Thousands of people with incurable medical conditions are being classed as ‘fit to work in the future’ by a “nonsensical” Work Capability Assessment (WCA), new figures reveal.
More than a third of people with debilitating and incurable conditions and are too sick to work, such as Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis, are being placed in the ‘Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA, even though their condition is certain to worsen over time.
Claimants placed within the WRAG receive less money than those in the higher ‘Support Group’, who are not required to prepare for work or attend Job Centre interviews, and face the threat of sanctions if they fail to comply with strict requirements. Some may have their ESA entitlement removed after only a year as the government attempts to “support people into work”.
The Independent newspaper reports how new research by a coalition of charities reveals that between October 2008 and September last year, 7,800 people with degenerative conditions were placed within the WRAG. The figures reveal that over 3,000 of these people had multiple sclerosis, 800 had Parkinson’s disease and 3,800 suffered from excruciating rheumatoid arthritis. 100 had motor neurone disease and a further 100 suffered from cystic fibrosis.
The figures were obtained through a Freedom of Information request to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) as part of new research by five different charities: Parkinson’s UK, MS Society, Motor Neurone Disease Association, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society.
Steve Ford, Chief Executive at Parkinson’s UK, said: “These latest figures are an utter disgrace and serve to underline just how little the Government cares for those with progressive conditions like Parkinson’s.
“To set up a system which tells people who’ve had to give up work because of a debilitating, progressive condition that they’ll recover, is humiliating and nothing short of a farce.
“These nonsensical decisions are a prime example of how benefits assessors lack even the most basic levels of understanding of the conditions they are looking at.”
Shockingly, the figures also reveal how seven out of ten people with degenerative conditions claiming ESA were subjected to two or more assessments, even though the likelihood of their condition improving is highly improbable – save for a medical miracle.
Steve Ford said: “There can be no more excuses. Those who are severely unwell should not be subject to the ongoing indignity of repeated assessments.
“The Government must let common sense prevail and ensure that anyone living with a condition that can only get worse is automatically placed in the Support Group, and given the assistance they desperately need.”
Commenting on the findings of the “worrying report”, Shadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green said “sick and disabled people aren’t being treated with the dignity and respect they deserve under the Tories”.
She added that Labour would reform the WCA and “look carefully at how the system of assessments works for people with degenerative conditions and ensure it treats them fairly.”
A spokesperson for the DWP defended the WCA and the government’s record in “supporting” sick and disabled people into work:
“It’s not fair to write someone off as unable to work if they are at the early stages of a progressive condition – and many people welcome support to prepare for work if they feel able to.
“If the effects of someone’s condition are considered severe enough based on their application and evidence, they will not be required to attend a face-to-face assessment. Our reforms support people into work where they are able, instead of writing them off.”
The government’s record in helping sick and disabled people into work has been brought into question, after the latest DWP figures show that the number of people claiming sickness benefits has risen for the fourth quarter in a row.
The number of people in receipt of ESA, or its predecessor Incapacity Benefit (IB), rose to 2,515,000 in August 2014 – the highest level since August 2012. Numbers increased by 35,000 in the last three months alone. Should this trend continue, there would be more people in receipt of ESA or IB by May 2015 than when the Conservative-led coalition took office – 2.62 million compared to 2.61 million in May 2010.