The government has welcomed the fourth independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which finds “good progress” has been made on implementing recommendations from previous reviews and “notable improvements” to the process already achieved.
The review, carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield, Chief Medical Officer for BT Group, concludes that DWP is doing well in implementing the recommendations of Professor Harrington and has made further recommendations for improvements.
Minister of State for Disabled People Mike Penning said:
We welcome the valuable recommendations Dr Litchfield provides in the fourth review to make the WCA fairer, more accurate and more transparent.
The system we inherited wasn’t working properly, and as Dr Litchfield has suggested we will carefully consider his recommendations before responding to make sure we get this right for claimants – and right for taxpayers.
We spend more than £13bn on sickness and incapacity benefits for almost 2.5 million people of working age and we need to make sure that support goes to those who need it most.
Acknowledging that there is no absolute “gold standard” against which to judge fitness for work, the recommendations made by Dr Litchfield include:
- further simplifying the assessment process and enhancing the experience of the assessment itself, such as building rapport during interviews
- building on the knowledge of mental health among Decision Makers and Healthcare Professionals
- continuing to streamline the decision-making process
Dr Paul Litchfield said:
Much has changed since Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced. I have tried to assess whether recommendations have been fully or partially implemented and I hope that there is some useful learning that comes out of this exercise.
Another area of focus for me in this review has been mental health. The impaired capability associated with mental health problems can be difficult to assess and I hope my review will help the government improve things even further.
Good work is good for the health of most people and a benefits system that helps people back into employment when they have been incapacitated must be the aim of a compassionate society. An effective WCA which is fair – and perceived to be so – is important in achieving that.
A formal government response will be published early next year. Ministers have already announced their intention to secure additional providers on a regional basis to conduct Work Capability Assessments from next summer.
The report comes as a separate evidence-based review of the WCA assessment criteria is also published today, fulfilling a recommendation from the second independent review.
The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the previous government. Since 2010, the Work Capability Assessment has been improved through a series of independent reviews and by working with medical experts and charities to make sure it remains fair, accurate and transparent for those using it.
This is Dr Litchfield’s first review, and is the fourth annual review. Previous reviews were undertaken by Professor Harrington. The government has committed to 5 annual reviews.
A decision on benefit entitlement is taken by DWP decision makers after consideration of all the available evidence – including an independent assessment by Atos Healthcare professionals.
The premise of the WCA is that eligibility for benefits should not be based on a person’s condition, but rather on the way that condition limits their ability to function.
The government is absolutely committed to supporting disabled people and we continue to spend around £50bn a year on disabled people and their services.
Overall, only 15% of ESA decisions are overturned on appeal. If a fit for work decision is overturned at appeal, it does not necessarily mean that the original decision was inaccurate – often, claimants produce new evidence in their appeal.
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