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November 24, 2010

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Government promises fairer fitness-for-work regime

Employment minister Chris Grayling has vowed to rectify a number of flaws in the system designed to assess whether someone is fit for work.

His pledge followed the publication of an independent report by Prof Malcolm Harrington, who was commissioned by the Government to review the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and recommend improvements.

Prof Harrington said: “I have found that the WCA is not working as well as it should. There are clear and consistent criticisms of the whole system and much negativity surrounding the process. There is strong evidence that the system can be impersonal and mechanistic, that the process lacks transparency, and that a lack of communication between the various parties involved contributes to poor decision-making and a high rate of appeals.

“However, this is not about ripping up the current system and starting all over again. So, I am proposing a substantial series of recommendations to improve the fairness and effectiveness of the WCA.”

Among other things, Prof Harrington proposes:

  • creating a network of mental-health, intellectual and cognitive champions in each Atos Medical Examination Centre to spread best practice and build understanding of mental-health conditions;
  • placing the Jobcentre Plus decision-maker at the heart of the process;
  • improving communications and the level of support provided for those who undergo a WCA; and
  • ensuring the Atos assessment is transparent by piloting the audio-recording of all assessments, and ensuring each claimant receives a personalised summary of their assessor’s recommendations.

Promising to accept all of the review’s recommendations, Mr Grayling said: “The WCA should be seen as a positive first step towards returning to work. Those who are found fit for work will get the help and support they need to get a job. Those found too sick, or disabled to work won’t be expected to, and will continue to receive the help and support they need to lead fulfilling lives.”

Much of the criticism surrounding the system has focused on its apparent failure to properly assess whether an individual’s mental health can affect their ability to cope at work.

Prof Harrington seems to have taken this on board and has asked mental-health organisations Mind, Mencap, and the National Autistic Society (NAS) to deliver recommendations on how to refine the mental, intellectual and cognitive descriptors used by assessors.

Chief executive of the NAS, Mark Lever, commented: “Adults with autism tell us the medical assessment for out-of-work support is a routine exercise in ticking boxes, which neither takes account of their difficulties nor reflects the level of help they need. With over 100,000 adults with autism currently living without a job or vital benefits, the inherent flaws in the system need to be addressed.”

His counterpart at Mind, Paul Farmer, argued it is imperative that the recommendations are implemented in time for April, when the Government is planning to start migrating people from incapacity benefit on to employment and support allowance.

Delivering a further caveat, he said: “It is clear from this independent review that the WCA, in its current form, is flawed, and that it is not a fair or effective tool to determine whether or not someone is capable of working. Some of Harrington’s recommendations are ‘quick-fixes’, which should be easy enough to action, but many more will require cultural shifts in the delivery of the WCA, which will take time to fully implement and evaluate.”

The TUC applauded the Government’s approach but warned that “the devil will be in the detail”, especially given the spending cuts across the Jobcentre Plus network. General secretary Brendan Barber also urged the Government to do more to help disabled people get into, and stay in, work, suggesting that employer discrimination remains “widespread”.

The Harrington Review and the Government’s response can be found at

What makes us susceptible to burnout?

In this episode  of the Safety & Health Podcast, ‘Burnout, stress and being human’, Heather Beach is joined by Stacy Thomson to discuss burnout, perfectionism and how to deal with burnout as an individual, as management and as an organisation.

We provide an insight on how to tackle burnout and why mental health is such a taboo subject, particularly in the workplace.


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