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Conference gives overwhelming backing to reform of Work Capability Assessment system

February 27, 2014 7:06 AM
Originally published by East Midlands Liberal Democrats

East Midlands Liberal Democrats LogoReform of the controversial Work Capability Assessment system was called for in a motion overwhelmingly carried at the East Midlands Liberal Democrat conference.

The motion, proposed by Bosworth Lib Dem parliamentary candidate Cllr Michael Mullaney and Seconded by Amber Valley parliamentary candidate Kate Smith, received overwhelming support at the conference.

Speaking at the conference Cllr Michael Mullaney said

"Having dealt with numerous cases of disabled people in Hinckley and Bosworth being wrongly assessed by ATOS, it's time to reform the system. To help people who can into work and to give genuinely disabled people the support they need.

"There are thousands of cases of disabled people being wrongly assessed by ATOS, the company who do the assessments. In these situations people then have to then go to appeal which can be distressing for people who are already ill. A large proportion of people who go to appeal against an ATOS decision win their appeal.

"It's good to see ATOS will now be withdrawing from this work but whoever takes over needs to run the system in a fairer more effective way."

Kate SmithKate Smith said afterwards:

"We're all very pleased and relieved that this is now on its way to becoming Party policy, since WCAs have caused such untold distress.  It's possible small changes to the Motion will be needed as the situation evolves, but the case for fairer treatment should apply to any and all contractors carrying out this work, not just one."


The text of the motion was;

Motion: Securing Fair Treatment for Britain's Most Vulnerable

This Regional Conference calls upon The Liberal Democrats to make a manifesto commitment to reforming the Work Capability Assessment and Personal Independence Payment assessments, so that:

  • No one is declared "fit for work" or denied PIP unless their case, and any medical evidence they have submitted, has been properly assessed by a medical professional.
  • Descriptors for the PIP assessments, particularly the mobility descriptors, are set up properly so that claimants are given the correct support they need to lead an independent life.
  • Any third party administrator of these assessments should face financial penalties in the event of an excessive number of bad decisions that are over-turned on appeal.

This regional conference also:

  • Deplores the behaviour of certain government ministers in demonising Britain's most vulnerable by:
  • Using language such as 'scroungers' and 'skivers', despite many PIP claimants using their support to work and lead a largely independent life, and many ESA claimants having paid into the system for many years before becoming too sick to work.
  • Leaking false and misleading statistics to the tabloid press, to paint false and negative pictures about the lifestyles of claimants and the cost of their benefits to the state.
  • Applauds Liberal Democrat ministers for refusing to engage in such practices


The Labour government introduced work capability assessments in 2008 when it replaced incapacity benefit and income support for new claimants with employment and support allowance. The reform headline was to "find out what people can do" in order to help them find work.

In practice, the assessments have been based on a box ticking system where medical evidence is routinely ignored, making it particularly poor at detecting mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and leading to many decisions being over-turned on appeal. ATOS, the company contracted to carry out these assessments, have attracted a huge amount of negative publicity for how they run the operation. The company has also received scathing criticism of its operation by various medical bodies and Parliamentary Committees.

According to an investigation by; between October 2008 and August 2010, 9% of ATOS' decisions had been over-turned by appeal, including 15% of all "fit for work" decisions, and that only accounts for those with the will and capability to successfully complete the appeals process. 

Of those cases that went to appeal, 38% resulted in the original decision being changed.

The success rate of appeals is said to rise even higher if the claimant is given professional assistance.

The Citizens Advice Bureau in Scotland at one point revealed that 70% of the appeals they'd been involved in had successfully over-turned the original decision.

The Personal Independence Payment is the Coalition's replacement of the Disability Living Allowance. Some of the conditions were changed to reduce the number of people being awarded assistance. There has been particular controversy over the mobility aspect, claiming that the new system denies many people the support they need to live an independent life.


Michael Mullaney is available at 07576 289910