Article published: Friday, May 14th 2010
Manchester Incapacity Benefit claimants are set to undergo invasive ‘fitness to work’ tests as part of a new pilot scheme. The scheme comes as part of the recently imposed Welfare Reform Bill which seeks to goad people into work by imposing benefit sanctions.
Under the piloted scheme Incapacity Benefit claimants will be obliged to visit a health practitioner to have their ability to work judged. However, the proposed tests involve a person’s capacity to perform daily tasks such as climbing up stairs, and do not take into account how this would translate into a work environment – nor does it ask questions about stamina and mental health issues. This move has the aim of moving all claimants off Incapacity Benefit and onto Employment Support Allowance, with the view that everyone should be aspiring towards paid work.
The new test, known as Work Capability Assessment (WCA), is already in place for new claimants of Incapacity Benefits in many areas of the country. The tests are not carried out by the NHS however, but by private companies such as Atos Healthcare. Atos has already come under heavy criticism for its involvement in the tests after telling a woman recovering from anorexia in West Sussex she was too ill to work, then proceeding to assess her as too well to receive Incapacity Benefits. There have also been allegations that Atos Healthcare receives money per person it deems fit for week, and has targets to meet in this respect.
Manchester has one of the highest rates of Incapacity Benefit claimants in the country, accounting for the choice of the region for the trial. Controversy has surrounded the tests from the beginning. When the tests were first introduced, for instance, cancer patients undergoing treatment were asked to attend in order to receive their benefits. After much opposition and lobbying from Macmillan Cancer Care this move has been reversed. Concerns remain over those with Parkinson’s Disease and mental illnesses being obliged to attend interviews, with benefits cut if they fail to turn up.
WinVisible, a group of women with visible and invisible disabilities, have reported that new claimants of Incapacity Benefit are becoming more ill with stress, and in some cases suicidal.
“We are being forced into unsuitable training, low-paid jobs or begging. A local Citizens Advice Bureau said the tests were “crude”, and were “severely letting down seriously ill and disabled people,” said Claire Glasman of WinVisible.
However Jonathan Shaw, serving as Minister for Disabled People at the time, said of the tests, “For the first time disabled people are receiving the support they need to get back into work.
“Many disabled people and people with ill-health tell us they want to work and we won’t leave them on Incapacity Benefits as they were in the past.”
Disabled rights bloggers have pointed out that ‘wanting to work’ is different to ‘being able to work’, and that although many disabled people would want to work, this does not mean that arbitrary tests will prove them able to do so.
If you are affected by the Incapacity Benefit tests then MULE wants to hear from you. Get in touch here.
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