On Thursday 7 February 2013 the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) released their report on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – Contract management of medical services. The Public Accounts Committee is appointed by the House of Commons to scrutinise the spending in government departments.
The PAC examined the role of Work Capability Assessments. People who make a claim for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and those currently receiving Incapacity Benefit*, are required to take part in a Work Capability Assessment.
The Work Capability Assessment is used to judge what support a person needs to access work and the maximum amount of benefit they might be paid. Following the Work Capability Assessment a person might be judged as ‘fit for work’ and be expected to seek employment immediately. A person might be judged to need support with work-skills and seeking employment, and be placed in the ‘Work Related Activity’ group. Some people with disabilities or health conditions might be judged as being unable to actively seek work at the current time. These people will be put into the ‘Support’ group or might be advised to make a claim for a different benefit.
Unfortunately, far too many disabled people - including some people with epilepsy – were put into the wrong group, following their Work Capability Assessment. People who believe that this has happened, can write to appeal the decision (call for their claim to be reassessed) but only have a short time in which to do so.
The PAC report criticises the DWP and the decisions it has made for thousands of people, based upon the ‘results’ of completed Work Capability Assessments. The PAC revealed that the original decision made following the Work Capability Assessment is wrong in over a third (38 per cent) of all appeals. This means that these people have their benefit and support re-corrected. However, it also means that too many people have unnecessarily experienced financial hardship. This is because they received less money while they waited for their appeal. People may have also experienced stress and anxiety during this time. Cause by for example, worry about paying bills, or seeking work when they were not well enough to do so. The whole appeals process is also costly. If the right decision was made in more cases (or every time), there would be far fewer appeals. This would potentially save the State a lot of money.
One paragraph in the summary of PAC report reads:
“The Work Capability Assessment process has a disproportionate impact on the most vulnerable claimants. The standardised ‘tick-box’ approach fails to adequately account for rare, variable or mental health conditions and this can lead to greater inaccuracies in decision-making for these particular claimant groups. We welcome the efforts made to improve the process and encourage the Department to continue to review the operation of the work capability assessment for vulnerable groups.”
Epilepsy Action welcomes the call for the DWP to review and improve the handling of Work Capability Assessments. However this call doesn’t quite go far enough. Until those carrying out the assessments have a better understanding of epilepsy, the risk of using a ‘tick-box’ approach remains. As the PAC have said, the ‘tick-box’ approach is unsuitable in showing the full impact of epilepsy. It is a highly individual and fluctuating condition. The impact of epilepsy is more than just having a physical seizure. On a daily basis it might effect a person’s memory and communication skills, or be linked to fatigue (tiredness), anxiety and depression.
The PAC report can be read at
* Incapacity benefit was paid to people who didn’t quality for disability benefits, but were judged to be unable to work owing to ill health or a medical condition. Incapacity Benefit is no longer available and is being phased out by the DWP.