The Government has said that its programme to reassess the fitness to work of incapacity benefit claimants is finding that large numbers of claimants do have the potential to return to work.
The controversial changes have, in part, been prompted by a review of the work capability assessment by emeritus professor of occupational health Professor Malcolm Harrington but have been criticised in some quarters for putting people who are off work for long-term health reasons under pressure to make a return to the workplace.
Chris Grayling, employment secretary, said that initial reassessments of those on incapacity benefit in Aberdeen and Burnley had shown that, of 1,347 decisions made, 399 have been found fit for work.
In addition, 422 had been found to be eligible for employment and support allowance (ESA) and a further 526 had fallen into the “work-related activity” element of ESA, meaning that they would also be offered help and support to get them back into work.
A national roll-out of the programme is expected from April 2011, leading to an estimated assessment of around 1.5 million people.
“Too many people were abandoned to a life on benefits; we are determined to put a stop to that waste of potential,” said Grayling.
But Brendan Barber, TUC general secretary, said that simply being judged “fit to work” was pointless if there were subsequently no jobs available for people to do.
“Instead of blaming sick and disabled people for being out of work, the Government needs to stop cutting back on support for unemployed people and start focusing on creating jobs,” he warned.