Living in fear of inaccurate work assessments

An article in the Guardian this week covered the problems with work capability assessments. Head of Policy Simon Lawton-Smith comments.

We’ve known for many years that there are serious difficulties for people with mental health problems ensuring that they get a fair and accurate assessment for incapacity and work-related benefits. People have told us that they live in real fear of being inaccurately assessed and either forced into work before they are ready, or threatened with losing their benefits.

Professor Harrington’s November 2010 independent review of Work Capability Assessment was rightly critical, especially on the lack of empathy between Jobcentre and Atos (the company providing assessments) staff and claimants, and highlighted the difficulty of assessing people with mental health problems or other fluctuating conditions. It’s vital that his recommendations are followed through quickly especially ensuring that Atos employ “mental, intellectual and cognitive champions” in each Medical Examination Centre to spread best practice and build understanding of these disabilities.

The good news is that the review asked Mind, Mencap and the National Autistic Society to provide recommendations on refining the mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors used in assessments. Again, it will be important for this work to be introduced into assessments as soon as possible. People with mental health problems and cognitive difficulties must know that they are going to be treated fairly under the new system.

Published 11 March 2011 |
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There are 12 comments.

  • The idea of a single test to assess work capability always seemed a nonsense to me. Jobs vary so much in their demands. The only sure way to test capability is to give someone a chance to work in a job they want to do. Employer and potential employee need to be reasonably confident that they can work together before the job starts. It may not work out and we need to accept that can happen and give both parties a chance to move on without too much acrimony. That said if job seeker and employer make a good match the chances are good. In 1997 I went on a study trip on this subject to Australia. I did this thanks to a Financial Times prize. Time and time again I was told that getting the job was the easy part. Keeping the job is much harder. That's where the focus should be but in the UK we are still footling around with bogus entry tests that won't prove anything. Instead we should be trying to work out what makes jobs last in the medium to long term. Let us get back to basis and focus on what people do at work. Forget these stigmatising one-fit-all tests. Instead let individuals choose their goals and aspirations. Have some confidence in the ability of individuals to judge their capabiltiy. We do not need compulsion. Ambition is a sufficient spur.

    Beatrice Bray 11 March 2011
  • Both my son and myself have fallen foul of the work assessments, which is of no surprise as they are not fit for purpose and seem to be much more about assessing physical difficulties and we are set up to fail, because mostly we can still walk and talk. I have been spoken to in very patronising, dismissive ways,at the last assessment the 'doctor' barely looked up from the computer and asked me questions about very personal stuff , like suicide as if asking whether I wanted a cup of tea.The appeal process is a joke, a year on I am still awaiting an outcome and consequently am still struggling to survive on 65pounds a week.

    Anonymous 11 March 2011
  • I kind of agree with the above poster. I would love to work again but I would have to find the right kind of job and have a support network in place for when I come in to difficulties. At the moment the jobcentre and ATOS seem to just want to through you in at the deep end and get a job cleaning toilets or working in MacDonald. For a lot of people with mental health problems this kind of thing isn't going to work. I have been through many jobs now and tried my hardest to keep them, even to the point were I was really ill and couldn't quite accept yet that I was in a bad way and couldn't do it any longer. I have just been through the WCA in Dec and of course scored 0 points so I am waiting for a tribunal. The ATOS examiner was so unsympathetic, she asked me about what caused my problems and I told her about my experience with sexual abuse when I was a child. She didn't even look at me and just said "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that" but you could tell she wasn't very sympathetic. I read through the report she had written when I got my notes for preparing my appeal and there were so many inaccuracies and blatant lies, I was astonished! People who are genuinely ill need to be treated with dignity and not like scroungers and there needs to be a test for incapacity that takes into account that although someone might be able to talk coherently and dress appropriately for an interview they may find it very hard to cope in a working environment and with the pressures that that brings.

    Anonymous 12 March 2011
  • Wow, and i thought english society had evolved beyond the dickens era mentality, reading how similar the ways a person with disabilities is treated before during and after  fitness or competency tests as the are done in ontario makes me wonder just how educated about the impacts of disability the  members of the medical legal and insurance professions are kept from being, then again could it be willful ignorance, extend that to trying to take needy to the pond.

    john la berge 15 March 2011
  • I have suffered from mental ill health since the 1970's I also have been out of work all this time. I have been on every scheme they asked me to go on,and had numerous tests on wether I am capable for work. the last one I was found incapable for life as I refused to take off my clothes at the medical,the doctor said I was totally insane because of this, and threatened to have my benefit cut off,if I didnt cooperate. the test centred around my physical health only, and I was hardly asked anything about my mental ill health. anyway all I have been offered to do is voluntary work by the disability officer at jobcentre minus since the 70's, I am still existing in the community,and have started a support group for fellow sufferers we go for a meal once a week. united we stand devided we fall.

    G. Haydock 20 March 2011
  • "People with mental health problems and cognitive difficulties must know that they are going to be treated fairly under the new system." They're in for a shock, then, when they see the new WCA that is being brought in this month. It makes it almost impossible for people with mental illness, even quite severe mental illness, to get ESA. I don't think that people realise that they have to be able to do very little to be considered fit for work.

    Anonymous 21 March 2011
  • i think they really need to sort this out i have spent a year and a half trying to win my esa for my mental health issuse and they have still said no because i dont have a physical problem.. I feel so alone my doctor wont help no one else and now not even them.

    Anonymous 27 March 2011
  • Assurances as to fairness are completely bogus when no consideration whatsoever is given as to the nature of disabilities and where disorders are in any way stress-related, the very pressure applied in the assertion that we should be considering entering a competition to be also-rans in a race which is rigged against us to find appropriate meaningful activity - when all therapeutic activity is denied us by the draconian programme of Cuts and Closures - that pressure is guaranteed to trigger widespread Relapse among our client-group. The consequences of that are the far greater expense of re-hospitalisations, quite apart from the distress caused to us by inducing further acute illness! It would be far better to make the economy of providing adequate services for continuing care appropriate to people with incurable illnesses which safeguards against relapse and the revolving door - which is the real cost and the Real drain on finances. Inadequate services are worse than no services and inappropriate treatment helps no one, least of all people who begrudge having to support disabled people.

    Rodney Yates 27 March 2011
  • Why is it in our so called civilized society, that the diasabled people (and that includes me)who are already disadvantaged and in need of support,are now being expected to carry so much of the burden of our government's cuts.I thought the mark of a civilized society was how it protected and valued its more vulnerable members?

    Alice Hicks 04 April 2011
  • just got my letter today about the change over from IB to the new ESA, Strugling to even leave my house let alone get to an assesment centre. I guess I'm just a statistic now and demed fit for work.....well the statistic will soon become apparent at my gravestone. One off their budget....

    Anonymous 01 December 2011

    Anonymous 14 June 2012
  • Does Atos actually employ specialist mental health nursez for these assessment or just general nurses. I am sorry but general nurses know how to deal with physical health problems and are not trained to deal with people with mental health problems. I am saying this because I have seen quite a few of the adverts for assessing nurses by Atos and they always require General nurses and not RMNs.

    Gcc RMN 22 June 2012
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