Dan Parton supports mental health charities' concerns over the final WCA review:
Professor Harrington’s third and final review of the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA) came out last week, and, from a mental health perspective, it seems the same concerns remain.
Once the review was published – to very little fanfare, compared to the previous ones – mental health charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness were quick to release statements criticising the WCA. Concerns include the assessment’s failure to take effectively into account the needs of people with mental illness, the lack of expertise in mental health issues among assessors, and the charities’ belief that Harrington’s recommendations don’t go far enough to address these issues.
Seems familiar, doesn’t it?
This is, essentially, the same argument that the charities – and many others within the mental health sector, including claimants – have been making since Harrington’s first review in 2010. Indeed, this argument goes back further, to the previous government and the introduction of the WCA. That these major charities are still making the point shows how concerns have not been addressed.
Paul Jenkins, CEO of Rethink Mental Illness, even went so far as to call for the reassessment of incapacity benefit/ESA claimants to be halted.
This again seemed familiar, and for good reason. He made the same call in September. And, back in April, Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, also called for reassessments to be halted. He made the call after he quit his role on the Harrington Scrutiny Panel, which was set up to oversee the work of the WCA Independent Review team, as a result of fears that the test was "still not fit for purpose."
Part of the reason for these concerns is the high number of people who have been reassessed, who then appeal against the decision made – about 40% – and half of those appeals are being upheld.
The Government didn’t listen then, and I doubt it will now. Despite the recent change of personnel at the Department for Work and Pensions, the official stance remains the same.
Indeed, new Employment Minister Mark Hoban welcomed Harrington’s findings, saying that the changes made to the WCA in the past 2 years have made it “more accurate and effective”, which is evidenced in how “the proportion of people being placed in the Support Group for ESA has more than doubled in just two years.”
I’m not sure how increasing the number of people in the Support Group correlates with the WCA being more accurate. It seems to me that it fits better with the Government’s agenda to move people off ESA and into work or, perhaps more likely, given the current economic climate, onto jobseeker’s allowance, which costs less.
Hoban went on to accept Harrington’s recommendations, saying: “It is in everyone’s interest to make sure the system is as fair and as accurate as possible.” He’s right, but many contend that the WCA still isn’t for people with mental health conditions, especially fluctuating ones. Until it is, mental health charities and ESA claimants alike will campaign against the WCA. Sadly, they may be campaigning for some time to come.