Disabled people are still experiencing humiliating and inappropriate treatment because of the failings embedded within the government’s “fitness for work” assessment system, according to a new report researched and written by a disabled campaigner.
The People’s Review of the Work Capability Assessment is the fifth major research report into the impact of government cuts on disabled people by the WeAreSpartacus group of campaigners and researchers.
And its profile secured a huge boost when the actor and writer Stephen Fry – a Twitter superstar with more than five million followers – retweeted a link to the report this morning (15 November).
The report, which has so far been retweeted nearly 1,500 times, aims “to show the reality of going through the work capability assessment (WCA)”, which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
It includes accounts of more than 70 people who have been assessed, and of welfare rights advisers and other professionals, the results of Freedom of Information requests, and summaries of parliamentary and government publications and media investigations.
It also details a string of cases involving ESA claimants who have killed themselves or otherwise died after being told they were “fit for work”, all of them in circumstances in which the WCA appears to have been a factor in their deaths.
And it comes as Professor Malcolm Harrington prepares to publish his third and final annual review of the WCA for the government, which is expected next week.
The author of The People’s Review, who has asked to remain anonymous because of the “culture of fear” that has built up around the assessment process, has taken a year to compile the report because of her health condition.
Jane Young, the coordinator of the WeAreSpartacus network, who edited the report, said she hoped its contents would be used by activists and MPs as a campaigning tool, particularly as a contrast to the expected conclusions of the Harrington report.
One disabled person who described experiencing the ESA system says in the report: “I am tired of fighting officials who seem to think they know more about my disabilities and needs than I do.
“It now makes me feel ashamed of who I am. I am being punished for being disabled and feel powerless.”
Many of those quoted describe their experiences at the hands of the healthcare professionals who are employed by Atos Healthcare to carry out the assessments.
A woman who accompanied her husband to his WCA says: “I can honestly say there are lies that go into that assessment. I do shorthand and I took down word for word my husband’s whole assessment. What actually came back was practically the opposite of everything he said.”
Another ESA claimant says: “I felt relief at getting ESA awarded, but three months later I’ve been sent a questionnaire to start the whole medical process again.
“Nothing’s changed in three months. I have a chronic condition, it’s not going to go away. Tipped me further into depression. Stress of the ESA makes my condition worse. I am worthless and a burden to society.”
And another disabled claimant says: “The assessor just sat behind a desk and barked questions at me, which caused me to have a panic attack, to which she told me to ‘stop messing about’.”
Professor Peter Beresford, who chairs the national user-led Shaping Our Lives network and is professor of social policy at Brunel University, says the research is particularly important because it reports “the direct voices of people at the sharp end” of the WCA.
He says in the report’s foreword: “This report lays bare the poverty of the WCA in theory and practice. And it does this by reporting its reality as experienced first-hand by disabled people.”
He says that evidence now shows the WCA to be “unreliable and unhelpful, as well as being arbitrary and cruel”, and adds: “It is an expensive, flawed and inefficient system that appears to cost more than it saves and is run by yet another multi-national corporation whose incompetence seems to go unpunished.”
15 November 2012