A greater proportion of people declared “fit to work” when applying for disability benefits are having their decisions overturned at appeal than ever before, new figures show.
Between December 2014 and June 2015 53 per cent of everyone who appealed their Employment and Support Allowance “fit to work” decision had it reversed. The new rate exceeds the previous record, set in 2013.
Most decisions brought to appeal are now judged to be wrong by the appeals panel that sees it. The total number of appeals is significantly lower than in 2013, however, down from 5,000 to 1,300.
Appeal hearings themselves are overseen by a judge and a doctor, with some claimants receiving legal representation.
Learning disability charity Mencap said the new figures were an indication that the disability tests were not doing their job properly.
“There is widespread acknowledgement that the Work Capability Assessment is a deeply flawed test and today’s figures undoubtedly confirm that the WCA is still failing the people it is designed to support,” Rossanna Trudgian, the charity’s head of campaigns said.
“The fact that 53 per cent of Fit for Work decisions are being overturned following an appeal is deeply concerning and further evidence of how the WCA is in need of a ‘fundamental redesign’, as acknowledged by a previous Select Committee Report.
“We hear from many people with a learning disability who during the WCA are asked questions they don’t understand and aren’t offered the support they need to answer questions correctly.
“Wrong decisions are disturbingly commonplace and the percentage is showing no sign of improving – causing fear and anxiety amongst people with a learning disability.”
It was reported earlier this month that a group of student volunteers at one legal advice centre in Bristol had help overturn fit to work decisions at a rate as high as 95 per cent.
Steep cuts to legal aid for people challenging benefit decisions have left many people without legal help, however.
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
What does five more years of the Tories mean for Britain?
1/8 Welfare payments will be slashed
One of the most controversial parts of the Conservative manifesto was to cut benefits for the working age poor by £12 bn over the next three years. But during the campaign they only said where £2 bn of these savings would come from. That leaves £10 bn still to find. Some experts think the only way they can close that gap is by means testing child benefit – with millions of families losing out
2/8 There will be tax cuts for those in work and those who die
The Tories will increase the threshold at which the 40p rate of tax becomes payable to £50,000 by 2020. They haven’t said so but it is also likely that at some point in the next five years they will abolish that 45p rate of tax altogether for the highest earners. They also want to increase the effective inheritance tax threshold for married couples and civil partners to £1m
3/8 There will be an in/out EU referendum in 2017
The next two years are going to be dominated by the prospect of a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU. First off David Cameron has the daunting task of negotiating a deal with other EU leaders an acceptable deal that he can sell to his party so he can go into the referendum campaigning for a ‘yes’ vote. This may be unachievable and it is possible that the Tories may end up arguing to leave. Opinion polls show Britain is divided on EU membership, one poll this year showed 51% said they would opt to leave compared to 49% who would vote to stay in
4/8 There will be more privatisation of the NHS
Having won the election the Tories now have a mandate to go further and faster reforming the NHS. In order to make cost savings there is likely to be greater private involvement in running services, while some smaller hospitals may lose services they currently provide like A&E and maternity units
5/8 There will be many more free schools – and traditional state schools will become a thing of the past
The Tories plans to create 500 new free schools and make 3,000 state schools become academies. They will also carry on reforming the Department of Education and remove more powers from local authorities over how schools are run
6/8 On shore wind farms will be a thing of the past and fracking will be the future
Government spending on renewable energy is under real threat now the Lib Dems are no longer in power with the Tories. Subsidies are likely to be slashed for off-shore wind farm and other green energy supplies. Meanwhile there will be generous tax break for fracking as ministers try and incentivise the industry to drill for onshore oil and gas
7/8 There maybe more free childcare – but not necessarily
In the campaign the Tories pledged to double the amount of free early education for three- and four-year-olds from 15 hours a week to 30. The extra hours would only be offered to working families where parents are employed for at least eight hours a week. However they have not said where the money will come from to fund the pledge
8/8 Workers' rights could be reduced
The Tories want to slash business regulation, merge regulator and cut costs. The Lib Dems stopped them from reducing the employment rights of workers in power – but these are now under threat
The Work Capability Assessment, which judges whether people are fit to work for the Employment and Support Allowance benefit, has faced a number of controversies in recent months and years.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions last week show that thousands of people died soon after being declared fit to work.
The Department for Work and Pensions battled for months not to release the numbers, with its chief minister Iain Duncan Smith at one point telling Parliament they did not exist.
In June the British Psychological Society said there was “now significant body of evidence that the WCA is failing to assess people’s fitness for work accurately and appropriately”. It called for a full overhaul of the way the tests are carried out.
The time taken to resolve appeals was also previously a source of controversy, with hardship caused while cases worked through the system.
The DWP said caution should be applied before drawing conclusions from the numbers because of variations in the raw figures.
A DWP spokesman said: “We knew the Work Capability Assessment wasn’t working as well as it should and have made significant improvements following five independent reviews.
“As a result, people are getting more tailored support to return to work, instead of being written off on long term sickness benefits as happened too often in the past, and only 14 per cent of all Fit for Work decisions are overturned.”Reuse content