Finding your way around the WCA
Since its introduction in 2008 the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) benefits eligibility test has been heavily debated and it’s particularly inadequate for people with fluctuating illnesses like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. There’s been an upsurge in carers coming to my group asking for help to guide their loved ones through the WCA, to claim Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
It’s an extremely confusing and frightening process and to head into it blind can do real damage to people in already fragile conditions. It’s pretty much impossible for someone with a mental illness to complete the questionnaire by themselves. So I did a lot more research and developed a two hour workshop and helpsheet to help people unpick the misleading and oversimplified questions.
The real issue here is whether the job of helping people go through the process should fall on the already laden shoulders of carers. Also carers already spend a large amount of their income, often just the state pension, on subsidising someone with a mental illness. The idea your relative could suddenly lose their benefit is just terrifying. The government claims to have a review process underway as the evidence the current system isn’t working is overwhelming but the reality here in Lancashire and elsewhere is that people are still having their lifeline benefits stopped and the process is making them more ill.
Some carers are making 160 mile round trips from across the country to benefit from my support, and it's taking up a lot of my time. We're finding that if carers have had my helpsheet and complete the questionnaire accurately, the person is often not even called for the interview. A lot of what I do is to try to get across the idea that they're not completely powerless in all this.