#esaSOS – the government are sneaking through major changes to how disabled people are assessed

17th January, 2013 11:00 am

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


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.


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.


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.

  • http://twitter.com/KulganofCrydee Kulgan of Crydee

    Having had 2 assessments in 2012 by the French Company that Labour first gave the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) contract to in 2009, I can say this new development with their imaginary test is a worry.

    • Timmo111

      Labour got atos involved much earlier then that, in fact the economy was going very well when that choice was made so you can bet your life that labour would be doing the same right now had they won the election.

  • kb32904

    I have just watched the most compelling debate on the WCA and MPs of all colors stood to declare it unfit for purpose. They each recited incorrect decisions received by their constituents. Not one MP stood in defence of Atos until Mark Hoban did the summing up for the govt. the tale he told nearly made me check he was still talking about Atos and the WCA ! His tale was one of perfect decisions by a company that could do no wrong !!

    Unbelievable !

    As for contacting MPs Sue – I emailed mine (he’s yours too) about the mobility changes in PIP. I got the standard auto-response followed by a ‘leave it with me while I find out what’s happening’ yet here we are 10 days later and nothing ! Not a squeak !

    It really disappoints me that they either don’t want to face the realities that we have as disabled people or else they think that everything in the DWP is rosy and choose to ignore us or they really don’t care. Whichever it is, it’s not good enough ! We put them in that place to represent us but as soon as they get their backsides on the shiny green seats, for the vast majority of them it appears that their seat there means that out goes any concern they have for us, their constituents – until the next election of course when suddenly, they can’t do enough to help !

  • As_expected

    In case it needs to be said, readers could do worse than sign and pass on the #WOWpetition for a Cumulative Impact Assessment on cuts to benefits for disabled people: http://epetitions.direct.gov.uk/petitions/43154

  • AlanGiles

    The present and the previous government and their polecat henchmen at ATOS prove they haven’t the slightest idea what the sick and disabled go through.

    It has been known for decades that physical and mental wellness and illness are closely entwined, and that increased stress makes a patients condition deteriorate. Making people who already have severe problems even more anxious is inhumane, and yet again demonstrates how politicians of all parties are so ignorant about so many aspects of life – perhaps they should drive around in ministerial cars a little less, and go on less stage-managed visits to hospitals, and see things for themselves, as they really are, rather than told what they want to hear by some little wet-behind-the-ears 20 something “adviser”.


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