Dan Parton (20/03/2012)takes a look at the story behind the government's latest incapacity benefitstatistics
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) trumpeted its lateststatistics on people found fit for work in their incapacity benefitreassessments last week, but, as mental health charity Mind pointedout, they don't tell the full story.
According to the DWP, of the first 141,100 incapacity benefitclaimants to start the reassessment process as they are migrated(or not, as the case may be) to employment and support allowance(ESA), 37% of those whose claims have been concluded have beenfound fit for work. But this conveniently ignores the number ofpeople found fit for work who are appealing their decisions.
And, as Mind's chief executive, Paul Farmer, said, 40% of fitfor work decisions are appealed and, more significantly, 40% ofthose appeals are successful, which brings that 37% figure downsomewhat.
It seems evident that the work capability assessment (WCA),which is used to determine incapacity benefit claimants' fitnessfor work, still has flaws - and these need to be addressed. Forpeople with mental health problems - who make up some 40% ofincapacity benefit claimants - the stress of the WCA process, andsubsequent appeal if their claim is initially turned down, can havea major detrimental effect on their wellbeing. If assessments weregot right in the first place, the effect could besignificantly lessened. It would also save the cost of the appeal,which, of course, has to be noted in these austere times. Obviousmaybe, but the DWP apparently hasn't spotted this.
Mental health service users, charities and organisations haveflagged the flaws in the WCA ever since it was introduced. The maingripe is that the test remains too focused on people's ability tofunction, disregarding whether they can cope with the moresubjective stresses and strains associated with the workplace.There are also concerns that the WCA does not adequately take intoaccount the effect of fluctuating conditions.
In November 2011, after he had concluded his second review ofthe WCA, Professor Malcolm Harrington said more work was needed toimprove it, especially for people with mental health andfluctuating conditions and made recommendations to that effect. Butsome - including Mind, responding to Harrington's review at thetime - have said that the DWP has been slow to take up the previousrecommendations. The charity also called for a delay in thereassessment process to ensure the recommended changes had becomeembedded, but this request was not acted on.
So the cycle of reassessments and appeals looks set to continueunabated, which will not only cost the taxpayer millions but, moreimportantly, put thousands of people with mental health problemsthrough unnecessary stress and anxiety as they wait to find outwhether they will retain their benefit. Something you won'tsee highlighted in any Government statistics.