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October 11, 2010

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Fit-to-work reassessment of long-term sick begins

Concerns have been raised about the speed with which the Government’s reassessments of people on incapacity benefit are being introduced and the criteria used to judge whether someone is fit to work.

Long-term sickness-benefit claimants in Burnley and Aberdeen will be the first across the UK to be reassessed on their ability to work, as a major tranche of the Government’s welfare-reform programme gets under way today (11 October).

Ministers hope the reforms of the welfare system will help those who have been previously written off as unable to work return to employment.

Benefit claimants will undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines what a person can do, rather than what they can’t. People who are deemed to be fit for work will move on to Jobseekers Allowance and will need to look for work like other job-seekers.

Those who could work but need extra help to prepare themselves to re-enter the jobs market will move on to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and receive tailored support to get back to work.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said: “It’s unacceptable that so many people have been written off to a lifetime on benefits, and today marks the start of the journey back to work for thousands who have been cast aside. We know that many of the people trapped on incapacity benefits could and do want to work, but the current system doesn’t allow them to.”

The Government has tried to give reassurement that people who are severely disabled, or terminally ill will not be expected to look for work and will get extra help through ESA. However, some stakeholders have pointed out apparent inadequacies in the assessments process, especially in regard to psychological conditions.

Mental-health charity Mind is calling for a revision of the test, claiming that the current system fails to adequately assess whether mental health can affect someone’s ability to cope in the workplace.

The charity’s director of external relations, Sophie Corlett, said: “People with mental-health problems need vocational and health-related support to get them ready for a job again. Incorrectly putting these people on to Jobseekers Allowance will see a reduction in their benefit, less support for getting a job, greater pressure to get to work sooner, and financial sanctions applied if they fail.

“This could not only throw people into long-term poverty but the distress could actively make their mental-health problems worse, and make it even harder for them to get a job.”

Disabled-persons charity, the Papworth Trust, highlights the case of a nurse manager called Wendy, who had a breakdown and tried to commit suicide after being overwhelmed with stress. Despite her psychological frailty, she was assessed as fit to work because she could wash, dress, walk and talk coherently.

Describing her situation, Wendy said: “I went from being a capable person to someone who couldn’t even make simple decisions, such as what to eat. I was like that for several months.”

She added: “I desperately want to go back to work but am still unwell. I need time and support to recover before I can hold down a full-time job again.”

Her assessment was carried out by a nurse rather than a psychiatrist, and the Trust’s work and learning director, Matthew Lester, believes the new assessments are being carried out by people who aren’t adequately trained.

He said: “While we back the Government’s aim to sort those who can work from those who can’t, it is crucial that those genuinely unable to work continue to get the support they need. The current process causes massive uncertainty and stress for those already struggling with their health. We believe that people should be supported before, during and after the assessment, with advice available at every step.”

However, the Prospect union, which represents medical advisors and health-care professionals employed by Atos Healthcare, the company tasked with undertaking the test, said assessors are not given enough time to review complex cases, such as those coping with multiple sclerosis, or Parkinson’s disease.

The union’s national secretary, Geraldine O’Connell, said: “Our members take a lot of flak, as people mistakenly believe they have the ability to determine whether or not claimants receive benefit. But that is determined by criteria set through government policy.

“Where their expertise is invaluable is in identifying where those criteria are falling short and failing the people most in need of support. In addition, as front-line personnel, they know more than most that each case is about an individual and their needs, not just a checklist exercise to be undertaken in a standard set time. Yet, the 10, or more, claimants they are expected to see in a day is wholly unrealistic.”

The union also wants an overhaul of the descriptors used to define mental health and upper-limb disorders, so that there is greater clarity on where the thresholds that determine eligibility for benefits lie, and for the opinion of medical personnel to be sought in any appeal adjudication.

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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13 years ago

I recently had a groinal hernia operation due to an accident with a faulty podium scaffold.
As I am self employed I could not claim compensation so I was granted sick benifit. After 2 weeks I had to attend an assesment at Doncaster J.C.+.I had a letter from the hospital and a sick note from my doctor to say that
I was not fit to carry out my duties for min 6 weeks. I then recieved a letter , I had scorred 0 out of 15 and my benifit was stopped. I havepaid N.I for 46 years.

13 years ago

the system is bad as you see a person that may not be a doctor,
they refer to this person as medical professional
fiend of mine had a troke left him partly paralised they told him he was fit to work
we had to go to an apeel board this cost moor why if there are medical evidence
dose the person that sees you who is not realy compitant wast so much time and money
a doctor would have none straight away and have medical files these are were a lot of wast.