As many as 80 per cent of people who have been represented by benefits experts in their appeals against being found “fit for work” have had that decision overturned, MPs have been told.
Members of the Commons work and pensions committee were told the figures at a public meeting in Burnley this week.
The committee – chaired by the disabled Labour MP Dame Anne Begg – organised the meeting so it could hear first-hand accounts from people who have had their “fitness to work” tested through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
Pilots of a scheme to roll out the test to long-term claimants of incapacity benefit (IB) have been taking place in Burnley and Aberdeen since last October.
But Paul Hoggarth, from Burnley Citizens Advice Bureau, told the meeting that 80 per cent of people represented by the bureau in appeals have been successful in overturning a decision that they were fit for work.
Government figures show that about 40 per cent of all those appealing against being found fit for work – many of whom have to represent themselves – are successful.
Hoggarth told the MPs it was “dangerous” for the government to be claiming the pilots were a success until they saw how many IB claimants had successfully appealed against being found fit for work.
The first figures from the Aberdeen and Burnley pilots showed that about 30 per cent of people already on IB were found fit for work after taking a WCA.
One disabled claimant who spoke at the meeting compared his assessment to being under police investigation for a crime he hadn’t committed, said Hoggarth.
Hoggarth said afterwards: “The big one was the shock when they actually got the results. There are so many errors with the WCA it is just unreal. It is just not fit for purpose.”
The evidence heard at the meeting mirrors criticism of the test since its introduction by the Labour government for new claimants of employment and support allowance (ESA) – the replacement for IB – in 2008.
Most of those at the meeting were assessed as new claimants, although Hoggarth said a handful had taken part in the pilot, and appeared to be facing “exactly the same” problems with the WCA.
Dame Anne said afterwards that new ESA claimants in Burnley appeared to have had “a much harder time” than the long-term IB claimants who had taken part in the pilot scheme.
She said the government had “clearly put extra resources in” to the pilot scheme, but there were concerns it would not be able to devote the same level of funding when the reassessment programme is rolled out across the country this spring.
Despite the extra funding, she said, there were still problems with the WCA itself.