Work Capability Box Ticking

I was recently required to attend a work capability assessment (WCA), administered by the controversial ATOS healthcare.  The assessment is meant to decide if somebody is eligible for employment and support allowance – the main benefit for people unable to work due to illness or disability – and, if so, whether they should have to undertake “work related activity” such as training and careers advice.

WCAs have been causing worry to many people, especially as stories spread of unfair decisions, inexpert assessments and simple bad treatment from ATOS employees.  Disability message boards and support groups are full of people terrified of losing their benefits due to what is literally a box-ticking exercise – the medical professional simply selects the option on a computer screen that best meets the answer given, with no room for flexibility.  Some of the most worried are people with severe mental illness.
Mental illness is hard to see, and especially hard to judge in a meeting of less than an hour.  Most sufferers from severe illness – usually defined as including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and other conditions where psychosis can be present – have spent years in the system, taking strong medication, being treated by specialist teams and often with periods of inpatient care.  Despite this, they are still being called in for the WCA, often itself leading to deterioration in their conditions.  When I had my assessment, I was only a few weeks out of hospital after a relapse.
My case highlights many of the contradictions in the WCA system.  My husband works, so our income is too high for me to receive ESA payments; the only benefit I get from claiming is that basic national insurance contributions are made on my behalf.  The total value of these contributions are around £13 a year. Even if I had managed to fool all the doctors, nurses and other professionals all these years, and the WCA exposed me as that modern folk-devil, the benefit fraudster, it would save the taxpayer very little.  ATOS and the DWP have repeatedly refused to reveal how much each assessment costs, but it seems passing unlikely that it is less than £13.
The nurse who performed my assessment was not trained in mental health – ATOS does not employ any mental health nurses, despite “mental and behavioral disorders” being far and away the most claimed for group of illnesses, at around 35% of all claims.  This has implications both for the amount of people wrongly deemed able to work, and the amount of people able to fool an untrained assessor into declaring them incapable.
.Work Capability Assessments are based on a computer tick list
As I also claim other benefits, I have faced many long and often irrelevant questions about my condition, repeatedly provided the same evidence and contact details for my specialist team who confirm details of my illness, and spent many hours researching the correct forms, claims and procedures.  Not only is this upsetting and bad for my mental state,I am also constantly worried that I have made a mistake and that my income will be taken away or reclaimed, or that I could face criminal proceedings through an administrative mistake.  I am lucky enough to be relatively educated, and to have a variable condition, meaning some days I am able to coherently put my case across.  Many sufferers of severe mental illness are not so lucky.
Benefit claimants are routinely portrayed as “scroungers” and those of us reliant on the state for much of our income find ourselves stigmatised and afraid.  Often these are some of the most vulnerable in society, and unable to stand up for themselves when faced with discrimination.  Sufferers of severe mental illness often have to deal with the double jeopardy of being told on one side that they are malingering and should snap out of it and get back to work, and on the other that they are dangerous and need locking up.  If they try to object to negative treatment, they can find their opinions and testimony discounted on the grounds of their mental illness, especially if they suffer from psychosis or other such severe symptoms.
Sufferers of severe mental illness are much more likely to be vulnerable and need extra support, and although there are many excellent services and charities working with and for them, the benefits system is not currently set up for their needs.   It sometimes feels as if the government are working towards the ultimate Catch-22; if you can qualify for benefits by handling the hundreds of pages of form-filling, negotiating the maze of departments, offices and units, and convincing the GPs, psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses, civil servants and ATOS box-tickers, you’re not just fit for work.  You’re good enough to be Minister for Social Security.

About Alicia J Duffy

All purpose northern lefty guardian reading feminist single mum.


2 thoughts on “Work Capability Box Ticking

  1. I agree entirely, we have been fighting the good fight for around 3 years now and will continue to do so. This barbaric treatment of the weakest in society has to be stopped and the only way to do thet is to fight back. We are constantly trying to despell the myths surrounding sickness and disability benefits and thier claimants. It is difficult when papers like the Daily Mail pander to the rhetoric of the present Tory led Sham who picked up the baton from Labour then proceeded to make matters worse by making this already suspect system worse and saying they had made it more “robust”. Yeah, right, 15 people have taken thier own lives because of these foul changes by an unelected Government with no mandate, go to our forum and ask Calum about his list and he will tell you. It is time to stop these fools dead in thier tracks before everyone, even those who are working and paying taxes into this corrupt system lose thier future rights to benefits they are paying for now.

    Posted by dwpexamination | November 29, 2011, 12:33 pm
  2. Reblogged this on aliciajduffy.

    Posted by Alicia J Duffy | May 30, 2015, 9:43 pm

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