The National Autistic Society (NAS) has voiced concerns about proposed changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which assesses people’s capability to work and the support they receive.
The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) Work Capability Assessment: activities and descriptors consultation, which ended on 30th October, sought views on amending the activities and descriptors in the WCA so that assessments reflect greater flexibility and availability of reasonable adjustments in work, particularly home working.
It is also sought views on the application of Risk to Self or Others under the Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance circumstances in which a claimant is to be treated as having limited capability for work and work related activity.
The DWP say that while working practices that support disabled people have changed significantly, the WCA has not. The WCA activities and descriptors were last comprehensively reviewed in 2011. It said it was keen to hear views from a wide group of citizens, especially disabled people and disability organisations.
Home working and work capability
The NAS said that they were concerned because less than three in 10 autistic people (29%) are in work, this is the lowest figure amongst disabled adults. There are many barriers to working such as understanding, sensory difficulties, lack of workplace adjustments, discrimination and other barriers unique to each autistic person. Autistic people want to work, but the workplace has not been adapted to meet their needs.
Many autistic people rely on the higher rates of benefit associated with the Employment & Support Allowance Support Group and Universal Credit Limited Capability for Work-Related Activity categories.
“We are clear: restricting access to benefits without removing these barriers will lead to increased financial pressure for autistic people who are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.”
The consultation says that the increase in home working is enabling disabled people and people with health conditions to manage their conditions in a more familiar and accessible environment. Yet, the NAS said that while it is correct that flexible working options can be helpful to autistic people, however, that isn’t the only barrier to finding work, so it is wrong to use this as a justification for restricting access to benefits.
It added: “The document references a DWP data set to demonstrate that more people are working from home than compared to 2019. However. this data shows the flaw in the argument of the DWP as just 16% of working adults work exclusively from home.
“The professions most likely to work remotely are professional occupations, managers and other occupations less likely to require benefits. The data set even comments: ‘having a disability or long-term illness had little effect on homeworking.’ 18% of disabled adults work from home. So it is clear, that an increase in working from home is not a justification for restricting access to benefits.”
The consultation also recommends that changes should be made to the sections on Coping with Social Engagement, as well as the section on Getting About, which the NAS say are crucial parts of the WCA to many autistic people. Without these questions, many autistic people would not score highly enough to receive the benefits they need.
It added: “Since the publication of this consultation, autistic people have shared their experiences as well as their disappointment with the decision to evaluate these sections. They have told us how they believe it would prevent them for receiving benefits. We share this frustration and echo these concerns in our consultation response. We are clear: restricting access to benefits without removing these barriers will lead to increased financial pressure for autistic people who are already struggling with the cost-of-living crisis.”