The fifth and final review of the work capability assessment (WCA) published yesterday, appears to conclude that the WCA is perceived as being so unfair that it cannot survive into the next decade. The report’s author, Dr Paul Litchfield, favours a period of stability for the present test whilst a completely different system is brought in to replace it by around 2020.
Past its prime
In his report, Dr Litchfield points out that the WCA has been in operation for six years and has been in a state of constant change throughout that period. And yet ‘despite these changes and some undoubted improvements, there remains an overwhelming negative perception of the WCA’s effectiveness amongst people undergoing an assessment and individuals or organisations providing support to them.’
The author questions ‘whether an assessment designed in the early part of this century will best meet society’s needs in its third decade.’
If a new test is designed, he goes on to say, ‘then sufficient time must be allowed and suitable expertise must be deployed to create and test a tool which is both robust and meets the requirement for perceived fairness. In the meantime, my counsel would be to let the current WCA have a period of stability – it is by no means perfect but there is no better replacement that can be pulled off the shelf.’
Sadly, for current claimants, this means at least another five years of unfair and ineffective assessments.
Support group mystery
Dr Litchfield also points out the increasing number of claimants being placed in the support group – up from 10% to 47% - and the fact that the most common justification for support group entry is now regulation 35 (2) (b): that there would be a risk of harm to the claimant or someone else if they were not placed in the support group.
In many cases the claimant has a mental health condition which is judged to mean that they may be at risk of harming themselves or others.
Litchfield goes on to point out, disapprovingly, that two thirds of the claimants who are placed in the support group because of regulation 35 are not subject to a face-to-face assessment, the recommendation is made on the papers only. Dr Litchfield comments that:
‘The Reviewer understands from personal clinical experience how difficult it is to arrive at a sound judgement in this type of situation and is surprised that so many colleagues feel able to offer a professional opinion without the benefit of a face-to-face assessment. This would appear to be an area that warrants early further investigation by the Department and its provider.’
The preponderance of paper-based recommendations could be due to the fact that they are quicker and cheaper than face to face assessments. It might be because many Atos health professionals do not have the experience and confidence in their skills to carry out face to face assessments of people with more severe mental health conditions. It might be due to prejudice. Or there may be some other explanation entirely.
Whatever the reason, Dr Litchfield’s comments are as close to open criticism of Atos as you are likely to find in any formal review of the WCA.