The government’s strict new work test for disabled people has come under fresh attack at a meeting of MPs and peers.
The criticisms of the work capability assessment (WCA) came after the all party parliamentary disability group had heard a presentation by three senior civil servants from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
David Evans, vice-chair of the charity Deafblind UK, said some of the things he had read about the WCA – which tests those applying for the new employment and support allowance – “beggars belief”.
He criticised the “stupidity” and “insensitivity of the people making decisions about people’s lives” and said he was “very concerned” that the aim was to get “as many people into work as possible”.
He also raised fears that disabled people were giving up on the welfare system after failing the WCA and were having to survive solely on DLA instead.
He added: “A huge number of people are not getting the right benefits, creating more work for people trying to work with them, like Citizens Advice Bureaux.”
His comments came a week after new job statistics provided evidence for his fear that disabled people failing the WCA were dropping out of the welfare system.
The figures showed the number of people giving “long-term sickness” or “temporary sickness” as the reason for being neither in work nor available for work had risen by 33,000 in a year.
But Rebecca Sudworth, deputy director of the DWP’s disability and work division, said the government kept the WCA “under review” and it was “very much not the case” that it was about “shoving people into work regardless” of their circumstances.
She said the test was “designed to think where people are on that ability to work spectrum”, and added: “We may not always get it right but we put an awful lot of time and effort into developing the assessment and checking how it is working.”
Cath Hamp, the DWP’s head of employment and support allowance policy, said current reviews of the WCA and the government’s disability employment programmes – such as Pathways to Work – were “very timely”, with the government due to start rolling out the WCA to the 2.5 million people on incapacity benefit this October.
She said: “We want some of the things at either end of that process to be as good as they possibly can be when that process starts.”
She added: “The object of the change is to avoid that group of people being written off as they have been over the last ten years because there has been very little contact with them.”
24 February 2010