Figures show ‘fitness for work’ test has made ‘considerable advances’


theweeksubFor the first time, the government’s own figures show that the majority of people whose “fitness for work” has been tested have been found eligible for out-of-work disability benefits.

New government figures show that 48 per cent of those whose claim was assessed for employment and support allowance (ESA) were found “fit for work” by government “decision-makers”.

The figures relate to those who started a new claim for ESA between June and August last year.

Conservative work and pensions ministers have previously made much of figures that they claimed showed most of those seeking the benefit for the first time were actually able to work and ineligible for support.

But the new figures show that the majority of assessed claimants are now being found eligible for ESA.

And once the impact of appeals has eventually fed through the system – with about two-fifths of those found fit for work appealing, and between 30 and 40 per cent of such appeals successful – the proportion found eligible for ESA is likely to be even higher.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) report also states that 29 per cent of all completed assessments that were started between last June and August found the claimant eligible for the support group – for those disabled people not expected to carry out any work-related activity.

This compares with just 11 per cent of those who began claims between December 2008 and February 2009, the first period of what was then a new benefit.

The DWP report suggests that the fall in the percentage of new claimants found fit for work, from a peak of 65 per cent four years ago, could at least partly be due to changes introduced following the three independent reviews of the WCA carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.

But the figures also show that – once the effect of appeals has been taken into account – the proportion of claimants being found fit for work has hardly changed in three years.

This could suggest that the Harrington changes are having most impact on the way the assessments are carried out by the government’s contractor, Atos Healthcare.

The disabled activist and blogger Sue Marsh, a leading campaigner for WCA reform, said the system was still “badly flawed and still gets way too many decisions wrong” but that there had been “considerable advances”.

She said: “At the moment, some [campaigning]groups give the impression that no-one is successful, which just terrifies people unnecessarily.”

She said campaigners should celebrate the much higher numbers now being placed in the ESA support group, “while calling for areas still failing to be improved”.

Mark Hoban, the Conservative employment minister, said: “The improvements we have made to the work capability assessment since 2010 are making a real difference.

“By continuing to refine the system to make it fairer and more accurate we can ensure that people who are able to work get the encouragement they need to get a job, while those who are too sick to work get real support.”

2 May 2013