We believe that the Work Capacity Assessment process is badly flawed in both its design and implementation - its methodology lacks professional credibility, its reports lack rigour and accuracy with the inevitable result that its decision-making is rushed and poorly informed. There is little transparency in how WCA decisions are arrived at - locally or nationally. The Department of Work and Pensions contracted two private sector firms - a French company, Atos Healthcare, and the US insurance company, Unum - to design and deliver the WCA process at a cost of over £800 million with further input by Capita in Wales and Central England. None of these organisations show a willingness to accept any responsibility for the destructive impact of their decisions in the lives of the people they are assessing.
Tyneside Mind have produced a powerful new film about the Work Capability Assessment (WCA). In the film, actors depict the experiences of people who are supported by Tyneside Mind and have been through the WCA.
Many people find the process of going through the WCA difficult and distressing, and this is very much reflected in the film.
The film contains references to suicide which you may find triggering, please watch carefully.
Many people continue to find the WCA process stressful, insensitive, inaccurate and unfair. It needs to change.
John was dying from terminal cancer and in constant pain. He lived in his front room lying on a mattress surrounded by medical drips. He was bombarded by continuous letters from the DWP to attend tribunals until his MP intervened.
Susan was discharged from her local hospital and declared fit to work. She died 2 weeks later from cancer after being summoned to attend a tribunal by Atos.
In 2011 I had to go for a Work Capability Assessment, having began to claim Employment and Support Allowance three months earlier when the contract for my last paid job finished. I was fortunate to have a friend with knowledge of disability issues go with me to act as an advocate. The whole process was very degrading and demeaning, even though the assessor was fairly polite and courteous, as I had to demonstrate what I was like on "my worst day".
I have Asperger's Syndrome, which can adversely affect my ability to communicate with people, especially if I have I do not know them well. It can potentially affect my ability to go about day to day life, and during low periods I can live a very reclusive and isolated life, sometimes staying my flat for a week, only venturing out to get food. So I had to portray myself as I would be on my worst day - even though normally I am not like that - although if I was forced to work in an unsuitable job, ended up on workfare, or had to deal with interviews at the Jobcentre the resultant stress would make my impairments much worse.
I left feeling utterly useless - and the fact I had to "prove" I was incapable of work, plus knowing I would have to deal with this again should I end up in a paid job has done a lot to discourage me from finding work, even though in many cases I can thrive if I were in the right job.
Thankfully, and I think this was a miracle considering how many people who are blatantly less capable of work than I get found "fit for work" - I was put into the support group, and other than having to fill in a ESA50 "questionnaire" in January 2013 I have not had any bother from the DWP as of the time of writing, although I still dread the appearance of a brown envelope on my doorstep, and I am aware that I may soon be called up for assessment again, especially since the new replacement for ATOS has now been named - the American company Maximus.
Christine received advocacy support to complete her ESA 50 questionnaire in 2013. She was not a new claimant; rather, was being moved across from a long-standing IB award. Her impairment is anxiety and depression, linked to historical rape, and also idiopathic intracranial hypertension, related to stress. She lives in South Trafford.
Given these two conditions and the barriers to Christine feeling able to travel far to any WCA appointment, I clearly described how she would be restricted on the ESA 50 indicating necessity of an assessment at home in a familiar place.
Christine contacted me in Sept/Oct this year to inform me that she’d had a letter asking her to attend a WCA at Albert Bridge House, Manchester. She had already rung and been informed by Atos Healthcare that if she wanted to be assessed at home her GP practice would need to fax further information about her health so that a decision maker could consider it.
This necessitated numerous phone calls between client, GP surgery and Atos to make sure the correct fax number had been given out, that a GP was available within a tight timescale and to reassure Christine that her benefit claim would not stop imminently.
Eventual Outcome: When the decision maker dealing with the request read the further medical information, they contacted Christine to let her know that they were able to make a decision on eligibility without a WCA taking place. She has been placed in the support group for ESA.
Judy Sutherland, Trafford Centre for Independent Living. 'Christine's' name has been changed to protect her identity.
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