British Psychological Society and charity consortium campaign for reform of WCA gains momentum

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I reported previously that the British Psychological Society (BPS) have called for the reform of the highly controversial Work Capability Assessment.

The BPS have cited a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Psychologists also argue that the WCA does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes for claimants.

The Society’s call for reform has gained momentum, with more than  20,000 people signing a petition to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and representatives of the charities Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness delivered the petition on Thursday, 5 November.

The highly problematic WCA is used to determine whether someone applying for employment and support allowance is “fit for work.” The charities say flaws in the test are causing a great deal of stress and anxiety. In some cases people are being wrongly assessed as fit for work, which can have devastating financial and personal consequences.”

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

“The Society has repeatedly asked for a meeting with ministers at the DWP so that we can express our concerns over the WCA – so far without success. We are particularly concerned that the government’s benefits policy may misuse psychological tools and techniques. We want to ensure policies are informed by appropriate psychological, theoretical and practical evidence.”

The Society published a briefing paper in June.

A Judicial Review of the WCA was instigated by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems, who were represented by the Public Law Project.

In May 2013 the Upper Tribunal made an “interim” judgment that the WCA puts people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism at a “substantial disadvantage”. It was a landmark ruling.

The Tribunal panel ruled that the DWP had failed to make reasonable adjustments, according to the Equality Act, to ensure people with mental health problems were treated fairly by the system. This failure meant such claimants were placed at a substantial disadvantage.

Directors of the three charities, Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness, all backed the case and welcomed the judgment, calling on the government to stop assessing people’s fitness for work under the current system until the issue was resolved.

The DWP immediately appealed against the judgment, stating there was no intention of halting the WCA process, but in December 2013 the Court of Appeal upheld the Upper Tribunal’s interim ruling.

The Tribunal held further Hearings in 2014, which were focused on whether or not there is a “reasonable” adjustment that the DWP should have put in place.

The Upper Tribunal confirmed its earlier ruling that the WCA puts people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism at a “substantial disadvantage”. However, it did not find, at this point,  that the claimants had been personally discriminated against.

As a result, the court said it could not compel the DWP to trial changes to the WCA. They also said that they did not have enough information to determine whether or not there is a reasonable adjustment which could be put in place for people with mental health problems.

However, the court said that there still may be reasonable adjustments that the DWP can make to the WCA, and has encouraged the DWP to trial changes “as soon as possible”.

Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, said:

“This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful. The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying for years – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support.

The work capability assessment process is deeply unfair for people with a mental illness – it’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre.”

Professor Malcom Harrington’s first review – published in back in November 2010 – had previously criticised the way the WCA process failed to properly account for and accommodate people that have chronic illnesses with fluctuating symptoms and people with mental health problems, and he recommended changes, including placing mental health experts in all test centres.

His recommendations have not been implemented.

Pictures courtesy of Robert Livingstone

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