The equality watchdog has raised serious concerns about major elements of the coalition government’s benefit reforms.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) said it was “concerned” about the “quality” of the work capability assessment (WCA), the controversial new test used to decide eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
The commission pointed to government figures which show that 40 per cent of those who appeal against a decision to find them “fit for work” after taking the WCA had that decision overturned by the Tribunals Service.
And – in another key intervention made before this week’s publication of the government’s long-awaited spending review – it warned that the assessment must be “about the individual” and should not be “subject to targets or quotas” based purely on reducing the number of claimants of incapacity benefits.
The criticisms come in the EHRC’s response to a call for evidence for the independent review of the WCA by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
The EHRC says in its response – which has been obtained by Disability News Service – that it is “aware of a growing number of concerns about the WCA”, particularly from disability groups and the charity Citizens Advice.
And it says the Department for Work and Pensions must ensure “from day one” that people on old-style incapacity benefit (IB) who are found fit for work are “supported” as they look for work, as the government begins to reassess those on IB through pilot schemes in Aberdeen and Burnley.
The EHRC says the government will have to show that decisions to deny people employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for IB – are “justified”.
And it calls on the government to “increase its focus” on the barriers faced by disabled and older people that will prevent them finding work after long periods on IB.
The EHRC also says that the government’s decision to cut people’s housing benefit by 10 per cent if they have claimed jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year is “of great concern” because it is “likely to be those people facing multiple barriers who are on JSA for longer periods of time”.
And it criticises the government for failing to collect detailed information on people’s impairments, ethnicity, age and gender in order to find out “who if anyone is being disproportionately affected” by the WCA.
It also highlights “significant concerns” that the government has no plans to monitor ESA claimants by ethnicity.
It adds: “This will make it extremely difficult to assess whether this policy is having a positive or negative effect on different racial groups.”
19 October 2010