Medical tests for chronically ill benefits claimants to be scrapped

'Pointless' to continuously test those whose conditions can only get worse, says Work and Pensions Secretary

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The Independent Online

Those suffering from chronic illnesses will no longer have to undergo repeated “fitness for work” tests to prove they are eligible for sickness benefits, the Department for Work and Pensions has said.

The change means that Employment Support Allowance claimants with conditions that can “only get worse” will no longer have to be assessed repeatedly – although there will usually still be an initial eligibility test.

Disability rights groups praised the move, but said the Government was undermining the positive impact by enforcing drastic cuts.

Under the current system, conditions are reassessed every two months to two years  a policy which has come under increasing criticism for making life unnecessarily difficult for disabled and ill people.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green told the BBC: "Having looked at the whole system there is some activity we do that is just pointless.

"If you have got a condition that has made you unfit for work and which can only stay the same or get worse, I think it is just pointless [...] to just bring someone back again.”

But he told the Today programme it would be a “retrograde” move to scrap tests for all people claiming ESA because for the "vast majority of people, work actually helps them".

The reform will be formally announced at the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham, which begins on Sunday.

A full list of conditions exempt from reassessment has not yet been put together, but it is thought it will include Huntington’s disease, congenital heart conditions and autism.

The DWP will work with health professionals to consider the final list of those exempt.

More than two million people currently receive ESA, which is worth up to £109 a week.

The change is designed to demonstrate a commitment to progress towards Theresa May’s promise of a “country that truly works for everyone”.

Yet Conservative ministers still intend to cut the amount of money given to some recipients of ESA from April 2017.

Those in the “work-related activity group” thought to be unable to work currently but capable of making some effort to find employment will have their ESA payments slashed from the maximum payable to them of £102 to £73.

In response to the scrapping of constant reassessments, Sue Bott, the deputy chief executive of Disability Rights UK said: “We welcome the news today that people with long-term conditions such as MS will no longer have to go through repeated assessment for ESA

“We have long argued that such assessments are a waste of money and put disabled people through added stress given that these type of conditions do not improve, only deteriorate.

“However, welcome as this announcement is, what is really needed is a complete overhaul of ESA to end the suspicion that Government is only interested in cutting support to disabled people.

“The cut of £30 a week to those placed in the work activity group announced as part of the last budget and the sudden increase by 42 per cent in the number of disabled people placed in this group in the three months to March this year needs urgent attention by the new Secretary of State.”

Michelle Mitchell, chief executive of the MS Society, said: "This is a victory for common sense. Frequent reassessments for people with progressive conditions like MS are too often a waste of time and money; they can leave people with uncertainty and fear of having their support taken away.

"We are therefore delighted that the Government have listened to our concerns and have agreed to stop reassessments – albeit for only some ESA claimants.

"This is good news, but there's still a lot more to do for people with MS – including improving the assessment for ESA and calling for inappropriate reassessments to stop for other vital benefits, like PIP."