The Benefit System, Welfare to Work, Work Capability Assessment

– Fitness-to-work tests to be reformed after criticism

Fitness-to-work tests reformed

The tests which determine whether people are fit to work are to be reformed to offer more support and to take greater account of mental health conditions.

An independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), introduced under Labour in 2008, has proposed substantial changes to make it “fairer and more effective”. It is currently being used to assess new claimants and will be used to test everyone from early next year.

In the coalition agreement, the Government confirmed its plans to change this. ‘From April 2011 we will put 1.6 million people, all of those on incapacity benefits who are not close to retirement, through an independent medical assessment. Those found fit for work or with the potential to return to work will be given specialist support to help them do so, though Jobcentre Plus and through our new Work Programme. Those who are deemed unable to work will continue to receive full support.’

A number of changes have already been outlined by the Government but the substantial recommendations from the independent review into the assessment process, carried out by one of Britain’s leading occupational health specialists, Professor Malcolm Harrington, have now been published and with it the Government’s response.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling said the test should be “fair and just” while helping people back to work. Iain Duncan Smith, the Work and Pensions Secretary, added “the WCA is the right test for the future and we are determined to ensure it is fair for individuals and fair for the taxpayer”.

The government wants to cut the number of benefit claimants, as part of its efforts to drive down the welfare bill, by ensuring all those able to work are looking for employment.

In total more than 2.2 million people, – a decrease of 0.4 million from last year – are on incapacity benefits and ministers want to reassess everyone on such benefits by March 2014.

Incapacity benefits cost the state £13.4bn in 2009.

Mental health campaigners say the test is flawed as it focuses on people’s physical capacity to work while the number of test verdicts overturned on appeal shows the system is not working. The report recommends that Mental health experts should be present in all assessment centres.

It also calls for more support for those being assessed, better communication of what the test entails and for tests to be filmed on a pilot basis.

Those unable to work would continue to receive “unconditional support”, those deemed fit to work would be “challenged” to do so as people were always better off working.

The report also found there was no evidence that the assessment process was being driven by financial targets – a claim long denied by ministers.

As part of their welfare reform programme, ministers have said those deemed fit to work who do not find employment within a year will be means-tested and could be moved on to jobseeker’s allowance.
Critics have said this could lead to up to 200,000 people seeing their benefits cut.

Some of Professor Harrington’s recommendations which the Government fully endorses include:

• Dealing with the complexities of cases involving mental health and similar issues by creating a network of “mental health, intellectual and cognitive champions” in each Atos Medical Examination Centre to spread best practice and build understanding of these conditions;

• Strengthening the checks and balances in the system by placing the Jobcentre Plus Decision Maker at the heart of the process;

• Improving communications and the level of support provided to those who undergo a WCA; and

• Ensuring the Atos assessment is transparent, subject to an initial pilot, recording all assessments.

To see the Government’s response to the Independent Review of the WCA in full detail:
Source: Here

See also here

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