The Truth About ‘Sicknote Britain’
Yesterday’s DWP press release on the results of the test for new Employment and Support Allowance claimants has excited the usual frenzy – the Sun, the Telegraph, the Mail and the ever-egregious Express all covered it much as you might expect. I suppose we’re going to have to get used to this being a monthly event and the forces of goodness and light could respond by rehashing our own stories.
But this month we don’t have to do that because there’s a first rate piece on the BBC website by Mark Easton. His first key point is that there can be lots of reasons why people apply for these benefits – the DWP and other authorities encourage them to apply, they may well have a health condition but not one that’s serious enough to qualify and some may be putting in a speculative claim for a benefit that pays a little more than Jobseeker’s Allowance – as he says,
That would seem to be common sense, not greed.
Secondly, the statistics released by the DWP are for new claimants – they tell us precisely nothing about what proportion of people currently getting disability benefits are swinging the lead.
This is a particularly important point. The latest figures for existing claimants who are gradually being switched from Incapacity Benefit to ESA and thus having to take the new eligibility test show that 30 per cent qualify for the highest level of ESA and 38 per cent qualify for the “work related activity group” – people who are expected to be moving back to employment.
This means that 32 per cent fail – but that isn’t the final result. The DWP report shows that there is a very high level of appeals of Fit to Work decisions. 36 per cent of those who have had such a decision since October 2008 have had an appeal that has been heard (that is, the eventual figure will be higher, but some haven’t been heard yet) and “the original decision made by DWP has been confirmed for 61% of these appeals heard. ”
This suggests that the 32 per cent figure will come down to something more like 27 or 28 per cent.
That shouldn’t be a surprise, the new test was designed to be tougher than the test these people took when they qualified for Incapacity Benefit. If they were all getting through the new test there would be heads rolling at the DWP head office.