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Leicestershire Centre for Integrated Living

Iain Duncan Smith says work capability assessments don't work and are 'too harsh'

Date: 20/7/2017
Summary: Former minister for Work and Pensions Iain Duncan Smith has admitted that work capability assessments given to sick people are “too harsh” and offer a “cliff edge” choice between work and no work.

He added that this “cliff edge” view of work and illness adds stress to the process and encourages people to misrepresent their conditions to assessors.

Speaking at an event held by the Spectator magazine and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation on The Conservative Route to Fighting Poverty, Duncan Smith said that these issues prompted the DWP to review the Work Capability Assessments (WCA) system of assessments a total of five times.

“It was quite obvious to us that the system was far too narrow, was acting in a far too harsh manner and was making judgements about people,” he said.

He added that despite these reviews, which helped “soften” these effects slightly, the system remains flawed:

“The whole process of having a benefit that says you are either too sick to work or you can work, actually works against the nature of how people think of themselves,” he said.

Towards the end of his time as minister, before his departure from the department in May 2016, Duncan Smith had started to formulate plans to totally reshape the way these assessments were done:

“I came to the conclusion that it was time to review the whole way we do this and remove the cliff edge,” he said.

“The cliff edge tempts people to make wrong declarations. And it means that whatever assessment you’re making becomes very critical, which adds extra stress.”

He argued a system where someone could be deemed fit for some work, or a certain number of hours a week, would remove much of this strain.

The current system, he added, works “directly against” getting people into work:

“If you’re in work you’re likely to be healthier. Given all of that, the benefit we have works directly against that. It forces people out of the work environment rather than keeping them in.”

WCAs have come under fire in the past for allegedly mis-assessing those who are too ill to return to work, and insisting on repeated assessments even of patients with long term illnesses which are unlikely to improve.

DWP figures released in August 2015 show that over 2,300 people died within 14 days of being deemed fit to work by the assessment over a two year period. The DWP stated at the time that there was not necessarily any link between the deaths and claimants being declared fit to work.

Andrew Neil, chair of the Spectator group, asked at the event where the “enthusiasm” for changes to the welfare system is in the current government, noting that “even Mrs May” is quiet on the issue.

Duncan Smith replied that the Compassionate Conservative Caucas in parliament has met about this issue and most of its MPs are “passionate” about further welfare reform.

He resigned as work and pensions secretary in March 2016, saying that the disability cuts in George Osborne’s Budget were a “compromise too far”. He added that they were particularly unwelcome in “a budget that benefits higher earning taxpayers”.

Source: I News

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