Rethinking the Work Capability Assessment

The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – which assesses eligibility for the main out-of-work disability benefit, Employment and Support Allowance – is widely seen to be failing. Part of the problem is how the assessments have been delivered, but even after Atos is replaced by Maximus, the root problems of the WCA will remain: the WCA simply does not assess claimants’ capability for work.

The main alternative that has been suggested is a ‘real-world assessment’. This looks at whether a person could actually get or keep work, given their impairments and given who they are. However, the Minister for Employment raised concerns about their fairness, while the official reviewer of the WCA felt that there was little evidence of what such a test might look like in practice.

This report – the first from the ESRC-funded Rethinking Incapacity project – meets this challenge by looking at how seven other countries assess incapacity.

It finds several lessons for the UK:

  • Real-world assessment is possible – even commonplace
  • A standardised real-world test is possible
  • We can separate real-world incapacity from unemployment
  • Unemployment benefits must also be a ‘safe place’ for disabled people

It concludes with a series of recommendations for how the new government in May 2015 can take the steps towards a new incapacity assessment. Our view is that this should be based on a real-world idea of incapacity – not for political reasons, but because it better reflects everyday realities.