PEOPLE with incurable conditions are being forced to undergo multiple checks in order to retain their benefits.
NEARLY 20,000 cancer sufferers have been forced to return for repeated fit-for-work tests carried out by controversial French firm Atos.
The company have a £100million-a-year contract with the UK government to test whether disabled people are capable of working.
The government say the scheme helps weed out cheats, but the Department of Work and Pensions are asking people with incurable, life-threatening conditions to undergo multiple checks in order to keep benefits.
New figures reveal that 18,450 cancer sufferers have had to undergo multiple tests between October 2008 and February this year.
Another 2320 people with multiple sclerosis have been through repeated work capability assessments as well as hundreds of others with Parkinson’s and dementia.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban insists not all the tests involved face-to-face assessments.
But Tom Greatrex, the MP who has campaigned for reform of the fitness to work test, said: “It beggars belief that people suffering from illnesses like cancer and dementia are having to go through this process over and over again.
“If someone with an incurable and progressive condition like Parkinson’s isn’t fit to work after the first test, where is the sense in assessing them again?
“At a time in their lives when sick and disabled people need to be supported by the government, they are actually being hounded in the cruellest way.
“Tory-Liberal ministers need to get a grip on this chaotic and uncaring system.”
Maggie Mackay, an antique restorer before being diagnosed with breast cancer, has had to undergo two tests for benefits.
She was assessed as fit to work in 2010 when she was still recovering from chemotherapy but successfully appealed against the decision.
Maggie, 52, of Glengarnock, Ayrshire, who underwent another assessment last month, said: “I think it is an abomination that people like me have to keep going through this.
“It is despicable that people who have worked all their lives before falling ill are having to fight for their benefits.
“If my doctor thinks I’m not well enough to go back to full-time work, why is the government over-ruling what she says?”
Charities also hit out at the multiple tests.
Elspeth Atkinson, director of Macmillan Cancer Support, said: “We need the benefits system and the NHS to work more closely to stop repeat assessments of people who are clearly unable to work during their illness.”
And Becky Duff, of the Multiple Sclerosis Society, added: “The Work Capability Assessment is particularly inappropriate for people with complex and fluctuating long-term conditions like MS. It produces huge numbers of incorrect decisions, and has denied many people vital support.”
Kirsty Yanik, awareness manager at Alzheimer Scotland, said: “The change from the former benefit structure to this new system can be particularly confusing for people with dementia. They are likely to struggle with some of the administrative procedures.”
A DWP spokeswoman said: “Individuals with conditions where a return to work is unlikely will only be reassessed after two years and, where possible, this assessment will be paper-based.”
Atos stress it is not up to them to decide who they assess and if people are entitled to receive state benefits.