Charities have demanded an overhaul of the test of eligibility for sickness benefit on the basis that it is failing people with fluctuating conditions.
The report issued today will feed into an independent review for government of the work capability assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (JSA), the replacement for incapacity benefit.
The WCA has been roundly criticised for wrongly deeming people fit for work, forcing them on to jobseeker’s allowance – which is worth less than ESA – and leaving them with less support to find work.
The charities found that the WCA assessed people with fluctuating conditions at the peak of their abilities without recognising the extra barriers they would face to work when their health was at its poorest.
Among recommendations, it called for a time dimension should be introduced into all questions in the WCA so claimants are assessed on the frequency with which they are affected by a given symptom over three or six months. People should also be assessed on whether they can complete specific tasks “reliably, repeatedly and safely”, and, as appropriate, “within a reasonable amount of time” and “without significant discomfort, breathlessness or fatigue”, it said.
“As charities, we have been inundated by concerns from people living with a long term health condition who’ve wrongly been found fit to work,” said Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society and chair of the group behind the report. “Many of them want to work, but may require extra support to do so. Ensuring that the assessment is fair and consistent is therefore a vital task.”
The report – led by the MS Society, and also produced by the National Aids Trust, Parkinson’s UK, Arthritis Care, the Forward-ME group and Crohn’s Colitis UK – will feed into Professor Malcolm Harrington’s second annual review of the WCA for the Department for Work and Pensions.
Harrington’s first review – published last November – criticised the way the assessment handled people with fluctuating conditions and people with mental health problems, and recommended changes, including placing mental health experts in all test centres.
All of the recommendations from the first review were accepted by government though there were concerns from campaigners that they did not go far enough. There are also doubts over how far recommendations were implemented before the government started reassessing incapacity benefit recipients on their eligibility for ESA last month, a process that will last until 2014.
Assessment that fails its own test