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Bradford Council to probe work ‘disability tests’
A full-scale investigation into controversial Government disability assessments is to be started by Bradford Council – the first local authority believed to be doing so.
The Council has branded the tests “unfair” and could hold public hearings as it investigates their effects on vulnerable people in the district.
Anyone who wants to claim disability benefits now has to undergo a test called the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) to see if they are able to work.
But the testing scheme, contracted out to healthcare firm Atos, has come under fire from disability rights groups. And in July, the Council branded the process “unfair, inaccurate, and bad value for money”.
A motion passed by the full Council said the tests were “causing fear and distress” among vulnerable disabled people, that they discriminated against those who had fluctuating conditions and that the appeals process was too lengthy.
Now, a committee will investigate the local effects of the programme during a two-month inquiry. The Council’s Health and Social Care Overview and Scrutiny Committee is expected to start its investigation later this month. It would publish its findings in the New Year. The committee hopes to speak to disabled people and their carers, including those who have appealed against the result of their asessments.
They will also be gathering the views of organisations working with disabled people, such as Disability Advice Bradford and Mind, as well as the Department of Work and Pensions and Atos itself. The committee will discuss the methods it will use to gather evidence when it next meets on Thursday, but it could involve questioning people at specially-convened public hearings.
The announcement was welcomed by Coun Mohammad Shabbir, whose Respect group had originally raised the concerns.
Coun Shabbir is the manager of mental health charity Sharing Voices, and said his colleagues were frequently speaking to vulnerable people who were scared of the testing process.
He said: “I think this needs to be a robust investigation, meeting as many vulnerable people in that situation, and the organisations that represent them, as possible.” In July, the Government announced it would bring in other contractors to run the assessments, as well as Atos, in a bid to tackle waiting times.
A DWP spokesman said: “Through a series of independent reviews and by working with medical experts and charities, we have considerably improved the WCA process since 2010.
“The percentage of people entitled to Employment and Support Allowance is now at its highest level with more than half of people completing a WCA eligible for the benefit, but everyone has the right to appeal a decisioni.”