‘Fit for work' assessments for people with disabilities labelled flawed by MPs

  • A select committee has found that eligibility tests for benefits are inaccurate and system fails to help claimants back into work.

    A committee of MPs has said that the governments system for assessing whether people claiming benefits with a disability or long term illness are "fit for work" is flawed and should be removed and redesigned.

    The work and pensions select committee has said that the employment and support allowance system is crude, simplistic and failing to fulfil its intended purpose of helping people get back into work, reports the Guardian.

    They describe the test used to determine eligibility for ESA as frequently inaccurate and notes that many claimants who undergo it report it as "stressful and anxiety-provoking experience."

    Its report says: "The flaws in the existing ESA system are so grave that simply 'rebranding' the WCA by taking on a new provider will not solve the problems: a fundamental redesign of the ESA end-to-end process is required. This redesign needs to focus on what the purpose of ESA is - helping people back to work".

    The disability minister Mark Harper said that the government was currently undertaking the fifth review of the WCA since it was introduced in 2008, during which time "numerous improvements" to the test had been made.

    He added: "We are bringing in a new provider and a new contract for work capability assessments to deliver the best possible service for claimants, increase the number of assessments and reduce waiting times."

    The ESA system has become increasingly controversial in recent years, generating a groundswell of public concern about its accuracy and effectiveness that ministers largely ignored until this year when tensions between the DWP and Atos - which had come to see the £100m a year contract as a poisoned chalice - came to a head.

    The committee took evidence from a large number of ESA claimants about their experiences. "Many reported feeling dehumanised, ignored or questioned inappropriately. Some felt that the progress they were making towards recovery, and then moving back into work, was hampered rather than aided by the anxiety caused in facing the WCA."

    Rosanna Singler, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium, said the committee was "absolutely right" to call for a fundamental overhaul of WCA, which she described as "unfit for purpose".

    Mark Winstanley, the chief executive of charity Rethink Mental Illness, said ministers had to stop "dragging their heels" over reforming the system. "This report represents yet another blow to the failing assessment process. It comes after repeated independent reviews have exposed huge flaws in the system and a court ruling last year found that the current assessment is unfair for people with mental health problems."

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