A DISABLED man has hit out at a new government policy aimed at getting people on sickness benefits back into work.
Official figures published this week revealed in Barrow, 290 tests have been carried out so far, with 140 people or 49 per cent being deemed fit to work immediately. A further 29 per cent could work with support.
Across Copeland, 210 claimants have been assessed of which 70, 33 per cent, can seek employment immediately and a further 43 per cent can work with support.
In South Lakeland, of the 100 assessments, 40 can work immediately and a further 32 per cent can work with help.
There have been a large number of appeals against the assessments, with around 40 per cent of findings across the country being overturned.
Stephen Greenhalgh suffers from Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), industrial deafness and back problems.
Mr Greenhalgh, 51, who has been deemed fit to work, said: “I received a letter on April 10 that said I was not entitled to the allowance and they stopped my payments on March 30. I’m scared stiff.”
Mr Greenhalgh, of Ramsden Dock Road, Barrow, believes the government would be failing him if he was forced back into work.
He added: “I have three badly-worn discs in my back and one which has slipped out and is resting on a sciatic nerve.
“I have to lie down every 10 minutes. Would that be acceptable in the workplace? I worry returning to work will damage my health even more.”
Disability groups across Barrow, South Copeland and the Lakes have been inundated with calls from worried disabled people.
Margaret Burrow, honorary secretary of Barrow and District Disability Group, said: “There are an insufficient amount of jobs for able-bodied people at the moment, so what are the chances of someone with a disability getting a job?
“We understand the need for the reform but I didn’t think they’d target severely disabled people. How are they expected to survive without being provided with the means to survive? I think it’s shocking, worse than the Thatcher years.”
Gary Jackson, chairman of South Copeland Disability Group and the Cumbrian Independent Living Forum, said: “The assessment is a concern to disabled people.
Those who have been denied support have to go through the appeals process, which means they need legal aid. Many of the appeals are successful, but it is harder to go through the process.”
Wheelchair user Barbara McCaffery, chair of the Grange Disability Group, added: “It’s a big worry and it will make a big difference to disabled people. I’m worried for myself.”
The Work Capability Assessments were introduced by Labour in 2008 as an attempt to weed out incapacity benefits claimants who were judged fit to do some form of work. The coalition government decided to expand it to existing claimants.