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3/4 Fail New Sick Benefits Test


According to new government figures, only 7% of the 1.3 million Incapacity Benefit recipients forced to undergo the new Work Capability Assessment have been found to be incapable of doing any kind of work, whilst another 17% were capable of doing some work with support. 39% were deemed fit for work and told to start looking for jobs, and another 36% simply dropped out of the process (1% hadn't been assessed). This has led some sections of the media to talk about the 'shirking classes'. Predictably the government claimed that this vindicated their policies, but more than 50 disability groups are convinced that the figures are bogus.


So what's wrong with the figures? For a start, as we pointed out in April, the Tories had already cited figures that 'estimated' that only one in 6 claimants were 'genuine' back in June of 2010. This tends to make the new figures look like a self-fulfilling prophesy, but how is the process being fixed? One way was by setting a threshold for entitlement to the new Employment Support Allowance at a much higher level than for Incapacity Benefit, which it replaced in 2008. Consequently it's not really the same thing that's being tested.


The second part of the process involves employing a private provider (Atos Healthcare, which is part of a group that also services the banking and defence industries) rather than asking peopls's GPs to carry out the assessments. 'Outsourcing' to a private company (with  different ethical standards to the NHS and a more limited complaints procedure) is not a new trick; back in 2008 lawyer Caroline Hunter exposed how local authorities were using private company NowMedical to obtain medical opinions in order to deny homeless people the right to housing. And in November 2010 an independent review by Professor Malcom Harrington found that staff at Job Centres were 'rubber stamping' WCA assessments by Atos Healthcare instead of giving them proper scrutiny as they're supposed to.


Many of the 36% of applicants who have withdrawn their claims probably did so because of the intimidating nature of the medical assessments. In May Guardian journalist Clare Allen told how a friend of hers had been subjected to a homophobic rant by the doctor carrying out her assessment. While this may not be typical, intimidation is only one of a number of factors that may have led people not to attend. Others include a lack of money for transport, mobility difficulties (yes, some disabled people have these!) and illness itself.


Disability charities have also pointed out the high number of cases being appealed, with over 400,000 tribunals expected this financial year. Similarly, the numbers of people using Access to Work (which helps pay for adapting work premises for disabled people) has actually dropped this year, which undermines claims from Work and Pensions Minister Steve Webb that more people are now getting '...the help they need to get into employment.'.


It now seems clear that despite the rhetoric of the 'Big Society' and a paper commitment to the principles of 'Putting People First', the government is content to see the clock turned back and the ideals of independent living and full citizenship for disabled people fall by the wayside. Of course these reforms were started under the previous Labour government, which will leave many marginalised groups with nowhere to turn electorally.


Click here for a link to agencies providing benefits advice in Oxfordshire and here for a factsheet from mental health charity Rethink about the Work Capability Allowance.You can also contact the following specialist agencies.


1 #1 jhyslop
on October 03 2011 10:03:18
See this spoof tabloid produced by Mind to show the real extend of benefit fraud by disabled people. http://www.mind.o...ily_stigma

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