Theresa May’s government is once again going to court; this time, to try and block the publication of a report into one of its most controversial policies. But if the report sees the light of day, it could be devastating for the Conservatives. Because the policy has allegedly, in part, been linked to the deaths of thousands of people.
Protecting profits; ignoring suffering
The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) falls under the remit of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). It is designed to decide whether a disabled or sick person is capable of working, and whether they should continue to receive benefits such as Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Private firm Maximus, and previously Atos, carries out the WCA.
But now, the DWP is trying to stop the publication of an ‘outcome’ report which could expose the failure of the tests. This is because, it claims, the report could harm the “commercial interests” of the department and the two private companies. The Mirror claims the report, which goes back to 2011, “contains monthly performance details from each [WCA] testing centre”.
The government had previously refused a Freedom of Information (FOI) request to release the report, on the “commercial interests” grounds. But in March, the FOI watchdog – the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) – ordered [pdf] the DWP to release the report. So now, the government is using taxpayers’ money to challenge this decision in court.
Marred by controversy
The WCA has been marred by controversy. Scandals surrounding it include:
- The nearly 90 people a month who die after the WCA declares them ‘fit-for-work’.
- The evidence linking the WCA to 590 suicides, 279,000 cases of mental health conditions, and the prescribing of an additional 725,000 antidepressants.
- The study that finds the assessments may be causing permanent mental health damage.
- The DWP ‘Kill Yourself‘ scandal, where WCA assessors were caught asking people why they hadn’t killed themselves yet.
- The UN saying the WCA caused significant “anxiety” and “financial, material and psychological hardship”.
- Accusations that WCA assessors “lie” to stop people receiving benefits.
- The revelation that the assessments actually cost the government more money than they save.
The case of Lawrence Bond best highlights the controversy surrounding the WCA. As The Canary previously reported, Bond suffered a fatal heart attack shortly after leaving the Kentish town Jobcentre on 12 December 2016. The 56-year-old had longstanding health problems such as difficulty with mobility and breathing. But the DWP had declared him ‘fit-for-work’ that same day.
May’s government: shameful
We won’t know the outcome of the DWP legal challenge until November. But ironically, the DWP has just published [pdf] updated ‘guidance’ for its WCA assessors. A spokesperson for the department told The Mirror:
This information is exempt from disclosure under FOI rules as it covers commercial interests. We publish a range of information on WCA outcomes, including at a regional level.
For the Tories to hide behind the loose law surrounding FOI is nothing short of shameful, but expected. Because this decision comes from a government which the UN said has committed “grave” and “systematic” violations of disabled people’s human rights. Its contempt for sick and disabled people continuously reaches new lows. And for it to try and bury potentially damning information which could expose even more blood on its hands, because of “commercial interests”, is yet again nothing short of scandalous.
– Read more from The Canary on disability.
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