We need your help to stop these awful changes to disability assessments #esaSOS

10:00 am - January 17th 2013

by Sue Marsh    

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On 28 January 2013 the UK government is due to make a set of changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The WCA is the flawed ‘fitness to work’ test which assesses whether sick and disabled people can get Employment and Support Allowance (ESA): a benefit designed to help and support very unwell or profoundly disabled people into work.

Although these changes have been advertised as small ‘amendments’, they will in fact have a huge impact on the way people’s illnesses and disabilities are assessed. Many vulnerable people’s needs will suddenly be able to be overlooked or ignored, meaning they could end up losing the support they desperately need to manage their conditions.

As Karon Monaghan QC at Matrix Chambers says:

If the Government are proposing to introduce measures which will penalise claimants who decline to receive medical treatment, then this may in some cases violate article 8 (private life) and conceivably in some cases Art 3 (inhuman and degrading treatment).

Hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled people across Britain need your help to fight these changes!


In the fitness to work test, your needs are assessed by a ‘healthcare professional’ employed by the French private company ATOS. This assessor doesn’t just need to look at your current difficulties. For example, they can also imagine how using an aid (e.g. a wheelchair) might improve your ability to work and make a judgement based on that – without even asking your opinion!

However, soon this “imaginary test” will be able to be used for many more aids (including guide dogs and false limbs!). This means that soon thousands more people could be judged as fit to work, without being consulted, on the basis of an “imaginary” aid they don’t own or may not be able to use!

It gets worse. Even if returning to work may clearly put you at risk, these changes will mean you can still lose your disability benefit – as long as the assessor believes that trying a new therapy or treatment might reduce that risk. There’s no need for evidence that the treatment will help: you will lose support either way, making it much harder to manage if the treatment doesn’t work as hoped – let alone if it ends up making things worse.

If the government’s rule changes go through, people who are desperate to work will find it nearly impossible to get an accurate assessment, affecting the quality of their support and actively preventing their efforts to get back into work.


The government is also trying to change the way people’s conditions are assessed by dividing health problems into two separate boxes: ‘physical’ and ‘mental’. When looking at what tasks people can do, only the ‘physical half’ of the test will apply to those with physical disabilities. The same goes for the effects of treatment: for e.g., if you’re taking mental health medication, only mental health side-effects will be looked at.

This completely fails to understand the way that many disabilities and illnesses can lead to both physical and mental effects. This is also the case for many common treatments: such as those for schizophrenia, Parkinson’s disease and multiple sclerosis.

Pretending the effects of illnesses and disabilities can be separated in this way goes against all medical practice. Going even further, and using this method to ignore sick and disabled people’s needs, is at best hopeless policy, and at worst deliberate cruelty.


The main way you can help is by spreading the message about these changes to ESA. The government have tried to sneak them under the radar – the last thing they will want is people talking about them!

Here are some great ways you can raise awareness:

1) Email your MP (you can search by name or constituency);
2) Share this blog post on twitter (using the hashtag #esaSOS), Facebook and other social media;
3) Email your friends and family a link to this post – or simply talk to them about it!

Again, the main way we can get the government to reconsider is by getting people to talk about the injustice of these changes.

If you want to do more, please sign #WOWpetition and call on the government to think again.

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About the author
Sue is a regular contributor to Liberal Conspiracy. She blogs on Diary of a Benefits Scounger and tweets from here.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Fight the cuts

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Reader comments

1. Brenda Storey

This is a shicking testament to this gov poor sick disabled n elderly are always hit

2. Linda Kilpatrick

Sad to say the only way to stop this is for everyone to take to the streets as did over the Poll Tax. Speaking to the Tories is a waste as they dont listen so the only option is mass civil disobedience

In the Parliamentary debate on the dangerous Work Capability Assessment today, Michael Meacher revealed what disabled people have been saying for over 2 years.

At the heart of this attack on benefits for the sick and disabled lies the attempts by insurance companies to decimate the welfare state in order to make the British public take out private Income Protection Policies, which they then do everything possible to avoid paying out on.

“…there are concerns about the responsibility for work capability assessments, in particular that of the Atos chief medical officer. Professor Michael O’Donnell joined Atos from the American company, Unum, formerly UnumProvident, which had a very poor reputation in the US, where it was described as an “outlaw company” by the US authorities, partly because it was regarded as a “disability denial factory”. In that situation, the responsibilities of the Minister and the Secretary of State need to be established clearly.” Michael Meacher.

This company has boasted of the profits to be made in Britain and has been instrumental behind the scenes in every aspect of the current onslaught, and dating back to Labour’s time in power at the Woodstock Conference in 2001.

The debate in Parliament today showed that ALL MPs are very aware of the serious harm and deaths being caused by the WCA. They did not however appear to be aware of the amendment to the ESA regulations slid into force by the government just before Christmas which come into force on January 28th. While making the test better for cancer sufferers, these amendments make the test EVEN worse for everyone else.

Under these rules, the DWP can now “imagine” that you have aids, appliances, treatments or drugs that COULD make your condition improve, whether they are available to you or not, whether they have been proved to work or not or wait to see the outcome of any intervention.

They can also imagine “workplace adaptations” such as a desk that rises and falls to allow for work standing and sitting, whether it is available to you or not.

They have taken a terrible situation causing suicides and deaths and just made it very much worse. This government have lost their minds and their humanity and want to drag the rest of the population with them on a hate fest for those who cannot work. As an MP said in the debate, they have blood on their hands and they will be called to answer for it.

4. gloria solomon

I nursed my 56 yr old husband through 21 months of agonising hell with small cell terminal lung/brain cancer,I watched helplessly while he went through the rigours of chemo and radiation,knowing it was just prolonging the inevitable,I saw him fight compiler bachter food poisoning from his hospital meal,I watched him suffer epileptic fits and seizures,then had to watch him suffer the hell of going blind,I was awake,looking after him 24/7 for 18 months before I was so exhausted I had to get Marie Curie nurses in so that I could get a few hours sleep,sadly he passed away 22 months ago.6 months after his death I started to get terrible panic attacks,I havent slept for more than 4 hours a night,Im a bundle of nerves,my memory has become so bad,I have to get my neighbours to write appointments down for me in their diaries so I don’t forget,all in all,im a mental wreck,I even forgot to go and sign on when I was on JSA,and having a bad memory wasnt a good enough reason so they didnt pay me,im now on esa of £36 a week which is a joke and I really struggle to pay my rent top up,I barely eat,but my esa claim is under review,my gp is horrified that some forms of mental illness arent being recognised,its causing so much stress worry and debt its making me worse,something needs to be done fast

ATOS also offers it’s services to private companies as well, where they will assess whether or not a current employee after acquiring an injury or condition is ‘fit to work’ or not. This has already led to ATOS finding people ‘not fit to work’ whereupon they are sacked or ‘let go’, and then assessed by ATOS again this time for the DWP as being ‘fit to work’.

Nice work if you can get it!

6. Kendra Storey

I have many health problems and am unwell 24/7 which stops me from working n if they stop my esa how do I live

HM Govt needs to remember that the DWP is meant to be impartial. If a person has a medical condition, surely it needs to be assessed by a medically qualified professional? And not by a ‘time and motion’ pencil jockey. Many physical conditions have emotional and mental symptoms. And mental health issues can also affect a person physically; people don’t conveniently fit into boxes.

The WCA legislation is dangerous and unjust. How can you assess someone without meeting them or at least talking with them. As a health professional, I know that so much more is conveyed during a consult in person. The majority of people claiming/ or wanting to claim ESA are genuine.

Unfortunately, there will always be a core element of skivers and scroungers who would pretend having illness. Especially if it allows them to receive more cash from the Govt. Personally, I can never condone this behaviour.

Though the government needs to review who is entitled to receive any UK state benefit; when not a citizen. Is it right to allow people who migrate here short term to claim for their family members who are not even in the UK? Or continue to spend what they do on illegal wars to impose their agenda? Maybe, just maybe if the people of this country were actually listened to; this would be a ‘great’country.

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