Today MPs will be asked by the supporters of my charity, Rethink Mental Illness, to put themselves through an assessment to help them understand the experiences of people with mental health problems.
Over a thousand people have written to their MP, asking them to attend an 'MP Capability Assessment' based loosely on the controversial Work Capability Assessment, which is currently being used to decide whether tens of thousands of people with long-term illnesses and disabilities should receive benefits. Our supporters have asked MPs to attend a formal interview and provide supporting written evidence.
It's a tongue-in-cheek exercise designed to bring attention to a very serious issue. We know that many MPs are championing reform of the WCA. But our supporters are clear that the pace and scale of change is too slow, and traditional methods of raising awareness are having little impact. This campaign is about raising the profile of an issue that gets talked about a lot by parliamentarians, but still hasn't been adequately addressed by the government. We want MPs to get a deeper sense of what it's like to be put through an assessment process which is fundamentally unfair for people with mental health problems.
Yet this is exactly what what's happening right now to 6,000 people with mental health problems every week. They are being pushed through the Work Capability Assessment, despite the fact that a court recently found that the WCA puts people with mental illness at a 'substantial disadvantage'.
This means very ill and vulnerable people are wrongly being found fit for work and having their benefits slashed.
We have many concerns about the process, but one of the biggest problems for people with mental illness is the way medical evidence is collected. Under the current system, people with severe mental illnesses like schizophrenia are expected to gather their own medical evidence from a health professional, to prove they are too ill to work and need support.
For someone who may be extremely unwell or experiencing psychosis this is just one part of what can be an impossible task. Their inability to gather their own evidence means it is simply ignored. Decision makers at the Department of Work and Pensions can make a judgement about whether someone is fit for work without seeing any additional evidence.
This unfair system makes no sense for people with mental illness or to taxpayers. Our supporters are asking for a simple, practical change. We are asking the Government to pause the current mass-reassessment of people with a mental illness receiving the old incapacity benefit. It makes no sense at all to plough on using a flawed system.
I hope that by going through the 'MP Capability Assessment' parliamentarians will get a sense of how frustrating it is to be judged by someone who doesn't have the right information to make a fair and meaningful decision.
Luckily for them, MPs can't actually lose their income based on this assessment. Sadly, the same can't be said for people with mental illness who are wrongly being cut off from vital financial support. While we've had an overwhelmingly positive response from MPs we can only hope that their interest in the campaign translates into meaningful change.
A fair decision making process, which gets it right first time, is in everyone's interests.