Becca Stacey, Senior Research Officer, Money and Mental Health Policy Institute
Why the DWP’s proposed changes to the Work Capability Assessment risk harming people with mental health problems
20 November 2023
- The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) recently consulted on changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), including the removal of the ‘Coping with Social Engagement’ and ‘Getting Around’ activities and the Limited Capability for Work Related Activity (LCWRA) Substantial Risk regulations.
- Money and Mental Health opposes these proposals. They could lead to people with mental health problems losing vital additional income, and facing pressure to complete tasks that could compromise their mental health and put them at risk of sanction.
- Instead, the DWP should focus on improving how it captures the impact that people’s mental health can have on their ability to work and look for work and offer voluntary support with employment preparation.
Last month we responded to two consultations relating to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The first was the Work and Pensions Select Committee’s inquiry into how the DWP can protect people in vulnerable situations. After writing about the steps the DWP should take to better safeguard people with mental health problems from harm, it was incredibly disheartening to then respond to a consultation which proposed changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) that, if implemented, risk actively harming people with mental health problems.
You can read our response to the consultation on those proposed changes in full here or read on for our summary.
What is the WCA?
The WCA is used by the DWP to assess people’s capability for work and determine the support they receive via certain benefits like Universal Credit (UC). The assessment looks at a person’s ability to complete certain activities and tasks, and awards points for the ones they’re unable or struggle to do due to their physical or mental health conditions. It is this score that determines whether you have a ‘limited capability for work’ and should therefore receive more support or protections against conditionality.
If the WCA finds you have a limited capability for work, you may then be placed into one of two groups. People thought to be able to prepare for work at some point in the future, and able to perform work-related activity, are placed in the Limited Capability for Work (LCW) group. Members of this group have to perform certain work-related activities to receive their benefits – this is what’s called conditionality. If your health condition means that you are unable to prepare for work – and cannot perform work-related activity – you may be placed in the Limited Capability for Work and Work-Related Activity (LCWRA) group. This means you will not have to carry out any work-related activities and will receive a higher allowance. This extra financial support is known as the LCWRA element of UC.
A proposal to make the WCA even less fit for purpose
A key issue with the WCA is that it routinely fails to capture the extent to which mental health problems can affect people’s daily lives. Questions tend to focus on people’s physical ability to carry out activities, and members of our Research Community tell us how questions aimed at understanding mental health problems are limited and do not cover the full range of their symptoms.
The DWP’s proposals to remove two key activities that relate to mental health problems – ‘Coping with Social Engagement’ and ‘Getting Around’ – or to reduce the points awarded under these activities, would further limit the WCA’s ability to capture how having a mental health problem affects people
“All of the questions about how your health is affected by your illness were geared towards having a physical disability. I found it extremely difficult to explain that although I can physically do certain tasks, it is the motivation, ability to remember, communication, feelings of anxiety etc, that affects me.” Expert by experience
Removing a vital safety net
For people who don’t score enough points to be placed in the LCWRA group of UC, but who would face substantial risk to their mental or physical health if placed in another group, a vital safety net exists. The LCWRA Substantial Risk regulations mean people can still be awarded LCWRA – and provided with the additional financial support and easement from conditionality they require – on the grounds that being asked to engage in work-related activity would cause harm.
This is a particularly important protection for people with mental health problems, especially given how frequently the WCA fails to capture the impact of their conditions. Removing or changing these regulations would limit the ways people with mental health problems can be placed in the LCWRA group.
The impact of these changes
As we outlined when we recently gave evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee, these two changes combined would make it significantly more difficult for people with mental health problems to qualify for the LCWRA element of UC, which is currently worth £390.06 a month. Making it harder for people to receive this vital additional income, when so many people with mental health problems are already struggling financially with the cost of living crisis, would have devastating consequences.
What’s more, reducing the ways people with mental health problems can get LCWRA risks placing more people with mental health problems at the risk of unsuitable conditionality regimes and, ultimately, sanctions.
“Thinking about work would cause a mental health crisis.” Expert by experience
What we’re calling for
In light of rumours that the government could implement these changes at the Autumn Statement this week, we urge the DWP to change course.
Rather than stripping back the already limited ways that people with mental health problems can score points under the WCA, the DWP should focus on introducing new activities and descriptors that can better capture the breadth of experiences related to having a mental health problem. In the meantime, given the current inadequacy of the WCA in identifying mental health problems, plans to remove the LCWRA Substantial Risk regulations should be scrapped.
If the DWP truly wants to support people with mental health problems who would like to prepare for work, they should offer support with employment preparation on a voluntary basis. This should be available to people if and when they feel able to engage with it. But crucially, engaging with support shouldn’t be used as a justification to remove the vital additional financial assistance they receive, nor trigger a reconsideration of their capability to work and award level.
The threat of losing your income is not conducive to people with mental health problems getting better or preparing for work. And, fundamentally, the changes outlined in the consultation on the Work Capability Assessment place many people with mental health problems at risk of harm.