The 4th and penultimate review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) undertaken by Dr Paul Litchfield has been published. We welcome its recognition that the process takes too long and is too complex.
The review also suggests other basic areas for improvement: “particularly ensuring that people are treated with dignity and respect” and acknowledges: “decision making overall is not working as well as intended”. This is despite the WCA being used on over two million people in the last five years.
The DBC agrees that the system is still not working. Steve Winyard, Chair of the DBC Steering Group and Head of Policy and Campaigns at RNIB says:
“After five years, four reviews, millions of pounds in appeals and hundreds of thousands of disabled people let down and made to feel a burden a complete overhaul is still required.
The assessment remains broken. The WCA wastes millions of pounds denying appropriate benefits or help to find work for disabled people”.
Lack of progress from former reviews
This is the fourth review of the WCA and was specifically tasked with taking forward: ‘any outstanding areas of work identified in the years one, two and three reports during year four’ and to ‘Monitor and report on implementation of the recommendations in the years one, two and three reports’.
The DWP ‘accepted’ former proposed improvements and the Litchfield review suggests (page 18) 83% of all the recommendations have been fully implemented. But the experiences of the people we represent certainly does not reflect this level of improvement.
Cost of failure to improve WCA
The failure to act on ‘accepted’ recommendations has left DWP open to the potentially avoidable Judicial Review of the WCA: http://www.rethink.org/get-involved/campaigns/unfair-wca/wca-judicial-review-faq and means:
- £66m in appeals costs last year. And 30% of all ‘fit for work’ decisions appealed to date have resulted in the initial decision being overturned;
- Two thirds of all benefits cases taken to appeal relate to ESA. The Ministry of Justice reports that the over 100,000 cases in the last quarterly report: “was driven by appeals in relation to Employment and Support Allowance, which increased by 86%”. The appeal rate has contributed to a tribunals system case backlog of over 900,000;
- 200,000 disabled people have only accessed the appropriate ESA WRAG via appeals and reconsiderations (36% of the entire group); and
- routine reliance on reconsiderations and appeals wasting DWP resources that could be better invested in providing effective employment support for disabled people.
In the poisonous context of disabled people being inferred as ‘unfair for taxpayers’, ‘fraudsters’ and ‘shirkers’, the emotional impact of being told you are fully fit for work despite considerable societal and impairment/health related barriers can be extreme. In failing to improve the WCA, DWP has not acknowledged the considerable stress and anxiety the process can cause.
Providing additional evidence
Disabled people’s health conditions/impairments are not new to DWP. Much information is already held by the department but not shared with assessors.
Insufficient time is provided for disabled people to collect further independent medical evidence before the assessment. The timeframe has been reduced, contrary to DBC advice and undermining the WCA further. The Litchfield Review makes recommendations about the ESA50 process (page 46), some of which are a step in the right direction. But we would have liked the review to go further in some areas, including a recommendation on extending the timeframe to collect the additional medical information required.
Failing to help disabled people into work
If the Government’s aim is to support more disabled people into work, then it is essential disabled people can access appropriate help. Some additional help is only available through ESA, but many disabled people remain unable to access ESA due to WCA problems. There has been a recent decline in blind and partially sighted people accessing the ESA WRAG for example. But even for disabled people in the WRAG, a DBC survey highlighted that half were getting no help to find and keep work.
The DBC, our recommendations and further contact
We are a national coalition of over 50 different organisations committed to working towards a fair benefits system. To see our latest recommendations or other information visit: https://disabilitybenefitsconsortium.wordpress.com/
For further information on this initial response please contact Neil Coyle on: 020 7391 2382 or email: Neil.Coyle@rnib.org.uk