By spring 2014 1.6 million people will have faced a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the aim of which is to establish whether individuals are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), or if they are to be moved onto Jobseekers Allowance which will require them to actively look for work.
These changes to the welfare reform are intended to pinpoint ”the workshy” who are physically and mentally capable of holding down employment. However, Mind are concerned that the current WCA are not fit for purpose and warn that individuals with mental health concerns may get caught in the reassessment cross fire if the creases are not ironed out.
The charity recently conducted a survey of over 300 people with mental health problems receiving IB and found that 87 per cent felt anxious about the reassessment, with one third saying it has led them to increasing their medication.
Additional significant findings included the following:
-95 per cent don’t think they will be believed in their assessment.
-89 per cent believe they will be forced back to work before they are ready.
-78 per cent did not feel well informed about the impending changes.
-75 per cent said that worrying about WCA had worsened their mental health.
-51 per cent said it had made them have suicidal thoughts.
-45 per cent visited their psychiatrist or GP, with 32 per cent having had their medication increased as a result of anxiety over WCA.
WCA was first introduced back in 2008 for all new ESA claimants. Since it’s implementation, 40 per cent of those declared ‘fit for work’ have appealed against their assessment and approximately 40 per cent of those appeals were successful.
Mind consider the WCA to be too rigid to recognise mental health needs and is also concerned that the assessments are conducted by people who have little to no mental health training. Furthermore, the focus of WCA seems to be to root out ‘benefits scroungers’, despite IB having a very low fraud rate of 0.5 per cent.
Mind Chief Executive, Paul Farmer, said:
”We believe that the welfare system should support everyone – with dignity – who is unable to work or requires additional support because of a mental health problem. If someone is able to return to work, there should be personalised assistance and support to help them do so. As things stand though we remain extremely concerned about the mass reassessment of people on incapacity benefits, as despite some changes to the process it still lacks the sensitivity to understand conditions such as mental health problems.”