Judges rule back-to-work assessments ‘unfair’ to mentally illPosted: June 23, 2013
Iain Duncan Smith’s drive to cut the number of people living on disability benefits has suffered a blow after judges ruled that back-to-work assessments discriminate against people with mental health conditions.
Three judges sitting at the Upper Tribunal in London ruled that the current system, which places the onus on the claimants to produce evidence of their condition, is unreasonable to people with mental health conditions such as autism.
The ruling that the current assessment system breaches equalities laws could call into question the decisions against hundreds of thousands of would-be Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants over the last five years.
The system of Work Capability Assessments, carried out by the private contractor Atos, has been mired in controversy amid claims it is “inhumane”.
Charities claim it has unfairly denied thousands of sick and disabled people their benefits but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it had made major improvements to ensure the assessments are fair.
Around 670,000 people are currently receiving the benefit – almost 40 per cent of them because of mental or behavioural conditions.
Another 800,000 have been assessed and turned down after being ruled fit for work. Yet almost 115,000 people have successfully appealed already.
Two people with mental health problems brought judicial review proceedings, arguing that it is unfair to require them to obtain evidence of their condition, such as a letter from a doctor or social worker.
They were supported by three charities: Mind, the National Autistic Society and Rethink Mental Illness.
The judges agreed that it should be up to the DWP to obtain this and that it should make “reasonable adjustments” to the system.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, said: “The judgment is a victory, not only for the two individuals involved in this case, but for thousands of people who have experienced additional distress and anxiety because they have struggled through an assessment process which does not adequately consider the needs of people with mental health problems.
“Mind has campaigned to improve the assessment process for many years and we will monitor the situation closely to ensure people with mental health problems receive the benefits they are entitled to.”
Paul Jenkins, of Rethink Mental Illness added: “This ruling proves once and for all that this cruel and unfair process is unlawful.
“The judges have independently confirmed what our members have been saying for years – the system is discriminating against some of the most ill and vulnerable people in our society, the very people it is meant to support.”
But a spokesman for the DWP said it would appeal the decision arguing that it had already tripled the number of people with mental or behavioural problems receiving special help with their applications.
He said: “We believe we have made – and continue to make – significant improvements to the WCA process for people with mental health conditions.
“The percentage of people with mental health conditions who go into the support group for ESA has more than tripled since 2010.”
#RT via Matthew via http://www.telegraph.co.uk