Via Paul Jenkins @ Rethink Mental Illness
Three judges today confirmed what campaigners have been shouting from the rooftops for years – the benefits test used to decide whether people are fit for work, actively discriminates against people with mental illness.
This is a huge victory for everyone who has been subjected to the cruel and unfair Work Capability Assessment(WCA), which is used to decide who is fit for work.
The WCA is riddled with problems but this judicial review focussed on one specific issue – that of gathering supporting evidence. Under the current system, no matter how ill or even delusional you may be, you are responsible for proactively gathering your own medical evidence and sending it to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). If you fail to do this, it simply won’t be looked at.
This means your ability to work will be judged from a one-off 15 minute assessment by a stranger who may well have no mental health training whatsoever and has no idea what your GP, psychiatrist or Community Psychiatric Nurse has to say about your illness. It means all the paperwork documenting your long history of severe and enduring mental illness can be simply ignored.
While for most people, gathering this kind of evidence would be fairly straightforward, for someone with a severe mental illness, it can be an impossible task. We’re talking about people who may be in the midst of a psychotic episode or someone who perhaps hasn’t left the house for months.
“It’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre.”
Our CEO Paul Jenkins on the Unfair WCA
It’s these very people, those who are most ill, who are least likely to be able to gather their own evidence and who are being penalised as a result. It’s like asking someone in a wheelchair to walk to the assessment centre. It sets people up to fail and means that some of the most vulnerable people in our society are being left without the basic financial support they need.
The system flies in the face of equality legislation, which has been carefully developed over the last 50 years to protect people with disabilities. It creates the impression that the DWP isn’t too worried about getting it right, they’re just interested in slashing benefits, no matter what the human cost.
What makes it even harder to stomach is that it’s completely at odds with the government’s repeated insistence that mental health is a top priority. On the one hand, they are pushing forward with the Mental Health Strategy and the recently passed Mental Health Discrimination Bill, and on the other they are penalising the very same group by forcing them through this discriminatory process, which is putting lives at risk. A poll of over 1,000 GPscommissioned by Rethink Mental Illness last year, found that over 20% have patients who have felt suicidal due to the WCA.
The judgment is a huge victory for everyone affected by severe mental illness, but it’s sad that it took a court case to force the DWP to take action. They have been dragging their heels on this issue for years while making vague and empty promises to improve. All this time, people with severe mental illnesses have continued to be subjected to this unfair test and many have wrongly had their benefits reduced or removed. Now that the court has ruled that these tests are unfair, it would be completely irresponsible to carry on using them. We are calling on the DWP to halt the mass reassessment of people in this group receiving incapacity benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.
We’re not saying people with severe mental illness cannot work. For some people work can be central to recovery and staying well. Those people should be offered support to get back into employment. What we are saying is that benefit tests should be fair and accurate, to ensure the most ill and vulnerable people in our society don’t slip through the net. It’s in everyone’s interests that we get this right. Inaccurate assessments lead to costly appeals and put further strain on the public purse.
Today’s ruling is a huge step forward, but the real work starts now. There has been a lot of tinkering around the edges of the system, but not enough real action. Now we not only need to see major reforms to the WCA, but also to the assessment process for all benefits so we can be sure people with mental illness are getting a fair deal.
We will keep campaigning on behalf of everyone we represent until the whole system is fair for everyone. Read more and get the latest on our new campaign about the Unfair WCA.