The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has launched a consultation which will look at updating the Work Capability Assessment’s categories.
The DWP says the consultation will facilitate appropriate work opportunities for disabled people, helping those who are currently excluded from the labour market to “realise their ambition of working.”
The planned changes represent the first significant update of the categories since 2011, and Work and Pensions Secretary, Mel Stride, says these changes will allow people who were deemed unable to work to gain “financial independence” through new working practices, such as working from home.
But disability charities are concerned that changes to the categories could force unwell people into work, and may result in some having benefits stripped back or taken away altogether.
“Tightened criteria, greater exposure to conditionality and threat of losing benefits altogether”
The disability charity Scope says they are worried the proposals “could force thousands of people to look for work when they’re not well enough.”
“By imposing strict conditions, the government risks removing the safety net from huge numbers of disabled people. All in the middle of a brutal cost of living crisis,” the charity added.
Scope says it is right that the government wants to provide more employment support for disabled people, but this must be voluntary, and threats of new sanctions will “only increase anxiety.”
James Taylor, Executive Director of Campaigns, Communication and Strategy at the charity, said he is concerned that the new proposals could result in people losing their benefits altogether.
He tweeted: “There is little in the Work Capability Assessment’s from [the] DWP today that would really support disabled people to ‘reach their potential’.
“There is instead a lot of risk of tightened criteria, greater exposure to conditionality and threat of losing benefits altogether.”
There is particular concern on the impact these changes could have on people’s mental health, particularly following the story of 25-year-old Josh Smith, who took his own life three years ago after fearing his benefits would be taken away.
Josh’s mum, Tracy, told The Big Issue that Josh, who struggled with his mental health, was so anxious about his disability benefits assessment that he planned to take a hammer and chisel to his leg, so the assessors could “see” his disability.
Josh then took his life when he was just 25, and Tracy blames the DWP and public services for failing him when he was at his most desperate.
Terrifyingly, Tracy is one of nearly 200 people that have written to The Big Issue to report on the failings of the DWP’s disability benefits system, with hundreds of families saying the system is failing them or their family member.
There is now widespread concern that the government’s push to get more people back to work could have catastrophic consequences for people with disabilities and other long-term health conditions.
Reforms expected to be in place by 2025
But the Prime Minister Rishi Sunak says the new categories will not only provide “greater financial security” but also “purpose that has the power to benefit individuals, their families, and their communities.”
He says the plans will help disabled people to “take advantage of modern working environments” and connect them with the “best support available.”
The DWP says the categories will be designed to determine what activity people can do and how that affects their ability to work. This will then inform assessors’ decisions about what additional financial support people can receive through their benefits, and if claimants need to do anything to prepare themselves for work.
The Department says people who are found capable of work preparation will receive tailored support, which will safely help them to move closer to work.
The consultation is expected to run for eight weeks, and the government hopes the reforms will come into force by 2025.