Other Society news

Call for reform of the Work Capability Assessment, Society Branches Forum symposium, and the 'always on' culture.

Call for reform of the Work Capability Assessment

The government should commission an ‘end-to-end redesign’ of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process, says a new Society briefing paper (see tinyurl.com/qguswec). The paper cites a growing body of evidence that seriously ill people are being inappropriately subjected to WCA. It also argues that the WCA does not effectively measure fitness for work and that its application is producing inappropriate outcomes for claimants.

The briefing paper quotes the conclusion of the 2014 review by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee: ‘Simply rebranding the WCA by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems… This will be time consuming and complex, but the re-designed ESA assessment processes needs to be in place by the time a completely new contract, involving multiple providers, is tendered in 2018.’

The Society strongly endorses this conclusion and calls for the government to expedite a full review of the assessment and its processes. Society President Jamie Hacker Hughes said: ‘There is now a significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to  assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately, with people who are seriously physically and mentally ill being found fit for work and those with acute, transient episodes being assessed as lacking capacity and treated in the same way as those with a longer term prognosis. Appeals against the decisions are running at approximately 50 per cent, and around half of those appeals are upheld. The cost to the taxpayer from this alone is £50m, with a similar amount being spent on reassessment. The Department of Work and Pensions is now under significant pressure to publish data on the number of people who have died whilst claiming out-of-work disability benefits.’

To redesign the WCA system the paper calls for the introduction of:
I    a reliable, valid and fully researched method of assessment to replace the Limited Capacity for Work Questionnaire (ESA 50) and the face-to-face WCA;
I    training in assessment, scoring and interpretation for the test administrators;
I    specialist assessors to assess people with mental, cognitive and intellectual functioning difficulties;
I    supervision of the assessors from qualified clinicians with expertise in rehabilitation, assessment and interpretation;
I    referral routes to specialist assessment and support for those with psychological, cognitive and intellectual functioning difficulties; and
I    appropriate periods of reassessment for people with long-term conditions, based on specialist advice to accurately reflect the prognosis.


Communities of hope

Sue Northrop, Chair of the Society’s Branches Forum, reports from a symposium at the Society’s Annual Conference

As people voted for a new government, psychologists were talking about how hope can change the world. ‘Communities of Hope’ – the first Branches Forum symposium, supported by members of the Community Psychology Section – provided an opportunity to celebrate and highlight the contribution that psychological thinking and research are making across the UK.

Paul Gaffney spoke about his work with children in care and the important role that psychologists have played in transforming services. Being in ‘care’ takes you out of the community and undermines your attachments, replacing them with people who can walk away. These children and young people are often written off, but a strengths bases and relational approach can transform this experience. Paul described how a focus on what people can do, building positive relationships in care and engaging with the professionals in the wider environment help these young people to build their own stories of hope.

Ho Law gave us a moving account of the types of narratives of despair that people in therapy often bring with them and how they impact on all aspects of self. Ho told us about a community peer coaching programme he is evaluating that is aimed at building confidence for women in business. He explained an evaluation model that uses narrative as a way of telling unfolding stories. Ho described how narrative allows a consideration of the emotional plot, narrative turn and gives plot, context and power to a story.

Chris Lynch spoke about an innovative citizen-led service that provides peer-support for people with mental health problems. When a local service was facing closure, service users took it over and now, a few years on, the charity is now thriving, even being commissioned to run services by their local Clinical Commissioning Group. Chris showcased what peer support meant to them, how it had built confidence and changed their lives. There are now more than 30 service users regularly involved in the service, empowering themselves and others through peer support.

I then spoke about Dementia Friendly East Lothian, a community-led initiative that opens local conversations about what life is like here if you have dementia. The initiative works by building relationships across the community that include and respect people living with dementia as valued citizens. Diversity and difference of community approaches create a rich culture for learning and sharing and there is a strong artistic and intergenerational aspect to the work. Communities are engaging with commissioners and decision makers, raising questions about how psychology can help generate persuasive evidence.

In the discussion we reflected on the similar messages coming from all the papers about the important of peer support, collaborative working and valuing diversity. The papers illustrated that psychologists with different skills in different settings have a major contribution to making the world a better place.

The Branches Forum hopes to make this an annual event, if you’re interested please get in touch with through our adviser Anne Kerr [email protected].


The ‘always-on’ culture

Gail Kinman, Almuth McDowall, Christine Grant and Cristina Quinones-Garcia report from a BPS-funded seminar on work–life boundary management

The second BPS-funded seminar on the implications of the ‘always-on’ culture explored the ways in which individuals use technology across the lifespan. The hugely popular event, hosted by Almuth McDowall and Gail Kinman at Birkbeck, University of London, brought together researchers and practitioners from a range of disciplines to explore how people use technology for work and leisure, how they manage work–life boundaries, and the implications for balance, wellbeing and job performance.  

Our keynote speaker, Professor Ellen Ernst Kossek of Purdue University in the USA (see interview in the July 2014 issue), presented her research on ‘flexstyles’, which refer to the different ways in which people manage work–life boundaries – integrating, separating or volleying between both. Technology allows people to work flexibly, but there is strong potential for work to colonise all aspects of life. Ellen argued that a high degree of self-regulation is therefore required to avoid overload. Nonetheless, she explained that the extent to which individuals feel in control of their work–life balance and whether it fits their values and needs are more important for wellbeing than whether the domains are separated or integrated.

Professor Gillian Symon of Royal Holloway School of Management and Dr Rebecca Whiting of Birkbeck reported findings from their EPSRC-funded Digital Brain Switch project. This used an innovative combination of video diaries and interviews to explore the implications of mobile technologies and social media for managing work–life boundaries and transitions between domains. They presented five highly engaging case studies of people from various life stages and backgrounds to illustrate variations in integration/separation between life domains and role switching strategies. Findings showed that technology can enable flexibility and encourage blended identities where people may be boundary-free. New integrating practices were discussed, such as ‘working lite’, where people mix business with pleasure (for example, by reading work e-mails while watching TV with a glass of wine in hand). Interestingly, evidence was provided that young people may be attempting to reduce their engagement with technology and creating boundaries by using various self-regulation strategies, such as leaving their smart phone at home to avoid ‘temptation’ at work or college.

Jonathan Fenn and Danny Kay from Ofcom presented an overview of the findings of their Digital Day survey: an in-depth study of the media and communications activities of 1644 UK adults and children over a seven-day period. The findings demonstrate that we are now typically spending more time on media and communications each day than we spend sleeping. Many age-related differences were observed: e.g. middle-aged people spend as much as 47 per cent of their day e-mailing, whereas the average young person spends around two-thirds of their time on their mobile phone – with most of that time spent texting.

The final talk highlighted the benefits of mindfulness practice as a way to achieve balance in an ‘always-on’ world. Many organisations are using mindfulness-based interventions to enhance wellbeing in their employees, with demonstrable effectiveness. Professor Monique Valcour, of EDHEC Business School in France, argued that being fully present in the moment without judgement, the key element of mindfulness, is antithetical to multi-tasking. To aid recovery and achieve balance, she argued, we need to find out what energises and drains us. Monique demonstrated simple but highly effective mindfulness skills, with potential to encourage meaningful connections with other people as well as personal balance.

Feedback from delegates was extremely positive. The final seminar in the series is by invitation only and will identify key outputs and priorities for research and interventions to help people engage more positively with technology at different life stages in different working contexts.

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