Fitness to work test DOES disadvantage mentally ill: Court of Appeal upholds ruling against Government

Hundreds of thousands of people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and autism have to go through the Work Capability Assesment to find out if they are eligible for Employment Support Allowance

Social Affairs Correspondent

The Court of Appeal has upheld a ruling that the Government's controversial fitness to work test does disadvantage people with mental health problems.

An Upper Tribunal decided in May that the test used by the Department for Work and Pensions to decide who receives disability benefits disadvantaged people whose conditions affected their ability to gather evidence about their case. The decision was immediately appealed by DWP.

Hundreds of thousands of people with learning difficulties, mental health problems and autism have to go through the Work Capability Assesment to find out if they are eligible for Employment Support Allowance.

The case was originally brought by two anonymous claimants with mental health problems. Their lawyers argue that their conditions make the necessary gathering evidence from GPs or social workers more challenging, as they may not understand or be able to navigate the complex processes involved.

The Court of Appeal decision means a judicial review can now be brought against the policy, unless DWP take the matter to the Supreme Court.

In a joint statement Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and the National Autistic Society, the charities which brought the case, said: “Today’s ruling is a victory for welfare campaigners and marks an important step in our fight for a fairer benefits system.

“The judges in the original ruling independently confirmed what our members and supporters have been saying for years – the system is unfair for some of the most vulnerable people in our society and is failing the very people it is meant to be supporting.

They added: “In light of today’s ruling it would be irresponsible for the DWP to carry on using these flawed assessments as they are. They must halt the mass reassessment of people receiving incapacity benefit immediately, until the process is fixed.“

A DWP spokesman said: “It is a complicated judgment on an appeal against an interim judgment by the Upper Tribunal with no effect on day-to-day business which continues as usual.

“This case is still on-going and will return to the Upper Tribunal to consider whether the adjustment to the process proposed by the claimants is reasonable.”

The department also pointed out that Mental Health Function Champions have been introduced by Atos Healthcare, the controversial company conducting the tests, whose role is to advise assessment staff on how to deal with a case involving mental function or learning disability.

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