Scrap fit-for-work tests for disabled, says Government adviser

Controversial fit-for-work tests should be scrapped for the disabled and chronically ill, a Government adviser has said.

Matthew Oakley, a member of the Social Security Advisory Committee, said the current system is "broken" and needs a "complete overhaul".

He said benefit sanctions should also be axed and replaced with a system of voluntary assistance to disabled people who need support to get into work.

In a report for the Social Market Foundation think tank, he warns the threat of sanctions "can do more harm than good" and has failed to boost employment.

Mr Oakley said: "The Government faces a massive challenge in meeting its ambition of halving the disability employment gap.

"The current system does not provide adequate financial support to disabled people who need it and pushes many further away from work. The system of benefits and requirements placed on disabled people needs a complete overhaul.

"Benefit 'conditionality' has been shown to work for non-disabled jobseekers, but with less than one in 10 workless disabled people moving into work each year, a new approach is needed."

He said a "steps-to-work wage" should be paid to disabled people who take up support aimed at getting them into work.

He added: "Doing so would turn the current system completely on its head by providing better support rather than the constant threat of sanctions."

The report, entitled Closing the gap: creating a framework for tackling the disability employment gap in the UK, comes just days after the Government finally succeeded in cutting £30 a week from some disabled people's benefits.

The cut to the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people in the work-related activity group was met with fierce opposition in the House of Lords.

Peers reluctantly backed down after being accused of "overstepping their mark" - but independent crossbencher Lord Low of Dalston warned the changes signalled "a black day for disabled people".

The report warns that benefit levels need to be set at a level that allows those with a disability to fully engage in society.

And it finds that if the Government is to reach its target of halving the disability employment gap within 20 years, the disability employment rate will have to at least treble.

But the think-tank warns this is "highly unlikely" under the current system "where the majority of workless disabled people are discouraged from seeking employment".

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said the Government has increased spending on disability support.

He said: "We are committed to halving the disability employment gap, and there are now more than 150,000 more disabled people in work over the past year.

"Sanctions are an important part of the benefit system and the vast majority of claimants do everything they can to find work - in fact, less than 1% of people claiming Employment and Support Allowance are sanctioned each month.

"We have increased spending on disability support including expanding Access to Work, setting up a new Work and Health Innovation Fund, and working with employers through our Disability Confident campaign to ensure they understand the benefit of recruiting disabled people."

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