The work capability assessment has been heavily criticised for its ineffectiveness
"The news that the UK government will be once again changing the benefits system will still be deeply worrying for many people who need to claim benefits. The UK government needs to understand that there is little, if any, trust left among people with experience of our benefits system that efforts to change it will lead to better outcomes for them." Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs, Mind
The government has announced plans to end the use of the work capability assessment as part of its reform of the benefits system.
The plans, announced in the Health and Disability White Paper, are intended to encourage people claiming benefits back into work. Speaking during the budget, chancellor Jeremy Hunt said that benefit claimants would be able to seek work “without fear of losing financial support”.
Disability campaigners have long campaigned for an end to work capability assessments, which are used to inform decisions on whether a person is fit for work for the purpose of their Employment Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit (UC) allowance. Campaigners have said that the assessment is discriminatory and ineffective and that many people find the process humiliating.
Under the new proposals, the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment would be used to decide whether a person will receive the health element of the UC allowance. The changes will not take place until 2026 at the earliest.
The proposals have been cautiously welcomed, but some charities have also expressed concern about the use of the PIP assessment. Mind, the mental health charity, said its research, Reassessing Assessments, had highlighted that PIP assessments share many of the same issues as WCAs do, and are often more problematic. More than two-thirds of people with mental health problems who experienced PIP assessments were left feeling their mental health had declined, its research showed, compared with 62% for the WCA, while 46% of people felt their PIP assessor did not understand mental health problems, compared with 36% assessed under a WCA.
Vicki Nash, head of policy, campaigns and public affairs at Mind, said: “Scrapping the problematic work capability assessment is a welcome step towards rectifying the DWP’s broken assessments system, but the UK government’s approach lacks the rounded, fully formed thinking that’s going to be needed to solve the many issues plaguing the benefits system.
“We know from our report that the WCA is deeply problematic. It frequently causes people’s mental health to decline, and all too often leaves people claiming benefits feeling that their mental health problems were not understood by the assessor. It is at least positive the UK government has finally recognised the benefits system needs to change in this regard.
“With that said, the news that the UK government will be once again changing the benefits system will still be deeply worrying for many people who need to claim benefits. The UK government needs to understand that there is little, if any, trust left among people with experience of our benefits system that efforts to change it will lead to better outcomes for them. The changes detailed in the White Paper will do nothing to rebuild that trust.
Andy Bell, interim chief executive of the Centre for Mental Health, said that the proposals to abolish the WCA “could bring to an end a system that has caused great harm to people living with mental health difficulties. But in its absence it is more important that the ways Personal Independence Payment (PIP) eligibility are assessed are fair and effective for people with mental health difficulties so that no one misses out on the benefits they need to live on.”
He added: “We welcome any effective measures to enable people with mental health difficulties to gain employment. The Individual Placement and Support (IPS) approach is far ahead of any other way of supporting people into paid work and it has been shown to improve people’s mental health long-term. To be successful, the government must ensure that the principles of IPS are always maintained, including in its proposed new Universal Support programme. That means helping people into the jobs they want, when they want to try out work. It means never mandating work-seeking, nor writing people off. And it means supporting people once they start work for as long as they need it.
The work capability assessment has been heavily criticised for its lack of legitimacy in terms of accuracy in assessing ability to work, and its lack of effectiveness in terms of encouraging a return to work. Research has also found that the process has a detrimental impact on the mental health of claimants. We are pleased to see the government responding to criticisms and proposing to stop use of the assessment. Like Mind and the Centre for Mental Health, however, we are concerned that the use of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessment to determine an individual’s fitness for work could be just as ineffective. If the government wants more people to return to work, then it needs to make sure that the processes used to determine a person’s fitness for work are fair and effective, and that the people carrying out the assessment have a full understanding of how mental health problems impact a person’s ability to work.