Wednesday, 27 October 2010
75% of Incapacity Benefit Claimants are NOT being found fit for work
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Several of today’s papers had inflammatory headlines “75% of Incapacity Benefits claimants found fit for work.” Those headlines are simply not true. Before the election the Labour government introduced Employment and Support Allowance as a result of concerns about incapacity benefit. There were concerns that Incapacity Benefit was too open to fraud and also it prevented those who could do some work from being able to do that work. Employment and Support Allowance was designed to counteract those problems. It used the Work Capability Assessment to test whether people would go straight into the support group for people with the most severe disabilities. It would be paid at a higher rate and there would never be an expectation that those people should seek work. Or whether people would go into a Work Related Activity work for those who were considered capable of doing some work under the right conditions, with the right support. The rest would be found fit for work and moved onto jobseekers allowance.
Before the election there were concerns, significant concerns, about the work capability assessment and whether it was in fact judging people as fit to work correctly. The statement released yesterday by the Department of Work and Pension shows that
6% of people are found so disabled that they go straight into the support group.
That 15% of people have been found to go into the work related activity group where they will be given the support that they need to find appropriate work.
It found that 36% of claims had been closed. Claims that we have no idea what happened to. We don't know if those people have reapplied for JSA, whether they've given up on the benefits system entirely. Whether they've died. No one knows. Not even the DWP knows.
3% of claims were still in progress.
But 39% of people were found fit to work by the work capability assessment. now, there were already major concerns before the election about the roll out of ESA because it was finding so many people who were considered to be severely disabled by their doctors as "fit for work" .
People such as June Mitchell. Who was declared completely fit for work and then died 5 months later before her appeal could be heard. And before she received a penny in benefits that she'd paid National Insurance contributions for her entire working life.
Perhaps the biggest champion of these concerns about ESA was one Danny Alexander. Then: a back bench Liberal MP. Now: a Minister in the Treasury. He was joined in a Panorama programme made by BBC Scotland investigating concerns about the WCA by a Professor Paul Gregg who was an economist who helped design the ESA system. Professor Gregg said that we were pushing lots of people away from a system that would actually help them and into a system that was just not designed for them. Because when Professor Gregg designed the system he intended the majority of people to go into the work related activity group. Which meant that they would be helped to find part time work with the skills, equipment and support they needed to enable them to do so. Putting more people onto JSA by finding them fit to work means that they are not entitled to any of those support systems and increases the likelihood that they will remain on benefit longer term.
Taxpayers should be particularly concerned about the continued roll out of ESA. Now that Universal Credit is to be introduced in approximately 2014 and 2015, it seems very strange to continue rolling out a system that is flawed and assessing people as fit for work which then causes them to wait long periods before costly appeals are heard which all result in more money spent by the taxpayer. These are of course the same people who'll then be transferred from the new ESA on to the Universal Credit when, if, it is ever introduced. So in the next five years to save money we're going to change one benefit, to another benefit, to another benefit. Now, my maths isn't brilliant, but even I can see some flaws in that plan. So could Mr Alexander. He was concerned that the coalition were continuing this roll out. A decision which would make sense perhaps if there was no Universal Credit to be introduced. But, in the light of that, makes no sense. 44 days before his election and cabinet position, Mr Alexander was quoted as saying
"There must be a very serious concern about whether the roll out is appropriate because there are millions of people who are currently on Incapacity Benefit who are going to have to go through this assessment. If the experience we've had over the last few months, certainly as I've seen it in my own constituency, is anything to go by then there will be thousands, tens of thousands, maybe even hundreds of thousands of incorrect decisions that are made. And that tens of thousands of appeals will follow. And that will be a system that is close to melt down. If there's a failure going on here, and I think there clearly is a failure going on here then it is Ministers who should be taking the rap for it. and it is Ministers who should be changing the way the system works to ensure it is fair."
We're now some five months past the election and I would like to ask Mr Alexander whether he still thinks this system is fair. And whether he thinks that Ministers should still be taking the rap for the problems that are occurring. 75% of claimants have not now and will never be found fit for work.