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 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?

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