Charities demand review of sickness benefit assessments

Charities today called for a review of the sickness benefit assessment procedure amid concerns that high numbers of sick and disabled people being inappropriately found fit for work.

A report by Citizens Advice said that among the 69% of people refused employment and support allowance, and therefore found fit to work, are seriously ill and disabled people in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease, with multiple sclerosis or people with severe mental illness.

ESA replaced incapacity benefit for new claimants in October 2008 and is designed to boost employment levels by providing claimants with personalised employment support.

But the report said the work capability assessment, which underpins ESA, did not effectively measure people’s ability to work.  It found that Citizens Advice Bureaux staff  frequently heard reports of people having hurried medical tests that missed vital details and placed minimal emphasis on the impact of mental health issues on the ability to work.

The end result was that many who could not reasonably be expected to work were being found fit to work and forced to claim jobseeker’s allowance, which is worth £25 a week less than ESA and entails less support, driving them deeper into poverty.

Citizens Advice has been backed by 18 other charities in calling for an independent review of the WCA.

Among other recommendations, it called for an extension to the exemptions from WCA, which mean people can claim ESA without having to undergo an assessment, and for decision-makers to be allowed discretion to take account of exceptional circumstances.

The results of the WCA report should also be routinely sent to claimants, who should be given opportunity and time to correct inaccuracies, in order to prevent further problems – and costs – later in the claiming process.

Chief executive David Harker said seriously ill or disabled people were being let down by the “crude approach of the work capability assessment” and called on the government to address the issues.

He said: “A much more sophisticated approach is needed, that not only looks at a person’s ability to undertake a certain task on the day of the test, but considers supporting medical evidence and other aspects, such as the variability of a person’s condition and the external barriers they face in finding work.”

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