It is a tribute to the hard campaigning carried out by disabled people, benefit claimants and supporters that the Government are now boasting that less people are being found ‘fit for work’ than at any point since the notorious Work Capability Assessment (WCA) began.
A revealing press release from the DWP makes the claim that the WCA is now ‘fairer’ stating that: “nearly three in ten people completing a Work Capability Assessment between June and August 2012 were awarded unconditional support through ESA. This compares to just one person in every ten completing an assessment three years ago.”
This refers to claimants placed in the Support Group part of Employment Support Allowance, in which there is no requirement to look for work. It suggests that even the DWP admit that many of the initial assessments were ‘unfair’, despite internet con man Grant Shapps’ recent attempts to smear all those stripped of sickness benefits as fraudulent or fake.
The press release also contains a timely acknowledgement that those placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) group – the majority of claimants now on sickness or disability benefits – are not ‘fit for work’ as has often been claimed. According to the DWP: “People who are placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) for ESA are currently too ill to work, but with the right help will be able to move into work in the future”
Astonishingly people in this group can still be sent on workfare or face having their benefits stopped. Grasping charities such as the Salvation Army have been only too happy to staff their charity shops with claimants who, in the opinion of their own doctors, Atos and even the DWP, are too ill to work.
And it is this that reveals the truth behind this apparent change of attitude, which is little more than some cheap spin spewed out by skiving Employment Minister Mark Hoban in a panic before the local elections. As well as condemning sick and disabled people to unpaid labour, Iain Duncan Smith’s welfare reforms are set to make a significant number of them homeless. Despite minister’s lies that disabled people will not be affected by the bedroom tax or benefit cap, hundreds of thousands of sick and disabled claimants in the Work Related Activity Group will be hit by the changes. Many will lose their homes.
The figures also contain details of appeals, and show that 37% of appeals against decisions made by Atos have been successful, a figure which has remained more or less stable since the introduction of the WCA. This translates total to a shocking 15% of all ‘fit for work’ decisions in total. And that just represents people who appealed. The number of those wrongly stripped of benefits and now forced into the Jobseekers Allowance regime, or living on the charity of friends and family, will be far higher.
A couple of year’s ago this press release would have been littered with smears claiming to prove the number of ‘fit for work’ decisions shows how those on sickness or disability benefits are scroungers. The new direction should not fool anyone. It seems that the new DWP spin on the figures is intended to imply that the WCA they inherited - shamefully introduced as it was by Labour – was terribly unfair, but now they’ve fixed it. The persistent high rate of successful appeals reveals they have done little more than change the PR and tinker around the edges.
Hundreds of thousands of people with serious health conditions or disabilities are still being found ‘fit for work’. The appeals figures show over 1 in 7 of those decisions are ‘officially’ wrong, whilst the Work Programme statistics show barely any of those thrown off sickness benefits are finding jobs. The number of disabled people helped into work via the Government’s Access to Work scheme has slumped to an all time low over the last two years.
There has been no time in living memory that those who are too sick or disabled to work have been treated so viciously. It has not been enough for this Government to impoverish people and now even drive them from their homes, but also to collaborate in callous smear campaigns in the press to abuse and discredit sick or disabled claimants. This week’s figures show that those smears were based on lies so big that not even the DWP dare attempt to hide the truth any further.
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