A campaigning coalition has written to the government demanding that it abandons plans to introduce reforms to its controversial “work capability” test that it says will cause disabled people “further misery” and “distress”.
The changes were recommended in 2009 following an internal review by the Labour government of its much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
The coalition members – mostly disability charities – say many of the changes contradict widely-welcomed recommendations accepted by the coalition government following an independent review of the WCA last year by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
The WCA tests eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit that is replacing incapacity benefit.
The letter, to employment minister Chris Grayling, warns that implementing the changes recommended by the 2009 review would make it more likely that many people with fluctuating conditions, learning difficulties and mental health conditions would be unfairly found “fit for work”.
The coalition, led by the Papworth Trust, says the changes would “waste further resources”, increase the number of appeals, and “diminish the positive impact of Harrington’s recommendations”.
Harrington told the BBC that he believed implementing the recommendations of the internal review would “cause some confusion” and that it would be better to wait for his changes.
Grayling said the government was making “almost constant improvements” to the WCA, but that he was “always willing to talk to the charities” and had “only just received this letter”.
He said that “if we do something that does not prove to be the right thing, we will be happy to change it”.
Meanwhile, the government is to start its national programme to retest all those disabled people claiming “old-style” incapacity benefit (IB) in late February, several weeks earlier than planned.
The national “migration” programme of the estimated 1.6 million people still claiming IB had been due to start in April.
Grayling said the government wanted to “ensure that the experience gained” from pilot schemes in Burnley and Aberdeen were “shared across all of the centres that will be dealing with the reassessment” before the move to the “full, national roll-out in April”.
The government will start this “introductory phase” by sending out letters to 1,000 IB claimants a week from late February, increasing this to 7,000 assessments a week in April and 11,000 cases a week from May.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said disabled people were being judged under a system that was “not fit for purpose” and “subject to ongoing review”.
She said: “If the government are now speeding it up they are likely to make even more wrong judgements and not allowing themselves time to implement the findings of the [Harrington] review.”
Marije Davidson, public affairs manager for RADAR, said she was also concerned and failed to understand the need for urgency.
She said: “Whatever happens, it’s vital that there is clear communication with the people involved, and we’d like to know how selection for the trials happens and how voluntary it is.”
27 January 2011