Simon DuffyThe vast majority of people who have been through the work capability assessment (WCA) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) say the process damaged their health, according to new research.

Assessing the Assessors, an independent evaluation of the WCA, published by The Centre for Welfare Reform, in association with the Campaign for a Fair Society and New Approach, found that 95% of those who responded to an online questionnaire said the assessment damaged their health, with 29% saying it affected them severely.

The WCA is the process by which people are determined to be fit for work – and eligible for ESA – or not. This process has been controversial since its introduction in 2010, with criticism of the process itself and the company that delivers it, Atos. In 2013, three judges ruled that the WCA did disadvantage people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autism. The WCA has been the subject of several reviews since its inception, but none has brought about the reforms that its critics want to see. 

Assessing the Assessors is based on 884 respondents to an online questionnaire which asked people who were sick or disabled to describe how they were treated in the assessment process and what impact the assessment had on their lives.

It found widespread dissatisfaction with the WCA, with 95% giving the assessment a mark of 5 out of 10 or less, with 43% giving it the lowest possible mark.

Worryingly, 80% of the time the respondent felt the assessor did not listen to them.

Comments made by the respondents in the questionnaire give a greater indication of their feelings towards the WCA: 

“The process was terrifying, humiliating and degrading...” 

“Tragically, my friend has committed suicide since losing her appeal.” 

“It was the second worst experience of my life after my severe accident.”

Pain and fear

Dr Simon Duffy, who analysed the data wrote: “The report reveals a culture of contempt for disabled people within the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] itself. Instead of trusting disabled people or their doctors to judge readiness for work, the DWP has replaced common sense with an expensive and painful bureaucratic process. What is more this 'assessment' serves only to divide disabled people into meaningless groups who are then subject to further disrespectful treatment. Instead of paying attention to research on when and how people can actually find work, its policies seem based on prejudice and discrimination.”

The research was developed with the support of comedian and activist Mark Thomas, as part of his 100 Acts of Minor Dissent project. He got involved in the project because: “...what was truly shocking was not the rage but the fear, people were fearful of the assessment and, as it turns out, with good reason.”

The launch of this report is timed to coincide with the launch of New Approach, an initiative led by disabled people, to find a better alternative to the WCA. Find out more at: www.newapproachuk.org

To read or download the report go to: www.centreforwelfarereform.org/library/by-date/assessing-the-assessors.html