Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for taxpayers

Today the government has announced the new provider for the ailing Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Maximus are replacing Atos, who quit the process after repeated concerns, raised by Labour and disabled people, about the operation of the test.

The government has spent months seeking an alternative provider.

While we’ve always said that simply changing the provider isn’t enough to deal with the underlying problems, Labour hope the new start under Maximus will lead to improved results.

Disabled people have every right to feel wary. The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) are agreeing a new contract that will last years. With a general election looming, and Labour already having outlined a series of reforms we’d make to the Work Capability Assessment, it is unclear how the new provider will be expected to deliver improvements – or what penalties they’ll face if they don’t.

That’s why I have written to the Minister for Disabled People to ensure that any change of policy direction under a future Labour government can be accommodated within the contract, and that action can be taken swiftly to address poor performance.

We have also said that the new provider should be made responsible for ensuring that the Work Capability Assessment is better connected to work support to increase the number of disabled people in work. It’s essential that the new provider gains credibility quickly by providing more accurate results about assessments.

And crucially, the new provider must ensure the huge backlog of Work Capability Assessments is tackled swiftly.

We also expect Maximus to make significant improvements in the day to day delivery of Work Capability Assessments. Labour will insist that:

  • Every assessment centre must be accessible; that information about the Work Capability Assessment process must be available in accessible formats; and that disabled people who cannot reasonably be expected to attend a face to face interview should be assessed at home or another convenient and accessible location.
  • Claimants are advised that they are able to bring a companion to the assessment, who can assist them as appropriate.
  • Information sharing must be improved, including between Department for Work and Pensions, Maximus and Work Programme contractors.
  • Recordings of assessments must be provided on request.
  • Reports from assessors must include information on how an impairment or health condition affects someone’s ability to work.

But there is a broader need for reforming the Work Capability Assessment. Assessments must be part of the support to help disabled people back to work. Currently, the Work Capability Assessment is seen as entirely separate to the Work Programme – contributing to the appalling failure rate of the government’s flagship employment scheme.

Iain Duncan Smith’s DWP set a target of a 15 per cent employment rate for people on the Work Programme after two years. But after three years only 7 per cent of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) claimants who have accessed the programme have found work.

Our new approach would provide information about the support that is available in the local area to help individuals. Improving this element of the assessment and decision-making process is a crucial step towards a more integrated system of support.

Disabled people should also have a central role in monitoring the tests. A Labour government would ensure that for the first time disabled people would get a real say in how the assessments are delivered.

The independent reviewer of the Work Capability Assessment would work alongside a scrutiny group of disabled people supported by the Office for Disability Issues. We would also require the DWP to respond to Work Capability Assessment reviews and end the practice of ‘accepting’ recommendations that are then kicked into the long grass.

Accuracy of Work Capability Assessments must be dramatically improved under Maximus. Thousands of disabled people appealing inaccurate decisions have had to wait months for decisions, wasting millions of pounds in appeals and tribunals.

The DWP must deliver a better service for disabled people and better value for money for taxpayers. The Public Accounts Committee has already reported that targets set for the quality of the assessment were not challenging enough.

Labour would ensure a new system would impose penalties for poor performance, measured both on the number of times decisions are overturned by the DWP or through appeals. Clear financial penalties will ensure assessors improve the quality of assessments.

This means collecting all the medical evidence needed to make a decision and ensuring they listen to what claimants tell them to ensure decisions are based on the full facts.

The new provider of Work Capability Assessments takes over at a difficult time. Maximus will be judged very quickly on whether its performance is an improvement on years of failure and chaos in the DWP.

Ministers and the new provider need to urgently get a grip of Work Capability Assessments.

Kate Green MP​ is shadow minister for disabled people

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40 Responses to “Labour demand big improvements to Work Capability Assessments”

  1. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    You will don’t get it. The WCA needs destroying and replacing with a real-world test, which disability campaigners have been saying ever since the great mistake in 2008. So I guess this means Labour still isn’t listening.

  2. joe kane

    Still no proper access to any kind of legal aid, advice or protection for the UK’s most vulnerable group of people being subjected to an undeniable state campaign of disabled human rights abuses.

    The whole of the ESA regime is an unethical and unscientific human rights atrocity which was specifically designed by the Labour Government in 2006 to disappear an average of 100,000 sick and disabled people a year for 10 years from the welfare rolls.

    The politicians, civil servants and medical professionals who designed the ESA regime need to be put on trial for their crimes against sick and suffering humanity.

  3. disgruntled

    It looks like there’s going to be more atrocities, like the ones ATOS performed on the disabled. There’s going to be a huge human cost & the appeal courts will be blocked to the roof!


  4. Bill Kruse

    Predictable rubbish. The WCA needs to be scrapped. If it was really working to reduce sickness cliamants there wouldn’t be more now than there were when Labour was last in. The idea of dealing with the back log quickly as the same time as everything else she’s trying to insist on is pie-in-the-sky talk. As for getting disableds back to work, you cannot support people back into work that isn’t there. On that subject, local support seems to consist of providing panic rooms for overwhelmed librarians and cutting the bus services disableds need more than most to get to work in the first place. I will remind readers claimants during the first stage towards awaiting appeals have no money to live on since Grayling introduced mandatory reconsideration as a prerequisite and stopped availability of ESA during this increasingly lengthy period. What are Labour going to do about that? Absolutely nothing it seems, not even worth a mention, so Labour are entirely happy with the prospect of innumerable claimants going without the basic necessities of life for an indeterminate period.

    Gee, someone bring the election forward, I want to run out and vote Labour right now this very minute!!

  5. ephemerid

    Yet again, Kate Green has utterly failed to mention illness.

    People claim ESA because they are ill – that’s why the conditions for claiming prior to the WCA is the Form Med 3 and that’s why a doctor’s opinion is required in the first instance.

    Yes, some people are disabled by their illness; yes, fit and well people with disabilities get ill; yes, some people on ESA can be both ill and disabled. But it’s a SICKNESS benefit, not a disability benefit. People in work claim ESA on the grounds of illness if they get no sick pay.

    I am heartily sick of Labour conflating sickness with disability. People with disabilities can and do work; people who are ill can’t and shouldn’t be tested for doing so if their doctors say they are not capable for work on the grounds of sickness.


    out sourceing this is expensive and pointlessthe there are three mainparts of health andS ocial security who most about claimants, gps,social workers and hmrc surely it makes sense to bring the system in house assessments to be carried out between the relevant social worker and the relevant GP NO COSTLY CONTRIBUTION TO CORPORATE PROFT WOULD OF COURSE MEAN GPS WOULD NEED TO BE TRUSTED BY GOVERNMENT AS THEY USED TO BE

  7. johnmcardle

    Red Tories out of Scotland in May 2015. Full Home Rule and powers over taxation and welfare for the Scottish Parliament. The disabled people of Scotland demand nothing less and have no confidence in a Labour Party that is prepared to do business with a corporation with such a litany of wrongdoing as to make this appointment scarcely believable.

    This is an affont to each and every disabled person in the country and Black Triangle will join with our allies in Disabled People Against Cuts to destroy this company and all who are complicit on supporting its activities.

    We note that Prof. Mike O’Donnell – formerly CEO of Unum and Atos is CMO for the new contract:

    Disabled People’s Groups respond to the news that Maximus is likely to be awarded the contract: ‘Incompetence, discrimination and ‘fraud’: the US company that could take over from Atos’ by John Pring Disability News Service 17th October 2015

    If Labour had any spine it would promise to repudiate this contract and guarantee that the WCA wiill be scrapped with immediate effect upon taking power.

    When we in Scotland send 59 Yes Alliance MPs to Westminster in May this will be one of our key demands in any cooperation pact.

    John McArdle

    Black Triangle Campaign

  8. Leon Wolfeson


  9. Leon Wolfeson

    Indeed. Many people claim for a period, because they are sick.

    In fact, let’s ask Labour a question;

    There are people being turned away from claiming JSA because of it’s strict rules on illness, who are not “eligible” for ESA. What are they supposed to do?

    (And I can see i.e. medical records checks, so if someone says “illness”, there is a record of treatment, which would catch obvious sign-off fraud, but nothing like the present regime!)

  10. johnmcardle

    ‘Privatization Fail: The Troubled History of Maximus Inc’. PR Watch (United States) – See more at:

  11. johnmcardle

    Excellent commentary, as ever Bill. Solidarity!

  12. Michelvis

    WCA is dehumanising.. why put anyone through it?… surely more communication between the NHS and the DWP would be enough…

  13. Boswidge

    It is the policy of the coalition government to ignore documentary evidence of fraud perpetrated by an At*s assessor. Will Maximus enjoy the same immunity from the law? Will a Labour government investigate and prosecute all evidence of fraud carried out by dishonest assessors. Will Labour refer At*s to the Serious Fraud Office?

  14. Lori Homayon-jones

    Yes Katie but I sincerely hope that this time scrutiny and process will not be just the prerogative of people who have a voice. Autism and learning disabled people who do not have the capacity to understand the concept of “work” are caught up in this cruel treadmill

  15. Leon Wolfeson

    The point is the NHS has this annoying tendency to say sick people are sick.

  16. RickB

    The WCA cannot be reformed into a good system as it was never created with good faith. That is why we call for abolition and replacement

  17. lankou

    That is the heart of the matter. The biopsychosocial model of disability used for the “Work Capability Assessment” and it previous iterations going back to when Peter Lilley got into bed with Unum who designed it, does not test for fitness for work or not at all. It has a default of fit for work.
    It need to be replaced with a real world psychometric test, carried out in house and completely separate from the DWP, who should have no influence over it at all.

  18. littleoddsandpieces

    Labour are struggling with a huge and growing benefits admin in-house or by sub-contract to a private provider, which will lose Labour votes from the sick and disabled, in or out of work, and all ages.

    One reason of continuing benefits bill is the loss of state pension payout to women at 60 from 2013 and 65 to men.

    From 2016, the state pension will massively reduce for many or be lost altogether, so leaving people decades of life entirely on benefits, either able bodied or disabled / sick.

    The Greens appear to have a vote-winner to the disabled and sick amongst the poor, with a universal Citizen Income, non-means tested / non-withdrawable, and no huge bill for assessment and re-assessment and all that.

    If Labour want to win big in 2015, then they might care to do a u-turn and offer the same Citizen Income as The Greens,
    but not the loss of a basic tax allowance that means early retirement works pension are liable to income tax.

    Bringing back the age related higher tax allowance lost for those who turned 65 from 2013, but giving it at 60.

    Repealing the Pension Bills 2010-2014.

    Bringing back the 1975 Labour law that guaranteed pension payout, as without this law (abolished by the Tories in 1993) this gave the Tories the chance to deny state pension payout to women at 60 and men at 65.

    As state pension payout is payable whether remain in work or cannot continue work, and half of over 50s are within the working poor (the bulk of those needing benefit, not the unemployed at only 3 per cent of benefits bill), then this is more lost votes to Labour.

    Do all this, and Labour would not just be flagging neck and neck with the Tories in the polls, but be the solution to the starvation politics of welfare reform that is just the abolition of the welfare state.


  19. TimRegency

    Note how they do nothing to even attempt to restore our faith in the system. I’ll treat this for what it is –

    imagine a boot stamping on a human face — forever

  20. Tony Turtle

    And can the Secretary of State for Works and Pensions tell us why we have to put up with a company that has been found guilty of discrimination both sexual and disability? Could he also tell us how much Maximus paid for the contract?

  21. Me

    Scrap WCA altogether as causes distress return to a experienced GP to interview or make decision as before.
    The ESA form requires to much information that claimant can not write down clearly or answer.
    Claimant to get through in support group to ensure must provide recent evidence. I collected mine so I would receive my deducted CESA at £60 a week.later due to change in pension income rule of £85 a week IB to ESA for higher rate claimant on DLA would receive full amount of IB but not under the coalition rules they abolished it. Labour initially I believe was going to keep it. Could labour repeal the pension income rule please?
    Also gathering my own evidence I believe contributed to an overdose as it was painful reading. I have a neurological degenerative disease. I m lucky to be here today.
    GP s must be made aware certain patients should not have to repeatedly go through this system and be exempt.
    I receive no top up income and priced out of market for social care and disabled facilities grant as I have to put first £6000 towards.
    I have a partner who is my carer.

    A scary future.

  22. Chriss'y Christmas Red


  23. Chriss'y Christmas Red

    test’s should be left to doctor,s not unqualified people being paid through target’s, end of , so wake up milliband or pay the price in your votes.

  24. lisers

    i hate this government and its war on the vulnerable

  25. Leon Wolfeson

    “carried out in house”

    By the NHS, to be clear? Or social services?

  26. Leon Wolfeson

    The problem is that some medical professionals HAVE been working for ATOS, etc.

    They should be investigated for that by the GMC for a gross breach of medical ethics.

  27. Guest

    Except the Greens admit their energy policy will reverse much of the effect of their citizens income proposal, which says scary things about how high bills would be there.

    Then you link a Hamas-supporting site. Erm…

  28. Mason Dixon, Autistic

    There’s a push by some to merge health and social care in England and Wales. I’m not strongly for or against at the moment but if it was to happen then I’d say an NHS doctor or GP makes a referral to someone qualified have an independent opinion on their patient. It could be a specialist doctor, NHS psychologist or if the referring doctor is qualified themselves then they simply need a second doc to confirm their finding. If they find in favour of the claimant, it is up to the DWP to provide an occupational therapy solution- they can not challenge on medical grounds unless they are alleging fraud, they must prove that it is likely that the claimant can find a job, apply and keep that position without making their condition worse. They have to show that suitable jobs are plentiful locally, that employers are positively not discriminating against people rendering them ‘unemployable’.

    The eagerness of the DWP to heavily imply fraud but not outright state it is because of lessons learned from the late 90s when they were accusing fraud when they were just errors and the facts showed them to be not just mean but mean and deluded. Considering how little detected fraud went up whilst benefit fraud counter-measures greatly expanded under New Labour, I doubt there is much margin of undetected fraud; people are claiming because they have no other choice. Politicians should not be able to get away with artificially keeping claimant counts low by alleging that claimants aren’t trying as hard as they really could, but insisting that this isn’t stigmatising whilst making it sufficient grounds to ruin people by denying eligibility.

  29. stingle

    Yes, the heart of the matter is the shared ideology of Labour, Tory and Lib Dems that Fitness for Work, essentially a medical decision, should be in the hands of private profit and not the NHS. No amount of tinkering with the process, changing henchmen or adding more tick boxes will affect the underlying ideology. It is an astounding betrayal by Labour as a party. Can so many MP’s really not see the conflict of interest? The private profit can only come from a reduction in numbers of claimants..whistleblowers from Atos have already confirmed this….and it will be no different with Maximus.
    As others have noted a whole expensive tier of pseudo medicine, a charade of medicine, is created to avoid trusting the actual medical professionals who treat their patients to make medical decisions about fitness for work! Why should the billions of taxpayers money that is going to private profit not be going into the NHS? To teaching hospitals who can then profit by learning, for example, exactly how working on zero hours contracts with no sick pay might lead after a number of years to total incapacity at an early age? Social profit, not private profit.
    This shared ideology of private profit over NHS disenfranchises the sick, incapacitated and disabled…we have no political choice when an ideology is shared by all parties..this is the lesson, and until people clearly see that it is the shared ideology that is the real problem then you best just pray you never get disabled, incapacitated or ill whilst working for poverty wages without sickness pay in brave new Britain.

  30. Leon Wolfeson

    I tend to be sceptical of change like merging care services because I don’t trust the government to not make major cuts in the process, no matter how good the basic idea is.

  31. Chriss'y Christmas Red

    fully agree x

  32. Chriss'y Christmas Red

    couldn’y agree more, all who sign up for this disgusting treatment of patient’s should be prosecuted , they sign an oath to alway’s put the patient 1st.

  33. Leon Wolfeson

    Actually a lot of medic’s no longer swear an oath.
    They are, however, held to the professional standards the GMC puts forward.

  34. eviltories

    from what I’ve seen this Maximus is going to be worse than Atos, if that is even possible. just like Unum, they’ve helped strip away insurance claims and needed benefits from millions of Amercans. Now it’s time for us Brits to suffer the same fate.

  35. Caroline Molloy

    There are some half decent suggestions here – but why won’t Labour just admit (like the Green Party) that whatever scheme of assessing and supporting disabled people is brought in, it should be publicly, not privately provided?

    Here’s a bit from this week’s Green Party statement:

    “The Work Capability Assessment has proved a very expensive disaster in both financial and human terms. It must be abolished and replaced with a system that truly reflects the needs and aspirations of sick and disabled people. Those who cannot work must receive the support they need.”

    “It is unnecessary to pay hundreds of millions of pounds to private companies like Atos and Maximus, when sick and disabled people, and their own NHS doctors, can tell us what they need. Public services should be run for the common good, not private profit.”

  36. Poverty Pimp

    If the WCA tickbox “medical assesment” works so well,why not role it out right across the NHS Kate ? Who needs doctors anyway now that Prof Harrington & Co have “improved” the thing so much.

    But seriously lets move on to the real reason why Kate and the Labour Party won’t ditch WCA.The answer to this surely has to be either you don’t trust millions of your fellow citizens desire to stack shelves in Poundland,or Maximus & New Labour have done a backroom deal.Which is it ?

  37. john mcgeown

    If a person is diagnosed as incapable of work through disability and/or chronic illness by the relevant qualified medical practitioner then why do politicians think they then need to go through the humiliation of the WCA at all !! It is a disgrace that people in this position are made to feel like skivers and scroungers by the very people they look on as skivers and scroungers i.e. The house of lords, expenses scandals, 2nd homes etc. Abolish this utterly degrading façade and help these people to cope in life rather than hounding them to suicide or early death through starvation, losing their homes or not being able to heat or clothe themselves. Go and chase the bankers, corporate tax evaders, the profiteering landlords, the paedophiles at the BBC, the slave traders using workfare as an excuse to not pay employees and correct the social injustices and inequalities in our so called civilised society

  38. Alan Foulds

    Abolish it altogether Kate any process like this causes too much stress on vulnerable adults who suffer from any kind of disability and if a gp keeps signing a patient sick nnote

  39. Debbie St Jacques

    I was hoping Labour we’re going to scrap the whole thing and let our qualified doctors who know us and our medical histories do the assessments. I am very disappointed to read that Labour are basically doing the same as the diabolical Atos. Who to vote for now??

  40. Debbie St Jacques

    Here here

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