Incapacity benefit claimants under scrutiny in ‘fitness to work’ trial

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.

Fitness testsUnder 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.

To learn more about the Welfare Reform Bill, which will also affect single parents, unemployed workers, carers, and low-waged workers read MULE’s previous articles here and here.

If you are affected by the Incapacity Benefit tests then MULE wants to hear from you. Get in touch here.

Hazel Kent

More: Cuts, News, Welfare


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by MULE. MULE said: Incapacity benefit claimants under scrutiny in ‘fitness to work’ trial in Manchester – Welfare Reform Bill – MULE – […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Incapacity benefit claimants under scrutiny in ‘fitness to work’ trial  —   MULE -- on May 15, 2010 at 9:45 am
  2. […] He told MP’s that claimants will be moved onto other benefits, with stricter requirements to find work. David Cameron pledging during the General Election to test every recipient on their capacity to work, but the piloting of the fitness to work trials  in Manchester has proved controversial. […]

    Pingback by Activists corner Minister in Town Hall  —   MULE on June 24, 2010 at 1:51 pm
  3. As a paid working disabled person I know how difficult it is to get into paid employment, I am angry and disapointed that this sweeping statement of getting people off of Incapacity Benefit is continually made before any real research is done as to why so many disabled people are unemployed, it is scare mongering for people to hear when the majority do want to earn a DECENT wage as we know being disabled is a costly experience. For goodness sake there are millions of non-disabled unemployed who cant or do not want find work.

    Comment by Teresa Oliver on June 28, 2010 at 9:51 am
  4. Why do so many people assume that people on Benefit’s are ‘Spongers’ or ‘Scroungers’?

    So many times I have over-heard neighbours saying I am taking ‘Liberties’ with the Benefit System. I don’t ‘Boast’ about what I get. What is there to ‘Boast’ about? Anyone who knows anything about Benefits will know approximately what a person receives on Disability and Sickness Benefit’s.

    Some people are so thick that they assume that if one is on Benefit’s then they MUST some how be a Dole-Ite. You know.. that EVERY Benefit is in some such way merged into bloody Job Seekers Allowance.

    It is a fact of life that many (and especially if they have children) get paid more on Benefit’s than they do working. The advantages of having an Illness or Disabiity if you will. And again, I don’t intend to sound like I am sounding off. I think MOST people, given the choice would rather lead a normal life and be able to work than live off of beadledom’s aid.

    All I meant was there are Pro’s and Con’s of a Disability. Obviously the draw-back is actually having the Disability in the first place. You have to make betterment in your life and by going on Benefit’s that you are quite legitimately entitled to, will put you in a favourable and position by which you can be helpful to yourself. This is what I was trying to convey when I said that it’s beneficial to have a Disability. One can’t help this and you have to make the most of what you have. Indubitably, it would be far better not to have any detriment in the first place.

    A lot of people cannot help being on Benefit’s. Maybe they have no arms, have major Depression or have to care for another person. What the Hell are they supposed to do to support themselves? Fact is, it is too often assumed that people on Benefit’s have NEVER worked. This can be said for (example) Chav’s, Britains Dole fodder but not the majority of people, some of whom would never dream of taking a penny but times hit hard and call for desperate measures. Why shouldn’t those that have paid into the system rely on it when they need it the most?

    Comment by Lin Elle Evie Emma GoodChild on March 6, 2011 at 7:04 pm

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