Six out of ten employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants hit with a sanction are vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty, according DWP figures obtained under the Freedom of Information Act. This figure has rocketed from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 to a massive 58% in 2013. The statistics prove that sanctions are now overwhelmingly aimed at the most vulnerable by a government department which relies on a policy of institutional discrimination to cut welfare costs.
The tragic deaths of Mark Woods and Ms DE are two examples of what happens when a government department allows discrimination against claimants with mental health conditions – by not investing in specialist health professionals to carry out assessments – to become part of its operating procedures.
The recommendation in the fourth review of the WCA that health professionals have “suitable and sufficient previous experience of dealing with people with mental health problems”, was not accepted by the government last month as it wants to find out “whether the DWP would accept or reject the principles underpinning this”.
As the principle is that claimants with a mental health condition should be treated fairly and equally we can be certain the DWP will reject it.
In fact, figures released last week prove that the whole ESA assessment system is on the verge of complete collapse. The latest quarterly statistics show that just 28% of claims for ESA made between nine and twelve months ago have been assessed. The majority of claimants either get better before the DWP gets round to assessing them or are still waiting up to a year later to actually have their work capability assessment (WCA).
Meanwhile, doctors and nurses have united in condemning the WCA, saying that the test is “discriminatory and unfit for purpose” and that it “should be scrapped”. The comments from the Royal College of Nursing and the British Medical Association were made in written responses to the Work and Pensions Committee’s inquiry into employment and support allowance (ESA) and the WCA.
The government have made it clear, however, that they do not intend to make any changes to the WCA.
And finally, whilst the news that Atos will be exiting its contract to carry out the WCA early is old news now, you might still want to check out our take on the issue:
The Guardian has obtained a leaked letter which shows that the DWP is having to use civil servants to try to help clear Capita’s backlog of PIP assessments. The DWP hopes to cut down on face-to-face medicals by getting its own staff to decide whether people are eligible for PIP using paper-only evidence.
Whilst this may result in faster decision making, it remains to be seen whether it will mean better decision making.