Psychologists call for reform of the Work Capability Assessment

The government should commission an ‘end-to-end redesign’ of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process, says a new briefing paper from the British Psychological Society.

The paper cites a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to WCA. It also argues that the WCA does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes for claimants.

It quotes the conclusion of the 2014 review by the House of Commons work and pensions select committee that:

“Simply rebranding the WCA by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems… This will be time consuming and complex, but the re-designed ESA assessment processes needs to be in place by the time a completely new contract, involving multiple providers is tendered in 2018.”

The British Psychological Society strongly endorses this conclusion and calls for the government to expedite a full review of the assessment and its processes.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, the President of the British Psychological Society, says:

“There is now a significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to  assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately, with people who are seriously physically and mentally ill being found fit for work and those with acute, transient episodes being assessed as lacking capacity and treated in the same way as those with a longer term prognosis.

“Appeals against the decisions are running at approximately 50 per cent and around half of those appeals are upheld. The cost to the taxpayer from this alone is £50m, with a similar amount being spent on reassessment.  The DWP is now under significant pressure to publish data on the number of people who have died whilst claiming out-of-work disability benefits.”

To redesign the WCA system the accompanying call to action advocates:

  • a reliable, valid and fully researched method of assessment to replace the Limited Capacity for Work Questionnaire (ESA 50) and the face-to-face WCA;
  • training in assessment, scoring and interpretation for the test administrators;
  • specialist assessors to assess people with mental, cognitive and intellectual functioning difficulties;
  • supervision of the assessors from qualified clinicians with expertise in rehabilitation, assessment and interpretation;
  • referral routes to specialist assessment and support for those with psychological, cognitive and intellectual functioning difficulties;
  • appropriate periods of reassessment for people with long-term conditions, based on specialist advice to accurately reflect the prognosis.
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