Labour should commit to scrapping the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which leaves sick and disabled benefit claimants living in fear, campaigners have said today (24 July 2014).

In a joint statement from Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), Mental Health Resistance Network (MHRN), Black Triangle Campaign and New Approach (#NewApproach), campaigners argue that the WCA leads to disabled people feeling “harassed” and discriminates against benefit claimants with mental health impairments.

The comments come following the release of a Work and Pensions Select Committee report earlier this week, which found that Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), and the ‘fit for work’ assessments used to determine eligibility for the benefit, is “so grave” that simply “rebranding” the assessment by appointing a new contractor will not solve fundamental flaws and weaknesses within the system.

The committee called on the government to “fundamentally redesign” ESA and the WCA “to ensure that the main purpose of the benefit – helping claimants with health conditions and disabilities to move into employment where this is possible for them – is achieved”.

However, campaigners argue that simply making “improvements” to the ESA assessment system “would not make the WCA any less wrong or any more useful”.

Atos Healthcare withdrew from a £500 million contract to provide Work Capability Assessments on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) earlier this year. The decision came after more than 600,000 appeals were lodged against ‘fit for work’ recommendations made by the private healthcare firm, costing the taxpayer more than £60 million a year in legal costs. Around 40% of decisions were overturned in favour of the claimant.

Atos’ withdrawal has left the DWP scrambling to find a new provider as a backlog of more than 700,000 claimants are left in limbo awaiting to be assessed for ESA. The then disability minister, Mike Penning MP, blamed Atos for the mounting backlog. When asked about finding a new provider for the ESA assessment, Prime Minister David Cameron said that it should be carried out “in a way that works well”, rather than an “artificial deadline”.

Yesterday (23 July 2014), the DWP announced that it would move away from a single provider following concerns raised about the service offered by Atos Healthcare. It is yet to be announced who the new providers will be, but it is believed that Atos doctors will be audited and have their right to carry out assessments removed.

Campaigners say that the WCA “presumes that there are too many people on disability benefits because disabled people are too lazy or too comfortable living on benefits to work”.

In an apparent attack on the negative portrayal of benefit claimants in the media, campaigners say that “no one is comfortable living on benefits” and that “disabled people are no more lazy than the rest of the population”.

The press statement published on the DPAC website, appears to blame British society and “social attitudes”, which “ensures that disabled people in the workplace are seen as a problem”. They argue that there are “large numbers of sick and disabled people who simply can not work”, whom should not be “hounded” and made to “live in fear” by the prospect of being repeatedly forced to prove they are incapable of work.

The campaigners also argue that disabled people “do not have the same access to education, transport, housing and jobs” as able-bodied people.

As well as calling on Labour to scrap the WCA, if the party wins a majority in the next general election, campaigners are also demanding that the British Medical Association (BMA) send guidance on existing legislation to GPs that could “allow doctors to prevent foreseeable harm being done to ‘at risk’ patients”.

The press statement finishes by saying that “the WCA is wrong” and should be “abolished”.