Over the next three years 1.5 million people currently claiming incapacity benefit will undergo the work capability assessment to see if they are fit to work. Soon 1,000’s of people will be receiving letters asking them to attend work capability assessments. Yet, the test has been vigorously criticised by charities such as Citizens Advice and by a government-commissioned independent review, saying that the process is impersonal, and ill-equipped to gauge the seriousness of mental health conditions, or complex medical problems.
On Monday the Commons Work and Pensions Committee held an open meeting in Burnley, to hear the views of people who have actually undergone the new work capability test. A report in the Guardian newspaper gives a powerful account of what the Committee heard and it wasn’t good.
“I just seemed to be a number. The health professional didn’t know what one of my conditions was,” one man said.
“My wife scored zero points,” another said. “The test was a total waste of time; it was all physically orientated, nothing about her mental state. They asked things like ‘Can you brush your teeth?’ How that relates to mental health issues is beyond me. It was overthrown at tribunal. I can only describe it as mental torture; she was a mental wreck after it.”
Paul Hogarth, from the local Citizens Advice Bureau, argued that the test was not fit for purpose, frequently declaring people with serious health conditions fit for work. The advice centre had supported many people to tribunals, 80% of whom had seen the assessor’s decision overturned, he said.
Kevin Nuttall, a welfare rights adviser working with Action for Blind People in Lancashire, said he had supported someone through a test which concluded that he had “mild visual impairment” and was fit for work. “He was in fact registered blind,” he said.
Others highlighted the long wait for appeals to be heard, and the impact. “I am waiting for a tribunal, but I’m told that it won’t be before June, because there are so many people waiting. I’m stuck on the £65 benefit until then,” a woman with ME said, and began to cry.
The chair, Dame Anne Begg said she was concerned about the speed with which the reform was being pushed through: “Personally, I see there are serious problem with the WCA. My view is that either they should be slowing down the national rollout or speeding up the implementations of changes to the system”