MP says benefit assessment system 'not working'

Laurence Robertson
Image caption Mr Robertson said he looked into the issue after being approached by some constituents

A Gloucestershire MP has criticised the system of assessing whether people with mental health issues are well enough to work.

If people on incapacity benefit are deemed "fit to work", they must actively seek employment.

Laurence Robertson said 48% of appeals against mental health assessments were upheld in the county.

The Department for Work and Pensions said it was unfair to suggest the system was not working.

Mr Robertson, Conservative MP for Tewkesbury, said he had looked into the issue after being approached by some constituents.

He said he obtained figures that showed 42% of people in England had their appeals against their mental health assessments upheld by independent tribunals.

"In Gloucestershire of up to 250 appeals heard 120 were successful, which is 48%," he said.

"Of those who take their cases to appeal, almost half of them are successful which suggests there is something wrong with the original assessment system in the first place."

He said the figures were from August 2009 to July 2010.

"This really does need to be looked into," he added.

"The very people who are not really capable of taking the matters up for themselves, although a number of them are doing, are suffering in this way.

"There must be an awful lot of people who because of the nature of their illness don't take the issue to appeal."

'Want to work'

Sophie Corlett, from mental health charity Mind, said the organisation agreed with Mr Robertson's findings.

"A lot of people with mental health problems can work and want to work - and working is good for your mental health if you're able to," she said.

"But for many people they're not at that point yet or they're too unwell and the assessment doesn't really work on that."

She said the assessment was based on a series of questions that were mostly geared towards physical health.

Overall assessment

A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesman said it was unfair to suggest the system was not working, and that out of everyone who is assessed overall, five per cent appealed successfully.

The figures include those with physical ill health, as well as mental health issues.

The calculation is based on the published statistics of the 420,000 new claims to Employment and Support Allowance from October 2008 to June 2009.

The spokesman added the department was always trying to improve, and a review into any whether any further changes to the assessment were needed was taking place.

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