Overhaul planned for work capability assessments for disabled people

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The Government is planning a major overhaul of the way claimants for disability benefits are assessed in a drive to help more people back into work.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damian Green will on Monday announce the launch of a consultation on reform of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) tests.

Ministers say they want to provide more "targeted and personalised support" for people with disabilities while they look for employment.

The move was broadly welcomed by disability charities who said the current system was "fundamentally flawed" but campaigners warned that those who were unable to work must continue to receive the support they needed.

Mr Green said the proposed changes would focus on "improving opportunities and raising aspirations while making sure those people who most need support from the Government receive it".

It comes amid concern that while those most in need of assistance receive the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), they get low levels of support from Jobcentre Plus, even though some may be able to find work with the right assistance.

The consultation will look at how people receiving ESA can get the "quality support" they need to get back into employment without putting their benefits at risk while they look for a job.

It comes in the wake of Mr Green's earlier announcement that people with severe, long-term health conditions will no longer have to be reassessed for their benefits.

The Work and Pensions Secretary said: "We know the right type of work is good for our physical and mental health, but we need a more pragmatic health and welfare system that reflects this - one that offers work for all those who can, help for those who could and care for those who can't.

"A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life. No one wants a system where people are written off and forced to spend long periods of time on benefits when, actually, with the right support they could be getting back into work."

The consultation was welcomed by disability charity Scope, which said the current WCA system was "fundamentally flawed".

"The current fit-for-work test doesn't accurately identify the barriers disabled people face in entering or staying in work," said Scope chief executive Mark Atkinson.

"All disabled people should be able to access expert, tailored employment support and the Government should work with employers to create flexible, modern workplaces."

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell also welcomed the consultation, saying WCA failed to recognise the "fluctuating nature" of conditions like multiple sclerosis.

"We are keen to help create a system that makes more sense. However, it must be recognised that many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that."

Mark Lever, chief executive at the National Autistic Society said the current system "isn't working for autistic people" and the Government's plans had the potential to bring about much needed change.

"Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But our research indicates that just 16% of autistic people are in full-time paid work - and this doesn't appear to have changed in almost a decade," he said.

Equality and Human Rights Commission chief executive Rebecca Hilsenrath said that while people disabilities would benefit from more support entering the job market, it was important to recognise that not all would be able to work.

"Employment is crucial for disabled people to live independently. Government strategy must be intelligent, informed and not 'one-size-fits-all'. We must recognise that a supportive welfare system is essential for those who are unable to work at all," she said.

For Labour, shadow work and pensions secretary Debbie Abrahams said WCA should be scrapped altogether.

She said: "Whilst I welcome the Government's acknowledgement that their callous Work Capability Assessments cause needless misery and stress for thousands upon thousands of sick and disabled people, Theresa May needs to take responsibility for her part in these disastrous social security reforms.

"To suggest that these have been a success is derisory.

"This cruel Tory approach is ideologically driven with the sole purpose of targeting the most vulnerable in our society to pay for their austerity plans, painting disabled people as scroungers and shirkers, whilst making no impact on the disability employment gap."