With all the Government changes to benefits now coming into force, I recently volunteered to undertake a mock Work Capability Assessment (WCA) at Westminster.
Organised by mental health charities, it reflected the way WCA is currently structured. As with all WCA claimants, I received a letter similar to the one sent out by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP), letting me know my appointment time, asking for proof of identity and evidence of being a proper and fit person.
I had a face-to-face assessment asking real questions used by Atos including behavioural issues, starting and finishing daily tasks and coping with unexpected changes to my routine. As an MP my job is very varied and isn’t a nine-to-five occupation. Therefore the assessors would not necessarily know anything about being an MP, thus making it hard for them to come to an informed decision.
It must be even more difficult to assess someone with a mental health illness especially by someone who doesn’t have any kind of understanding or background around mental health issues. Everyday people are wrongly being found fit for work. Under the current system, claimants have to provide their own medical evidence from a health professional to prove they are too ill to work. This means that the DWP can make a judgement about whether someone is fit for work without seeing any evidence from that person’s doctor.
The system relies on people who have severe social and communication difficulties or who are severely mentally impaired to be able to have enough insight into their own condition to accurately explain it in their paperwork, or worse, face to face to a stranger with no mental health expertise in a one-off assessment. After my experience, I think the system is deeply flawed and needs a major rethink.