Tag Archives: WCA

Urgent petition to halt damaging changes to the work capability assessment #esaSOS

Re-blogged from: http://diaryofabenefitscrounger.blogspot.co.uk/2013/01/esasos.html


On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that –without even asking your opinion!
However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.

Imagine Bert, who suffers from severe schizophrenia, but is found fit to work and made to take behavioural therapy in the hope of improving his condition. He will lose his disability benefit, without the assessor having to look at several vital questions: how hard it would be for Bert to contact a psychiatrist? How long would an NHS appointment take to organize? Are there private options in his area – and could he afford them if so? What if the therapy doesn’t work, or takes a long time to adjust to?

“How individuals are assessed to receive ESA could give rise to large numbers of legal claims being made against them. These changes immediately puts the government at risk of breaching article 9 of the European Convention for the protection of Human Rights, which preserves an individual’s right to ‘thought, conscience and religion’. The new rules provide for an individual to be refused ESA if they do not take any medication or accept an aid which Doctors believe could aid their condition. Essentially, they can impose a financial penalty on individuals who refuse treatment on religious. Given the very recent decision involving the Christian, Nadia Eweida and the court upholding her right to wear a cross – the government is on very rocky ground with these changes.” Chris Fry, Solicitor and Managing Partner at Unity Law www.unity-law.co.uk

If the government’s rule changes go through, people like Bert who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.
This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead toboth physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Think of Emily, who suffers severe, chronic pain because of nerve damage to her leg. Emily is among the 49% of chronic pain sufferers who also suffer depression as a result of continuous pain. An assessor may see Emily as able to do some work as long as she takes strong painkillers for the rest of her life, meaning she could pass the ‘fitness’ test. Yet the painkillers may not deal with the depression caused by her condition. Painkillers have also often been shown to affect people’s wakefulness and decision-making. So taking the medication may affect Emily’s ability to do a job in a completely new way – yet because these new problems are cognitive, they would not need to be looked at by the assessor when making their decision!

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty. We cannot let the government treat some of the most vulnerable people in British society in this way.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

  1. Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency at http://www.parliament.uk/mps-lords-and-offices/mps/);
  2. Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media CLICK ON THE BUTTONS BELOW THIS POST TO SHARE ON TWITTER AND FACEBOOK
  3. Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes. So please spread the word as far and wide as you can!

Thank you so much for reading this far. Now let’s make sure these unwanted, damaging benefit changes never see the light of day!

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again. Sign here http://wowpetition.com – and ask all of your friends to sign too!

Shocking denial of liability for the well-being of sickness benefit claimants

The Countess of Mar tabled a written question that asked the Government: “What person or organisation is legally liable for the wellbeing of benefits claimants who are found to be fit for work under the work capability assessment and who are then made to work?” In a written reply, the Minister for Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions (Lord Freud) on 19 December 2012, replied:

The purpose of the work capability assessment (WCA) is to assist DWP decision-makers in assessing eligibility for benefit, or levels of benefit. The WCA is not a medical diagnosis and the decision affects benefit only; it does not oblige anyone to work.

Whilst the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions is legally responsible for all benefit decisions made by officials of the department on his behalf, there is no legal responsibility held by the Secretary of State for the well-being of benefit claimants.

Therefore, neither DWP nor WCA healthcare professionals are liable for any adverse consequence suffered by a claimant following a decision that the claimant is fit for work or for work-related activity.

This is a shocking statement on many levels.

Firstly, the dereliction of duty. The WCA is sign posted as a ‘Medical Assessment’ at many points in the ‘claimants journey’ and is conducted by a ‘health care professional’, employed by ATOS. One of the keys in understanding what is going on here is the change in emphasis. The coalition changed ‘sick notes’ in to ‘well notes’, and the assessment for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) became about assessing ‘what sort of work a person CAN do’. With tests such as picking up a pen off the floor, or moving a small empty cardboard box, and often not taking in to account any of the medical evidence provided, or even failing to even listen to the person sitting there. One commentator pointed out, “Now I may be wrong here and if I am please do correct me but when filling out the ESA form do the DWP not reserve the right to inform your GP of their decision? If the decision only affects benefit why do they do this?”

Recently, Louise Davidson had her benefits reduced after an assessment by ATOS, despite recovering from a double lounge transplant and having rejection complications. This isn’t a one off by any means, websites, activist, support groups and blogs are hearing daily from people who, despite very clear and serious medical conditions, are being declared either ‘fit for work’, or placed in to the ‘work related activity group’ (WRAG). The latter is a lower rate of ESA time limited to one year, because the assessment comes to the conclusion that the person will be able to work “at some point in the future”. An unspecified point in the future. It wasn’t time limited until the coalition came in to power.

And to add insult to injury, if people in this group are not “making appropriate preparation to get back in to work” – i.e. not making the effort to get well (!) –  then they can be sanctioned, and put in to the same work programme as people on Job Seekers Alowance (JSA). Knowing this, it is therefore deceitful for Lord Freud to state, “it does not oblige anyone to work.” And if someone is found fit for work, what else is someone supposed to do? They can go on to JSA. But, the Job Centre may not accept them as they have medical conditions and according to their rules there, the person may not be fit to work, therefore not able to claim JSA. This again is not unusual, and time again there is plenty of evidence of people with serious medical conditions being thrown out of the benefits system altogether.

But surely the cruelest part of this official statement, bearing in mind all the information above, is in the last paragraph. They deny ANY liability for “any adverse consequence suffered by a claimant following a decision that the claimant is fit for work or for work-related activity.” These are vulnerable people and Mike Sivier’s blog entry on the despicable response from the Prime Minister this week, lists just some of the 100s of people that we know by name who attribute their suicide or death to the consequences of being left with no hope by the decisions of the state.

Finally, I want to mention Karen Sherlock. She was one of the names Owen Jones tried to mention on Question Time when the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, turn red with rage and angrily shouted over Owen declaring, “We’re changing their lives. We’re getting them off benefit, and that’s what we’re doing.”


“Despite her own terror, she tried to tell her country, her peers, her friends – even journalists – what was happening to her and thousands like her, but shocked tuts didn’t save her. Open mouths and disgust didn’t save Karen; they didn’t save my friend. Perhaps no one could have, but those who hold and abuse power could have eased her fear or reassured her that they would act.

“Karen died on June 8 from a suspected heart attack”