25 Jan 2014

Over half of sickness benefit claims rejected – new figures

Almost a million people have been found fit to work by the Department of Work and Pensions over the last five years.

The government’s employment support allowance (ESA) goes to people who are too ill to work, or need financial assistance to help them work. Paris-based firm Atos have been responsible for deciding who is fit to work, and their work has come under heavy criticism.

Figures for the last five years show that 980,400 applied for the benefit, but were refused it at an initial hearing.

834,500 were granted some form of the employment support allowance in the same period.

It means that only 46 per cent of new claims were allowed, 54 per cent were refused.

A significant number of claims were withdrawn before the assessment meeting even happened – 36 per cent of new claims.

The people most – and least – likely to be given sickness benefit

People with congenital malformation or deformity were most likely to be granted the benefit – 91 per cent of people with that condition. 88 percent of people with neoplasms – a form of tumour – were granted employment and support allowance.

65 per cent of people with diseases of the nervous system were also considered eligible for the benefit – the third condition mostly likely to be given benefits.

Of the people with recorded diseases – people with eye and ear diseases were most likely to be found fit to work. 73 per cent of people with eye diseases and 69 per cent of people with ear diseases were found fit to work.

People presenting with circulatory and respiratory diseases were also more likely to be found fit to work than not: 63 per cent of people with circulatory problems, and 61 per cent of people with respiratory problems were rejected for the benefit.

The main reason for sickness benefit – mental disorders

The main reason behind new claims for ESA was mental health disorders. Almost a third of all new claims were on the grounds of mental and behavioural disorders – 1.1m out of 3.1m. 47 per cent of people presenting with mental disorders were found eligible for the benefit.

Some 2.49m people were on ESA and old-style incapacity benefits as of May 2013.

Read more: Welfare reform - why disabled people are worried

Getting disabled people into the workforce

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said the work capability assessment (WCA) should be more than an exercise in getting people off benefits.

He said: “The fit for work results are only half the story. We should be talking about getting a million more disabled people into work.

“Disabled people are pushing hard to find jobs and get on in the workplace. Nine in 10 disabled people work or have worked. Yet only about 50 per cent of disabled people have a job right now.

“They face massive challenges when it comes to finding and staying in work.

“The WCA should be more than an exercise in getting people off benefits. It should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.

“We need to make sure that as the economy picks up disabled people are not left behind. We’ve got to start by supporting more disabled people to find and stay in work.”