Latest figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) claim that nearly a million people who applied for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been found fit for work.
The figures released this week by the DWP claim that a third (32%) of new claimants for ESA were assessed as being fit to work and capable of employment between October 2008 and March 2013 – totaling 980,400 people. In addition, the figures also show that more than a million others withdrew their claims for ESA before being assessed for eligibility through a Work Capability Assessment (WCA). This can be because of individuals recovering and either returning to work, or claiming a benefit more appropriate to their situation.
The claim has come under criticism from Disability Campaigners. A Disability Rights UK (DRUK) spokesman, speaking to BBC News, said “They are finding people fit for work when they aren’t and they are not even giving them the support they need to get a job. It is a disgrace”.
Indeed many of those passed as ‘fit for work’ will not, in fact, be capable of entering the workplace in any meaningful sense due to physical or mental health problems.
However, Mike Penning, Minister of State for Disabled People disagrees, saying “As part of the Government’s long-term economic plan, it is only fair that we look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past. With the right support, many people with an illness, health condition or disability can still fulfil their aspiration to get or stay in work, allowing them to provide for themselves and their family.”
A second report from the DWP, also released this week, appears to support what Mike Penning says, as it shows that the number of successful appeals against being found “fit for work” has also fallen sharply. This would suggest that the WCA and the way it is conducted by ATOS Healthcare – both of which have come under heavy criticism – are gradually becoming fairer to disabled people. A DWP spokesman said there has been “significant improvements” to the WCA, which has become “fairer and more accurate”, supports this. Adding, “If it is more fair and accurate and people are moving onto the right groups then of course we would welcome that.”
His comments, will not ‘sit well’ with the many families who have lost loved ones following being found ‘fit to work’. Earlier this week, Welfare News Service, reported on how DWP statistics published 9th July 2012 show that in total, between January 2011 and November 2011 10,600 claimants died within 6 weeks of being declared fit for work by Atos.
Indeed, it would appear that this is something they wish to hide as they have refused Freedom of Information Requests for subsequent years – 2012 and 2013 – claiming it would be “vexatious”. Furthermore, his comments will bring little comfort to the Holt family. This week, The Mirror reported on how bipolar patient Sheila Holt, 47, was sectioned in December after being taken off Income Support.
Days later she had a heart attack and fell into a coma. Despite this, benefit assessors are still sending letters, with ATOS asking why she is not working.
Her dad Kenneth said: “It’s just not right what they have done. It sent my daughter hypermanic” adding “She hadn’t had a job for 26 years. Anyone who knew her would tell you she couldn’t do a job.”
Simon Danczuk, Labour MP for Rochdale, Littleborough and Milnrow said:
“I am in favour of welfare reform but trying to bulldoze through changes in a reckless and insensitive way is not the right way to go about it. This Government is causing a huge amount of damage and I have no doubt that Sheila’s story is being repeated in towns and cities up and down the country. She has a complex disability caused by severe trauma in her childhood and you cannot aggressively push vulnerable people, like Sheila, back into work because it can have, as we’ve seen, very serious health consequences.”
Consequences, which Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, appears to ignore. In a speech, described by DRUK as “more of the same old, same old”, he speaks of “a twilight world where life is dependent on what is given to you, rather than what you are able to create”, and pointed to the “falling numbers claiming the main out-of-work benefits”.
However, in the figures released by DWP, the opposite is true – at least for disabled people. In the first DWP report “early estimates” suggest that upto August 2013 there were 2,430,000 people claiming ESA and old-style incapacity benefit. Moreover, in November 2013 the figure had increased by 35000 to 2,465,000. However it is unclear if this trend will continue.
The second DWP report shows a continuing fall in numbers of claimants found ‘fit to work’ following a WCA. The figures range from a high of 65 per cent for those whose claims began in 2009 to 39 per cent for those whose claims started in the first quarter of 2013. In addition to this 39 per cent were placed in the support group and 23 per cent in the work-related activity group. The figures also show that there has been a significant drop in successful appeals against being found fit for work. Dropping from 41 per cent, for claims starting in early 2009, to 23 per cent for claims begun in the third quarter of 2012. The changes are suggested in the report, as being possibly caused by improvements made to the WCA by the coalition government in the wake of the independent reviews carried out by Professor Malcolm Harrington.
It would appear that the figures released by the DWP do not show people “languishing on welfare” as claimed by Iain Duncan Smith, nor do they appear to paint a picture of a social security system that he claims has become “distorted” under the previous Labour government and was too often an “entrapment – as it has been for a million people left on incapacity benefits for a decade or more”.
However, whilst the DWP still refuses to release figures showing how many have died within 6 weeks of being found ‘fit to work’ and stories, such as Shiela Holt, now in a coma after being found ‘fit to work’ are still being reported, maybe it is not “unnecessary fear” Labour is creating as Iain Duncan Smith says, as he mounts a renewed attack on Labour adding that the Conservatives will put further welfare changes at the heart of their 2015 election manifesto.
Source – Welfare News Service, 25 Jan 2014