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DR UK wants true reporting on WCA

05 February 2014

Following news that 32% of new claimants for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were deemed as fit for work between October 2008 and March 2013, Philip Connolly, the policy manager for Disability Rights UK,Philip Connolly makes the following  plea to journalists

The real story on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

Essentially the recent DWP statistical release was misleading for at least two reasons:

1)    it was a five years total  and it didn’t include a further breakdown to show that many people had stopped their claim because they had made a recovery, no longer needed the benefit and returned to work

2)    it included no reference to the test itself so that people could make an assessment of whether the test was fair

The test is in three parts:

1)    activities of daily living

2)    observed behaviour

3)    assessment against criteria called descriptors

Some of the problems identified

Most people have no idea of the first two parts and so do not appreciate that they are in fact being tested even before they arrived at the assessment centre – i.e. please tell us how you got here today 

The test is conducted by health care professionals – this masks the fact that physiotherapists may and indeed are making assessments of peoples mental health

For many impairment groups there is no concept of what work they are being are being found fit to do

The test assumes all employers have an enlightened attitude to the  employment of disabled people – despite DWP research to the contrary (DWP Report 202)

The test assumes that all employers have made reasonable adjustments to accommodate disabled recruits – despite DWP research to the contrary (DWP Report 202)

The test is based on a false premise – that people have one condition, that this manifests itself in a work setting in one way, that this requires one adaptation and that this can be measured in one way – blind people are especially disadvantaged by this since sight loss affects the information obtained by the brain in decision making thjere is no one manifestation or adaptation

The test fails to look at what would be reasonable to an employer and their workplace requirements – this is one reason why the only group to achive changes in regulations were the cancer patients and one reason for this is that employers did not want these people in woirk when they were suffering the debilitating effects of their treatment.

The guidance behind the test allows questions to be asked totally irrelevant to a real work situation e.g. blind people can be asked if they can run a bath.

The descriptors (you need 15 to obtain the Employment and Support allowance) are particularly unfair

Some examples of how the descriptors penalise disabled people being placed in the work related activity group to then be able to obtain the benefit:

7 (2) Communication

“Understanding communication by non verbal means (such as 16 point print or Braille alone)”

So it is possible for a blind person to be failed for eligibility on the basis of being able to read Braille even though almost no employer can produce material in Braille or any sighted co-worker use it as a communication medium with them.

9 (A) Continence

“At least once a month experiences: ….

So it is possible for a person to be found fit for work, put in a work environment where they might soil their clothes but provided that this isn’t more than once a month this is acceptable to an employer.

Example of unfair descriptors to be eligible for the support group for the benefit

14 “has on a daily basis uncontrollable episodes of aggressive behaviour which is unreasonable in any workplace” – 15 points

So you could have episodes of uncontrollable agressive behaviour which are unreasonable in any workplace but provided these were only every two days you wouldn’t be placed in the support group. 

Every descriptor needs re examining but despite four reviews the only descriptors to have been changed are for cancer patients so as to equate chemotherapy with radiotherapy. This change happened in part because people with cancer were being found fit for work and then in some instances dying before their appeal could be heard.  The reviews conducted to date have been the equivalent of polishing driftwood i.e. the test itself is not fit for purpose in the same way that driftwood has no purpose.

I look forward to supporting journalists efforts to get the truth into the public domain. At present most of the media stories on the WCA carry with them the implication that disabled people are cheating the system the truth is that the test is unfair. Other consequences flow from this injustice:

1)    you cannot allow the suggestion to arise that disabled people are workshy, feckless or possibly fraudulent and then expect employers to want to take them on

2)    you cannot permit a negative view of disabled people to be the norm and then not think that some members of the public will not think that they are fiar game for abuse or even physical violence

3)    you compound many disabled people’s negative outlook and add to the likelihood that some will become further depressed

I have never met a journalist from mainstream media who has read the test but via the following link you could be amongst the first