Coming out of a meeting on Tuesday morning, one of Scope’s press officers was waiting in my office, telling me that we needed to leave immediately to go and do some filming for Channel 4’s documentary series Dispatches.
Dispatches had filmed undercover footage of what happens when doctors are trained to deliver the Government’s Work Capability Assessment. They wanted me to watch the footage and give a reaction to it.
The Work Capability Assessment is something Scope has been campaigning on for a while now. This test was introduced to determine which disabled people would be eligible for out of work benefits, who would be eligible for specialist support to help them find a job and also identify those disabled people who would be expected to get a job straight away.
It’s a test Scope has had deep reservations about. We’ve been deeply worried about the implications of using a medical tick box assessment that ignores all the other barriers disabled people face in finding work, being used to identify who can go out and get a job.
Work Capability Assessment tests
Within 15 minutes of coming out of my meeting, I was sitting on a sofa in a studio watching something absolutely outrageous.
Disabled people would have been shocked and appalled as I was to see the reality of the way doctors were effectively being trained to leave behind all their years of medical training and deliver a test that even the trainer claimed was "almost unachievable".
The Government has said time and time again that this test is fair, appropriate and not driven by targets. Yet quite clearly the doctors are being told to achieve targets of how many people they find fit for work or who need support and that they will be held to account if those targets aren’t met. This is a flawed test and it is being implemented in a damming way. How can decisions that can have a profound and devastating effect on disabled people’s lives be made in this way in Britain in 2012?
These are real people being assessed, up to 10,000 every week. We know that disabled people want to work but many need the right support to do so. And by being subjected to this flawed test they may be denied the very support they need to get a job.
Dispatches reveals a "toxic" system
The trainer in the film even said she felt the test was “toxic”, that it was "frustrating" that someone cannot have the benefits and are expected to find a job when she knew they didn’t stand a chance. For me, the footage didn’t just show that the test that was toxic. It showed that the whole system is toxic.
Yes this programme has to raise serious questions about how the test is being delivered, but ultimately the Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for ensuring that disabled people get a fair deal.
Many disabled people, Disabled People’s Organisations and disability charities have been trying to work with the Government to improve the test. There can be no more finger pointing or blame between the DWP and ATOS. They both have a responsibility and duty of care towards disabled people.
They should both be ashamed for allowing this to happen. And they need to take serious action immediately.
Richard Hawkes is Chief Executive of Scope. He is currently a member of the BBC Appeals Advisory Committee, a Trustee of Skills Third Sector and a Trustee of the Voluntary Organisations Disability Group. You can follow Richard on Twitter.