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

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 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.

Continue reading

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

Work Capability Assessment is a toxic failure – here’s a better way

By Ben Baumberg, University of Kent; Clare Bambra, Durham University; Jon Warren, Durham University, and Kayleigh Garthwaite, Durham University

Many words can be used to describe failing policies – whether it’s a “toxic brand” or the “blunders of government”. Whatever words we use, though, there can be few policies that are more toxic than the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – the test that determines whether disabled people can claim Employment and Support Allowance.

The WCA has seemingly been criticised by everyone: major charities, doctors and disabled people themselves. The perceptions of it are such that the private sector company carrying out the tests, Atos, reportedly handed money back to the government to escape their contract early because of the damage it was causing their brand and the “very toxic” environment for their staff.

But why is the WCA failing so badly – and what can do we to fix it? As we argue in a new Demos report, we cannot simply put the blame at the door of Atos. Continue reading