26 July 2011
As reported yesterday, the Work and Pensions Committee has published the findings of its inquiry into the role of Incapacity Benefit reassessment in helping claimants into employment.
Action for M.E. was among those who submitted written evidence.
The report supports the Government's objective of “helping people with disabilities and long-term health conditions to move back into employment, while continuing to provide adequate support for people who have limited capability for work or are unable to work.”
It also says: “The decision-making process is also showing signs of improvement, with more decisions on work capability being "got right the first time."
However, the report is critical in many respects, as detailed in its conclusions and recommendations.
The following is an adapted from the report summary.
- The Government needs to be proactive in explaining its aims for the process and in emphasising the range of support which will be available to claimants.
- Care should be taken in the language used in all Government communications, and in the contacts Jobcentre Plus and Atos Healthcare have with claimants, to stress that being found fit for work is a positive outcome and should not be interpreted as "failing the test."
- Media coverage of the reassessment is often irresponsible and inaccurate. Portraying the reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants as some sort of scheme to "weed out benefit cheats" shows a fundamental misunderstanding of the Government's objectives.
- The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) as introduced in 2008 was flawed. This has been borne out by the high number of appeals and the high success rate of appellants.
- The service provided by Atos Healthcare, which carries out the WCA, has often fallen below the standard claimants rightly expect. This has contributed significantly to the widely felt mistrust of the whole process.
- Welcome changes to the WCA have been made, mainly in response to the recommendations in Professor Malcolm Harrington's independent review. However, the WCA requires further refinements.
- Government needs to take steps to strengthen the link between the assessment process and employment support under the Work Programme
Professor Harrington's second review will focus on mental, intellectual and cognitive conditions and fluctuating conditions; improving the IT system; tracking outcomes of different claimant groups; and assessing whether the WCA could contribute more to establishing an individual's employment capability.