In 2007, the then Labour Government introduced Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) – a new way of assessing an individual’s abilities and disabilities, capacity to work and entitlement to benefits. Quite rightly, the under-pinning assumption was that everyone should be assisted to work if they are able, recognising the support that might be required, and providing the appropriate benefits to help an individual with a disability to play a full part in society.
Unfortunately, since 2010, the coalition government decided that the primary purpose of WCAs is to ‘get people off benefits and into work’. However, the government forced through assessment processes that weren’t fit for purpose and contracted out the assessment process to the multi-national company ATOS, whose performance has been a disaster - a catalogue of long delays and poor decisions, causing misery and fear to thousands of people across the country.
Crisis meetings between ATOS and DWP revealed that recruitment failures had left the company with a severe shortage of doctors. This compounded the widespread incompetence in the delivery of work capability assessments which lead to 40% of ATOS’s decisions being appealed, and one in every three appeals being upheld. Thus, one in every seven decisions has been demonstrated to have been wrong. In addition, last May, the courts have determined that the processes disadvantages people with mental health problems, learning disabilities and autism, and, in December, the Court of Appeal threw out the government’s appeal against that judgement.
By May 2011, 63% of initial claims were taking longer than 91 days to process. By the second half of 2011 this had risen to 77% and by the first eight months of 2012 this figure stood at 82%. Last week, the government was forced to admit that ATOS is failing to meet 63 of its 96 Employment and Support Allowance targets - which require ATOS to process all ESA applications within 35 working days.
Things are so bad that the government has stopped publishing performance data. The October 2013 statistical release for Work Capability Assessments did not include either the statistics for the assessment of existing Incapacity Benefit claims, nor the outcome of appeals of initial WCAs. And these statistics still haven’t been released.
This is not surprising given that the July 2013 release had revealed
“to date 39% of all Fit-for-Work decisions have been appealed against. 70% of initial Fit-for-Work decisions appealed against were upheld after challenge; and 30% of initial Fit-for-Work decisions appealed against were overturned after challenge”.
The Department of Work and Pensions’ Annual Report was published in December. It confirmed:
“5.5.1 A particular example of the control challenge around commercial suppliers identified above is the number and quality of Work Capability Assessments undertaken by Atos Healthcare, in support of both Employment and Support Allowance and the programme to reassess Incapacity Benefit claims. The number of assessments has fallen consistently short of demand... 5.5.3 The work by Atos Healthcare to improve quality further reduced the volumes of completed assessments. This further increased the numbers of cases awaiting assessment.”
It’s clear that it is the government and the contractor it chose which need incapability assessments, not the unfortunate people who are trapped in this wretched process.
 Welfare Reform Act 2007
 Welfare Reform Act 2012