New figures on Work Capability assessments – Government press release

October 13, 2009

Figures released today show an assessment focussing on what people can do,  rather than what they can't, is stopping more people getting trapped on long-term sickness benefit, a key aim of the Government's major welfare reform

New figures on the Work Capability Assessment have been released today, alongside new help for people with disabilities or illness to stay in work.

Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper and Health Secretary Andy Burnham today announced the new Fit For Work scheme which will involve employers, GPsand local councils in helping people with medical conditions or disabilities to work. People who get sick at work will be helped to manage their condition and keep their job rather than claim benefits.

The figures are the first official statistics for the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the new test, introduced last year, which examines whether someone is fit for work or should go onto Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). The WCA was developed in partnership with doctors and charities which support disabled people.

It assesses people earlier, to make sure they are not stuck on long-term benefits and involves face-to-face assessments rather than assessments on paper.

The test was introduced as part of the Government's welfare to work reforms in order to increase the accuracy of the assessment and make sure that everyone who is able to work is provided with support to find jobs rather than getting stuck on long-term sickness benefits.

The figures show that of the 193,800 people who made a claim for ESA between October 2008 and February 2009:

  • Five  per cent who are the most severely ill or disabled people are going into the support group, and will not be expected to undertake any work related activity, instead being offered voluntary help to manage their condition.
  • 36 per cent are found fit for work and not eligible for ESA.
  • 11 per cent are found eligible for ESA with work related activity (such as regular advisor interviews) to help them prepare to return to work in the future.
  • 38 per cent stopped claiming benefit before the assessment on them was completed.
  • 10 per cent were still being assessed as the statistics were compiled.

Under the old Incapacity Benefit (IB) system, an estimated 17 per cent were found fit for work, however as the assessment was carried out after six months rather than three months, more of those with low levels of health problems had already returned to the labour market after only a short term claim.

Work and Pensions Secretary Yvette Cooper said:

"In the 80s and early 90s, including the recession, the number of people claiming Incapacity Benefit rose by a million. And too many people ended up on long term sickness benefit without help to get back to work. That must never happen again. Those who can work need help to get back into jobs as soon as possible, so they don't get trapped on long-term benefits. That's why we've introduced this stronger early medical assessment alongside more support in work."

The Fit for Work pilots will give people who fall ill whilst at work the help they need to manage their condition and stay in their job rather than end up on benefits.

Secretary of State for Health Andy Burnham said:

"We have a moral and economic obligation to help people who have suffered ill health to get back to work as soon as possible. Unemployment and lost working days caused by ill health costs the economy £100 billion a year and we know that being in work can be good for your wellbeing. Our Fit for Work schemes will test new, innovative and personalised services to help people back into work. We want these pilots to have a real impact and show us what works best so we can build on this investment in the future."

The fit for work programme will run in addition to the access to work budget which helps those with medical conditions or disabilities who have extra costs in order to work (such as extra travel costs or specialist equipment).

Ministers have also said that the roll out of the new assessment meant it was time to look at ways to improve and adapt the Pathways programme to ensure that people looking for work and ESA claimants with health problems, get more effective help to get into work and manage their condition. Further details will be set out in the back to work White Paper.


*********Benefits issues and people with ME/CFS  is one of the most important items on the agenda for the next meeting of the All Parliamentary Group on ME to be held in the House of Commons on Wednesday, 21 October 2009.

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