Call for changes to disabled work assessments

Disabled man at desk The DWP said there was strong evidence that working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition

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The assessment used to decide whether ill or disabled people can work should be made more "effective and humane", a Holyrood committee has said.

The UK government said the criteria were developed in consultation with medical experts and disability groups.

They look at an individual's ability to work, "taking into account the modern workplace and developments in healthcare".

MSPs believe five changes are needed to improve the assessment process.

They say those claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) with long-term conditions should not be subject to reassessments.

Start Quote

It is ridiculous to expect people with conditions like multiple sclerosis to keep going through assessments”

End Quote Michael McMahon Committee convener

The MSPs also believe that those being assessed should be seen by health care professionals who have the knowledge and experience to understand and recognise the individual's condition.

The committee said changes should be made to Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) to recognise fluctuating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis and hidden symptoms such as fatigue and pain.

The MSPs want to see people applying for ESA to be treated with dignity and respect, and say Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) communication should be written in plain English and be clear about the impact of decisions made.

Convener Michael McMahon has written to Iain Duncan Smith, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, outlining the proposed changes.

"There have already been independent reviews of WCA and yet the evidence coming to our committee demonstrates there is much more to do to make them effective and humane," he said.

"It is ridiculous to expect people with conditions like multiple sclerosis to keep going through assessments. Whilst their symptoms may fluctuate, there is currently no prospect of the disease being cured and the stress on individuals is out of kilter with a society that cares for the sick and vulnerable.

"We have made five constructive and practical suggestions that, if agreed to, can help reassure people claiming that they will be treated with respect."

Working 'beneficial'

A DWP spokeswoman said: "The work capability assessment was introduced in 2008 by the previous government and we continue to make significant improvements to the process to better recognise fluctuating conditions such as Multiple Sclerosis.

"We think it's right to look at what work people can do - with the right support - rather than just write people off out of work sickness benefits as sometimes happened in the past.

"There is also strong evidence that working can be beneficial for many people who have a health condition - and many disability organisations, including the MS Society themselves point out, many people continue to work for many years after their diagnosis."

The call for changes comes amid reports that Atos, the company outsourced to carry out the tests, wishes to withdraw early from its contract which is due to expire in April 2015.

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