Fresh concerns have been raised about the government’s work capability tests after new figures showed a huge increase in the number of disabled claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) being reassessed as “fit for work”.
During trials of the reassessment process in Burnley and Aberdeen in the autumn of 2010, the earliest figures showed 29.6 per cent of people on “old-style” IB were being found fit for work and so ineligible for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).
But since then the government has begun to roll out the reassessment programme across the country and the first results – published this week – show 37 per cent of people have been found fit for work, a rise of a quarter since the trials.
Of those found eligible for ESA, 34 per cent of those reassessed were placed in the work-related activity group, and the other 29 per cent in the support group for those not expected to carry out any work-related activity.
Fears were raised this week that the increase could be because the government was rolling out the reassessment programme too quickly, and was failing to provide disabled people with the support they needed to be assessed accurately through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
The government plans to reassess all 1.5 million people still claiming IB by the spring of 2014.
The Labour MP Sheila Gilmore, a member of the Commons work and pensions committee, said the “likeliest explanation” for the increase was that the government was trying to reassess too many people too quickly.
She said there were still “big question-marks” over the WCA, particularly for those with mental health and fluctuating conditions.
A DWP spokesman said the new figures only provided a provisional picture, while the trials had only offered “an indication of claimant and staff reactions to the reassessment process”.
He said: “The proportion of claimants found fit for work in the trial areas never were meant to give guidance for the national roll-out.”
But he was unable to explain why the proportion of those found fit for work had risen so sharply since the trials.
Chris Grayling, the Conservative employment minister, said in a statement that the new figures “completely justify our decision to reassess all the people on incapacity benefit”.
But he accepted that the percentage found fit for work was likely to drop when the results of appeals become known.
Disability charities have pointed out that the statistics merely show the proportion of disabled people who have “passed” the WCA, not how many people are truly “fit for work”.
Paul Farmer, chief executive of Mind, added: “The work capability assessment is a flawed process and is causing anxiety and pain for thousands of people who are trapped in a cycle of reassessments and appeals.”
15 March 2012