Sickness benefits legal challenge to continue

Sickness benefits legal challenge to continue

Joined: April 1st, 2004, 4:56 pm

December 4th, 2013, 2:19 pm #1

Two people with mental health problems can continue their challenge against government tests for sickness benefit, the Court of Appeal has ruled.

In May, judges ruled the Work Capability Assessment put people with mental illness, autism and learning difficulties at a disadvantage.

The government immediately appealed and the challenge was put on hold.

Judges at the Court of Appeal have upheld the original decision, meaning the judicial review will continue.

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) tests, which measure a person's entitlement to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by determining whether they are fit for employment, were introduced in 2008 and are carried out on behalf of the government.

Judges at the Upper Tribunal have been told by the claimants that the system is too difficult to navigate and discriminates against them.

The DWP says there are safeguards in place in the process to help claimants with mental health issues.
<span class="cross-head">Additional advice</span>
A final judgment is expected next year unless the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) decide to take the case to the Supreme Court.
<div class="story-feature narrow">Continue reading the main story <span>Start Quote</span>
The system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society
<span class="endquote">End Quote</span> <span class="quote-credit">Rethink Mental Illness, Mind, the Autistic Society</span> </div>
The case is being brought by two claimants with mental health problems, whose identities have been protected.

Their lawyers argue that where a claim is from someone with a mental health problem, it should be the government's responsibility to seek additional medical evidence from a professional, such as a GP or social worker.

UK charities Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society intervened in the case to provide evidence based on the experiences of their members and supporters.

Almost 20,000 people are assessed each week for ESA - including those moving over from the old benefit system of Incapacity Benefit (IB) - in England, Wales and Scotland according to DWP figures. The benefits system in Northern Ireland is administered separately.
<span class="cross-head">'Flawed assessments'</span>
In a joint statement, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society said: "The judges in the original ruling independently confirmed what our members and supporters have been saying for years - the system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and is failing the very people it is meant to be supporting.

"In light of today's ruling it would be irresponsible for the DWP to carry on using these flawed assessments as they are. They must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving Incapacity Benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.

"We hope that the DWP will now take these concerns seriously and look to address the problems with the system rather than appealing again."

A DWP spokesman said the judgement was "complicated" and that assessments will continue.

"This case is still on-going and will return to the Upper Tribunal to consider whether the adjustment to the process proposed by the claimants is reasonable", he added.

"The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the previous government. We have made - and continue to make - significant improvements to the WCA process for people with mental health conditions since then."

Joined: August 3rd, 2004, 1:23 pm

December 14th, 2013, 4:40 pm #2

12 December 2013 Last updated at 17:43 Share this pageEmailPrint
Work fitness tests are 'confrontational' - review
Disabled man at work
Some people with disabilities face 'huge challenges' at work, charities say

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An independent review of fitness-to-work tests has found "considerable dissatisfaction" among disabled people.

Dr Paul Litchfield, an occupational physician, highlighted the need to treat people with dignity and respect as a particular area for improvement.

Communication with disabled people by assessors was another area of concern.

Training advice on assessments showed a "confrontational set up", the report found, which "is not accepted practice in clinical healthcare".

Assessments could be improved by adjusting the layout of interview rooms, better listening skills and the avoidance of inferring answers not provided by interviewees, according to Dr Litchfield.

Work Capability Assessments were introduced in 2008 to determine who should receive Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

Decisions are taken by officials at the Department of Work and Pensions using evidence from the assessments, carried out by Atos Healthcare professionals.

The assessment aims to judge how a person's condition limits their ability to work, rather than conferring eligibility for benefits simply because of a certain impairment.

The review also raises questions about the "arbitrary" nature of the points system used to determine eligibility for benefits.

It recommends that people with mental health problems should be assessed by practitioners with specific experience in that area.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said the process "ignores" the "huge challenges" faced by disabled people such as a lack of skills and experience, confidence and negative attitudes from some employers.

"It's a tick-box test of someone's medical condition," he added.

'Good progress'
However, Dr Litchfield did acknowledge "good progress" made by the Work Capability Assessment system since its last review.

He commended the Department for Work and Pensions on its efforts in areas such as the way people with cancer are treated by the system, and on providing explanations for why benefits have been refused.

Minister for Disabled People Mike Penning welcomed Dr Litchfield's recommendations, and said his department will "carefully consider" before responding in order "to make sure we get this right for claimants - and right for taxpayers".

The minister pointed out that the government spends more than £13bn on sickness and incapacity benefits for people of working age.

In a separate announcement, the Department for Work and Pensions has said it will allocate £2m to support disabled who arrange their own work experience placements.

The fund is part of the Access to Work scheme, which was previously only offered to disabled people taking up work placements organised through Jobcentre Plus.