Benefit applicants - '75% fit to work or drop claims'

 
Wheelchair user The government wants to reduce the number of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit

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Three-quarters of people who apply for sickness benefit were found fit to work or drop their claims before they are completed, the government says.

Figures show 887,300 of 1,175,700 people applying for employment and support allowance (ESA) between October 2008 and August 2010 failed to qualify.

Fitness to work tests are being changed following criticism from mental health groups and an independent review.

About 40% of applicants' appeals against rulings have been successful.

'Clear evidence'

People claiming ESA - which replaced incapacity benefit - for the first time now have to go through a face-to-face test, the Work Capability Assessment, which was introduced under the previous Labour government.

The test is also in the process of being rolled out to 2.6 million people who were already claiming disability benefits.

Analysis

The real significance of today's figures - showing three-quarters of new claims for sickness benefit are rejected - is how far they are replicated as the government tests those already on employment support allowance (ESA).

The view in government circles is that, given the right support, many of the more than two million claimants on ESA can work, and that in an era of computers and modern technology there should be jobs which people with minor disabilities can perform.

Ministers argue this is not just about saving money, it's also about trying to tackle inter-generational poverty by ensuring families are not abandoned on sickness benefits but helped back into work. And yet successive governments have tried and failed.

Indeed the number of claimants on sickness benefits has hardly fallen over the past 20 years - even when the economy was booming.

Ministers hope this time it will be different. The real challenge they face though is that they're trying to move people off ESA and back into work when there just aren't many jobs around.

Department for Work and Pensions figures for people applying for ESA between 27 October 2008 and 31 August 2010 show that of the 887,300 people who failed to qualify for assistance, 39% were judged fit to work, while 36% abandoned their claim - for example because their illness was short term.

Only 6% of claims - 73,500 people - were considered to be entitled to full ESA support.

Employment minister Chris Grayling said the figures showed how important it was to reassess people who were still on the old incapacity benefit.

"We now know very clearly that the vast majority of new claimants for sickness benefits are in fact able to return to work.

"That's why we are turning our attention to existing claimants, who were simply abandoned on benefits.

"That's why we are reassessing all of those claimants, and launching the work programme to provide specialist back to work support," he said.

He said those who could not work would get "unconditional support" but for other it was "right and proper that they start back on the road to employment".

The Work Capability Assessment involves a "functional health assessment" of someone's ability to work, rather than the previous "diagnostic medical assessment" by a GP or specialist, focusing on particular conditions.

It determines whether applicants are entitled to the highest rate of ESA - for those deemed unable to work due to sickness or disability, or are considered "fit for work" - in which case they are put on Jobseeker's Allowance instead.

It can also place applicants into a "work related activity group", where they will be expected to take steps to prepare themselves for work.

But the assessment has proved controversial and its rulings have prompted tens of thousands of appeals. An independent report found that the numbers of rulings overturned on appeal since the test was introduced had been "consistently around 40%".

The test was changed after criticism from mental health campaigners and an independent review of the system in November 2010.

The Harrington review recommended mental health experts be present in all assessment centres to ensure full understanding of individual conditions, more support for those being assessed and better communication of what the test entails.

The government accepted all the recommendations and says they will be implemented by the summer.

But mental health charity Mind has said it fears the assessments are still "unfit for purpose and will have a detrimental impact on people with mental health problems".

 

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  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 359.

    The changes to the system do not account for fluctuating chronic conditions in anyway. DWP need to train their assessors to understand that not all illnesses fit into the very narrow criteria that they have been given.
    Basic mobility does not equal fitness to work.

  • rate this
    +8

    Comment number 349.

    At the age of 63 my father was diagnosed with terminal cancer and had to sell his business. He applied for incapacity benefit yet despite being told by 2 different specialists there was nothing more they could do the benefits office wanted him to come to the office, complete an assessment and one of their officers would decide what type of work he would retrain for. The system needs to change.

  • rate this
    +10

    Comment number 333.

    To those who say these people would find some sort of work if they didn't get support: really? What work? There are enough healthy, able-bodied people out of work that I doubt such people would stand much of a chance. The law may prohibit hiring decisions where people lose out because of disability, but given the problems faced, what employer would choose someone of variable ability? Unenforceable

  • rate this
    +16

    Comment number 318.

    To those accusing people of fraudulently claiming benefits for false medical conditions, are you honestly saying that GP's hand out sick lines to anyone who asks for them without first examining and carrying out their own medical tests on the patient? I see too many on here passing judgement without having a clue how difficult it'd be for anyone to fake skeletal malformation or fake cancers etc.

  • rate this
    +25

    Comment number 311.

    My daughter was in a very bad car accident in August and very nearly died. She has cannot sit or stand for longer than about an hour before she has to lie down due to the pain in her back, neck and pelvis, all of which were broken Shes been judged fit to work because her arms are unaffected. If anyone knows of any jobs that can be done 90% lying down, please let me know.

 

Comments 5 of 25

 

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