The work test that doesn’t work
The government’s Work Capability Assessment is finding people fit for work but then leaving them to the mercies of a labour market that fails to employ them. That is the bleak finding of Fit for Work? So why am I not working? a new report for Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres.
Every year, people with health problems and disabilities who want claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have to ‘pass’ the Work Capability Assessment . Thousands who are found ‘fit for work’ appeal and in Derbyshire, many come to the Derbyshire Unemployed Workers’ Centres for support. We have represented over 1000 disabled people, winning around 75% of those that have eventually reached an oral appeal.
There has been much discussion and focus on the WCA concerning both how it is conducted and its adequacy as an indicator of ‘fitness for work’. In our experience people feel that the process takes little or no account of medical evidence from doctors, consultants and other practitioners. Many feel that they are pushed through a system with little or no dignity. These are, no doubt, very serious concerns. However, the main thrust of the ESA regime, introduced by the last Labour Government, was to bring people closer to the labour market and back into work. With the spotlight mostly on the WCA and ATOS, the firm carrying out the assessments, the impact on the individual’s contact with the labour market has been lost, being ignored, for the most part, by politicians and the media.
Our report emerged from our concern about this. We interviewed 50 people by telephone that had both failed the WCA and lost at Appeal. Our interviews, conducted by volunteers, found that:
- Only one person was in full time work at the time of the interviews.
- Only nine people were in part time work at the time of the interviews.
- 80% of the people were not in work when interviewed despite being found fit for work months earlier.
- All fifty had experienced difficulties in finding work because of their health condition.
- 68% of the people thought that they would never return to work.
The study together with our everyday experience of dealing with ESA claimants and their concerns has led us to put forward the following recommendations:
- The level of JSA should be raised to, at least, the same level of payments as ESA. If the Government is right that claimants are claiming the wrong benefit they should be incentivised to present themselves as fit for work and claim JSA with all that that entails.
- Increase the demand for labour. Areas of the country where there are few people on ESA correlate highly with those that have a buoyant labour market. We need a robust regional economic policy to combat the low level of employment opportunities. There need to be incentives for job creation and properly co-ordinated training programmes linked to real employment opportunities. Government must come out of denial that it can make little difference to the availability of work. Imagine if a small portion of the monies poured into the banking crisis had been used for education, research and job creation.
- There needs to be more help and support for people with health limiting conditions. Many people have told us that they would like to work but feel the help is not provided to make that possible. Employers will, in most cases choose those that are not presenting themselves with health issues.
- The system of assessing fitness for work needs to be properly scrutinised and overhauled in the light of the overwhelming evidence of its human cost. There needs to be penalties for ‘getting it wrong’. There is little or no incentive for the firms awarded the contracts to get it right even by their own standards. Claimants face benefit loss and sanctions while multinational firms are rewarded even when continually get it wrong. If we are to continue testing fitness for work then people need to have the confidence that they are to be treated with dignity and that the companies doing the testing are accountable for the fallout of the reports that the DWP act upon.
For copies of our report, please visit http://www.duwc.org.uk and go to “recent publications”.