New government figures have confirmed that only a small proportion of people applying for out-of-work disability benefits are “passing” the strict new test, the work capability assessment (WCA).
The government claimed the figures showed that “thousands of people are now moving towards work rather than being left to claim sickness benefit”.
But of the 326,500 people who completed new claims between October 2008 and May 2009, only about 59,000 (18 per cent) were found eligible for the new employment and support allowance (ESA). Of these, about 18,000 (5.5 per cent) do not have to take part in work-related activity.
More than two in five (about 135,000 people) were found to be “fit for work” and so ineligible for ESA and the personalised support it would have entitled them to through the government’s Pathways to Work programme.
The remaining 133,000 claimants stopped claiming before completing the WCA.
Those who “fail” the WCA are placed on jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), and receive £25 less a week, although the Department for Work and Pensions said some JSA “customers” with health conditions can volunteer to be “fast-tracked” to receive “much more intensive help and one-to-one support to improve their employability”.
Campaigning organisations have repeatedly warned that the WCA is inflexible, riddled with errors and fails to reflect disabled people’s daily lives.
Neil Coyle, director of policy for Disability Alliance, said: “We are aware that too many disabled people are being misassessed in an overly rigid system and failing to access the support arrangements that could help them find work.”
But he said he was “hopeful” that the current government review of the WCA would “lead to a more effective system able to identify the needs of disabled people”, with Pathways to Work offered to more people.
Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, said the government was reviewing the WCA to “see where improvements and changes need to be made to ensure that it is working as it should be”.
The government will start rolling out the WCA to existing incapacity benefit claimants this October. It is also reviewing the effectiveness of Pathways and aims to publish proposals this spring.
The new figures also reveal that, by the end of November 2009, 8,800 claimants had completed appeals against a decision that they were ineligible for ESA, and 3,300 were successful (37.5 per cent).
Previous figures suggested less than a third of claimants were winning their appeals.
20 January 2010