Thousands who lost benefits in West Country told they are fit to work
More than 11,000 people who were claiming incapacity benefit in the West Country have been deemed fit enough for work and have lost their benefits under a controversial Government scheme.
Another 19,000 have been put into a ‘work-related support group’ by the ‘re-assessment’ which has been widely criticised by disabled campaigners and opposition politicians.
The figures published yesterday reveal the scale of the Government’s efforts to end what ministers claim is a culture of people claiming they are too sick to work when they are capable of getting a job.
The reassessments have been criticised as unfair, and last week MPs told of ‘horror stories’ involving staff from the agencies like A2E telling severely autistic people they can work, or telling a woman with Crohn’s Disease she would be able to work if she wore a nappy.
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The figures nationally have shown that from 2010 until May last year, almost 180,000 – around 30 per cent – were re-assessed and told they were not incapable of working at all, and were transferred to Job Seekers’ Allowance.
In the West Country, the figure was slightly lower, with between 25 and 30 per cent of claimants reassessed as ready to work. North Dorset, with 21 per cent, had one of the lowest levels of people told they should no longer receive incapacity benefit, while Wiltshire had 25 per cent.
In Bristol and North Somerset, however, more than a third of people – 34 per cent – have lost their entitlement to sickness benefits and been told there is nothing stopping them getting a job.
The Department for Work and Pensions said it was now more than halfway through the reassessments of 1.5 million people on incapacity benefits, but its Work Capability Assessment has proved controversial.
In the South West, more than 19,000 people have now been placed in the ‘Work-Related Activity Group’, which means the Government and its agencies have accepted that they are ‘currently too ill or disabled to work and entitled to the benefit, but will be expected to take steps towards an eventual return to work when they are able’.
That figure for the West was higher than the national average – around 49 per cent compared to 41 per cent nationally. The rest of the people assessed, more than 10,000 individuals but just a quarter of those originally claiming incapacity benefit in the West, have been told they will get unconditional support as they are too ill or disabled to work.
“Now we are over halfway through the reassessment process, it is clear that the old system condemned tens of thousands of people to a life on benefits with little help to move back to work,” said Employment Minister Mark Hoban. “Now people who can work will be given help to find a job, while those who need unconditional support will get it. Getting the Work Capability Assessment right first time is my absolute priority and we have made considerable improvements to the process to ensure it is as fair and accurate as possible,” he added.
Meanwhile, hundreds more cancer sufferers will get help with being assessed for benefit under changes announced by the Government, ministers have said. Changes to the Work Capability Assessment will mean that anyone awaiting, receiving or recovering from any form of chemotherapy or radiotherapy for cancer will be placed in the support group for Employment and Support Allowance.
A new, simpler process will mean that all types of cancer treatment are seen as having the potential to be equally as debilitating, said Mr Hoban.
“People with cancer need as much help as possible and these changes will improve the way they are assessed, meaning more people getting the financial support they need at such a difficult time,” he said.
Most benefit decisions for those having cancer treatment will now be made on medical evidence without the need for face-to-face assessment.
The old system condemned tens of thousands of people to a life on benefits with little help to move back to work, said Employment Minister Mark Hoban.