New government figures provide further proof that disabled people are being unfairly denied out-of-work disability benefits because of a controversial new assessment, say campaigners.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show the number of people found “fit for work” after taking the work capability assessment (WCA) between October 2008 and November 2009.
Of those who completed the assessment, two thirds (66 per cent) were found fit for work and ineligible for employment and support allowance – which replaced incapacity benefit (IB) for new claimants in October 2008.
A further 24 per cent were told they could claim ESA but would have to carry out some work-related activity, while the other ten per cent were judged unable to work and allowed to claim ESA at a slightly higher rate without having to engage with government work programmes.
The figures showed a slight increase in the number of people granted ESA, compared with earlier data from October 2008 to May 2009 that showed 70 per cent of people being found fit for work, and nine per cent unable to work.
The government is due to start rolling out the WCA to existing claimants of IB from this October.
Anne Kane, policy manager for Inclusion London, said the number of people being found fit for work “can only mean that many people are being unfairly denied benefits”, while it was “absurd” that only between nine and 10 per cent of applicants were being judged entirely unable to work.
She said the WCA “takes far too little account of the impact of fluctuating conditions and the complex realities of illness and disability”, and it would be “a disaster” if the government rolled it out in its current form.
The government figures also show that 37 per cent of those who applied for ESA dropped out before the assessment was completed.
Kane said disabled people had told Inclusion London they had dropped out because the test was “too gruelling”.
Citizens Advice Scotland said the system was “punishing people who are genuinely too sick to work”, was “unfit for purpose” and “must be stopped and reformed before it does any more damage”.
A DWP spokeswoman said an independent review of the WCA would report later this year, while an internal review found it was “by and large an accurate assessment”.
And she said there was “no evidence” to suggest that disabled people were dropping out because the assessment was “too onerous”.
She said: “The most likely explanation is that people get better and either return to work or transfer to jobseeker’s allowance.”
She added: “At the moment, we believe in the assessment. We wouldn’t have brought it in if we didn’t think it would work.
“We are having this external review and things may change, [but] the numbers are not an indication that we think something needs to be changed.”
Meanwhile, the government has issued a “call for evidence” on how the WCA is operating. The evidence gathered will feed into the independent review.
Professor Malcolm Harrington, who is leading the review, said: “Fairness and effectiveness of these assessments are central to the success of employment and support allowance as a system, just as unconditional support to those who need it most should be central to a decent society.”
The consultation will run until 10 September. For more details, visit: www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/work-cap-ass-call-for-evidence.pdf
28 July 2010