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DWP ignored ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked WCA with 600 suicides, MPs are told

28 June 2022

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) ignored leading academics after they published “hugely alarming” research that linked the work capability assessment with 600 suicides in just three years, the Disability News Service reports.

The failure is just the latest evidence to show how the DWP ignored and covered-up warnings about the safety of its disability benefit assessment system over the last decade.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee was hearing evidence on the assessment system on 22 June from Professor Ben Barr, from the University of Liverpool, and Dr Ben Baumberg Geiger, from the University of Kent.

Professor Barr was one of the team who published ground-breaking research in 2015 that concluded that the government’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment (WCA) was linked to about 600 suicides in just three years.

He told the committee that the study, and other evidence that has emerged over the last decade – such as reports of individual deaths and reports by coroners – showed “clear evidence that there’s potential for the assessment process to cause some very major adverse effects on mental health”.

He added that while it was impossible to prove that the WCA caused the 600 suicides, although it was “extremely likely” and “extremely plausible that the assessment process led to those outcomes”.

However, the DWP had not contacted the research team after the article was published. Professor Barr had recommended in the study that DWP should start to monitor the WCA’s “adverse outcomes it failed to contact them to discuss the recommendation and the wider study.

He said it was not possible to say if the level of harm had decreased since 2015 because DWP “hasn’t been collecting the data to be able to answer that question and hasn’t enabled researchers and others access to the data that would enable that to be answered more robustly.”

He called on the Committee to push for DWP to monitor “adverse outcomes coming through the assessment process”.

Dr Baumberg Geiger said that – despite recent claims from DWP assessment contractors that their performance had improved – his own research suggested there were “still major problems with the WCA that could lead to increased risks of poor mental health”.

He said that provisional results from a survey of more than 7,000 benefit claimants found more than half of those who had been through a WCA said it had made their mental health worse, adding that it was "not sufficient just to say this is a historic problem and everything is fine now.”

In addition, he also raised serious concerns about the gradual move of disabled people onto the universal credit working-age benefit system, which can place demands on disabled claimants before they have had the chance to be assessed through the WCA.

Professor Barr said that it was not possible to examine the impact of universal credit on mental health, and whether it had also led to suicides, because DWP was refusing to release the data needed to carry out that research “when it is within its power to do that and it would be possible to assess those impacts”.

Ken Butler DR UK's Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said: “The number of claimant deaths and serious harm caused by the WCA should be a national scandal. What’s needed is a full independent public inquiry looking at the scale of the deaths, the responsibility around the culture of the DWP, and the policies that contributed to it.

 The WCA needs to be scrapped and replaced by a more holistic assessment that would take into account “real world” factors such as access to suitable transport; skills gaps; and the actual availability of relevant employment in the local economy.”

Source and for further information see DWP ignored ‘hugely alarming’ research that linked WCA with 600 suicides, MPs are told available from disabilitynewsservice.com 

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