As we have argued elsewhere, “The benefits system has become a battleground on which to prove (or disprove) severity of impairment, rather than an arena in which the totality and complexity of people’s lives can be understood and supported in a diverse range of more effective ways.” What might be the result if we abandoned this battle altogether, and instead provided everyone with a decent living income and redirected the administrative resource to understanding people in their wholeness – not only as sick or disabled people, but also as parents, carers, survivors of abuse and discrimination, people with skills, hopes, and aspirations for their future. And what if we then offered the kinds of holistic, tailored and long-term support and encouragement that would enable people to find and sustain decent and appropriate work that took all of their personal circumstances into account.
Looked at from where we are currently, these proposals may seem utopian and idealistic. Whilst there is talk of scrapping the work capability assessment (WCA), no party seems willing to give up their commitment to conditionality. Yet a radical shift in approach seems necessary if we are to get out of this impasse. As it stands, both sides are up in arms. We need a ceasefire so that people can come out of the trenches and feel safe to explore steps towards work; so that, in the words of one participant, people on both sides can stop “wasting time in this battle”.