Incapacity Benefits Review
How many disabled people on benefits are really fit for work? It’s an important question, prompted by the leak to the BBC of the results of a pilot programme that were due to be published tomorrow. Ministers are claiming that these results show that two thirds of people who get Incapacity Benefit or Income Support on the grounds of incapacity are “able to work.”
But that is entirely the wrong way of looking at it. To understand why a little explanation is needed. Since the mid 1990s, the main income replacement benefits for disabled people have been Incapacity Benefit and Income Support. The Labour government brought in a new benefit to replace them, called Employment and Support Allowance, with a tougher eligibility test, called the Work Capability Assessment. One of the new government’s priorities has been to move people who currently get the old benefits over to ESA, which means applying the new test to them.
They expect this to take three years and the results that have been leaked are from a pilot project that’s mainly about finding out if there are going to be any operational problems. Its only running in two locations – Aberdeen and Burnley – so the numbers involved are quite small. (Which means we have to be a little cautious about the results.)
The results so far have been reported as:
- 29.6 per cent found fit for work
- 31.3 per cent in the support group
- 39 per cent in the work related activity group
I understand that about 12 per cent of those found fit for work are appealing. About 40 per cent of WCA appeals are successful; if that holds true the proportion finally found fit for work will come down to about a quarter.
This shouldn’t really come as a surprise – the new test was designed to be tougher and everyone involved assumed that fewer people would be awarded benefit. So, when a test designed to cut the numbers qualifying is applied to a group who passed an easier test the result is that a large minority fail. If that hadn’t happened I should imagine the DWP would have been quite annoyed.
So where do we get this guff about “two in three benefit claimants are fit to work”, to quote the Telegraph? By adding together the group found fit for work and the people in the work-related activity group.
But the people in the work-related activity group aren’t fit to work, if they were they would have been found fit to work. Instead, they’ve been put in a group of people who are going to be helped to get back to work, but who don’t have to apply or look for jobs (which is what the benefits system requires of out-of-work non-disabled people). The fact that they’re going to be able to work at a future point doesn’t mean they are malingering now.
(There’s another sense in which many more of the people on these benefits are capable of work. If you use the social model of disability, then being a disabled person doesn’t mean you’re incapable of employment provided social and economic arrangements are in place to remove the barriers that currently exclude disabled people. But we are a long way from achieving that.)
When you know the history it isn’t just harder to put up with newspaper nonsense – some of the stuff from Ministers get harder to bear too. Last week Chris Grayling said:
Too many people were simply abandoned to a life on benefits; we are determined to put a stop to that terrible waste of potential.
The welfare state in this country is no longer fit for purpose that’s why our broad range of reforms are so important.
But this “important” reform is one they inherited from their predecessors! Whether it is the Government or the Opposition that should be most embarrassed about this I’ll leave to readers.