An Oldham MP has launched a stinging attack on the government after a study estimated that 590 disabled people have committed suicide since the introduction of more stringent assessment processes by the Work Capability Assessment (WCA).
Since 2010, the WCA has evaluated the eligibility of those claiming out of work disability benefits and has employed increasingly rigid appraisal standards in an effort to rein in the rising welfare bill and facilitate claimants’ transition back into the workplace.
But, in the wake of more severe measures, areas subjected to the most WCA scrutiny have reported an acute rise of up to 279,000 extra cases of mental health issues, with increased priority for reassessment placed on more deprived areas.
Debbie Abrahams, Shadow Minister for Disabled People and MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth, blasted the WCA , describing the findings as ‘devastating for the Government’.
“They are damning of the Government’s treatment of disabled people receiving social security support, and in particular of their Work Capability Assessment process,” she said.
“The evidence I have received as a constituency MP, a member of the Work & Pensions Select Committee and now as Shadow Minister for Disabled People has indicated how damaging this Government’s Work Capability Assessment process is to the health and wellbeing of people who are already vulnerable.”
Across the country 725,000 more antidepressant prescriptions were administered between 2010 and 2013, while a drastic rise in reported suicides has also been observed, leading Abrahams to label the WCA as ‘independently associated with an increase in suicides’.
“Doctors and disability rights organisations have repeatedly raised concerns that the WCA has had an adverse effect on the mental health of claimants,” said the Labour MP.
“Their calls have gone unheeded by the Government. But now Ministers must listen.
“I have been calling for an overhaul of the WCA – this report shows how desperately it is needed.
“The views and experiences of disabled people have to be right at the heart of that process.
“Labour wants disabled people to be able to play a central role in both the development and monitoring of this.”
Medical professionals have likewise expressed doubt over the efficacy of the WCA, fearing that such rigorous standards lead to increased anxiety amongst disabled people, claims which they may feel are substantiated by the report.
Gauging suicide rates amongst 18 to 64–year-olds, researchers working on the report focused on analysing the numbers of disability evaluations conducted in 149 local authorities from 2004 to 2013.
The report estimates that, per 10,000 people reassessed, six additional suicides, 2,700 cases of mental illness, and 7,020 prescriptions for antidepressants have been incurred.
“Our study provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of [disability] benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health,” the report states.
“There is a danger that these adverse effects outweigh any benefits that may or may not arise from moving people off disability benefits.”
“Although the explicit aim of welfare reform in the UK is to reduce ‘dependency,’ it is likely that targeting the people living in the most vulnerable conditions with policies that are harmful to health will further marginalise already excluded groups, reducing, rather than increasing, their independence.”
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