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Work capability assessments - the fightback - disabled people win right to judicial review

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					http://www.newstatesman.com/blogs/staggers/2012/07/work-capability-assessments-fightback




Work capability assessments: the fightback
Disabled people win right to judicial review.
BY KATE BELGRAVEPUBLISHED 29 JULY 2012 9:33




Work and Pensions minister Chris Grayling (Photo: Getty Images)


Encouraging news out of the High Court on Thursday for opponents of the loathed Atos' work
capability assessments (WCAs) : the court granted permission to two disabled people for a judicial
review to challenge the operation of WCAs.
Represented by the Public Law Project, the claimants argue that WCAs discriminate against people
with mental health problems. Says the Public Law Project's Ravi Low-Beer, the reasonable adjustment
they want is for the onus to be on the Department of Work and Pensions “to make sure they have
medical evidence from medical practitioners from the beginning of the process,” for ESA applicants
with mental health issues.

Most people will know WCAs as the face-to-face interviews and brief physical tests that are conducted
by Atos healthcare to assess people's eligibility for the Employment and Support Allowance.

As things stand, says Low-Beer, WCAs are conducted by Atos healthcare professionals who are not
mental health experts. “At present,” the Public Law Project says, “the DWP do not routinely ask for
expert medical reports from an applicant’s community-based doctor.” Interviews are often hurried and
people must be able to explain their problems in detail. The claimants contend that not everyone with
mental health problems is always in a position to do that – it may be, says Public Law, that “conditions
fluctuate in seriousness, or [people] cannot easily talk about their disability” - which means people can
be found fit for work with less than their whole stories told. That, says Low-Beer, pushes people who
may already be struggling into a notoriously stressful appeals process.

“For some people, having to negotiate an appeal is an agony. It causes a tremendous amount of
distress. It's a confrontation with the state that they're ill-equipped to endure.” For those reasons, says
Low-Beer, medical evidence should be available and considered at the beginning of the process, and it
should be up to the DWP to make sure it is. Last year, the Public Law Project and the Mental Health
Resistance Network began to meet to consider a course of action around the problem.

Now, they have one. It's certainly a slap in the face for the government – and for a despised assessment
process that has long been mired in strife and acrimony. Sites like Broken of
Britain, AtosVictimsGroup and Jayne Linney's have grown and grown as people have looked to rein in
an assessment process that they say is imprecise, unfair, fails to account for medical evidence and even
to reflect discussions which take place in Atos assessment rooms.
The Guardian has reported “hundreds of thousands of people” flooding to contest decisions made
against ESA eligibility as a result of these assessments: “a 56% rise during 2010/11 in the number of
people appealing rulings that they are fit for work,” and an overloaded tribunals system to boot. “Since
the system was trialled at the end of 2009, at least 390,000 people have gone to appeal. Tribunal
courts have been forced to open on Saturdays and to increase staff by 30% since January 2010 to deal
with the backlog.”

God knows I've talked to people who've been stuck in it. People I've interviewed with mental health
problems and bad experiences of WCA include Paul*, from Cheshire, a man who'd worked for nearly
40 years, but who suffered from severe depression and had made a suicide attempt when his
department was restructured and his job changed. He told me that "there was no sympathy all,” at
his WCA: “They even got my date of birth and my medication wrong. They said I went out shopping
and visiting my brother - none of which was true. I can't go out of the door on my own.” Atos found
him fit for work – a decision which was, like many, overturned on appeal. He almost didn't get there –
he was so stressed by the thought of the appeals process that he did not want to go through it. In the
end, he only appealed because his wife insisted and helped him with it.

A Newcastle man with schizophrenia, Steve*, also failed in his application for ESA. He told me that few
questions were asked in his assessment about the impact his schizophrenia has on his life and his
ability to cope. He was found fit for work and needed the help of his community mental health team to
go through an appeal.

*Surnames withheld

				
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Description: Encouraging news out of the High Court on Thursday for opponents of the loathed Atos' work capability assessments (WCAs) : the court granted permission to two disabled people for a judicial review to challenge the operation of WCAs. Represented by the Public Law Project, the claimants argue that WCAs discriminate against people with mental health problems. Says the Public Law Project's Ravi Low-Beer, the reasonable adjustment they want is for the onus to be on the Department of Work and Pensions “to make sure they have medical evidence from medical practitioners from the beginning of the process,” for ESA applicants with mental health issues.