It is clear that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has been a source of great misery and distress to many sick and disabled people, but there has never been an entirely satisfactory explanation for why this is happening. The finger of blame has been pointed at the outsourcing contractor Atos Healthcare, the influence of the insurance industry on the development of the test, the frontline assessors, the claimants - if you can think of it, at some point someone's blamed it.
Whilst the existence of targets are vehemently denied by politician's, civil servants, the DWP and Atos, the misuse of statistical norms as outlined in my latest report 'Investigating the real reason for the misery of fit for work assessments', published by the Centre for Welfare Reform, means there is a de facto target system in place which limits the overall proportion of successful claims.
Statistical norms are somewhat dry and dull, especially to someone like me who runs out of numbers when they run out of fingers and toes, but I have spent the best part of the last three years obsessed by this misuse of norms, researching and investigating how such a system could operate and why it would be denied by politicians of all parties.
Over that time period I have asked everyone I've met about norms - politicians, private sector employess, Atos assessors, GP's, everyone. I'd ask people I bumped into in corridors at conferences, I'd randomly phone up people I thought might hold other pieces of the puzzle and ask them to talk to me. The more I asked and the more I understood, it became clear that those denying the existence of targets often didn't understand what norms were, didn't know they existed or just didn't understand. There was one consistency though - everytime I explained how I thought the norms were being abused to cap the overall number of claims - the colour would drain from the face of the listener, they'd become very quiet, and some would mumble things like 'oh shit'. Once explained, it was obvious to them how statistical norms were being abused to drive the overall proportion of successful claims.
On paper, this seems quite a simple process, with only one consistent figure involved in the process throughout it's five years - Lord Freud. So determined was he to remove two thirds of incapacity benefit claimants, Lord Freud only needed three weeks to write his report recommending just that. In that time the government has changed, all three political parties have had a taste of power, and the misery caused by the WCA has continued. But only Lord Freud has remained consistent - civil servants have changed, staff at Atos have changed, yet Freud continues, so determined to push through his scheme, and complete the transfer of the human beings he refers to as 'stock', that he even changed political party.
The misuse of statistical norms is dry, technical stuff. It's vital to understand because it acts as the driver of the whole system, the cause of all that human pain and misery. Today, a new report is released by an anonymous author, too sick and too scared of the consequences to be identified. Despite all that, this author has also dedicated years to understanding the misery of the WCA - for them the focus was on the human stories of suffering.
The People's Review of the WCA - Further Evidence gives the people who have suffered as a result of Freud's scheme to cap the overall number of claims the opportunity to speak in their own voices of the damage such a blunt system has done to them and their families.
There are many people I need to thank for their assistance whilst I was researching 'norms', and many of those people cannot be named due to the vulnerable position they put themselves into by whistleblowing. So, this is a mass thank you - to everyone who had to endure my 'norms' related questioning and also to the anonymous author of The People's Review who has been determined to give the voiceless a voice.
The evidence is clear - 'norms' are misused to drive the system to the desired result, ie limiting the overall number of claims. The impact is also clear, the media regularly feature accounts of terrible WCA decisions, and politicians scrabble to justify the worst cases as 'mistakes'.
And there is the true horror of the WCA - none of this was a mistake. All the pain, fear and stress experienced by people like Karen Sherlock, and the many, many examples in The People's Review are written off by polticians as 'mistakes'. But this is no mistake, the contractual terms for the operation of the WCA are clear - all solutions MUST be based around an imposed 'norm' for the Support Group of just 11%, rejecting claims for Employment and Support Allowance was exactly what Freud intended to happen.
All that pain, all that fear, all that waste - not mistakes at all, but the exact result desired by Freud and achieved by the artificial imposition of 'norms'.