Judged fit to work? You could lose your benefits if you appeal

Posted by Samira Shackle – 14 October 2011 09:09

The government could cut off incapacity payments if people challenge the ruling that they are fit to work.

The Welfare Minister, Chris Grayling. Photograph: Getty Images

Under new proposals, hundreds of thousands of people on incapacity benefits could be cut off from support if they challenge the ruling that they are fit to work.

In April, the government began a reassessment of the 1.6m people claiming sickness benefit, as part of a plan to reduce the annual £7bn incapacity bill.

The new Work Capability Assessment (WCA) has stricter criteria and finds many more people able to work. However, serious concerns have been raised about the reliability of the tests, run by French company Atos. Charities such as Mind, the MS Society, and Parkinson’s UK have all raised concerns about a rigidity of questioning that does not take into account the range of problems that might prevent people from working.

As I reported in August last year, in Burnley, one of the areas where the WCA was piloted before being rolled out nationwide, a third of those declared fit for work appealed, and 40 per cent of them won.

This is a very high proportion, and indicates serious flaws with the WCA. Indeed, last year, the BBC reported on instances of people with serious illnesses such as Parkinson’s being declared fit to work because of the inflexibility of the criteria.

Currently, those judged fit to work keep receiving their benefit while their appeal is being heard. However, under these new plans, claimants would lose these payments. If they are successful, they will be reimbursed in full. According to the Times (£), this is because ministers are concerned that continued payments are acting as an “incentive to appeal”.

Judges have said in private that they could face 500,000 cases a year, with some taking more than nine months to resolve. The tribunal service has already had to double its staff. Ministers hope that this move could put some people off appealing and reduce this burden.

This action is seriously inhumane, and could mean that people with serious diseases or mental illness are left without any source of income for up to nine months while they challenge an unfair ruling.

The fact that so many people win on appeal shows that the WCA is simply not working. Malcolm Harrington, appointed to improve the work test, has warned that the standard of assessments is still inconsistent. Unfairly ruling people fit to work, only so they can win it back on appeal, is both cruel to the individual and costly for the government — it is already costing £50m a year.

A far more sensible course of action would be to work hard on improving the WCA to broaden the criteria of the test and improve its accuracy, so it allows for the messy reality of human sickness while also ensuring that those fit to work cannot unfairly claim. Pressurising people to forgo their legal right to appeal cannot be the right course of action and essentially punishes them for the failings of the system.

The New Statesman

18 thoughts on “Judged fit to work? You could lose your benefits if you appeal

  1. Mike Caits says:

    This just confirms what I have been saying for a very, long time. The Government IS prepared to use Legislation to ‘legitimize’ the victimisation of Disabled and Mentally Ill people, by effectively disallowing any form of appeal against decisions made about ‘fitness to work.’ It is unsurprising for two main reasons: when the Government (particularly the Tories) could not get their own way during the many Strikes which were the hallmark of the Late Mrs Thatcher (too soon?) they simply ‘changed the Law’ to fit-in with their desires. This is NOT Justice – this is the identical kind of Legislation that appears in Communist, Dictatorship, Military Junta and Totalitarian States all around the World. If this legislation goes through, there will be NO LEGAL RIGHT OF APPEAL in the UK. The only alternative will be through the European Court of Human Rights – unless the Coalition bars that too?

  2. George says:

    Of course the answer is never to stop and cancel the appalling Atos assessments in the first place, get a right decision and base the ability purely on informed knowledge and expectations by qualified medical practitioners. So ommitting the need for Atos in the first place. and if that TUC and unions got their heads together and out from up their prejudiced blinkered arses they could take over the A4e and G4S work programme mess and offer real training and skills adaptations and find solutions to work and disability which really would work and be effective and relevant and respond to the needs of work and employment, health and the economy and business rather than a money grabbing pinching disability denying death squad insurance firms. But as carpenters and plasterers and brickies and electricians cannot even work on the same floor and space without disagreeing and ordering the other off while they work. What chance being able to agree and organise anything else. Have put this suggestion to the TUC. to support and ressurect the WEA but this time with real skills rather than just workshops on industrial canals and wild flower trails. Could do more. Could do Better. Where;s the TUC on this and the Labour. DUH! They have to take their cloth cap off to scratch their head and stroke their whippet for half a century before they come up with anything. When’s that day of action? NOVEMBER!! Good thing we are not in a crisis or a hurry. Took them 3 years to realise disabled were part of their membership and not a separate part of society. Sawdust 4 Brains.

  3. Bunty Brewster on Facebook says:

    Whilst I was waiting for my Tribunal for ESA, they gave me £65 a week to live on. It cant be done and I got into debt with the Bank and had to borrow money from my 85 yr old Father in order to be able to eat. It took 10 months. What would I do with no income whatsoever? It will mean more deaths.

  4. John says:

    Disabled people: guilty till proved innocent

    Richard Exell
    The government plans to suspend benefit for people who appeal against a decision to disallow Employment and Support Allowance (the main income replacement benefit for disabled people of working age). The New Statesman’s Samira Shackle reports that the government has noticed that 37% of those found fit for work appeal, and of those who appeal, 39% win a judgement in their favour.

    The old Incapacity Benefit is being replaced by ESA, and every existing claimant is having to go through the Work Capability Assessment, the tougher test that was originally brought in by the last government. Literally hundreds of thousands of people are going to win appeals against not being awarded the new benefit. Now, you or I might conclude from this that (1) there’s something wrong with the new test and (2) given that such a high proportion of the people who failed the test are actually entitled to the benefit, it’s probably best to err on the side of generosity in deciding how to treat them while they appeal.

    The government, it seems, sees things differently. They think the fact that you currently get a lower rate of ESA while you’re trying to get the benefit you’re entitled to is an “incentive to appeal.” And they have homed in on an opportunity to cut costs – if they discourage people from using the tribunals service, they’ll save some of the escalating costs of appeals.

    Hence the plans to suspend ESA while people appeal.

    Where do I start? Well, here’s a few points:

    I know I’m being old-fashioned, but isn’t this just vicious? Allowing people back payment if they win doesn’t make up for the fact that vulnerable people could find themselves going for weeks without any income. For years, governments have insisted that they want more and more work conditionality attached to disability benefits because of the evidence that “work is good for you” – well name me a physical or mental health condition or impairment that will be helped by this.

    Where is the evidence of the significant abuse of the appeals system that would justify “disincentivising” appeals? There isn’t any and this proposal gives every impression of having been cooked up to stop successful appeals.

    Appellants will be left with no alternative but to claim Jobseeker’s Allowance – but you have to be available for work to claim JSA, which may be difficult to show if, at the same time, you’re also claiming to be incapable of work.

    And even if the JSA rules allow for this, some people may feel that claiming to be capable and incapable of work at the same time amounts to lying. I find it unsettling when the welfare system leaves people with no realistic alternative to immoral behaviour – and I thought that Christian Conservatives like Iain Duncan Smith did too.

    One final point: this might not be quite the done deal the government expects. The regulations to implement this change will have to go to the Social Security Advisory Committee. I’m a former member of the Committee, and I’d expect them to insist on a formal consultation and production of a report that will be up for debate in the Commons. If the responses to a consultation on this are as fiery as I’d expect, the government may find that debate very trying.


  5. Bill Kruse says:

    What’s supposed to happen to people who get their meds free because they’re on benefits? When they fail their Atos test and get kicked off benefits while they wait for their appeal, where do their meds come from?


  6. John says:

    The nightmare continues! We rightly make comparisons with the 1930’s! No ifs. No buts. This criminal coalition of evil MUST GO!

  7. Phil says:

    I got the asessment form today & I’m a bit worried about this.
    I’ve had epilepsy for the past 6 years, I’ve tried working & college whilst I’ve had my condition & each time I only managed a short time before leaving.
    If they judge me fit for work, I won’t be able to afford to live whilst I wait for a review. I am seriously thinking about claiming asylum in another country if this happens as this is would be a clear abuse of my human rights. I just don’t think any other country would take this seriously, although trying it would help to get publicity for the plight of a lot of sick & poor people.

  8. Kate Rigby on Facebook says:

    That is the scariest thing I’ve seen in a long time. I can’t believe that after all the bad press about ATOS and small steps eg Harringtom report and Lib Dems trying to get sabctions removed at their conference, that this would happen. It has to be just a stupid proposal mooted that will be kicked out before it draws its first breath

  9. Bridget Denise Price on Facebook says:

    I have now been waiting 10 months for my appeal. I could not have claimed job seekers because that would have been lying. Back in January I worked out that if I did not get ESA my best plan of action was to steal. This would either have lead me to have enough to live on, it works for bankers, or to me being put in prison where I would be warm and fed. This would of course have cost other tax payers more than my ESA would cost them but it would have been the only viable option.

  10. Kate Rigby on Facebook says:

    I would lie and claim JSA. I would appeal to a human being at the Job Centre. I’m sure they won’t want this anymore than we do. They are are on the front line and it would put them at greater risk

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