Research plays key role in MPs’ debate on controversial ‘fit to work’ assessment

The Houses of Parliament. Photograph: Adrian Pingstone on Wikipedia

MPs will debate the controversial ‘fitness to work’ test on Wednesday (December 13) – and work produced by Qa Research will be at the heart of it.

The Work Capability Assessment is used to decide whether jobless people in the UK are entitled to employment support allowance and personal independence payments (PIP).

But it has caused widespread concern that people are finding the process unnecessarily stressful – and then being declared fit to work when they are not.

Rethink Mental Illness commissioned Qa to undertake research into the experiences of people with mental health conditions of the Work Capability Assessment.

The work forms part of the charity’s response to the consultation for Government’s Green Paper Work, health and disability: improving lives.

And the findings will feed into the Westminster Hall debate, led by David Linden, MP for Glasgow East.

He has called the debate because Work Capability Assessments “have been a major part of my caseload.

“Too often, the wrong decision is made and a whopping 60% of decisions are overturned at appeal,” he said.

The people

We recruited 17 participants to take part in the research, with a range of severe mental health conditions such as bipolar, borderline personality disorder, depression and schizophrenia.

Understanding the sensitivity of the issues, Qa Research approached people via ‘gatekeeper organisations’, including support groups and charities.

“We had to be very adaptable,” said Qa Research Director Julie Wrigley. “We changed our approach to suit the participants.

“Some were happy to talk face to face, either individually or in groups. Others preferred to stay at home and take part in in-depth phone interviews.”

The findings

Our research led Rethink Mental Illness to identify a number of key issues, including:

  • issues with the paper forms that claimants must submit, including their complexity, length and
    the inflexible nature of the questions
  • claimants being asked to collect their own medical evidence, described as ‘burdensome, often expensive, and time-consuming’
  • assessment staff often having a poor understanding of mental illnesses.

As a result the charity outlines three main recommendations in their report ‘It’s broken her’: Assessments for disability benefits and mental health (PDF):

  1. a major reform of the Work Capability Assessment
  2. a review of the way in which people with mental illness are assessed
  3. all assessors and Department for Work and Pensions decision-makers should be trained in mental health.

What they said

The participants’ stories bring home the issues people with mental illnesses face when going through the work assessment process.

Here are just a few quotes from our interviewees.

‘Given that I’d just come out of hospital, the prospect of being questioned about whether I was ill enough to qualify was harmful to my recovery’

– Hannah

‘The whole process was demeaning and stressful for us all.’

– Jenny, mother of a son with paranoid schizophrenia

‘After being declined PIP for a second time, I was self-harming and took an overdose. I ended up in hospital’

– Jack