The government’s work capability test needs to do far more to recognise the barriers faced by people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties and fluctuating conditions, according to a coalition of charities.
The charities have called for better support for disabled people undertaking the work capability assessment (WCA), both before and after they have been assessed.
Their call came in a letter to Professor Malcolm Harrington, who is leading an independent review of the assessment for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The WCA determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit. Disability organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of the WCA since its introduction in October 2008.
The letter was coordinated by the Papworth Trust, but has also been signed by the Disability Benefits Consortium, and charities such as Mind, RNID, Deafblind UK and the Learning Disability Coalition.
They believe the WCA is “too focused on physical capability” so people with serious mental health conditions, learning difficulties and fluctuating health conditions are often unfairly marked as “fit to work”.
The Papworth Trust pointed to the case of a nurse manager who tried to commit suicide, but was then assessed as fit to work because she could wash, dress, walk and talk coherently.
She said: “I desperately want to go back to work but am still unwell. I need time and support to recover before I can hold down a full-time job again.”
The letter also says coalition members are becoming “increasingly puzzled” by the significant proportion (37 per cent) of people who withdraw their ESA claim before the end of the WCA process.
The coalition suggests that some of these people may have “become frustrated by the system and simply given up”, and urges Harrington to recommend that the DWP starts tracking what happens to them when they drop out.
The letter also calls on the DWP to record what happens to people with different impairments who have been passed fit for work, in order to “demonstrate whether the system is capable of supporting them”.
Matthew Lester, the Papworth Trust’s work and learning director, said: “The current process causes massive uncertainty and stress for those already struggling with their health. We believe that people should be supported before, during and after the assessment, with advice available at every step.”
2 September 2010