The Department for Work and Pensions has released figures showing that more than a third of Incapacity Benefit claimants who have been through reassessment have been found capable of some form of work.
Of the 139,200 people reassessed between December 2011 and February 2012, 36% were found fit for work and will get help to move into employment through Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme.
Just under two thirds of people who were claiming the old incapacity benefit are eligible for Employment and Support Allowance, with 25% put in the support group where they get unconditional support as they are too ill or disabled to work. A further 39% were put in the Work Related Activity Group, meaning they are currently too ill or disabled to work and entitled to the benefit, but will be expected to take steps towards an eventual return to work.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban said:
"The old incapacity benefit system condemned too many people to a life on benefits without any hope of ever going back to work. This was simply wrong. By reassessing everyone for ESA we can help thousands of people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable while giving unconditional support to those who need it.
"I am under no illusion, however, that many face a difficult journey back into employment and we know this may take time. But for those who aspire to a life off benefits, the intensive support should be available through Jobcentre Plus and the Work Programme to give them the best chance of finding a job."
Those who have been found fit will be allowed to access the Work Programme and to receive the one-to-one support it offers.
Outcomes of initial assessments (adjusted to account for outcomes after appeals) for incapacity benefits claimants referred for reassessment between December 2011 and February 2012 show:
- 36 per cent of claimants were assessed as Fit for Work and are not entitled to ESA.
- 64 per cent of claimants were entitled to the benefit. Within this –
- 39 per cent of claimants were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG), and
- 25 per cent of claimants were placed in the Support Group
It is estimated that a total of 1.5 million people will undergo reassessment by 2014. The process is now over halfway through and is on schedule.
The figures above are adjusted for appeals, a fact included in the DWP's press release. What it did not include was the fact that these appeals were, until recently, overturning 40% of all decisions that were referred to it, suggesting that the process is highly unreliable. Given the high level of successful appeals and the vulnerability of some of the client group we should not assume that all of those found fit to work really are; some may just have been unable to carry through an appeal. Continuing the old assessment system, in which the patient's own doctor certified their disability, would surely have led to a much more satisfactory and supportive system.
We support the idea that those who are capable of work should be given help to achieve it. We also believe that too many disabled people have not previously had the support or opportunities to achieve work, although we are concerned that the government's rhetoric seems to switch between supportive and condemnatory depending on the audience it is addressing. However, given their vulnerabilities and the variable nature of some conditions, a disabled person should be encouraged and supported to move in to work where they are ready, not subject to an unreasonable and unreliable assessment which appears to have been designed to force the highest possible number from disability benefits to lower worklessness benefits. It should also be far easier to move back on to disability or sickness benefits if their condition degenerates.
Remember, a parliamentary question found that 31 people have died in the three years to last October while appealing against decisions that they were able to work. Between January and August last year, on average 32 people died every week who the government had declared could be helped back into work in the medium term. The figures released by the DWP show only a small part of the story.