Protesters took part in a vigil outside the Royal Courts of Justice this week as they awaited a ruling in a case that could force the government to improve its much-criticised “fitness for work” test.
Inside, the high court was hearing the claim for judicial review brought by two disabled people, who say the work capability assessment (WCA) discriminates against them and other people with mental health conditions, as well as those with learning difficulties.
They argue that many claimants are assessed by healthcare professionals who are not mental health specialists, and that the WCA fails to make reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act for mental health survivors and people with learning difficulties.
They want the Department for Work and Pensions and Atos Healthcare – the company which carries out the tests – to seek further medical evidence at the beginning of each claim for all such claimants, rather than forcing them to describe themselves how their ability to work is affected by their impairment.
The hope is that a court victory will force the government to make the WCA fairer and less stressful for some people, and possibly exempt some claimants from face-to-face assessments.
Outside the courts, protesters said the result of the case, expected tomorrow (18 January), could have “massive importance” in the campaign to scrap the WCA, which decides eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
Dave Skull, from the Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), which is supporting the two claimants – known as MM and DM – said the case could be a vital “first step”.
He said: “There are obviously broader concerns about the whole process, so this case isn’t the answer to everything, but it would at least be a safeguard.”
MHRN was formed in 2010 by people claiming incapacity benefit on mental health grounds, who were concerned about the programme to reassess all those on the benefit for eligibility for its replacement, employment and support allowance.
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.
Another protester, Claire Glasman, from the disabled women’s organisation WinVisible, said one of her network’s members had started to self-harm after being told by letter that her benefits were to be reassessed.
She said: “She has ended up in a psychiatric hospital as a result of the DWP letters. She hoped to get back into waged work but all her efforts were thwarted.”
Andy Greene, a member of the steering group of Disabled People Against Cuts, who also attended the protest, said the court’s decision would be of “massive” importance.
But he said the high appeal rates against being found fit for work were “evidence enough that something is seriously flawed”.
Greene said the court case should help clarify whether those flaws were in the design of the WCA, or with how it was delivered by Atos.
17 January 2013