Charities angry over ministers' crackdown on disability benefits

Ministers were accused of labelling disabled people as scroungers yesterday, after the Government said that only one in 14 people applying for disability benefit has a genuine claim.

Disability charities said the figure was misleading and that ministers' comments were likely to lead to a rise in hatred towards the disabled.

Just 7 per cent of people applying for the new incapacity benefit, Employment Support Allowance, were deemed too sick to work after an initial assessment, according to the Department for Work and Pensions figures released yesterday. The statistics suggest that 39 per cent of new claimants are fully fit to work, while another 17 per cent can do some work with the right support.

The Prime Minister used the figures to argue that Britain's welfare system was broken and allows many fit and healthy people to claim benefits.

But the new Work Capability Assessment, the new test used to assess whether a disability claimant is capable of work, was dismissed as "flawed" by the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee yesterday, and that this was borne out in the high number of successful appeals.

The Disability Benefits Consortium, which represents more than 50 organisations, said: "The Government's presentation of the figures ignores the incredibly high barrier set for eligibility and the reality that many people with significant impairment are declared fit for work and denied appropriate support... It also overlooks the fact that four out of 10 appeals by claimants against the original decision are overturned. This rises significantly where the claimant has [legal] representation."

Vicki Nash, from the mental health charity Mind, said: "The figures on how many people are fit for work are misleading. The benefit test as it stands is simply not sophisticated enough to examine where mental health problems can stop someone from coping and performing in the workplace... There are so many appeals, that the appeals system is struggling to cope."

During a visit to Working Links in Caerphilly, a company that specialises in getting people into work, David Cameron dismissed criticism that there were no jobs because of the closure of local shops and factories.

He said: "I'm not saying it's easy... but if you give people the skills, the confidence and the help, there are jobs and they can work."

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