Dan Parton (4/9/12) believes WCA reform is no longer a nicety but a necessity:

The work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA) has been unpopular with claimants ever since it was introduced, but a new poll suggests that the test is worse than that – it is harming the mental health of people subject to it; and not just a small minority. Surely that must tell the Government that it has to be reformed?  

The scale of the problem was revealed in a poll of some 1,000 GPs by mental health charity Rethink Mental Illness; 80% of respondents said they had patients whose mental health had deteriorated due to the stress of undergoing the WCA. Perhaps more worryingly, the poll also revealed that 21% of GPs have patients who have had suicidal thoughts as a result of undergoing, or the fear of undergoing, the WCA – and 6% have gone on to attempt or commit suicide. 

So, vulnerable people are already being pushed to – or, in some cases, over – the brink by the stress of the test. Thousands of people’s lives are being affected – and not just claimants, but their families and friends as well. In all the debate about cost savings and fitness for work, this is often forgotten, and it mustn’t be.

It would seem that, far from helping people to get off ESA and back into employment (or at least onto jobseeker’s allowance) – the whole idea of the WCA – it is actually making  many people’s health worse, which, conversely, could see them needing more health and social care services. Not exactly the cost saving the Government had envisaged, I’ll wager.

Today’s Government reshuffle will see new ministers coming into the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), and  this is a problem  they will need to address because it’s not going to go away. Indeed, some, such as Paul Jenkins, chief executive of Rethink Mental Illness, have called for the Government to drop the system and overhaul the test because “the human and economic costs are too great for the Government to continue with it.” 

It is hard to argue with his sentiments, although he is by no means the first to say that the WCA should be abandoned and/or overhauled, in the past few years. I suspect he won’t be the last, either.

Today’s Commons’ debate on the WCA – sadly being held at the same time as the Government reshuffle is being announced, and which has taken all the media attention – is also highlighting problems with the test and with Atos, which delivers it. But whether Jenkins gets his wish is another matter. Unless the new blood at the DWP signal a shift in policy direction – which I doubt – then the WCA will remain in place. It may be revised again – Professor Malcolm Harrington is due to deliver his third and final review of its operation, later in the year – but wholesale reform looks to be out of the question for the foreseeable future.