Last week I had the opportunity to question the Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, at the Work and Pensions Select Committee Hearing into the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
During the session it was clear that the Minister was making all the right noises in terms of reforming the flawed and failing WCA process; however I am not reassured that his words will translate into meaningful action. The Department has become increasingly out of touch and it is still failing people. Indeed, I raised with the Minister the fact that many people are being found ‘fit for work’ under the current assessment process who are then dying.
In addition, it was clear that the Department does not have an adequate plan to assess people who have fluctuating conditions, which may change rapidly and severely affect their ability to work. The Minister was also extremely unclear about the definition ‘fully fit to work’. 83% of people found fit to work in a sample of claimants during a recent review of the WCA with an alternative assessment were identified by medical experts as needing at least one adaptation in the work place; 50% needed flexible or alternative hours and 24% would need a support worker. I am extremely concerned that these additional requirements are unlikely to be met in the current labour market, with fewer jobs than jobseekers and increasingly insecure work.
I am not convinced that the Department for Work and Pensions will get its act together anytime soon. Changes are urgently needed to ensure more of my constituents in Oldham and Saddleworth are not let down by incorrect decisions and a flawed assessment process. Fit to work should mean just that and to see people dying with serious conditions, after being assessed by Atos as fit, is simply appalling.
The Government recently announced it was ending its contract with Atos, currently provider of the WCA and the tendering process for a new provider is currently underway. Further information on the Select Committee’s Inquiry can be found here