A disability charity boss has resisted calls to resign from a committee that advises the government on its controversial “fitness for work” assessment, even though GPs have demanded that the test be scrapped.
Simon Gillespie, chief executive of the MS Society, was appointed last month to the scrutiny group that is overseeing Professor Malcolm Harrington’s continuing review of the work capability assessment (WCA).
Gillespie replaced Paul Farmer, Mind’s chief executive, who himself resigned because he said the government was ignoring serious concerns about the impact of the WCA – which tests eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits – on people with mental health conditions.
Gillespie was appointed to the scrutiny group only days before the British Medical Association’s annual conference of GPs called for the WCA to “end with immediate effect”, and to be replaced with a “rigorous and safe system that does not cause avoidable harm” to their patients.
In the wake of the vote, disabled activists called for Gillespie to step down immediately from the scrutiny group.
John McArdle, a founding member of the user-led campaign group Black Triangle, said Gillespie’s membership of the panel was “untenable”, and that he was not representing “the best interests of people who are disabled with ms”.
And he questioned whether the charity had “bothered to consult with those whom it claims to represent – people actually living with ms”.
He said that not one of the people with ms who Black Triangle had spoken to supported Gillespie’s appointment, and that “on the contrary, an enormous amount of anger and sense of betrayal has been expressed”.
He said that GPs “could not have been clearer in their refusal to be complicit in a system that had been shown to be harmful”, and he welcomed Farmer’s “honourable resignation” from the panel.
He added: “It has become abundantly clear that participation in this panel serves no other purpose than to legitimise an utterly discredited ‘assessment’ regime which is undeniably… causing enormous devastation, hardship and even death to sick and/or disabled people on a daily basis.”
But although Gillespie said he welcomed the vote by GPs, he said he would not resign.
In a statement, he said: “The current benefits system is denying thousands of genuine claimants the support they need to get by, causing a great deal of hardship, anxiety and stress, and costing the state millions in appeals and administration.
“That’s why it’s more important than ever that the review of the WCA system is scrutinised properly, and that the voice of disabled people is heard.
“The independent review needs to be a vehicle for real, tangible improvement of the system to ensure fair outcomes that properly recognise the barriers disabled people face.
“The MS Society has been vocal on this issue for some time and, while I hope my appointment will help lead to positive change, it will not prevent our future vocal criticism of the government or the benefits system where we feel it necessary.”