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Our response to proposed reforms to the Work Capability Assessment

The Government has announced a consultation on the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and how disabled people, including those who are deaf or have hearing loss, are being assessed as fit for work. 

Watch an explanation of this article in BSL

In this article, we explain what the Work Capability Assessment is, what changes are being proposed, how these changes will affect deaf people and people with hearing loss and what RNID is doing in response. 

What is the Work Capability Assessment?

When you apply for Universal Credit, you can report if you have a health condition or disability that affects your capability to work. 

The Work Capability Assessment is used to decide how much your illness or disability limits your capability to work. The assessment will decide whether you: 

  • are fit for work  
  • need to prepare to work in the future, but have limited capability for work now 
  • have limited capability for work and work-related activity, which includes looking for work, or work experience. 

Depending on the result of the assessment, you may be entitled to extra money as well as your standard allowance. 

What changes are being proposed?

The Government is reviewing four categories within the Work Capability Assessment. These categories are designed to determine what work or work-related activity people can do and how that affects their ability to work. The categories which are likely to change are mobility and social engagement (the ability to interact with people). 

The Government has proposed these changes in response to the changing world of work – for example the rise in remote working – and the availability of employment support programmes for disabled people and employers. 

However, the Government stated earlier this year that it also intends to end the Work Capability Assessment at some point. These changes will be introduced in the meantime, and RNID will continue to monitor the situation closely. 

What barriers do deaf people and people with hearing loss face?

People who are deaf or have hearing loss experience many barriers accessing work. This is especially true for deaf BSL users – one in three are neither in work or looking for work. 

We know many people face barriers with Access to Work and accessing the communication support they need. A lack of deaf awareness and support from employers in many workplaces also makes it difficult for deaf people and people with hearing loss to enter the workplace and succeed in work.  

This shouldn’t be the case, and we want all deaf people and people with hearing loss to have equal access to rewarding employment. Because of these barriers, however, many deaf people and people with hearing loss are not currently in work and rely on Universal Credit for their income.

How will changes to the WCA affect people who are deaf and have hearing loss?

We are not expecting the changes to have a big impact on people who are deaf or have hearing loss because the Government are not currently proposing any changes to the part of the WCA that asks about a person’s communication needs. 

When will these changes take place?

These changes are unlikely to take effect before 2025, but if you have questions about benefit entitlement then our Contact Centre is available.  

You can also find out more about benefits on our website. 

What needs to happen next?

Following the proposals, RNID recommends that: 

  • The Government needs to work very closely with people who are deaf or have hearing loss, and other disabled people, on any changes to the eligibility criteria within the Work Capability Assessment.  
  • Changes need to reflect the barriers that people who are deaf or have hearing loss experience on a daily basis.  
  • Government support, such as Access to Work and specialist employment services, needs to improve before changes are made to the assessment, so that more deaf people and people with hearing loss can access employment. 

What will RNID do next?

We will be looking at the proposals very carefully – and we will respond to the consultation which has been launched. While we want more people who are deaf or have hearing loss to enter the workforce, the Government must remove the barriers people face when seeking employment, not punish people that can’t find work.

Rob Geaney, Policy and Campaigns Lead at RNID, says:

“Changes to the Work Capability Assessment must reflect the real-world barriers that deaf people and people with hearing loss face daily, such as the huge delays in Access to Work assessments, the absence of support in place for jobseekers who use BSL, and the lack of deaf awareness in many workplaces. 

“The world of work has changed dramatically since the pandemic, but remote working hasn’t removed these barriers, which must be addressed to support more deaf and disabled people into work. 

“We hope the Government will work with people who are deaf or have hearing loss beyond the eight-week consultation period on any changes to eligibility criteria. Only by allowing enough time for genuine co-production can they ensure a reformed system addresses the significant barriers that still exist for deaf people accessing employment.” 

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