A new report has raised “grave concerns” about the impact of the government’s new work capability test on disabled people.
The Citizens Advice report says seriously ill people are being subjected to the work capability assessment (WCA), while the test fails to measure fitness for work effectively, and many of those assessed are subjected to poor quality medical assessments.
The WCA was introduced in October 2008 to test those claiming employment and support allowance, which replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants.
But there have been mounting concerns about the test, particularly over its inability to deal properly with people with fluctuating conditions.
The report, Not Working, is backed by 18 other voluntary organisations, most of which represent disabled people.
It calls for a full, independent review of the WCA, an assessment of its impact on health, and research into its reliability “as a matter of urgency”, and suggests that WCA reports should be sent to claimants so they can correct mistakes.
The report includes a string of cases in which medical examiners carried out hurried medicals, missed vital details, made “unjustifiable assumptions” or failed to place enough emphasis on the impact of mental health conditions on people’s ability to work.
It says Citizens Advice staff across England and Wales have reported “high numbers” of “seriously ill and disabled people” found “fit for work” after taking the assessment.
Many people who might have been able to work with the right support are effectively “written off” by being found ineligible for ESA. Many of them are also ineligible for jobseeker’s allowance or cannot cope with its strict conditions and so “end up with no work and very little income”.
So far, 69 per cent of those who complete assessments have been found “fit for work” and ineligible for ESA, far higher than the government’s prediction of 49 per cent.
David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “We are seeing cases where the government’s aim of moving people into work is being totally undermined.”
He said disabled people were being “severely let down” by the WCA’s “crude approach”, and called for a “much more sophisticated approach” that also considers supporting medical evidence, fluctuating conditions and the external barriers disabled people face in finding work.
Citizens Advice Bureaux across England and Wales have seen a rise of more than 40 per cent in people needing help with out-of-work disability benefits since ESA was introduced – in the last quarter of last year, more than 22,500 people sought advice about ESA.
Jonathan Shaw, the minister for disabled people, insisted that the WCA was working and that “for the first time disabled people are receiving the support they need to get back into work”.
He added: “We are already adapting the test and will continue to work with organisations like [Citizens Advice] to make sure their concerns are addressed.
“We want to be sure that the assessment fully takes into account all conditions, including autism and learning disabilities.”
23 March 2010