The 'Responsible Reform' Spartacus report revealed the power of social media in helping to raise awareness to the cuts faced by disabled people in the UK. It got the House of Lords to listen to disabled people. If it wasn't for a the Government utilising the Commons 'financial privilege' in a way that has seen no precedent, significant changes would have been made to the Welfare Bill that would have protected disabled people from some of its worst 'reforms'.
So thinking about this success, and following on from the brilliant article written by Amelia Gentleman in the Guardian earlier this week, I thought it would be great to capture people's experiences of Atos's Working Capability Assessment (WCA) to pull together recommendations for the Government to help make the process fairer.
As much as many people reading this will say the WCA shouldn't exist, my main focus is to work within the system that has been imposed on us (and which no political party has recommended repealing) to think of practical changes that the Government could implement immediately and at no cost. Listed below are my initial thoughts. Please do comment and add your thoughts too.
1. DWP should give doctors' reports equal weight as Atos's WCA medical test
Although Atos conduct the 'independent' medical test it is the DWP who have the final decision about who does and doesn't receive ESA. It is widely felt amongst the disabled community that in reality the DWP are just rubber stamping the decision made by Atos's medical test, at it is the company's system of awarding points to a claimant's illness that decides if someone reaches the threshold of eligibility. A simple change would be to give equal weight to the reports given to the DWP by the claimant's own doctors and to the report provided by Atos. Where there is a clear discrepancy in the perceived ability of a claimant the DWP could step in early to demand more informationn from both parties, hopefully reducing the number of mistakes made and the huge cost to the Government of managing appeals against DWP's ESA decisions.
2. Stop the continual cycle of re-testing
One of the shocking problems within the ESA system, is that once a claimant has waited up to nine months to have his or her case heard at the court of appeal and finally been awarded ESA, they can be recalled for another medical within months of the appeal being heard. This second medical then strips the claimant of ESA forcing them back into the stressful and lengthy appeal process. This makes no sense to either the claimant who is struggling to regain their health or to the tax payer which is paying £50 million a year for this appeals merry-go-round. At each appeal hearing, each claimant should be given a date before which they cannot be called back for another medical and the DWP must be made to honour this date. I suggest a year before retests but opinions are welcome on this.
3. Impose financial penalties on Atos for incorrect decisions
A Commons select committee report last year highlighted that Atos may be driven by a profit motive to, in their words, "get the assessments done, but not necessarily to get the assessments right". The Government should treat Atos like any other private contractor and impose financial penalties for incorrect decisions. Clearly a margin of error may be acceptable but decisions in which a claimant has been awarded 0 points by Atos to then be awarded 15 points on appeal cannot be justified. It isn't in the taxpayers interest to fund an appeal process worth £50 million a year while letting Atos retain all of its £100 million annual fee.
Please do let me know what you think - it would be great to work together as a social media community to create key recommendations from those who have been through the WCA process to try and make a difference to those who have to endure it in the future.