Seven out of every 10 Scots refused benefits because they are deemed fit to work win them back on appeal, it has been claimed.
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced two years ago to replace incapacity benefit but Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) claims thousands of disabled and sick Scots have been wrongly turned down for benefits because of political pressure to reduce the number of people on welfare despite medical evidence that they are unfit for work.
Coalition government employment minister Chris Grayling said on Tuesday that three quarters of all new claimants for ESA are being turned down and told they are fit for work.
However, CAS said it is inundated with complaints from clients with disabilities and illnesses such as lung cancer, multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease who are being denied any payments. It estimates that 70% of people who come to them seeking help after being told they no do not qualify for the benefit win their case on appeal.
Official government figures released on Tuesday state that only a third of people refused ESA appeal and only 40% of those are successful.
CAS acting chief executive Susan McPhee said there are serious problems with the test for ESA and the drive to reduce the number of people on the benefit means even seriously ill claimants are being told to find work.
“We said last year that ESA was unfit for purpose and we see no reason to change that view,” she said. “We are still seeing case after case across Scotland where people are being found fit for work even though their illness or disability restricts them from any type of work.’Further hardship'”ESA isn’t working for the most vulnerable. We need to protect people in times of suffering, not cause them further hardship.
“The government needs to sit up and acknowledge there are major problems with ESA and begin to make positive changes.
“People being found fit for work with illnesses such as cancer, serious mental health issues, MS and Parkinson’s disease is not something we expect to see in Scottish society and it cannot be ignored any longer by politicians and government.”
However, Mr Grayling said the coalition government is working to get the benefits test right.
“With over two million people trapped on incapacity benefits, these figures underline how important it is that we make sure everyone who has the potential to work gets the right help to move off benefits and into a job,” he said.
“However, I am determined that we get the medical assessment right, which is why Professor Malcolm Harrington is undertaking an independent review in consultation with a number of charities representing disabled people and those with mental health issues.
“I am more than happy to take onboard any serious suggestions for changing the assessment, as I want it to be as near as perfect as we can be. This is not about pushing the sick and disabled into jobs but giving those that can work the help to do so and those that can’t more, not less, support.”ReassessmentBy next January, every Scot on incapacity benefits will have been reassessed to see if they should receive the new benefit or if they are fit for work and should instead be put on Jobseeker’s Allowance.
The government began reassessing claimants in Aberdeen and Burnley this month and the programme will be rolled out across the country next year.
The CAS has written to every MP and MSP in Scotland regarding their concerns about ESA and motions are to be lodged in both the Scottish and Holyrood parliaments.