The British government should suspend the assessment process until such time as the Work Capability Assessment can be shown to be fit for purpose, says Sinn Féin MLA Mickey Brady.
“In light of a recent report which revealed an appalling record of failure by Atos, the company paid to carry out ‘fit for work’ tests on those currently in receipt of Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance, I am calling on the British government to suspend the reassessment process until such time as the Work Capability Assessment is shown to be fit for purpose.”
“Systems failures are notoriously costly to the taxpayer, when that failure also involves the infliction of unnecessary distress onto some of the most vulnerable people within our community, it is doubly incumbent on those responsible to do something about it.”
The study was carried out by the Citizens Advice Bureau, “Right First Time” and published last week.
The CAB was concerned about the accuracy of the WCA test carried out by Atos to determine eligibility for Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) the benefits replacing Incapacity Benefit and Disability Living Allowance.
The CAB became concerned after receiving hundreds of thousands of inquiries about the WCA many questioning the accuracy of the test. Inaccuracies were creating huge difficulties for thousands of ill and disabled people who were being declared ‘fit for work’ despite the serious nature of their condition.
Many thousands of people appealed the WCA decisions that had thrown them off benefit. Of those overturned on appeal, 60% involved cases where the claimant had originally been awarded no points by the WCA.
In other words appeals were overturning WCA decisions, not just in cases where claimants had marginally failed to meet the WCA requirements as might have been expected, but most often in cases where the test fundamentally failed.
The frequency of failure and the wide margin by which people were being wrongly declared fit for work suggests the WCA is fundamentally flawed.To date the unreliability of the WCA has cost the British government over £80m in appeals.
Atos, the company carrying out these assessments are paid on the basis of the number of people processed. A refusal by the British DWP to comment further on the Atos contract suggests there is currently no penalty for failure to carry out reliable assessments.
In other words, not only is the WCA demonstrably unreliable but also there is no incentive for those conducting the assessments to improve.
Since the introduction of the WCA, there have been a number of additional recommendations by occupational therapist Professor Harrington but there has not been the kind of fundamental reform the failure rate indicates is urgently required.