eyed loon’ repeated it to justify welfare cuts. Nobody challenged this purported ‘fact’.
If we believe sick and disabled people have a place in society then it must be accepted that many of them will at times be unable to work and support should be provided accordingly. And remember, any one of us could become sick or disabled tomorrow.
To call for an end to the Work Capability Assessment, as demanded by the BMA, please sign wowpetiton.com.
© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden