The second review of the work capability assessment (WCA) has highlighted further improvements that are needed to make it fairer and more effective, but the government needs to ensure that these are implemented, a charity has warned. Professor Malcolm Harrington's second independent review of the WCA, which looks at people's fitness to work and eligibility for incapacity benefit/employment and support allowance, found that the assessment was working more effectively than at the time of his first review 12 months ago, but that more improvements are needed.
The review has been welcomed by the National Autistic Society (NAS), but its chief executive, Mark Lever, warned that the government needs to implement Harrington's recommendations to ensure the WCA is a "fair and just process". Recommendations made in the review, which have been reached after extensive consultation with health and disability groups, include:
- Introducing checks on benefit decisions to ensure fairness and consistency
- Working with disability groups to help develop guidance for Atos healthcare professionals and decision makers
- Improved support and communications for people who move onto jobseeker's allowance to make sure they get the help they need
- Regularly publishing data on performance and quality to improve the transparency of the face-to-face assessment.
Professor Harrington said: "My first review found that the WCA is the right concept, but that each part of the process was not working as well as it could or should. Since my last review the process has started giving people a more tailored and personal service. "This year I have worked alongside some key health and disability organisations to make further recommendations to improve the system, especially for people with mental health and fluctuating conditions. "I am confident that the changes being implemented are already making a real difference to people and will continue to do so." Grayling added: "It is in everyone's interest to get the system right. We want the assessment to be as fair and consistent as possible. This is the first step on a journey back to work for many people and we want it to be positive. "The system is far better than it was two years ago but there are still improvements and refinements we can make."
Lever added that the NAS frequently hears from adults with autism who feel the current assessment neither takes account of their difficulties nor reflects the level of help they need. "The NAS is keen to continue working with Harrington and the Department for Work and Pensions to ensure people with autism are no longer betrayed by this oblique system. "We have particular concerns about face-to-face assessments. Many assessors still lack the expertise to recognise the needs of people with autism and other 'hidden' disabilities. Autism is a complex condition and the difficulties it presents for individuals are not always obvious to those without appropriate training. "The Government must press ahead with Harrington's recommendations; this is a vital opportunity to make the WCA a fair and just process for those whose wellbeing depends on it. It is also a chance for them to learn from and rectify their mistakes before the disability living allowance reforms. In the current economic climate, it is more important than ever that there is sufficient support for society's most vulnerable."