Relaxed to the Point of Complacency – The Government’s Work Capability Assessment


The Work Capability Assessment is clearly not working. A third of the decisions that the health service provider makes are being overturned in appeals. Charities and the medical profession have issued strong criticisms of the assessment process, calling the government’s system inhumane and often inaccurate. I know that assessments are causing real hardship and humiliation for many people in Northfield who are living with severe disabilities and long term illnesses. So who is to blame?

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Atos certainly need to answer questions about the way they conduct assessments. The Employment and Support Allowance tribunals that follow if people appeal the decisions made by Atos also need to be drastically improved. But the reality is that the Government is designing and implementing the tests that measure people’s capacity for work.  As a GP who resigned in disgust with the system said, “I think the Department for Work and Pensions is the real culprit here. It’s the government training that makes Atos assessors do this.”

From the many constituents that have contacted me about this issue I know the system is not serving the needs of people who have complex and intermittent problems with working – such as those with severe disabilities and long term illnesses.  Alongside other Labour MPs I continue to press the governments to recognise and act on the issues with these tests, but the answers we hear from Ministers at DWP continue to be relaxed to the point of complacency. Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third independent review of the Work Capability Assessment has again called for both the government and Atos to make urgent improvements.

A system that is serving vulnerable people living with disabilities and diffucult health issues needs full public confidence. We clearly do not have it yet.

You can read MP’s questions to Ministers for the Department for Work and Pensions on Hansard here.

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Richard Burden

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I was Labour Member of Parliament for Birmingham Northfield between 1992 and 2019 and a former Shadow Transport Minister. I now chair Healthwatch in Birmingham and Solihull, and the West Midlands Board of Remembering Srebrenica. I also work as a public affairs consultant. I am an effective community advocate and stakeholder alliance builder with a passion for human rights. I am a trustee of the Balfour Project charity and of Citizens Advice Birmingham, and a former Chair of Medical Aid for Palestinians.

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