The Rethinking Incapacity project

What does it mean to say that someone is ‘incapacitated’ – that is, they are not in paid work because of their ill-health or disability?

The ‘Rethinking Incapacity’ project aims to help policymakers create a better system of incapacity assessment – not just tinkering around the edges of the current system, but going back to think about what ‘incapacity’ actually means, and building up a fair and workable system from there. You can find out more about the project here.

The first report from the project was released in March 2015 – you can read the report, and read the accompanying blog.

The return of the stricter WCA?

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has for several years now been widely felt to be a harsh and unfair assessment of incapacity, as I’ve explored elsewhere. But what escaped some people’s notice was that it became a much more lenient assessment over time. Whereas two-thirds (67%) of those having an initial assessment in mid-2009 were getting found fit-for-work, this dropped to merely one-quarter (25%) in Nov 2014. Conversely, only 10% in mid-2009 were being allocated to the Support Group, compared to over 60% in Nov 2014. (The remaining people were allocated to the Work-Related Activity Group or ‘WRAG’, which is means-tested and in which people can be sanctioned to some degree).

However, the latest figures suggest the WCA is starting to become stricter again, as Disability News Service reported last week. Continue reading

How can we assess work capability in the ‘real world’?

This is a guest post by Elina Rigler, who has a background in research and – together with own experiences of  the benefit system – this led her to try to understand how we ended up with the current assessment model. I’ve found her ideas really important and thought-provoking (not that I always agree!), and I’m really glad to be able to share them via the blog.

 

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) determining someone’s eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) has been surrounded by controversy ever since it was introduced in 2008. For some time now, claimants themselves, disability organisations and academics such as Ekklesia and Scope have been calling for the WCA to be scrapped and replaced by a ‘real-world assessment’ (RWA).  It is not always clear, however, what is meant by a RWA, and what factors should be included in such an assessment.

One view – including the Rethinking the WCA report by Ben – is that incapacity for work “is intrinsically linked to employability”; hence, a RWA should take into account an individual’s age, education, work experience and other non-medical factors, while ignoring local labour demand.  But a RWA can also be interpreted more narrowly to refer to the level of functional ability required in the modern workplace – i.e. it should take account of the nature of jobs and the adjustments generally available in the workplace, but ignore wider personal circumstances.

In other words, the question is whether the main problem with the WCA is (i) that it focuses on the claimant’s functional limitations rather than their wider ability to get a job, or (ii) that it fails to assess the kind of level of functionality required in real jobs. Continue reading

Does the WCA really penalise poorer people?

Yesterday the Guardian posted an article with the headline ‘‘Biased’ fit for work tests penalise poorer people’, based on a soon-to-be-released piece of research. This seems to have caught a few people’s eye – but sadly this is one of those times that I think the media has got it wrong (much as it’s written by the usually excellent Frances Ryan). In this post, I’ll explain why the headline goes way beyond the evidence. Continue reading

The disability & employment agenda in 2016

I’m now back after my brief time in DWP – and it’s great to be able to blog freely again! So much has happened since last autumn, that I thought I’d return to blogging by putting together a list of links of things that link to the Government’s aim of halving the disability employment gap (I’ll try to keep this updated as the debate develops): Continue reading

Has the disability employment gap really declined?

If you keep track of key measures of disability equality in the UK, you’ll know that the gap in employment rates between disabled and non-disabled working-age people has gone down over the past fifteen years.  And you’d be in good company. Many experts have flagged this trend: from Dame Carol Black back in her influential 2008 review to a recent paper in the BMJ, and it’s one of the key DWP indicators that they regularly publish (and indeed write press releases about).

But if you thought this, you might be wrong.
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The inequality of incapacity

This post was first published on the collaborative blog OpenPop.

While many inequalities are extensively researched, particularly around income and health, it is perhaps surprising to still find other inequalities that are barely mentioned in the literature.  Yet this is true for one inequality around disability and work: almost no research focuses on why some people with disabilities are working and others are not, even when they have the same disabilities. What are the advantages that enable some – but only some, usually better-educated – sick and disabled people to stay attached to the labour market?

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Why the Budget’s cut to ESA may backfire

One of the lessons we learnt from Gordon Brown’s budgets is that some announcements can seem minor at the time of the budget, but which come back to haunt the Chancellor in later years.  To my mind, one aspect of today’s budget might be the same.  Osborne’s change to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the out-of-work benefit for sick & disabled people, didn’t even merit a mention in the BBC’s early summary.  But not only will this hit vulnerable claimants, which may lead to more criticism in the long run than the short run, it might also defeat the Government’s own commitment to getting disabled people into work too. Continue reading

Rethinking the Work Capability Assessment – new Demos report

Our report Rethinking the Work Capability Assessment has just been released by Demos today.  You can find the summary of the report here, and the full report here.

A blog post was published on The Conversation alongside the launch (and republished on the project blog here).  This is just the first output of the project – if you want to discuss this with us, please do get in touch!