Assessment’s first birthday sparks warnings from campaigners


Two charities have marked the first anniversary of the introduction of the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) with separate warnings about how the test is working.

The warnings came only days after the first official figures on the WCA revealed only a small proportion of those applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the out-of-work disability benefit for new claimants – are “passing” the strict new test.

Now a survey has found that many younger people with Parkinson’s disease who apply for ESA believe they are instead being placed unfairly on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) and pronounced fit for work, or forced into early retirement.

Disabled people on ESA are given personalised support and a higher level of benefits but expected to take part in work-related activity, or placed in a “support group” if they do not have to engage in work-related activity.

But the Parkinson’s Disease Society (PDS) said the “tick-box style” WCA does not take into account fluctuating conditions such as Parkinson’s.

The PDS survey of 40 people under 65 with Parkinson’s found two-fifths of respondents who applied for ESA were judged fit for work and put onto JSA or forced into early retirement.

Another one in five was placed in the ESA work-related activity group.

More than nine in ten of these two groups thought that decision was wrong.

PDS called for more time for assessments, training for assessors on complex conditions like Parkinson’s, and for previous medical records to be properly taken into account.

Val Buxton, PDS’s director of policy, campaigns and information, said: “We want to see these changes happen as soon as possible, to make sure that no-one with complex conditions like Parkinson’s is unfairly accused of being a benefits cheat.”

Meanwhile, Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) said the first year of the ESA/WCA was one of “misery and frustration” for disabled people and those with health conditions.

CAS said its bureaux had been “flooded” with complaints about the new system, which has been characterized by a “catalogue of errors”.

Some claimants have been judged ineligible for ESA, despite “clear evidence” from GPs that they are not fit to work, while others have experienced payment delays or been given conflicting advice by Jobcentre Plus staff.

CAS called for consistency in assessments, clearer guidelines for staff, faster appeals and a guaranteed “same-day payment” for those who need crisis loans because of problems caused by the new system.

27 October 2009