What effect do sanctions & conditionality have on disabled people?

There are times that policy runs ahead of academic knowledge. Indeed, this is often the case, for policies must first be introduced before social scientists can study them – and if policymakers were restricted to policies that had been tried and tested, then policy innovation would be impossible. Yet such innovation can come with considerable risks, as new policies can be introduced and widely imitated, only for social scientists – after some delay – to show that such policies are difficult to implement, can fail to achieve some of their aims, and may even have unforeseen and harmful consequences.

In a new special issue of the Journal of Poverty and Social Justice, we focus on one area where this might be happening: sanctions & conditionality for sick and disabled social security claimants. Continue reading

Do you want to give your thoughts on the WCA?

Would you be interesting in sharing your views on the WCA and conditionality, to help the Rethinking Incapacity project?

As part of my research, I’m speaking to different groups of people about what they think of the current system, and how they think it should be changed – including disabled and non-disabled members of the public, Maximus assessors, welfare-to-work providers, charities & think-tanks, and politicians. This will feed into my upcoming final Demos report to be sent to policymakers, as well as later academic & wider publications.

As part of this I’m keep to speak to DPOs and other disability campaigners, who are obviously a crucial voice to hear strongly. I am therefore holding a small group discussion on Friday 24th March:

  • The discussion will include up to 12 people.
  • We will be talking about your views of the current WCA & conditionality regime, how a few hypothetical people should be treated, and how the system should be reformed more broadly
  • It will be at 12-3pm in central London (I’ll pass on the venue for people who are confirmed attendees).
  • We will pay a per diem of £60, as well as reasonable travel costs within London.

If you would be interested in taking part or have any questions about this, then please get in touch with me (b.b.geiger@kent.ac.uk) ASAP – and many thanks in advance for your help!

Ben Baumberg Geiger

The Green Paper & I, Daniel Blake

After a year of false starts, three Secretaries of State, and a change of colour from white to green, the Work, Health & Disability Green Paper has finally come out. By a strange quirk of fate, these delays have meant it has come out barely a week after the launch of Ken Loach’s film I, Daniel Blake, perhaps the first screen polemic against the way that disability is treated in the benefits system. And even more surprisingly, I want to argue that the Green Paper can be seen as providing answers to one of the key issues in the film – at the same time as raising new questions that need to be answered.  Continue reading

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

Are disability assessments associated with adverse trends in mental health? A longitudinal ecological study

This is the title of a study that was recently published in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health (JECH) by Ben Barr and colleagues, which generated a considerable amount of press and political attention last week. Because I’m working with government at the moment I can’t really comment on the study right now, but rest assured I will in April when I’m back in my usual role again – and I have a loose agreement with the journal (JECH) to write a commentary on the piece too. In the meantime, the article itself is open access, and you can read it yourself here.

A (temporary) change to the Rethinking Incapacity blog

The blog is temporarily changing, and I thought it was important to be clear to people that read the blog (you!) about what’s going on.

As of last month (Sep 2015), I am working part-time with the Department of Work and Pensions.  While I’m at the DWP, this means that I can’t publicly comment on issues around the WCA etc. Which will be a bit of a change! However, the blog will continue, focusing more on the latest policy-related research than on policy itself. Continue reading