‘Up to 500,000 wrongly denied Incapacity Benefit’ – The Guardian, 3 January 2011

From The Guardian, 3 January 2011 (story by political correspondent Allegra Stratton)

Survey by Compass, which used official DWP statistics, says 300,000 claimants won their tribunals when they appealed

Up to 500,000 people have been wrongly judged fit for work and disallowed incapacity benefit over the past 15 years, according to a study for Compass, the left wing campaign group.

In the first attempt to quantify the numbers refused incapacity benefit only to have it restored, Steve Griffiths, a former government consultant, says the figures are “at least half a million” during that period.

Griffiths used official statistics gleaned from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), the tribunal service and social security statistics to get to “at least” 500,000 wrongly barred from incapacity benefit since 1996.

He discovered that at least 300,000 claimants won their tribunals when they appealed. He says this figure should be added to a different category of at least 200,000 people who have been refused incapacity benefit over the past 15 years but have ended up back on incapacity benefit. He arrives at this second figure by using DWP research that finds 35% of those removed from incapacity benefit – who cumulatively number more than one million people – have been in such a position.

The government will shortly receive the results of two pilot studies of its tests for incapacity benefit, intended to be adopted in April when it will begin processing the 2.2 million people on incapacity benefit at a possible rate of 10,000 a week.

Campaigners are concerned the historic errors in the system, revealed today , will continue to wrongly disallow substantial numbers.

The Labour backbencher Jon Cruddas called for a pause in this particular aspect of the government’s crackdown.

He said: “There is a crisis in our country, but it’s not simply a crisis of welfare dependency. It’s a crisis of mass chronic ill health caused by worklessness and poverty, not a lifestyle choice.

“Economic crisis encourages a search for scapegoats among the poor and dispossessed. A punitive welfare system is a consequence. Labour has to change the terms of debate on welfare in this country or we will inexorably head down a dangerous path toward hate politics and social conflict.”

The government plans to find economies of at least £16bn from the £195bn welfare budget. In opposition Tories indicated more than 1.5 million people could be helped back into work. However, there have been reports recently that the government now believes a lower number – one in 4 – will be returned to work.

A review by the academic Malcolm Harrington, published in November, advised the government that its method of assessing work capability was “inadequate”. The medical tests were “impersonal and mechanistic” and failed those with mental illnesses and long-term disabilities.

The government has endorsed the Harrington Review, but the Disability Alliance has expressed disappointment that only a quarter of its recommendations will be implemented by the time April’s rollout starts. They called it an “ineffective test” operating at “substantial and material cost”.


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