Labour MPs queued up to speak in the Commons today demanding the abolition of Work Capability Assessments. It so happens the WCA was introduced by the Labour Government in 2008 who chose Atos Healthcare to carry out the assessments.The principle has been that while many of those who are disabled, or long term sick, would be incapable of any work it is wrong to assume that they all are. With one and half million people being interviewed and such a sensitive process there were always going to be mistakes.
From all accounts Atos, whose contract is due to expire next year, have made plenty of mistakes. There have also been delays in carrying out the assessments. However the process has already been reviewed and improved and delays reduced.
There will be a lot of discussion about the need to save money and to be fair to taxpayer. However the Conservative MP for Meon Valley, George Hollingbery highlighted the benefits to some of those who have gone through the process. The local providers in his constituency are the Shaw Trust in Portsmouth and A4e in Southampton, which is run by a team led by George Gallop.
Mr Hollingbery gave some examples:
“Alex, aged 20, was diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and found it almost impossible to settle down to any kind of work. A4e’s relationship with Harsco, a large building services company, was crucial in enabling Alex to train for a certificate under the construction skills certification scheme, and to become a scaffolder.
“I felt like nobody would ever employ me. I didn’t even know what 1 was doing wrong…it is the kind of job that sets you up for life and I love it. If 1 look at how my life has changed in the last year I can’t believe it”.
Daniel, aged 19, was homeless and unable to look after his young family because he suffered from depression. He was one of the first young people to enter Radian Housing’s “proving talent” programme, delivered by A4e in Southampton. He came through the scheme, and now has a permanent job in technical services with Radian.
“it feels amazing to be back on track, in employment providing for my family and feeling good about myself.”
Sandra, aged 45, was a proud working mum of two, trapped in a wheelchair. Because of ill health, she was made unemployed and became dependent on employment and support allowance. At first she resented being referred to the Work programme, but her advisers and trainers helped to motivate her, and to give her the confidence and skills that she needed in order to return to work. She said:
“Now I think about what I can do, instead of what I can’t”.
David broke his back in an accident in 1997, and received incapacity benefit for more than 15 years. At an ESA work-focused interview in December 2012, he was asked when he had last had a good laugh and when he had last smiled. He replied that what had saved his life was a passion for his reptile collection. David and his wife have now signed off from ESA, and have set up their own business in a shop in Copnor road, Portsmouth, selling and boarding exotic pets.
To me, those are inspiring stories of people afflicted by disability and sickness who, with the right help from the right people at the right time, have managed to find their way back into employment, and, in so doing, have rediscovered their sense of self-confidence and self-worth. Of course there is much more to do and many improvements can be made to the system, but surely those are outcomes that we should all celebrate.