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Thoughts on the Work Capability Assessment scheme

Authors: The Work Foundation Robin McGee

06 August 2010


Last week the DWP released figures about the number of new claimants who have been found fit for work under the new Work Capability Assessment scheme. The assessments place claimants into three groups: support group, work-related activity group and fit for work. Those who are found fit for work are no longer eligible for employment and support allowance.

The majority of new claimants were found to be fit for work (39%) or they did not complete the assessment (37%), which means they are not entitled to claim the benefit. What these statistics don’t tell us is what happened to them after the assessment process and why so many dropped out of the assessment process.

What is interesting is that, to date, we know that 40% of those who appealed their decision of being deemed fit for work, have had it reversed. To me, these figures suggest that a good portion of the original decisions have failed to take full account of how some conditions may impact an individual’s workability – often those with mental health conditions.

For others, maybe they continued working. But were they provided with any support to transition back to work? While intervening early and preventing people from having to resort to benefits is good and can even help to improve health outcomes, pushing people who are not healthy to continue working may just lead to increased rates of sickness presence.

The coalition government has called a scrutiny panel to assess the practical application, fairness and accuracy of the work capability assessment. Mind’s Paul Farmer will be one of the members of the panel, which is good news because people with mental health conditions are particularly affected.

The panel should be valuable in providing a better understanding of how well work capability assessments are taking into account the complexities of many health conditions. Let’s hope the panel provides some good recommendations to improve the process, so fewer people need to appeal their decisions.

Part of the difficulty in reducing the number of people on benefits in the current climate is that the economy may not be strong enough to absorb all those found to be ‘fit for work’. Furthermore, effective support for individuals who have been on benefits to find jobs and return to work is not available. Removing benefits without creating good quality jobs and without providing effective assistance in finding those jobs risks leaving many in a precarious position of no safety net and no work income.

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