How many more seriously ill people must suffer before the government acts?

By Sue Marsh
November 13, 2012

Since the Work Capability Assessment fit-for-work test (which in large part determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance) was introduced in October 2008, more than 400,000 people with serious illnesses and profound disabilities have appealed against the decision to strip them of state support.

Some 40 per cent have been successful in their appeals; a great many disabled and sick people have died after being found "fit to work" and a survey has found that six per cent of GPs have come across a patient who has attempted to take or taken their own life as a result of undergoing, or "fear of undergoing" the test.

It should have been so different. When the previous government introduced the ESA as a new benefit for those unable to work due to long-term illness or disability, the eligibility test was intended to look at what the disabled person could do, not what they couldn't.

The assessment would have three possible outcomes: the person was too ill or disabled to undertake any kind of paid work so they would go into the long-term support group (SG) and would not be expected to look for work; the person had a significant illness or disability but might be able to work, or would like to work with the right support.

They would go into the work-related activity group (WRAG) and have access to training or adaptions and experts to help them find a job; or the person would be found immediately able to work and would move to jobseeker's allowance (JSA).

Charities and campaigners representing sick and disabled people supported this concept and indeed, the principle is still one we accept and would like to see today.

But the politicians have made the test far too limited. It has ignored whole classifications of illness or disability; people with mental health conditions, learning difficulties, autism or Asperger's and conditions that fluctuate. Cancer patients have found themselves at the job centre between chemo treatments, paraplegics have been told that they are fully mobile.

Yesterday, a report written by people who have serious illnesses or disabilities, The People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment, set out 70 first-hand accounts of taking the fit-for-work test. They make appalling reading. How many more seriously ill people must suffer mentally, physically and financially before the ESA is withdrawn and redesigned?

* The new report can be read and downloaded from:


(c) Sue Marsh was one the the authors of the original Spartacus report, 'Responsible Reform' (, which exposed the lack of support and proper verification behind the replacement of Disability Living Allowance (DLA). She has lived with severe Crohn's Disease for nearly three decades, and campaigns to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and long term illness. She spoke on welfare reform at the 2012 Greenbelt Festival, as part of a Children's Society / Ekklesia panel. Her 'Diary of a Benefit Scrounger' blog can be found here: Sue also writes for the Guardian's Comment-is-Free website:

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