Thursday, 28 April 2011

Work Capability Assessment: Same Old Story

Chris Grayling has been playing his favourite game again - hyping yet another 'new' story of the 'shocking' number of new ESA claimants who have been found fit for work according to the Work Capability Assessment. All the newspapers, and the BBC too, have covered the story. The only good news is that the Daily Mail stuck to the 'facts' as given to them by the DWP, which saves The Broken of Britain the effort of writing yet another PCC complaint.

The story being given out is that three-quarters of new ESA claimants are being found fit for work. More accurately, 39% are found fit for work and 36% close their claim in the middle of assessment. This is hailed as a great victory, as if the old system would have seen 100% of these claimants, 1,175,700 people, put on IB.

The first point to make is that the story is an old one, using fresh figures to fill out the same stories that have been pumped out since New Labour started the welfare reform agenda.

The more substantive point is that one third of claims for Incapacity Benefit were not successful - so the implication that IB was a free-for-all is disingenuous. The fact that the new system -the Work Capability Assessment - finds twice as many people fit for work as the old system - the Personal Capability Assessment - seems more suspicious than laudable. Is the new test really twice as successful as the old at finding spurious claims?

Alternative reasons for the "success" that the new system is having include:

* it is rejecting more 'genuine' claimants - claimants who have genuine long term health conditions or disabilities affecting ability to work are being rejected
* Transition pains - there's a period during any benefit changes while everyone figures out how to get people through the hoops, so it's likely that the claims success rate will increase dramatically over time, once claimants and the people supporting them know what to do to maximise chances of success

The Broken of Britain has discussed a lot of the evidence for the above alternative reasons, both of which seem reasonable. There is no disagreement over the fact that people who are not ill or disabled should not be on sickness benefits. But national news outlets should do some background research before swallowingDWP press releases.