A high-profile network of disabled researchers are to return after a six-year pause to produce a report on a white paper that contains “nonsensical” government plans to scrap the work capability assessment.
A key researcher with the Spartacus network told Disability News Service (DNS) this week that work had already started on a new report.
Spartacus produced a string of influential reports on disability and social security between 2011 and 2017, all researched and written by a loose network of disabled and chronically-ill people.
Now Spartacus researchers are set to produce an “essential” report on the flaws within the government’s new plans, and how to fix them.
Caroline Richardson, who has been involved with Spartacus since it first evolved on social media in 2011, said the government’s plans to scrap the work capability assessment (WCA) threatened to have a “tsunami” impact on sick and disabled people.
She said: “‘From our point of view it is essential because then we will know we have done something of importance with the community, for the community, to protect the community, and to protect people going forward who are going to become sick and become victims of the system.”
Under the government’s plans, sick and disabled people who cannot work will only be able to qualify for a new health element of universal credit if they also receive the extra costs benefits personal independence payment (PIP) or disability living allowance.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed to DNS this week that the government would not be introducing any legislation to scrap the WCA until after the next general election.
But Richardson said the Transforming Support white paper had caused “massive” concern.
She said: “They are getting rid of a long-term sickness benefit for every person in the country.
“A lot of people will not get PIP. What’s going to happen to them?”
She pointed out that to qualify for PIP, a claimant – other than those who are terminally-ill – has to have had their impairment or health condition for at least three months and it has to be predicted to last at least another nine months.
Richardson said this could cause serious problems for people with long Covid if they “run out of statutory sick pay”, which only lasts 28 weeks.
She said: “How many doctors are now going to say long Covid will last another nine months?
“The medical community doesn’t know. The medical community is all over the place regarding outcomes of long Covid.”
She said similar problems would be faced by sick and disabled people with many other impairments or conditions.
“Are they going to abandon the stringency of the criteria of PIP in order to allow more people to claim the health element?”
She said the plans were “nonsensical”.
Last week, disabled activists described the government’s reforms as “heartless” and said they “defy logic” and pose significant risks to sick and disabled people who cannot work.
The WCA has been blamed for countless deaths and years of harm caused to claimants since its introduction in 2008.
But the decision to scrap it will mean disabled people who were previously assessed as not needing to carry out any work-related activity will in the future have to rely on the judgement of jobcentre work coaches to “determine what, if any, work-related activities an individual can participate in”.
This raises the prospect of claimants with significant impairments or long-term health problems facing strict conditions imposed by a work coach with no health-related qualifications, including potential benefit sanctions if they are unable to meet those conditions.
Richardson said she was terrified by the prospect of jobcentre work coaches deciding whether she was able to carry out work-related activity or look for a job.
The first Spartacus report was published in late 2011 and responded to the coalition government’s consultation on the introduction of PIP to replace working-age disability living allowance.
Another report, published a year later, found disabled people were experiencing humiliating and inappropriate treatment because of the failings embedded within the WCA system.
The most recent Spartacus report was published six years ago and responded to the government’s work, health and disability green paper.
The 237-page report accused ministers of creating a “smokescreen” to disguise their intention to cut support and force sick and disabled people into inappropriate work.
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