This is the final annual independent review, required by the Welfare Reform Act 2007.
Mencap, the UK’s leading learning disability charity welcomes Dr Litchfield’s recommendations that Department for Work and Pensions should make information accessible to people with a learning disability by providing letters and documents in Easy Read. It is also welcome that he has recognised the need for further staff training so assessors can better support people with a learning disability to explain the barriers that they face.
Despite these recommendations, Mencap believes the current system is seriously failing people with a learning disability and is calling for the WCA to be replaced by a fit-for-work test and the implementation of an assessment that will better identify and understand the barriers that disabled people face. It is also warning that a failure on the part of the government to commit to any further independent reviews risks failing the very people the benefits system is supposed to support.
Dan Scorer, Head of Policy and Public Affairs at Mencap, said:
We are not surprised that this fifth and final review of the WCA has found many flaws in the process. The assessment should empower people with a learning disability to move towards employment with the right support, or provide help for those who are unable to work. However, due to its flaws, it continues to undermine thousands of lives, both through delays of months - and sometimes even years – and poor quality assessments, leading to incorrect decisions, appeals, and delays in benefit payment.
The WCA must urgently be replaced with a fit-for-work test, which is itself fit-for-purpose. We support the Work and Pensions Committee’s call in June this year for a “fundamental redesign” of the WCA, and we urge the Department for Work and Pensions to create an assessment that will better identify and understand the barriers that disabled people face. We want assessments to be fair and ensure that people with a learning disability get the support they need – this is far from reality at the moment.
With no further reviews planned, it will be incredibly difficult to measure the impact of further changes to the system, or of having a new WCA provider (Maximus). A failure to commit to future reviews means the government will have little insight into the future impact of changes on very people who the system is supposed to support.
James Bolton, Policy Officer at Mencap, describes the experiences of one lady with a learning disability who Mencap has been supporting through the assessment process:
We have been supporting a lady with a learning disability who has experienced huge emotional and financial stress from an assessment process which is ultimately not fit for purpose.
After undergoing a Work Capability Assessment, the lady was put in the wrong Employment and Support Allowance group. This had a significant impact on her, both emotionally and financially. She appealed the decision and was finally put in the correct group- the Support Group. However, this was short–lived. Despite her circumstances not changing, she was forced to undergo another assessment and was again put in the wrong group. We are supporting her to appeal this decision.
This is a completely unacceptable and futile situation, which is causing distress for the lady involved and forces many people to live in fear, unsure whether they will be able to afford to have a hot meal or to heat their homes this Christmas. To add insult to injury, this situation is also wasting taxpayers’ money on unnecessary assessments and appeals.
Notes to editors
There are 1.5 million people with a learning disability in the UK. Mencap works to support people with a learning disability, their families and carers by fighting to change laws, improve services and access to education, employment and leisure facilities. Mencap supports thousands of people with a learning disability to live their lives the way they want.
For advice and information about learning disability and Mencap services in your area, contact the Learning Disability Helpline on 0808 808 1111 (9am-5pm, Monday-Friday) or email firstname.lastname@example.org
What is a learning disability?
A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability which can cause problems with everyday tasks – for example shopping and cooking, or travelling to new places – which affects someone for their whole life.
People with a learning disability can take longer to learn new things and may need support to develop new skills, understand difficult information and engage with other people. The level of support someone needs is different with every individual. For example, someone with a severe learning disability might need much more support with daily tasks than someone with a mild learning disability.
Learning disability is not a mental illness or a learning difficulty. Very often the term ‘learning difficulty’ is wrongly used interchangeably with ‘learning disability’.