More than half of disabled people declared “fit to work” by the Department for Work and Pensions who appeal the decision are later found to actually be ill, departmental figures show.
Figures released by the DWP show tribunals overturned 52 per cent of Employment and Support Allowance appeals claims in the given period.
Despite the worrying rate of errors, the Government this week confirmed it would put even more responsibility on the assessment system.
MPs this week passed a £30-a-week cut for new ESA claimants put in the so-called “work-related activity group” – meaning that from April 2017 being judged to be in the wrong group could end up costing disabled people over £1,500 a year.
Previous research by the Disability Benefits Consortium of charities suggests that 28 per cent of people on the current, higher WRAG rate have been unable to afford to eat, while 38 per cent have been unable to heat their homes.
Protesters demonstrated outside the DWP’s offices at Caxton House in Westminster yesterday. One of the protesters carried a banner bearing the names of 96 people she claimed to have died while as a result of benefits sanctions.
In total 36 per cent of all fit-to-work ESA decisions to date have been appealed – meaning the errors likely make up a significant proportion of total claims.
The latest appeals success analysis released by the DWP on Thursday refers to claims starting in October 2014 to December 2014 because the figure refers to cases where the lengthy assessment process has been completed. It represents the latest dataset made available by the Department.
Rossanna Trudgian, head of campaigns at the learning disability charity Mencap, said the ESA system needed a fundamental redesign.
“Today’s figures show yet again that the Work Capability Assessment is failing the people it is designed to support,” she said.
“Not only is the Government pushing through cuts to disability benefits, but its benefits system is continually making wrong decisions and directly harming people’s chances of finding work.
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
7 ways the Tories have ‘helped’ disabled people
1/7 Closing Remploy factories
The Work and Pensions Secretary called time on Britain’s system of Remploy factories, which provided subsidised and sheltered employment to disabled people. People employed at the factories protested against their closure and said they provided gainful work. “Is it a kindness to stick people in some factory where they are not doing any work at all? Just making cups of coffee?” Mr Duncan Smith said at the time, defending the decision. “I promise you this is better.” The Remploy organisation was privatised and sold to American workfare provider Maximus, with the majority of the organisation’s factories closed. The future of the remaining sites is unclear
2/7 Scrapping the Independent Living Fund
The £320m Independent Living Fund was established in 1988 to give financial support to people with disabilities. It was scrapped on July 1 2015, with 18,000 often severely disabled people losing out by an average of £300 a week. The money was generally used to help pay for carers so people could live in communities rather than institutions. Councils will get a boost in funding to compensate but it will not cover the whole cost of the fund. This new cash also doesn’t have to be spent on the disabled
3/7 Cut payments for the disabled Access To Work scheme
Iain Duncan Smith is bringing forward a policy that will reduce payments to some disabled people from a scheme designed to help them into work. The £108m scheme, which helps 35,540 people, will be capped on a per-used basis, potentially hitting those with the more serious disabilities who currently receive the most help. The single biggest users of the fund are people who have difficulty seeing and hearing. The cut will come in from October 2015. The charity Disability UK says the scheme actually makes the Government money because the people who gain access to work tend pay tax that more than covers its cost. The DWP does not describe the reduction as a “cut” and says it will be able to spread the money more thinly and cover more people
4/7 Cut Employment and Support Allowance
The latest Budget included a £30 a week cut in disability benefits for some new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The Government says it is equalising the rate of disability benefits with Jobseekers Allowance because giving disabled people more help is a “perverse incentive”. The people affected by this cut are those assessed as having a limited capability for work but as being capable of some “work-related activity”. A group of prominent Catholics wrote to Mr Duncan Smith to say there was “no justification” for this cut. Mental health charity Mind, said the cut was “insulting and misguided”
5/7 Risk homelessness with a sharp increase disability benefit sanctions
Official figures in the first quarter of 2014 found a huge increase in sanctions against people reliant on ESA sickness benefit. The 15,955 sanctions were handed out in that period compared to 3,574 in the same period the year before, 2013 – a 4.5 times increase. The homelessness charity Crisis warned at the time that the sharp rise in temporary benefit cuts was “cruel and can leave people utterly destitute – without money even for food and at severe risk of homelessness”. “It is difficult to see how they are meant to help people prepare for work,” Matt Downie, director of policy at the charity added
6/7 Sending sick people to work because of broken fitness to work tests
In 2012 a government advisor appointed to review the Government’s Work Capability Assessment said the tests causing suffering by sending sick people back to work inappropriately. “There are certainly areas where it's still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement,” Professor Malcolm Harrington concluded. The tests are said to have improved since then, but as recently as this summer they are still coming in for criticism. 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 WCA appeals system has also been fraught with controversy with a very high rate of overturns and delays lasting months and blamed for hardship
7/7 The bedroom tax
The Government’s benefit cut for people who it says are “under-occupying” their homes disproportionately affects disabled people. Statistics released last year show that around two-thirds of those affected by the under-occupancy penalty, widely known as the ‘bedroom tax’, are disabled. There have been a number of high profile cases of disabled people being moved out of specially adapted homes by the policy. In one case publicised by the Sunday People last week, a 48 year old man with cerebral palsy was forced to bathe in a paddling pool after the tax moved him out of his home with a walk-in shower. The Government says it has provided councils with a discretionary fund to help reduce the policy’s impact on disabled people, but cases continue to arise
“We now urge the Government to consider a fundamental redesign of the WCA, and to think seriously about the impact of its repeated cuts to benefits and social care on the on the 1.4 million people with a learning disability in the UK.”
The DWP stressed that is had since introduced mandatory reconsideration for people found fit to work, removing the initial requirements for people going to appeal.
A DWP spokesperson said: “The decision on whether someone is well enough to work is taken following a thorough independent assessment, and after consideration of all the supporting evidence from the claimant’s GP or medical specialist.
“Most overturned decisions are the result of additional evidence being provided which was not available to the initial decision-maker. This does not mean the original decision was wrong.
“The majority of people who have a WCA are given the highest rate of support available, which reflects the many improvements that we have made to the system in recent years.”