Recent changes in welfare legislation have made life harder for many disabled people in the UK. Claimants of state welfare in the form of disability benefits are being subjected to rigorous tests, known as Work Capability Assessments, and many have been wrongly judged as being fit for work, resulting in their benefits being withdrawn. When these cases were appealed, it was subsequently found that around 2,000 disabled people over a three-month period have been wrongly deemed “fit to work” by the Department for Work and Pensions. The figures show that 58% of the appeals were allowed in the period June 2016. The number of appeals has also been rising, by comparison with the previous quarter, an increase of 3,400 to 3,600.
The DWP claimed that the total number of cases that were appealed were only a small percentage of their complete caseload, but disability charities have warned that the appeals are a sign that the tests don’t work. Starting from April 2017, claimants of Employment and Support Allowance will have a £30 per week cut in their benefits, if they are incorrectly assessed, which could mean extreme financial hardship for so many of the disabled.
Rossanna Trudgian, head of mental disability charity Mencap, warns that today’s figures show yet more evidence that the current Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is just part of a badly broken system, where the number of incorrect decisions is not improving, but instead remains worryingly high. “The current assessments have been called “intrusive” and “traumatic”, and we frequently hear about lack of support given to those with a learning disability to answer questions effectively”, she adds (Quoted in The Independent newspaper, 8 December 2016).
The most telling reason behind these flawed Work Capability Assessments is the wide-scale cuts in social security payments which have been brought in by the recently-elected Conservative (Tory) government. Consequently, the pressure is on to get people back working, hence ill-judged decisions to find sick, vulnerable people “fit for work.” The political opposition, the Labour Party, has pledged to end the Work Capability Assessments. Shadow DWP Secretary, Debbie Abrahams, commented that the flawed assessments introduced by the Conservatives only generate more expense and waste. She adds: “It is significant that such a high proportion of the assessment decisions are being overturned on appeal, and is a damning picture of this government’s harsh social security reforms.” (Quoted in The Independent newspaper, 8 December 2016).
A spokesman for the DWP commented that only a small percentage of the WCA decisions were overturned on appeal, around 4 %. However, this 4% figure is potentially misleading, as it includes decisions where initially the ruling was in the claimant’s favour. The times are certainly traumatic at present for those disabled people who rely on their benefits payments just to live.
Picture courtesy of www.osburnacademy.co.uk