Disability organisations have called on the government to delay its programme to reassess all those disabled people who claim “old-style” incapacity benefit (IB).
The call came after the publication of an independent review of the work capability assessment (WCA), the controversial new test used to determine eligibility for out-of-work disability benefits.
Professor Malcolm Harrington who led the review, made a series of recommendations for improvements to the WCA, which he said would make it “fairer and more effective”.
But although the government accepted all of his recommendations, only a handful will be implemented by next spring, when the reassessment programme is set to start.
Since the WCA’s introduction two years ago, it has been used to determine eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for IB.
But from next April, the government will start a national “migration” programme to reassess the estimated 1.6 million people who will still be claiming IB and move them either on to ESA or the less generous jobseeker’s allowance.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said many of the Harrington recommendations would be implemented in time for next April.
But the charity Disability Alliance said it appeared that only about a quarter of the 25 recommendations would be implemented by April, which would mean disabled people currently claiming IB being subjected to an “ineffective” test at “substantial social and material cost”.
Dr Mark Baker, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said the recommendations “clearly indicate” that the WCA is “deeply flawed”.
Baker said the government “should not proceed with moving claimants of older incapacity benefits onto ESA, via the WCA, until it is clear that the assessment is working fairly and effectively”.
And Paul Farmer, chief executive of the mental health charity Mind, said it was “imperative” that the recommendations were implemented before the migration began.
He said if the test was not ready by April it would be “unjust and unethical” to start putting disabled people through the WCA when it was “still not fit for purpose”.
A DWP spokesman said there was no need to delay the migration as they were planning to implement “as many as possible” of the recommendations before it started.
He said that, although the migration process would begin in April, the first reassessments of people on IB would not start until the summer.
He added: “The time is right. Time is of the essence. [The WCA] will be under review for the next five years and there will be a constant process of reviewing and monitoring.”
25 November 2010