The government’s, or rather Atos Healthcare’s, Work Capability Assessment has made it’s fair share of headlines, and not in a good way. It’s meant to determine whether people are able to work or not with whatever illness or disability they have and if you need state help. Instead we’ve seen terminal cancer patients and people with severe mental health conditions refused, judgements overturned (37% os assessments were overturned in 2012 alone), and last week, a High Court granted two people a judicial review of their assessment. What’s even more confusing is how this seems to a direct contradiction of the guidebook to the assessment
The guidebook, found here, tells you of the kind of things you can expect of your assessor, and what they will look for in you. It describes the physical and mental criteria they assess you on, and the score they give criteria. If you get a score of 15 or higher in the physical and/or mental criteria, you are described as having limited capabilities to work, and can claim ESA. So, if you can’t walk more than 50 meters without stopping, or can’t cope with any change and manage it with your day-to-day life, you should qualify. There’s also a list of exceptional circumstances where you are described as having limited capabilities, which include, bizarrely enough, having a terminal illness.
This all makes the case of Linda Wootton, and many like her, very confusing. Linda underwent a heart and lung transplant in 1985, and after her body started to reject them and second transplant in 1989. Three months ago, Linda had her disability benefits taken off her after apparently passing a work capability assessment in January. After writing an appeal from her hospital bed, it was rejected on April 16. She died April 24,after being told her condition was terminal a few days before. Her death certificate listing lung and heart problems, hypertension and chronic renal failure as causes
Let’s assess her case with what we know. Firstly, among her symptoms were regular blackouts. She also had chronic renal failure, hypertension, was on ten sets of medication a day, and was being treated in a hospital for a serious chest infection. She should have been declared unfit for work, going by the guidebook.
What’s even more confusing is that the assessment itself isn’t the only thing taken into account during the decision-making. The claimant’s GP is asked to provide a statement regarding their own opinion on whether or not the claimant can work. Or at least, they’re meant to be.
The problem then doesn’t appear to be a fault with the guidelines, but with the assessors and decision makers. We know that terminal cancer patients have been deemed fit for work, and yet ‘Claimants would be treated as having limited capability for work in the following instances: terminally ill, defined as having a progressive health condition, as a result of which death can be reasonably expected within 6 months’. If you have severe depression and have serious trouble interacting with strangers and can’t cope with a minor planned change, you should be declared unfit for work, and yet we know that’s not always been the case.
It is this kind of thing that gives the assessment an image of being unfair, and it’s got to stop. Otherwise, we’re allowing a witch hunt to happen with our most vulnerable being targeted. Stop cost cutting and put some actual effort in.
In essence, get the assessors and decision makers to do their damn job properly.
Hope you had a good weekend.
- Atos Benefit Claimants Face Biased Medical Assessments, Doctor Alleges (welfarenewsservice.com)
- Linda Wootton: Double heart and lung transplant dies nine days after she has benefits stopped (mirror.co.uk)
- Two win sickness benefit challenge (bbc.co.uk)
- Judges rule that Disability test is unfair. (welfaretales.wordpress.com)