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

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

Spartacus on the Budget and ESA WRAG

A quick post just to note that the Spartacus coalition of disability activists has released a couple of short notes in response to the Budget’s cut in the rate paid to ESA WRAG claimants from April 2017 (which I wrote about here):

  • Spartacus’ general critique of the policy is here
  • What I found particularly useful though was their clear description of who is in the ESA WRAG, including some vignettes of real people’s lives – which is in this note

Linking to these means neither that I agree or disagree with the documents, as always when linking. But I do think that if you’re reading this blog, you should read them!

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

Psychologists’ association calls for reform of WCA

Back in 2012, it was the GPs who called for the WCA to be scrapped. Now it’s the turn of the Psychologists, who earlier this week said that “The government should commission an ‘end-to-end redesign’ of the WCA process”. 

The call comes from the British Psychological Society, the professional body – and learned society -for psychologists in the UK. (Note that psychologists are often confused with psychiatrists, but they do quite different jobs). Continue reading

Disability and the benefits cap

Last Wednesday, amid the pomp of the State Opening of Parliament, and delivered by the Queen, we saw the first signs of the agenda of the new Conservative Government. Relatively little was said about disability and benefits – something that I’m sure will change in the Emergency Budget scheduled for July 6th (read my speculations here)- and the only bits that were mentioned were ones that the Conservatives had already promised in their manifesto. But I thought it was worth looking in a bit more detail about what the changes, particularly the lowering of the benefit cap, will mean for disabled people. Continue reading