Mental health system survivors and other disabled activists have conducted a vigil outside the high court in London, as it considered whether to grant permission for a judicial review of the government’s controversial “fitness for work” test.
Two people with mental health conditions, both supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), are claiming that the work capability assessment (WCA) is unlawful because it discriminates against people with mental health conditions.
Members of disabled people’s and other campaign groups such as the National Survivor User Network, Disabled People Against Cuts, WinVisible, the Social Welfare Union and the Pensioners Campaign UK joined MHRN in the vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice last Friday (29 June).
Disabled activist Adam Lotun, who took part in the vigil, said it was a “crucial” court case.
He said: “We weren’t shouting or doing anything like that. We just wanted to be there in support of the people who were taking the case, showing our solidarity with them.”
Lawyers for the two applicants argued that the WCA causes substantial disadvantage to people with mental health conditions, and that there is a duty on the Conservative work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for people to address that disadvantage.
They argued that the healthcare professionals employed by Atos Healthcare do not have specialist mental health expertise, and that claimants with mental health conditions are often ill-suited to obtain the evidence and support they need.
They want the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to agree to seek medical evidence for such claimants in order to make an accurate assessment of their ability to work.
A legal victory – if a judicial review is granted and the case succeeds – will not lead to the WCA being scrapped, but could make it fairer and less stressful for those with mental health problems.
The judgment was reserved until a later date.
The WCA was introduced by the Labour government in 2008 but is now a centrepiece of the coalition’s welfare reforms, and is used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).
The WCA has been the focus of a string of protests by disabled activists, who argue that the test is inaccurate, inflexible and damages the health or even contributes to or causes the deaths of some disabled people.
The MHRN was formed in 2010 by people claiming IB on mental health grounds, who were concerned about the proposed programme to reassess all those on the benefit for their eligibility for ESA.
Many of the network’s members have had relapses, episodes of self-harm and suicide attempts, and have needed higher levels of medication and even hospitalisation in the lead-up to their reassessment.
Thousands of people with mental distress have been found unfairly fit for work following their WCA, and while many go on to win an appeal against this decision, some are unable to cope with an appeal, or experience a relapse in their health as a result of the process.
3 July 2012