Fighting Unfair Work Capability Assessments

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2019 National Disabled Members' Conference
11 July 2019

Conference is concerned at the number of deaths following Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit (UC) claimants being found fit for work or where claimants have been denied Disability Living Allowance (DLA) or Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that over 2,300 former claimants of sickness-related benefits died within six weeks of losing their claim for ESA and being declared “fit for work” between December 2011 and February 2014.

In 2017 the DWP were forced under a Freedom of Information request to release data showing that, between 2014 and 2017, 10,950 claimants died whilst in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA. Claimants placed in the WRAG group are people aged 16-64 who the DWP deems can start moving towards work. The DWP data showed that 10 of these people died every day between 2014 and 2017.

The DWP do not produce a breakdown on cause of death as this information is not gathered. However there are many cases where people have taken their own lives due to the stress and trauma they faced.

Conference notes that there have been some high profile cases reported in the press, including that of Jodey Whiting. Jodey was a disabled mother of nine who took her own life a week after receiving notification from the DWP that her benefit would be stopped as they had deemed her fit for work because she missed one appointment. The DWP was still refusing as of July 2019 to release the results of an investigation into Jodey’s death to her mother.

There has also been an increase in attempted suicide. According to published NHS data, attempted suicides among out-of-work disability benefit claimants have more than doubled – from 21% to 43% – since the introduction of fit-to-work assessments in 2008.

Conference further notes that UNISON supported and spoke at the 13 February lobby of parliament entitled “Disabled People: First Do No Harm”. The lobby was led by the Labour Party and backed by disabled people’s organisations and Disability Labour. The key aims of the lobby were:

A)To incorporate the principle of “First Do No Harm” into the assessment process for disabled people in the welfare system, implementing an assessment framework that treats disabled people with dignity and respect

B)To call for the publication of a cumulative impact assessment of social security changes to disabled people.

C)To end the sanctions and conditionality regime for disabled people

The overall aim was to demand that the current work capability assessments (WCA) are challenged and changed.

Conference therefore instructs the National Disabled Members Committee to:

1)Continue to work with the Labour Party, via the Labour Link, and disabled people’s organisations to campaign against unfair work capability assessments

2)Support appropriate campaigns for justice for Jodey Whiting and consider supporting similar appropriate campaigns highlighting the impact of work capability assessments on disabled people.