The Government’s controversial Work Capability Assessment (WCA) regime, which is run for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by private firm Atos Healthcare, came under serious fire in February from the influential House of Commons Public Accounts Committee (PAC).
The PAC published a report that was highly critical of the WCA system of medical assessments to gauge whether or not people claiming disability benefit are fit to work.
The report, Department for Work and Pensions: Contract management of medical services, said that the current system was “damaging public confidence and generating criticism of Atos, but most of the problems lie firmly within the DWP”.
From April, a new medical assessment will be introduced as part of the Government’s plans to replace the disability living allowance with a so-called “personal independence payment”. That the DWP’s decisions were overturned in 38% of appeals cast doubt on the accuracy of its decision making, the PAC said, and the system needed to be reformed.
Responding to the criticism, employment minister Mark Hoban said that the PAC had failed to recognise the changes and improvements made since an independent review in 2010 conducted by occupational physician Professor Malcolm Harrington.
In a separate development, in January the Government said it would be improving WCA for those awaiting, receiving or recovering from any form of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer.
Such people would, in future, automatically be placed in its support group for employment and support allowance category, ensuring they received these benefits rather than risk being categorised as fit for work.
Also in January, the DWP published figures arguing that nearly one-third of people on the old incapacity benefits had now been found “capable” of some form of work.
More than 603,000 people on incapacity benefits had been reassessed since 2010, and the Government was now more than halfway through the reassessment of 1.5 million incapacity benefits claimants through the WCA.
Nearly one in every three – almost 180,000 people – had been assessed as fit for work and therefore were considered no longer eligible for sickness benefits.