The government’s benefits advice body is to investigate changes to the controversial work capability test which campaigners believe will make it even harder for disabled people to claim access to the support they need.
The social security advisory committee (SSAC) decided yesterday (4 August) to hold a public consultation as part of a formal “referral” of proposed changes to the work capability assessment (WCA) regulations.
The changes to the WCA, which determines eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the new out-of-work disability benefit, were made earlier this year following an internal government review, and are due to come into force next spring.
Disability organisations have repeatedly raised concerns about the fairness of the WCA since its introduction in October 2008, and say the changes are aimed at making it even harder for disabled people to claim ESA.
Rebecca Rennison, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium’s (DBC) policy group, welcomed the referral.
She said: “We have consistently stressed our opposition to this review taking place so early in the life of ESA and with the express purpose of tightening access to ESA.
“Overall, the DBC cannot support the internal review’s conclusions or the proposed changes to the WCA which will result in making the test even tougher, denying vital support to many more disabled people, and running the risk of pushing even more disabled people into poverty.”
The SSAC will now hold a public consultation and prepare a report for work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith, although he can legally ignore its advice.
A spokeswoman for the committee’s secretariat said the SSAC had “broad discretion” to choose which proposed regulations it reports on, but added: “I am aware – as is the committee – of the concerns expressed by stakeholder organisations.”
The SSAC is also set to consult on the housing benefit changes announced by the chancellor in his emergency budget.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “Whenever we make changes to regulations we know that the SSAC often choose to consult when appropriate. We always build that [possibility] into our planning, so it is not a setback.”
She said the DWP “absolutely” stands by the proposed changes to the WCA.
A separate, independent review of how the WCA is operating – headed by Professor Malcolm Harrington – will report by the end of 2010.
Consultation details will be published next week on the committee’s website, www.ssac.org.uk
5 August 2010