On being found fit for work and government indifference to the impact of the work capability assessment on mental health:
This story should give you some idea of the callousness with which the DWP treats people who it throws off disability benefits. The woman in this story is in her 50s. I met her at one of the northwest London jobcentres in July this year. She’d been receiving Employment and Support Allowance for about six years for long-term mental health problems. She’d been found fit for work at a recent work capability assessment.
As I wrote at the time, she was reeling. She had absolutely no idea what to do. This is the part of things that always stands out to me: the brutal way that the rug is pulled. Just a few days before we met, this woman had received the letter that I’ve posted below. The letter said that she was no longer entitled to Employment and Support Allowance, because she’d been found fit for work. Her last ESA payment had been made in early July – just a few days before we met. She was obviously extremely concerned about those payments ending. And you know – who wouldn’t be?
“They didn’t give me nothing [at the work capability assessment] – zero points. I got my letter, but I’m doing this with mental health problems. I can’t read and write very well,” she said. The letter she’d received was absolutely no help at all (we read through it together). The letter told her that she’d get no more money from early July and that “you should start looking for a job straightaway.” The letter gave a number to call to make a jobcentre appointment and offered one of the DWP’s standard little sermons on the so-called benefits of finding a job: “we know that most people are better off in work,” etc. That was it. That is always it. I’ve worked with a number of people who’ve received these letters and that’s generally how things go. That’s how the DWP tells people with mental health problems that they’ll no longer get money to live on. Anyone who hasn’t inherited a pile of money and needs some sort of income to live on (I’m guessing that’s just about everybody) should have an inkling of the way that feels. Bottom line is that the work capability assessment is about removing money. The system is harsh.
And I’m talking systems. Government’s assumption seems to be that everyone who is found fit for work can easily deal with a monumental blow like a sudden loss of income. I suppose government’s real assumption is that some people will swim and others will sink, and the hell with the lot of them, really. The truth is that I don’t know anyone in any walk of life who has or would easily deal with a sudden loss of income. But what would I know, I suppose. The DWP clearly believes that a kick in the face is the best approach. Still – it’s no surprise to me to hear that “tougher fit for work tests may have taken a serious toll on mental health in England.” You attend enough of these ESA assessments and you think – yeah. They would.