A disabled MP has raised doubts over whether the government has ensured the right support is in place for people set to take part in a controversial incapacity benefit (IB) pilot scheme.
Disabled people in Anne Begg’s Aberdeen South constituency will be taking part in one of two pilot projects testing the use of the work capability assessment (WCA) to reassess people claiming “old-style” IB.
Letters will be sent out in October to most people claiming IB in Aberdeen and Burnley, with reassessments likely to begin in November, before a national reassessment programme of all remaining claimants of IB that is set to start next spring and last three years.
The WCA was introduced in October 2008 for claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit, but the test has proved hugely controversial.
Only last week, a coalition of charities said the assessment must do far more to recognise the barriers faced by people with mental health and other fluctuating conditions, and those with learning difficulties.
This week, Begg used a parliamentary question to ask the Liberal Democrat care services minister Paul Burstow whether the government had warned mental health professionals in Aberdeen of the problems the pilot project was likely to cause.
Begg, who was elected chair of the Commons work and pensions committee in June, said people with mental health conditions who receive IB had come to her constituency surgery because they were “worried sick” about the reassessment pilot scheme.
She said: “They are really quite worried about the WCA, about how sensitive it is to mental health conditions and other variable conditions.”
She said they had seen reports describing how many claimants are found fit for work after taking the WCA, although she said the numbers found fit for work in the pilots should be lower because those being assessed will already be claiming IB.
Government figures published in July showed that of those new claimants who completed the WCA, two thirds (66 per cent) were found fit for work and ineligible for ESA.
Begg said: “Knowing they are going through the whole process is a huge anxiety and if the professionals are not made aware of the implications of this they are not going to be in a position to help or give advice.
“That is what worries me – It has been dropped on Aberdeen without any of that preparation being done.”
It was unclear from Burstow’s Commons answer what measures had been taken to support IB claimants with mental health conditions in Aberdeen and Burnley. A Department for Work and Pensions comment had not arrived by Disability News Service’s deadline.
8 September 2010