Research prompts call for government u-turn on benefits cut


The government should abandon plans to impose a time limit on claiming certain out-of-work disability benefits, say campaigners, after research showed only a tiny proportion of claimants are finding jobs.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) research showed that less than five per cent of disabled people who had been found not immediately “fit for work” had secured jobs over the course of more than a year.

The research analysed the results of a survey of disabled people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit (IB).

Of claimants placed in the ESA work-related activity group (WRAG) – those expected to prepare for an eventual return to work – less than five per cent had found work.

The group had been claiming ESA since between April and June 2009, and were interviewed for the survey more than a year later.

Disability Alliance (DA) said the figures showed the government should rethink its plans to stop paying “contributory” ESA to those in the WRAG after one year, from 2012.

A DA spokesman said: “With government job cuts likely to increase the number of disabled people seeking work and more than 10 people seeking every current vacancy, employment prospects for disabled people look grim.

“DA hopes this DWP evidence will halt government plans to scrap access after one year for disabled people receiving contributions-based ESA in the work-related activity group.”

A second piece of DWP research has produced fresh evidence of concerns about the healthcare professionals (HCPs) used by the company Atos Healthcare to carry out work capability assessments (WCAs) for the government.

The research looks at the two pilot schemes that began in Aberdeen and Burnley last October as part of plans to reassess about 1.5 million long-term claimants of IB using the WCA, a test repeatedly criticised by disabled people as unfair, inaccurate and not fit for purpose.

The research found that while “some customers commented positively on the empathy and professionalism of the HCP conducting their assessment, negative reports of the tone, manner or approach of HCPs were reasonably common”.

It also describes how most of those found “fit for work” were “generally stunned and/or angry, although a few were unsurprised and admitted they felt ready to work”.

One man with a physical health condition who had been claiming IB for more than five years said he was “like a freshly boiled owl – incandescent with rage”, and described the decision to find him fit for work as “absolute nonsense” because his doctor’s certificate “automatically overrules their assessment”.

Despite such concerns, the report concludes that “by and large the reassessment process was working well”.

A DWP spokeswoman said the government wanted to ensure the WCA was “as fair and accurate as possible” and had accepted all the recommendations for improvements made by its independent reviewer, Professor Malcolm Harrington, while the test “continues to be kept under review”.

She said: “The government has made it clear that disabled people who can’t work won’t have to but we will also ensure that disabled people get the help they need to move into the jobs they want.”

2 June 2011