Call for Scots disability work tests to be more ‘humane’

The assessment used to determine whether ill or disabled people can work should be changed to make it more “effective and humane”, a Holyrood Committee has said.

Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) are used by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to determine the work capabilities of those claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The UK Government says the assessment was developed in consultation with medical and other experts alongside specialist disability groups.

It looks at an individual’s ability to work, “taking into account the modern workplace and developments in healthcare”.

The Scottish Parliament’s Welfare Reform Committee believes five changes are needed to improve the assessment process.

Its call for changes comes amid reports that Atos, the company outsourced to carry out the tests, wishes to withdraw early from its contract, due to expire in April 2015.

Convener Michael McMahon has written to Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, outlining the changes.

The committee says t hose on ESA with long-term conditions should not be subject to re-assessments, while those who are being assessed should be seen by health care professionals who have the knowledge and experience to understand and recognise the individual’s condition.

Changes should be made to WCA criteria to better recognise fluctuating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and hidden symptoms like fatigue and pain, the committee said.

In addition, people applying for ESA should be treated with dignity and respect, and DWP communication should be written in plain English and make it clear what the impact of the decisions are.

Committee Convener Michael McMahon MSP said: “There have already been independent reviews of WCA and yet the evidence coming to our committee demonstrates there is much more to do to make them effective and humane.

“It is ridiculous to expect people with conditions like Multiple Sclerosis to keep going through assessments. Whilst their symptoms may fluctuate, there is currently no prospect of the disease being cured and the stress on individuals is out of kilter with a society that cares for the sick and vulnerable.

“We have made five constructive and practical suggestions that, if agreed to, can help reassure people claiming that they will be treated with respect. Perhaps Iain Duncan Smith would like to come to our committee and respond in public to these suggestions.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “The work capability assessment (WCA) was introduced in 2008 by the previous government and we continue to make significant improvements to the process to better recognise fluctuating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.

“We think it’s right to look at what work people can do – with the right support – rather than just write people off out of work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.

“There is also strong evidence that working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition – and many disability organisations, including the MS Society themselves point out, many people continue to work for many years after their diagnosis.”