The government is to introduce checks on decisions to award sickness benefits to ensure fairness and consistency, following the publication of the second independent review of the work capability assessment today.
Employment minister Chris Grayling pledged to accept the recommendations from Professor Malcolm Harrington’s second review into the WCA, which governs access to employment and support allowance, the replacement benefit for incapacity benefit.
There are longstanding concerns from disability campaigners that assessments are flawed and wrongly deem many people to be fit for work and hence ineligible for ESA.
“What’s happened before is the decision makers weren’t actually making decisions, they were rubber-stamping the Atos assessments,” Harrington told Community Care. “I’ve said, let the decision makers gather all the evidence available, including the Atos assessment, and then make a summarised statement about what they see as the whole picture for the patient. They should take this to the claimant, run it by them, and if the claimant objects the decision makers can reconsider.
“It’s all about getting it right the first time and decreasing the number of appeals.”
Harrington also recommended the government work with disability groups to help develop guidance for Atos healthcare professionals, who conduct assessments, and Jobcentre Plus staff who make subsequent decisions on eligibility.
“I want Atos to train their people properly,” he said. “We checked their IT systems, which were actually alright, so it’s down to the quality of the people doing the assessments.”
He also called for improved support for service users moving onto jobseeker’s allowance after being found ineligible for ESA.
Harrington said data on performance and quality to improve the transparency of face-to-face assessments should be published on a regular basis.
“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,” he said. “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 said: “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 WCA is being used to reassess 1.5 million claimants of incapacity benefit, severe disablement allowance and income support paid on grounds of disability from 2011-14.
Harrington has been appointed to conduct this review for a third and final year.
“If thing haven’t improved by this time next year, I’ve failed,” Harrington said.
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