On the same day that the government announced Atos is to stop carrying out work capability assessments (WCAs) because of poor performance, it revealed rather more quietly that there will be no changes to the widely discredited WCA itself. Nor will there be any improvement to the mental health understanding of professionals carrying out the tests.{jcomments on}

The ‘business as usual’ announcement was buried in the government’s response to the fourth review of the WCA, which was carried out by Dr Paul Litchfield and contained 32 recommendations for changes.

The government claims it has accepted almost all of those recommendations. But in many cases it has, in reality, only agreed to look into them further.

And in relation to requiring health professionals to have “suitable and sufficient previous experience of dealing with people with mental health problems”, the government have deferred any decision until it can find out “whether the DWP would accept or reject the principles underpinning this”.

In fact, the DWP minister Mike Penning’s firmest undertakings in the report are that the DWP will:

. . . conduct further work into the feasibility of Decision Maker triage, collocation of Decision Makers and our health assessment providers and reengineering the case mix between Decision Makers. These recommendations have the potential to radically transform the WCA process . . .

There may be some people who understand what these convoluted undertakings mean in practice . . . but probably very few.

On the other hand, one change that might actually radically transform the WCA - greatly improving and extending the descriptors - was very clearly ruled out by the government which claimed that:

“The findings suggest that overall the WCA works as intended and is a valid assessment . . .”

and that:

“Our assessment is that there is no evidence that changes to the WCA descriptors would significantly improve the overall assessment.”

So, the government doesn’t want any changes to the test and it doesn’t want any improvement in health professionals’ grasp of mental health issues. But there is one change that Penning does want: an end to ‘sniping’ at the WCA:

“I still hear a lot of dissatisfaction about the WCA, including from my own constituents, but Dr Litchfield’s independent and impartial view about the WCA’s ongoing viability is welcomed: what’s important is to work within the current operational and financial boundaries to have an assessment which is objective, consistent and fair. Continued sniping does no-one any good – it is much more productive to work together to improve things.”

Somehow, we suspect Penning may be in for a disappointment on that score.

You can download the full Litchfield review here.


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