Almost 75,000 people across the West are facing fear and anxiety over tough new tests to see how ill they are after new assessment figures showed only seven per cent of those claiming incapacity benefit are unfit to work.
The Commons Work & Pensions Committee said the Incapacity Benefit (IB) reassessment process has led to widespread concern among vulnerable people who fear they will be forced back into employment.
The Government has failed to explain its purpose resulting in the belief the move is simply about saving money, the report says.
Ministers come under fire for poorly-explained changes and loose use of language that has led to disabled people being described as “scroungers” and “benefit cheats”.
And Atos Healthcare, the private company carrying out the work capability assessment, is accused of “falling below the standard claimants rightly expect” – adding to people’s mistrust.
Nationally around 2.1 million IB claimants will be reassessed to see whether they are fit to work. In the West the numbers range from 12,637 in Bristol to just 712 in Purbeck, Dorset.
That is three quarters of the claimants – the rest are nearing retirement age and will come off IB and move to a state pension. Some 30 per cent are expected to be found ready for work and placed on JSA, losing at least £25 a week. Another 40 per cent are likely to be assessed as able to look for work with support, meaning they will move onto JSA after a further year, if they have savings above £16,000, or their partner works.
Committee chair Dame Anne Begg said: “The Government’s aim of helping benefit claimants back into work is laudable, but the scale of the challenge should not be underestimated and nor should the level of anxiety which surrounds the process. People are suspicious that the Government’s only objective is to save money.”
Jane Harris, of the charity Rethink Mental Illness, said the report echoed many of its concerns. “We agree with the principle that the benefits system needs simplifying, but the way in which it is being done is inhumane and is causing widespread fear and anxiety amongst people with a severe mental illness. Many of our members and supporters have been in touch to tell us how stressful they are finding the process and some have even said it’s making them feel suicidal.”
The Department for Work and Pensions said: “The assessment is about helping people who can work get back into employment and we have been clear that disabled people who need unconditional support will receive it.”
Meanwhile, it was also revealed that 39 per cent of new claimants – who also undergo the same test – are being found fit to work. Only one in 14 assessed for ESA is entitled to claim the benefit in the long-term, and 17 per cent can do some work with the right support, the DWP says.
Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb, Thornbury & Yate Liberal Democrat MP, said: “These figures show that many people are able to work with the right help. We have strengthened the support now available, tailoring it to individual needs. Those who cannot work will always receive our unconditional support.