New figures suggest limited impact of Harrington changes


New government figures appear to show that “improvements” to the controversial “fitness for work” test are having limited impact on how many disabled people are able to hold on to their out-of-work disability benefits.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that the proportion of existing claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) found fit for work after being reassessed increased from 24 per cent in March 2011 to 35 per cent during February 2012.

The government is using the work capability assessment to reassess all 1.5 million people who were claiming IB, testing their eligibility for the new employment and support allowance (ESA).

The reassessment process began with trials in the autumn of 2010, with the programme rolling out across the country from last spring. It is expected to take another 18 months before all remaining IB claimants have been reassessed.

The latest figures show that in the three months to February 2012, 36 per cent of claimants were found fit for work, 39 placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG, for those expected to move gradually towards work) and 25 per cent in the support group (for those with the highest barriers to work)*.

The previous three-month period had seen 34 per cent found fit for work, with 43 per cent in WRAG and 23 per cent in the support group.

The first independent review of the WCA by Professor Malcolm Harrington was published in November 2010, with the second following in November 2011.

The new figures appear to show that the proportion of claimants placed in the support group increased slightly in the first months after the second review, but they suggest that the proportion of those IB claimants reassessed and found fit for work also rose.

The disabled activist and blogger Sue Marsh, a leading campaigner for ESA reform, said it was impossible to draw clear conclusions on how the WCA was changing from the data available.

But she said she would have expected the proportion of people found fit for work to be falling as the Harrington changes were introduced by the government over the last two years, and that did not appear to be happening.

*The figures – particularly in the most recent months – are likely to be adjusted in due course to take account of successful appeals

7 November 2012