New job statistics provide worrying evidence that disabled people are dropping out of the welfare system after failing the government’s strict new work assessment test.
Figures released by the Office for National Statistics show the number of people who say they are “economically inactive” – neither in work nor available for work – has risen to 8.08 million, its highest ever level.
And the number giving “long-term sickness” as the reason for being economically inactive has risen in one year by 25,000 to 2.01 million, while those giving “temporary sickness” as a reason has risen by 8,000 to 177,000.
Mark Baker, policy chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said these figures could have been boosted by disabled people who fail the work capability assessment (WCA) and so do not qualify for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit.
He believes many then decide not to apply for jobseeker’s allowance (JSA) because they cannot cope with its tougher regime and stricter conditions.
He said: “The JSA regime just alienates people. They will just want to survive on disability living allowance.
“JSA is a much tougher regime and it simply wasn’t designed for disabled people.”
He said there were serious concerns that many disabled people were being “left in the space between work and welfare”.
He added: “We are extremely worried about it and our suspicion is that many of the people are just falling out of the system.”
Citizens Advice said it was “very concerned” at the large numbers of disabled people and those with serious illnesses being found fit for work after taking the WCA.
A Citizens Advice spokeswoman said: “By being found ineligible for ESA, some move onto JSA, which offers considerably less support. Others are moved off benefits altogether, with no support at all.
“We had understood that the aim of ESA was to move people into work, not simply off benefits.
“Both of these groups are being let down by the system and find themselves much further away from a situation where they may be able to return to sustainable work in the future.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman insisted that those who move to JSA after failing the WCA receive “immediate back to work support”.
He said disabled claimants and those with health conditions can discuss limitations on their availability.
Their condition or impairment is also taken into account “when discussing and agreeing jobsearch activities”, while Jobcentre Plus offers additional support through disability employment advisers.
But he could not say whether the government believed more disabled people were becoming “economically inactive” because of concerns about the JSA regime.
18 February 2010