Two-thirds applying for new sickness benefits are refused claims

October 13, 2009

From The Guardian, 13 October 2009 (by Patrick Wintour, political editor)

More than two-thirds of applicants for a new sickness-related benefit are failing in their claims, suggesting many of the 2.6 million existing incapacity benefit claimants will be forced on to a lower level of benefit when they are assessed over the next two to three years.

The findings come in research published today by the Department for Work and Pensions into the impact of a tougher medical assessment for the employment and support allowance (ESA), introduced in October. Of claimants for this allowance, 36% have been stated to be capable of working – a figure more than double that of those subjected to the old medical test.

The findings, covering nearly 200,000 claims, suggest the government can make big savings from a tougher approach to welfare, despite growing unemployment. Jobless figures are expected to top 2.5 million, while the figure among those aged 18-24 could surpass one million.

Overall, the research found only 5% of those seeking ESA were thought totally incapable of being ready for work and so entitled to the full benefit of £108.55. A further 11%, thought potentially capable of work, were put on a rate of £89.80 a week, and were expected to co- operate with efforts to ready themselves for work. A third of the  initial claimants dropped out before completing the claim, and a  further third were seen as fit for work.

The new assessment, the work capability assessment, focuses on the work claimants could do rather than that which they can not. The  research suggests that substantial government savings could be  available when, between 2010 and 2013, the existing 2.6 million people on incapacity benefit are tested using the tougher assessment.

On this basis the number of sickness-related benefit claimants likely to be rejected in a year will top 250,000.

The figures announced today represent the fullest official survey of the impact of the medical assessment. The survey looked at 193,800 applications, covering October 2008 to February 2009.

The work and pensions secretary, Yvette Cooper, did not pass judgment  on the findings. She said: "In the 80s and early 90s, the number of  people claiming incapacity benefit rose by a million. Too many people  ended up on long-term sickness benefit without help to get back to  work. That must never happen again."

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