Concerns over first government work test figures


The first official figures showing how the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) is working have revealed only a small proportion of those applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test.

Of about 175 000 people whose claims were completed between October 2008 and February this year, only about 32, 000 –18 per cent – were placed on the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

Of the 32,000, just under a third were placed in the support group, for those who do not have to engage in work-related activity.

But about 69,000 of the claimants were pronounced “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, while 74,000 stopped claiming before their assessment was finished.

The assessments – carried out by the government contractor ATOS Healthcare – are supposed to test whether someone requires personalised support to find work and so qualifies for ESA, which has replaced incapacity benefit (IB) for new claimants.

The government is to start rolling out the WCA to existing IB claimants next year.

The new figures also reveal that, by the end of August, 4,900 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, but only 1,500 were successful.

Neil Coyle, director of policy for the disability poverty charity Disability Alliance, said the WCA was “too rigid” and often failed to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.

He said the figures suggest the government’s welfare reforms could fail to secure work for many disabled people, which would be “deeply disappointing”.

He added: “The concern is that too many disabled people are not getting access to ESA and are put on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), where they do not get tailored support.

“Meanwhile, there are less jobs, more competition for work and rampant employer discrimination, particularly against those with mental health problems.”

He said this risks alienating disabled people and forcing them into poverty, as JSA is paid at a lower rate than ESA (up to £64.30 a week for JSA, compared with up to £89.80 for ESA).

Meanwhile, the government has announced a new Fit for Work scheme, which will encourage employers, GPs and councils to help people who become ill at work to manage their condition and stay in their job so they do not end up on benefits.

Ten pilot schemes will encourage local partnerships to pool funds to develop new services, bringing together support in areas such as health, employment, skills, housing and debt advice.

15 October 2009