The Government'​s "​Fitness for Work"​ assessments have been praised and vilified in equal measure since they were rolled out nationwide in April. The employment and support allowance (ESA) tests are part of the Government'​s £​5 billion "​Welfare to Work"​ initiative to get people off benefits and into jobs.

A report by the Work and Pensions Committee, published in July, found that the initial Work Capability Assessments, introduced in 2008, were "​flawed"​ and that the revised system fell below the standard that claimants expected. The committee did accept, however, that improvements had been made and said that the Government'​s aim of helping benefits claimants back to work was "​laudable​"​.

The ESA assessments have certainly challenged the current benefits system. A recent study into the results of the new tests by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) found that only 7% of current sickness benefits claimants were incapable of working. The study claimed that 39% of the 1.3 million people claiming sickness benefits were fit for work and 17% were able to do some form of work. The remaining 36% had dropped out of the assessment process and 1% of applications were still in progress.
The tests include a detailed health questionn​aire that asks a number of questions such as: "​Are you having or awaiting hospital treatment?"​ and "​Can you manage to plan, start and finish daily tasks?"​.

But does this potentially flawed process, which is driven by the clear objective of getting people off benefits and into work, run the risk of forcing ill and incapable people into jobs they are unable to do? And what sort of effect will this have on employers? Are the assessments ultimately fit for purpose?

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