On 28th 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
PROBLEM 1: FALSE ASSUMPTIONS
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.
If the government’s rule changes go through, people 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.
PROBLEM 2: SEPARATING PHYSICAL AND MENTAL HEALTH
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 to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.
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.
HOW YOU CAN HELP?
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.
3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it.
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.
A longer version of this post appeared at the Diary of a Benefit Scrounger blog.