New figures show the number of disabled people found eligible for unconditional support under the much-criticised “fitness for work” regime has doubled since its introduction by the Labour government in 2008.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) this week reveal that the proportion of new claimants who have completed an assessment and are placed in the support group – for those not expected to carry out any work-related activity – had risen from 11 per cent in late 2008 to 22 per cent by the middle of 2011.
The proportion placed in the “work-related activity group” – for those disabled people with limited capability for work – fell from 25 to 21 per cent by mid-2011.
And the percentage of claimants found “fit for work” using the work capability assessment (WCA) dropped from 65 to 57 per cent.
The DWP report on the figures says the rise in the number of disabled people placed in the support group could be partly due to improvements to the WCA introduced in the wake of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s first annual review of the test.
The figures provide yet more evidence of the unfairness of the original WCA that was introduced in 2008 by the Labour government to test eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit.
Disabled campaigners believe the WCA is still inflexible, unfair and inaccurate, despite the changes aimed at improving the test.
Conservative employment minister Chris Grayling welcomed the new figures, and said: “We are seeing an increase in the number of severely disabled people being given long-term unconditional support, which shows that our reforms to the work capability assessment are starting to work.”
The figures were released as disabled activists prepared to carry out a “daring and disruptive” act of civil disobedience in central London in protest at the government’s welfare reform bill, which includes brutal cuts to spending on ESA.
The action is set to be the first since an activist from the Disabled People’s Direct Action Network (DAN) told Disability News Service in November that the government should expect an imminent return to the kind of high-profile, non-violent protests last seen in the 1990s.
The protest is due to take place on Saturday 28 January, and will include activists from DAN and Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), with support from UK Uncut, the grassroots anti-austerity direct action network.
Richard Whitehurst, of DPAC, said disabled people were being forced to “live in fear” because of the cuts.
He said: “Cuts to disabled people’s benefits and services will not save money but will ultimately cost the taxpayer far more as pushing disabled people into destitution and withdrawing care services will lead to an increased demand for NHS care.”
26 January 2012