Fitness for work test denies benefits to disabled people

People with serious health conditions are being registered as ‘ready to work’ and having their benefits cut because of failings in the benefits system, research has found.

The report on research by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) revealed that the new system designed to assess whether sick and disabled people were ready to return to work was not working properly, and people with conditions including advanced Parkinson’s Disease, Multiple Sclerosis or severe mental illness have been registered as fit to work.

The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in October 2008 to replace Incapacity Benefit, and is aimed at providing greater support to those deemed able to return to some work.

Citizens Advice found that the revised fitness for work test, which was also introduced and focused on looking at what people could do rather than what they could not do, was inaccurate and was not sufficiently sensitive to “the complexities of many illnesses and disabilities”, the Guardian reported today.

“People with serious illnesses and disabilities who could not reasonably be expected to work are being found fit for work,” the CAB report said.

“Many of these people are too ill to sign on, or are not eligible for any other benefit, and so are left with reduced incomes and no help or support to find work.”

Citizens Advice said it was concerned about the 69% of people assessed who were refused the ESA.

The charity has called for a full review of the system to investigate the accuracy of the medical assessments.

David Harker, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “Seriously ill and disabled people are being severely let-down by the crude approach of the Work Capability Assessment.

“A much more sophisticated approach is needed, that not only looks at a person’s ability to undertake a certain task on the day of the test, but considers supporting medical evidence and other aspects, such as the variability of a person’s condition.”

The Department for Work and Pensions said changes to the medical assessment system would be announced soon, making it more sensitive to the needs of cancer sufferers, people with learning disabilities and autism, and those with fluctuating conditions.

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