Update on the DWP evidence-based review of proposals to change the Work Capability Assessment descriptors | 6 November 2012

All the charities that were invited by Professor Malcolm Harrington to join in his review of the WCA descriptors as they affect people with both Fluctuating Conditions and Mental Health Conditions have signed off the attached statement. It contains the current version of our proposed descriptors – but not the current scoring.

Representation of people with ME/CFS on the fluctuating conditions group is through the Countess of Mar’s Forward ME Group. MEA medical adviser Dr Charles Shepherd represents the Forward ME Group in this process.

To download the full, 7-page statement, please click HERE

BACKGROUND

The Department of Work and Pensions evidence-based review (EBR) of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA)

As part of the Independent Review of the WCA by Professor Harrington, Mencap, Mind and the National Autistic Society were asked to produce proposals for improving the ‘mental, intellectual and cognitive function’ descriptors used in the current WCA.

Another group of charities (MS Society, NAT (National AIDS Trust), Parkinson’s UK, Forward ME, Arthritis Care, and Crohn’s and Colitis UK) were asked by Professor Harrington to consider how the assessment might better take into account those with fluctuating conditions.

Both groups made proposals for reforms based on the problems with the current system experienced by the people we represent. We felt that these proposals were practical and achievable but we also flagged up that we felt a more fundamental review of the whole WCA system was needed and we, along with many others, continue to call for a more radical overhaul of the system.

What happened to those reports?

In response to the recommendations put forward by both groups, Professor Harrington called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to test the proposals in his second Independent Review (November 2011). The DWP agreed to this, as a way of gathering sufficient evidence on how the proposals put forward by the charities would work. This is what DWP are calling its evidence-based review (EBR).

How will the EBR work?

In June 2012 the charities were asked to regroup by the DWP, this time all together and combine our proposals into a single assessment that reflects the recommendations in the two reports. The regroup consists of : Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Forward ME, Mencap, Mind, MS Society, NAT (National AIDS Trust), National Autistic Society and Parkinson’s UK.

The aim of the EBR is to assess the fairness and accuracy of the existing WCA descriptors, as well as look at the alternative version put forward by the charities. The EBR is a DWP-led project, and the DWP is responsible for managing the design, testing and analysis of the review, with input from the charities.

Additional information will be collected during real assessments so that both sets of existing and the alternative descriptors can be completed. The outcomes of the assessments will then be compared to the views of a panel of experts, looking at all the available evidence about each applicant.

The proposals which have been put forward by the charities have not been endorsed by the DWP – they have simply agreed to look at how the outcomes of the WCA might be different with these descriptors compared to the current ones.

It will then be considered (in summer 2013) what changes might be made to the assessment on the back of this testing. The DWP has stated that: “Changes to the current WCA will be considered by the Department where there is good evidence that they would significantly improve the accuracy and fairness of identifying claimants as having Limited Capability for Work.”

Why are the charities involved?

Although we believe fundamental reform of the WCA is needed, we are hopeful that the EBR offers an opportunity to gain improvements to the current system. However there is a long way to go and it will depend on the evidence as to what of our suggestions will be adopted.

Our main hope is that the EBR will demonstrate where the current WCA descriptors aren’t working and whether our combined proposals would improve the system, looking at the principles behind our suggestions as much as the detailed drafting.

We aren’t claiming to be experts in assessment design and the proposals are not a perfect solution to the issues of the WCA.

Draft alternative

We haven’t yet finalised exactly how the scoring will work, but we hope the matrix style approach should allow for better recognition of the complexity and variability of people’s conditions.

Our focus has been on designing descriptors that better takes account of the fluctuation and variability of conditions. We have also tried to reduce the division between ‘mental’ and ‘physical’ impairments and recognise that, in many areas, people can experience a combination of the two, thus the reference to “global” descriptors where appropriate.

Timescales have been tight and there has been limited opportunity for wider consultation with disabled people and other representative groups, so we have been clear in our communications with DWP that we expect further stakeholder consultation will be undertaken before and if any changes are implemented as a result of this process.

Please read with interest and contact us with any questions you have. It may be helpful to have a copy of the current WCA to hand if you wish to compare which can be found here.

On behalf of: Crohn’s and Colitis UK, Forward ME, Mencap, Mind, MS Society, NAT (National AIDS Trust), National Autistic Society and Parkinson’s UK.