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

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

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 end of the WCA? Reaction to IDS’ speech

The Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith MP, seemed last week to say he will end the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – which for this project dedicated to looking at the WCA and how to improve it (not to mention the hundreds of thousands of people going through the assessment each year), is obviously big news.  It came in a speech hosted by the think-tank Reform, and while it wasn’t open to journalists, it spurred widespread news coverage as well as reaction from disability charities and campaigners.  For reasons that I’ll explain later this month, I’m not going to give my own reaction here – though you can read about what I think needs to happen to the WCA here.  Instead, I’ve tried to distil both the speech itself and everyone else’s reaction to it.

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Death, dishonesty and the WCA

Last week saw the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in the headlines, not once, but twice – a rare occurrence even for a policy that featured in nearly ever party manifesto earlier this year. I’ll blog tomorrow about a widely-reported speech hinting at the future of the WCA by the Secretary of State. First, though, I want to focus on a front page of the Guardian prompted by DWP data released by a Freedom of Information Request, about the existing failings of the WCA.

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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