Government’s strict work test ‘forces disabled people onto JSA’


Too many disabled people are being denied out-of-work disability benefits and forced instead onto the less generous jobseeker’s allowance (JSA), following the introduction of a tough new “work capability” test, campaigners have warned.

They fear that an unexpectedly large proportion of disabled people are “failing” the government’s work capability assessment (WCA).

They have spoken out in the lead-up to the first anniversary of the introduction of the WCA in late October.

The assessment is designed to test whether someone requires long-term personalised support to find work and so qualifies for the new employment and support allowance (ESA), which has replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants.

But the Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of more than 25 national organisations representing people who rely on disability benefits, has serious concerns about the way the WCA has operated.

They believe the government has designed the test to restrict the number of disabled people who qualify for ESA.

They say far too many disabled people are being told they do not qualify for ESA and forced instead onto JSA, which is paid at a lower rate with less personalised support (£64.30 a week for those 25 and over on JSA, compared with £89.80 for ESA).

Mark Baker, DBC’s policy chair, said: “What the government is doing undermines the notion of why out-of-work disability benefits were created in the first place.

“The reason disabled people were put on a higher rate was because they were likely to be out of work for longer.”

He said the harsher JSA regime, which places a number of strict conditions on recipients, and is a short-term benefit for those temporarily out-of-work, is unsuitable for disabled people.

He said: “Given the economic climate and the vast amount of discrimination against disabled people by employers and their further distance from the labour market, JSA is not an appropriate benefit for disabled people.”

A government review of the WCA is expected to be published within weeks.

Jonathan Shaw, minister for disabled people, said the government’s welfare reform programme aims to get one million people off incapacity benefits.

He said: “The new medical assessment is designed to look at what people can do as well as what they can’t and will ensure that those who can work get the right benefit and are given the help and support they need to get back to work.

“Under ESA no one will be written off and consigned to a life on benefits.”

23 September 2009