Ministers 'pushing disabled off benefit'

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Indy Politics

Ministers were accused of attempting to move disabled people off benefit yesterday when new figures revealed that nearly half the claimants who appealled over a range of disability allowances won their cases.

Ministers were accused of attempting to move disabled people off benefit yesterday when new figures revealed that nearly half the claimants who appealled over a range of disability allowances won their cases.

Appeals over incapacity benefit, attendance allowances and disability allowances all leapt in the last three months of 2001, according to statistics published yesterday.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions showed that nearly 60 per cent of disability living allowance appeals were allowed, while claimants won nearly half of appeals against incapacity benefit decisions.

The increase in appeals comes in the three months after the introduction of controversial work-focused interviews to try to encourage claimants to seek work, widely seen as an MoT test for disabled people.

The level of appeals was heavily criticised by members of the powerful Commons Public Accounts Committee earlier this year, who said that one in four successful appeals was due to failures in decision-making within the benefits agency. MPs also warned that "delays in reviewing entitlement for incapacity benefit may be costing the taxpayer £40m a year".

The medical assessments used to determine whether disabled people are eligible for benefits have also been criticised by MPs.

Earlier this year ministers extended the contract to SchlumbergerSEMA, to run medical assessments, despite criticism of the service. Nick Brown, the minister for Work, insisted that the company had met the vast majority of its performance targets.

Yesterday Paul Holmes, the Liberal Democrat disability spokesman, accused the Government of expanding medical tests without raising standards of care.

He said: "It does seem like they are aiming for quantity not quality. The Government insists they are not trying to force people into work, but that is the fear of many disabled people."

A spokesman for the Department for Work and Pensions said the increases in appeals reflected the increase in medical assessments caused by ministers working to clear the backlog of cases.

But he added: "The number of appeals that are judged to be successful does suggest that work does need to be done to improve performance."

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