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Failed benefit claims ‘misleading’
Thursday 28 July 2011
Disability charities have slammed the government’s use of employment benefit statistics
A coalition of charities and disabled people has criticised the way the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has presented its latest figures for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace incapacity benefits and income support (because of a disability). A new assessment – Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – was introduced to assess eligibility for the benefit. Those found eligible are put into either the ESA work related activity group (for those who need support to prepare for work and continued support within the workplace) or the ESA support group (for those whose disability prevents them from working). Claimants who fail the WCA are found 'fit for work' and unable to receive ESA.
The DWP’s figures, released on Tuesday (26 July), show results of the WCA for new claims made between October 2008 and November 2010. The DWP highlights the statistic showing that more than a third of those who claim ESA are found fit for work. It says that a further 17% can work with the right support.
Out of context
However, the Hardest Hit campaign – a joint movement between the UK Disabled People’s Council and the Disability Benefits Consortium – has said that the figures are taken out of context and ignore the incredibly high barrier set for eligibility for ESA. Charities representing the Hardest Hit campaign, including Mencap, point out that between October 2008 and February 2010, 36% of assessments went to appeal where the individual was deemed fit for work. Nearly 4 in 10 appeals were successful and the decision was overturned.
“With such a high number of people successfully appealing the decision to refuse them ESA it is clear that there are fundamental problems with the quality of the assessment process,” said Guy Parckar, acting director of policy, campaigns and communications, Leonard Cheshire Disability.
The group believes that the continued focus on the number of failed claims has a serious negative impact on public attitudes towards disabled people.
David Congdon, Mencap’s head of campaigns and policy, said: “The misleading use of figures to justify cuts to benefits has got to stop. Research actually shows that at least 65% of people with a learning disability want to work but less than 7% of people are in any form of paid employment. Many people with a learning disability would love to work and come off benefits but have simply never been given the opportunity and support to do so.”
Last week, the Work and Pensions Select Committee also published a report about the assessment process for ESA. The report criticised Atos Healthcare – the company that carries out WCA tests – saying it, 'has often fallen short of what claimants can rightly expect.' It says that these failings have led to mistrust from claimants about the process.
On Wednesday (27 July), the committee's chair, Dame Anne Begg, wrote to the Minister for Employment Chris Grayling about her concerns over misrepresentation of benefit claimants in the media. In the letter, she writes: "I trust that you will be contacting newspaper editors again to urge them to ensure that the reports they carry about ESA claims are factually correct and that they avoid pejorative terms such as "shirkers" and "scroungers" which are irresponsible and inaccurate."
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