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Research shows failure of ESA

Two revealing new reports draw attention to the ongoing impact of 'fit for work' assessments, giving more evidence of the misery and hardship experienced by some sick and disabled people and providing further clues as to the underlying cause.

Despite minor improvements in the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), politicians, doctors, other medical professionals, church leaders, journalists, disabled people and thousands of others continue to express serious disquiet over its impact on sick and disabled people. The assessment is used to determine eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which provides support for people who are unable to work for health reasons, but there remains little confidence in its operation.

The People’s Review of the WCA – Further Evidence has been written by an anonymous author determined, despite seriously failing health, to do everything she possibly can to raise awareness of the impact of the WCA on the lives of sick and disabled people. Like the first People’s Review, published a year ago, this new report simply aims to give a voice to those whose lives have been devastated by the impact of the assessment on their physical and mental health and financial security. It shows how the WCA very often fails in its purpose – to identify those who need secure financial support because they are unable to work due to an impairment or serious health condition.

On 3 December the Centre for Welfare Reform published a report by Kaliya Franklin: Investigating the real reason for the misery of ‘fit for work’ assessments. Kaliya’s report includes whistle-blower evidence and analysis showing that – despite consistent denials by ministers – outcomes for sick and disabled ESA claimants are governed, to some extent at least, by a system of “norms”. In practice these norms behave as quotas, ensuring that no more than a certain percentage of claimants are eligible for ESA. This cynical approach to assessing claimants for sickness benefits has its roots in Lord Freud’s report Reducing Dependency, Increasing Opportunity: options for the future of welfare to work, published in 2007, and provides a distressing explanation for the experiences described in the second People’s Review.

It seems clear that without de facto quotas, explained in Kaliya’s report, it is much less likely that the process of being assessed for support would inflict so much suffering on so many people. Taken together, the reports add more detail to an emerging picture of the political manipulation at the heart of an assessment process that continues to cause sick and disabled people immense hardship and suffering a full 5 years after its introduction.