'Fit to work' tests not fit for purpose, say MPs

Jul 24, 2014

Select committee describes 'fit to work' assessments as 'simplistic and inaccurate' and urges complete re-design


A government select committee has found that the government's work assessments are "crude, simplistic and fail to fulfil [their] intended purpose", the Guardian reports.

Described by disability campaigners as the "get fit or get fired" campaign, the government's system of conducting work capability assessments to 'get people off benefits and into work' conducting has proved to be highly controversial.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently announced it would be ending its contract with the private company Atos early after concerns were raised about the quality of their work.

The decision came after it was revealed that "hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people [had] been wrongly judged to be fit for work and ineligible for government support", according to the Guardian. In 2013 a heart and lung transplant patient died in hospital only days after she was deemed 'fit to work' under the government's work capability assessment.

The select committee argues that the problems within the system were so severe that "simply 'rebranding' the WCA by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems".

What is a work capability assessment? 

The DWP assesses a claimant's eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) through a number of tests which fall under the work capability assessment.

Claimants need to provide a medical assessment saying they are unfit to work. They then need to complete a written questionnaire documenting how their illness/disability impacts their ability to work. The DWP can then make a decision based on the medical assessment and questionnaire or arrange a face-to-face-interview to decide whether they are eligible for ESA.

If their appeal is accepted, claimants will then either be placed in a support group or a work related activity group.

What is an ESA? 

Employment and Support Allowance offers claimants financial support if they are unable to work due to long-term physical or mental illness or disability. It also offers personalised support to help people work if they are able to.

ESA can be applied for by claimants who are already employed, self-employed or unemployed.

What were the select committee findings? 

The damning report by the select committee found that the scheme was ultimately "failing to fulfil its intended purpose of helping claimants back into work".

It also said the WCA's way of assessing claimants was "too simplistic" and their findings were "frequently inaccurate".

They found that claimants who underwent the assessment described it as a "stressful and anxiety provoking experience"

What is the committee suggesting? 

The report says the DWP needs to go further that simply 'rebranding' the system after ending its contract with Atos and urged the government to scrap the entire system and come up with a "fundamental re-design of the ESA end-to-end process."

It said the DWP should not rely solely on assessments provided by GPs, but should "seek the opinion of social workers and occupational therapists", Wales Online reports.

While it acknowledged the "scale and complexity" of determining eligibility for ESA, it urged the government to take responsibility for the assessment's failings.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said the process needs to be "more than an exercise in getting people offbenefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job."

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