Campaigners are to ask a judge to declare that the government’s controversial “fitness for work” test is unlawful because it discriminates against people with mental health conditions.
Two people with mental health conditions, both supported by the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), will be seeking permission for a judicial review at a hearing on 29 June at the high court in London.
Their lawyers will be arguing that the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) fails to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties.
They want the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to agree to routinely seek medical evidence for such claimants in order to make an accurate assessment of their ability to work.
Currently, many claims are decided on the basis of assessments by healthcare professionals who are not specialists in mental health and have no medical evidence from the claimants’ GPs or consultants in front of them.
A legal victory – if a judicial review is granted and they succeed in their case – will not lead to the WCA being scrapped, but it is hoped that it will make it fairer and less stressful for those with mental health problems and learning difficulties.
Thousands of people with mental distress have been found unfairly fit for work after an assessment, since 2008.
Many go on to win an appeal against this decision, but some are unable to cope with an appeal, or experience a relapse in their health as a result of the appeal process.
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 and those with long-term health conditions.
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.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed that the government would contest the case, but was unable to say anything further.
24 May 2012