Work capacity assessment and the denial of disability

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2013 National Delegate Conference
26 February 2013

Conference rejects without qualification the revised Work Capability Assessment (WCA) that underpins the government’s drive to deny people who are sick or disabled the financial support they need because they cannot secure paid work. Thousands of disabled people’s lives are being turned upside down by the new assessment regime used to decide eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance.

Conference notes data in Early Day Motion 295 which reports that last year 1,100 claimants died while under compulsory work-related activity for benefit and that a number of those found fit for work and left without income have committed or attempted suicide.

Conference agrees that there is a multi-dimensional link between the WCA being run by the company ATOS, the demonisation of disabled people in the press and the 100% increase in disability hate crime, as identified in the disabled members newssheet to National Delegate Conference 2012.

Conference congratulates the British Medical Association for calling for the work capability assessment to end immediately and for it to be replaced with a system that does not cause harm to some of the most vulnerable people in society and we commend the numerous representations in the media that have illustrated the dire impact on disabled people’s lives as well as exposing distorted versions of the benefits process as part of the government’s austerity plans.

Conference affirms WCA to be a trade union issue because it aims to destroy the dignity of disabled people who are unable to secure their place in the labour market; we have a responsibility to challenge this systemic injustice faced by disabled citizens

Since the purpose of introducing the WCA is to reduce the numbers eligible to receive financial support from the state, ATOS’ ability to renew this and gain other similar contracts, such as that for the Personal Independence Payment, is likely to be linked to how many people are judged ‘fit to work’. A key reasons for replacing the old Personal Capability Assessment was that it was resulting in ‘too many’ people qualifying for out of work sickness benefits. The history of collectively funded provision for those who cannot sell their labour because of impairment and/or illness, is marked by countless points at which the state, supported by popular media and politically driven ideologies decide that the current eligibility rules and procedures are too slack, and instead introduces new systems which are thought will better identify so-called genuinely sick and disabled people, thereby reduce the numbers qualifying for support.

Conference notes the two underlying factors running through the whole history of out of work sickness benefits, namely:

1)that there are political and economic factors which create a desire to limit or reduce public expenditure on supporting those who cannot support themselves through selling their labour;

2)that there is an unequal relationship between those who design and deliver the welfare system and those who are subjected to it.

UNISON is committed to continuing its defence of a welfare system that does not punish people for being unable to sell their labour and that an economic system should developed which can sustain a level of taxation sufficient to fund to support a decent standard of living for all. Such a system must defend and promote a welfare framework that respects the inactivity of a small number of disabled people in the labour market, one which seeks to empower disabled people as citizens and one which is co-produced by those who depend on it.

Conference calls on the National Executive Council to:

a)join calls for the immediate abandonment of the Work Capability Assessment and continue its work with the National Disabled Members Committee to pursue this end;

b)seek to ensure that any replacement criteria for benefit for people who are disabled or have long term limiting health conditions that prevent them from working includes a provision that early retirement under Occupational Health advice with release of pension triggers eligibility for state benefit;

c)affiliate to appropriate user led organisations of disabled people that are campaigning against government policy to reduce welfare support to disabled people;

d)promote existing assessment guidance that is issued to ATOS or other medical practitioners who carry out benefit assessments;

e)publicise existing information and advice for contesting adverse WCA assessments.