Originally published by Michael Meacher on September 11th, 2013 here.
Yesterday’s meeting with Mark Hoban, the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) Minister, presented him with a systematic catalogue of all the main weaknesses, faults and failures of the whole WCA process. He was told in no uncertain terms that under the Evidence-Based Review new descriptors are needed now since not one single more person should have to go through a test with descriptors biased against them. He was told he must ensure that GPs can provide evidence and are not allowed to refuse, and that this evidence must be taken fully into account before considering a WCA.
He was told that there must be mental health champions in every centre (not less than half as at present), that every assessment should be recorded, that assessment phase payments must continue throughout mandatory reconsideration, and that new centres must replace the 29 centres still inaccessible. He was also told that 3-9 month reassessment periods were frankly absurd. And he was told that a person undergoing a WCA must be able to score under both physical and cognitive descriptors again since separating them was clearly unworkable.
Hoban listened attentively, though his replies to some of these points seemed rather unconvincing, which on several occasions he was not allowed to get away with by Sue Marsh, who led for Spartacus and argued the case passionately. It was also put to him that many of the disability groups wanted outright abolition of the WCA, though he waived that aside. Nevertheless it was made clear to him that the current WCA format was universally regarded as fundamentally at fault, and he did let slip in an unintended aside that the government’s ‘current relationship with Atos was not very good’, by which of course he meant there was a thundering great row going on behind the scenes.
At the end of the 45 minute meeting Hoban was asked to agree to another early meeting if the disability community could come together to produce an alternative to the WCA. He responded by arguing that it would have to be very robust and meet a high bar in terms of performance, but he certainly didn’t reject the idea out of hand.
Significantly, today MPs were invited to undergo a mock WCA themselves at the House of Commons where they were put through the type of questioning and demands for evidence used in WCAs in order to determine whether they scored enough to be fit to be an MP. Quite a number of MPs attended, but the great majority (including me) failed miserably to get anywhere near scoring the number of points necessary. It did make MPs, and certainly me, a lot more aware of what it is like to be subject to this kind of ordeal which, not to put too fine a point on it, is set up to make you fail.