DWP tougher fit to work tests 'coincide with 590 additional suicides' - report
The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was introduced in October 2008 to determine elegibility for Employment and Support Allowance.
Between 2010 and 2013, experts from the University of Liverpool found that one million recipients of disability benefit had their eligibility reassessed under the WCA tests in England.
The researchers from the universities of Oxford and Liverpool said that up to 590 additional suicides, 279,000 cases of mental ill health and 725,000 more prescriptions for antidepressants had been recorded during the same period.
The research used local trends in suicide, antidepressant prescribing and self reported mental illness, along with the number of disability assessments made.
The figures found that there was a high correlation between reassessment using the WCA and these three factors.
The report concluded with suggestions that the increase could be linked, but could not prove cause and effect.
The report concluded: “Our study provides evidence that the policy in England of reassessing the eligibility of [disability] benefit recipients using the WCA may have unintended but serious consequences for population mental health.
“There is a danger that these adverse effects outweigh any benefits that may or may not arise from moving people off disability benefits.”
“Although the explicit aim of welfare reform in the UK is to reduce ‘dependency’, it is likely that targeting the people in the most vulnerable conditions with policies that are harmful to health, will further marginalise already excluded groups, reducing, rather than increasing, their independence.”
The mental health charity Mind said the numbers were “worrying” and the new fit-to-work tests could be “seriously harmful”.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists also questioned the Government’s reforms and said the research was of “high quality”.
But the Department of Work and Pensions called into question the figures that were published online in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health.
“The authors themselves caution that no conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. In addition, it is concerning that they provide no evidence that the people with mental health problems highlighted in the report even underwent a Work Capability Assessment," the Department said.
Labour said the findings should be “devastating for the Government”.
The Shadow Minister for Disabled People Debbie Abrahams said: “The findings are devastating for the Government. They are damning of the Government’s approach to disabled people receiving social security support, and in particular of their Work Capability Assessment process.
“I have been calling for an overhaul of the WCA; this report shows how desperately it is needed. The views and experiences of disabled people have to be right at the heart of that process. Labour wants disabled people to be able to play a central role in both the development and monitoring of this."