The Work Capacity Assessment (WCA) has been a central battleground between the government and welfare activists. The assessment is simply designed to determine if a sick or disabled person is currently fit or unfit for work. While activists seem unhappy that too many people are found 'unfairly' fit for work, I am concerned that too many people are found unfit for work and therefore denied the opportunity to progress with their life journey.
At the risk of repeating myself, I believe everyone has the potential with the right support and encouragement to provide a meaningful contribution to their families, community and society at large, which does not necessarily mean paid work, although it should never be automatically ruled out. I also acknowledge that on a day to day basis, someone's health or other circumstances may prevent them from effectively performing certain activities at specific times, but that does not necessarily mean there do not have the inner ability or potential to contribute to society.
My concern is therefore maybe not so much the WCA test, but the fact it results in a financially desirable label of being 'unfit'. While the term is used in terms of paid work, the psychological and sociological implications of calling people unfit has deeper implications for how sick and disabled people see themselves, and how they are seen by others. Because employment is the cornerstone of any post-industrial society, regardless of the political ideology of managing human capital, calling someone unfit for work is the same as calling them unfit for society.
And if deep down someone is regarded as unfit for society, their ability to grow and develop can be perceived to be halted, and they can be forced into a social coma, dependent on state handouts in the name of compassion. This is a form of social exclusion that is self-fulfilling since current social policy uses the label of unfit to close people's opportunities to enablement and empowerment support that allows them to progress in their life journey and to a point where they are able and willing to make a greater contribution.
I often say labelling people unfit is a form of warehousing because it is simply paying people to sit at home excluded from activities that could unlock their long-term potential. A reliance on a compassionate society can only go so far and within a political environment of increasingly less resources, framing sick and disabled people as eternally inactive citizens can only have disastrous consequences for social policy in the longer term.
While the political battle between inclusion and welfare could be seen as the battle between collective compassion, and the fulfilling of individual potential through the nurturing of self-determination, why can't there be a third way where collectivism and individualism work together? Could we have a collective desire to ensure any individual has the opportunity to fulfil their full potential, or at least be aware of their potential if they choose to not use it?
I believe that the term unfit is symbolic of the deep rooted prejudices towards sick and disabled people, creating a vague and imagined line between those society will fully accept, and those society will currently tolerate in the name of fairness and compassion. We need to erase the artificial line and celebrate every individual for the bundle of potential they are. This is not about forcing people into a paid working environment before they are ready, but simply recognising whether it takes weeks, months, years or indeed forever, there may be a time with ever changing circumstances where paid employment is possible for them.
I would like to see a time where society regards the term 'unfit' as a derogatory term in the way I personally do now, and as a term that symbolises social exclusion. I however know when welfare reform remains a fierce political battleground, there is currently little room for the quantum leap in thinking I would dearly love to see.