Report aims to shift blame for 'national scandal' of 'fitness for work' test

A new user-led report aims to focus blame for the “national scandal” of the work capability assessment (WCA) away from the government contractor Atos Healthcare and towards the “culture of contempt” that lies at the heart of the test.

Assessing the Assessors is based on the responses of nearly 900 people who replied to a questionnaire about their experiences of the WCA, which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.

While still being critical of Atos and its staff, the report reveals how claimants are treated in the assessment process and what impact the WCA has on their lives.

It is the latest in a series of reports that have been researched and written by disabled campaigners, exposing the harsh realities of the coalition’s welfare reforms and their impact on disabled people.

It has been written by Rick Burgess, Jane Bence and Wayne Blackburn, three disabled people who were formerly part of the WOW petition campaign and have now – together with lawyer and benefits expert Nick Dilworth, their co-author –  set up the campaigning organisation New Approach, which is dedicated to scrapping the WCA and developing a replacement.

The four were supported by the comedian, investigative journalist and political activist Mark Thomas, and The Centre for Welfare Reform, which published the report.

Of the 884 respondents to the questionnaire who were assessed through a WCA, 95 per cent said the assessment had damaged their health, with nearly a third reporting “severe damage”.

The report concludes that the assessment is “abusive”, “disrespectful”, “callous and inhumane”, discriminates against disabled people and appears to promote unprofessional activity on the part of assessors and to cause hardship and poverty.

It says the WCA reports are “woefully inaccurate”, and are influenced by a system “that wants to save money and meet targets”.

The report is filled with comments from disabled people who took part in the survey.

One said the assessment was the “worst thing I have ever experienced. I had a panic attack through the whole interview. [The assessor] demanded to see my self injury scars and then visibly reacted to them which felt humiliating – it was just awful.”

Another said the assessor “caused such pain that I was almost totally unable to walk for two days afterwards”.

A third respondent said: “This process was terrifying, humiliating and degrading, I was treated appallingly, it was made obvious that I was not believed in anything I said and I felt suicidal leaving.”

And another said: “I feel this process caused my illness to worsen and last longer. If I was given the correct help I believe I would be back at work by now. I’ve been made to feel like a criminal.”

Four-fifths of those who responded said the assessment was “not conducted in a fair and humane manner”.

The report concludes that the WCA process is “abusive” and “repetitive” and that mandatory reassessments are “wasteful, damaging and are used punitively”, while the WCA makes health conditions or impairments worse and even causes deaths.

It adds: “The entire process and attitude of officials and the media they brief, make people feel like criminals. This is particularly damaging for people with mental health issues. Fraud, by the DWP’s own figures, is only 0.7 per cent.

“The scale, severity and persistence of wrongdoing indicate a massive and ongoing State-sponsored programme of human rights abuse of disabled people, ill people and carers.”

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