Work and Pensions Select Committee member Sheila Gilmore MP has today revealed that the number of sick and disabled people wrongly declared ‘Fit for Work’ by a Government benefits test could be far higher than previously thought. This followed a letter from Tory Work and Pensions Minister Esther McVey in which she admitted figures are ‘not clear’ and promised to ‘ensure greater clarity in future’.{jcomments on}

The benefit in question is Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit in 2008. The assessment process often involves a face-to-face assessment, and data on the number of people awarded and refused the benefit is published every three months.

Sheila Gilmore raised concerns about these figures in September, and in her reply from earlier this month, Esther McVey has effectively admitted that the number of people being awarded the benefit initially has been artificially inflated by taking into account the results of informal appeals against refusals.

This process is known as ‘reconsideration’, and involves people who have been found ‘fit for work’ asking DWP civil servants to look at their cases again. If the decision remains the same then claimants can lodge a formal appeal with HM Courts and Tribunal Service, and separate statistics have previously been published on the number of people on ESA following this further stage.

Sheila Gilmore said:

I regularly meet sick and disabled people who are unable to work but who have been declared able to do so following a flawed ESA assessment.

Up to now we thought that the assessment was getting about one in ten fit for work decisions wrong – far too many in most people’s eyes – but now we know the Government have been fiddling the figures, the reality could be much much worse.

Up until today Ministers led us to believe they were publishing figures that showed the number of people awarded benefit immediately after assessment and before ANY appeals. It now turns out that informal appeals to officials – as opposed to formal ones to judges – were being taken into account.

This has clearly masked the true extent of the failings in the ESA assessment process.

This revelation follows the omission of the number of successful appeals from October’s round of figures.

Taken together, these events suggests that rather than trying to fix the test to reduce the number of incorrect decisions, Ministers’ priority is to fix the figures to downplay the extent of the problem.

More details from Sheila Gilmore's website



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