Work and pensions minister Chris Grayling is conducting an urgent review into a new medical test for incapacity benefit after fresh figures showed only 6% of those tested were deemed to be totally incapable of working.
The figures, covering all new claims from October 2008 to the end of November 2009, show 39% are being tested as fit for work and a further 37% are dropping their claim before the assessment is complete. The figures are widely out of line with estimates initially made by officials from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The figures suggest that either tens of thousands of incapacity benefit claimants are not as ill as they claimed, or that something is wrong with the way the tests are being applied. So far the tests have applied only to new claimants for the employment support allowance, the successor benefit to incapacity benefit, but ministers are planning to apply the test to nearly 1.6 million people already on incapacity benefit over the next three years or so.
Speaking to the Guardian, Grayling today did not seize on the figures to claim there was an army of scroungers, but said instead many people had been made anxious about the figures. He did not suggest there was an army of scroungers, but said: “We do not think and nor does anybody else think there is anything wrong in principle about these tests. Almost every major group working with people suffering long-term disability or sickness wants them to have the opportunity to get back into the workplace. But we have to look at how [the tests] are working in practice.”
Which is interesting because when speaking to The Telegraph (and virtually everyone else) his line has been considerably harsher.
“The vast majority of people who are applying for these benefits are being found fit for work or have stopped their claim.
“These are people who under the old system would have been abandoned on incapacity benefits. It’s a clear indication of why reform is so urgently needed.
“This is exactly why we are going to reassess everyone claiming incapacity benefits for their ability to work, from this October.
“They will now be given the support they need to get back to work and will be expected to look for work if they are able to do so.”
And if they’re not able to do so, they will be told they are anyway. A whole fortnight ago, on July 6th, Graylings response to parliamentary enquiries was that…
The Department undertook an internal review of the Work Capability Assessment which was published on 29 March 2010. The review found that generally the assessment accurately identifies individuals for benefit.
Perhaps he simply ignored the Work and Pensions Select Committee report from January that identified a major problem with the methodology being used by private company ATOS during the Work Capability Assessment.
70. CAB [Citizens Advice Bureau] argued that the computer generated answers narrowed the scope of the WCA because “stock phrases” did not accurately reflect some conditions. The LiMA system used by Atos Healthcare allows the doctor conducting the assessment to “cut and paste” these stock phrases into the report. RSI Action claimed that Atos Healthcare professionals have often misrepresented claimants’ responses on the assessment document.
71. We also received evidence from a number of individual claimants, who reported poor experiences of the medical assessment process.
72. We received many complaints about the medical assessment process ranging from dissatisfaction from claimants who felt they were treated badly to criticisms of the computerised assessment process. We appreciate that DWP must strike a balance between providing a personalised service and ensuring a consistent approach to medical assessments but it is crucial that claimants’ responses are recorded accurately. We ask the Department to investigate the concerns raised to us with Atos Healthcare and inform the Committee of the outcome.
These latest results from the Department of Work and Pensions show that ESA success rates have actually DECLINED since August 2009 when 10% qualified for the Support group, 22% for the Employment group and 69% were either deemed fit for work and/or disappeared.
Not the first time, the Computer says “no”.