Government ignored independent reviewer on incapacity benefit changes

By staff writers
December 13, 2013

The UK government pushed disabled people from Incapacity Benefit (IB) to the failing new Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) system against the wishes of their independent, expert assessor, it has been revealed today (13 December 2013).

Yet by 2010 when the decision was made it was clear, say critics, that there were significant flaws in the process. People with mental health and fluctuating conditions were not being fairly treated and successful appeals against “fit for work” decisions soared to 42 per cent.

This rate might have been even higher with better support for those appealing. The majority of overturned appeals are themselves overturned upon new oral evidence.

Respected independent disability advocate and researcher Sue Marsh has now obtained confirmation that the government's decision was political rather than evidence-based from Professor Malcolm Harrington, who completed the first three reviews of the much-criticised Work Capability Assessment (WCA), the gateway to determine claimants' level of disability and their ability to work.

Despite claims by then Minister of State for Employment Chris Grayling in February 2012 and subsequent statements by Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith, who has faced repeated official criticism for the failures of his department, Professor Harrington has responded to Ms Marsh, saying: "“To your question: I NEVER – repeat – NEVER agreed to the IB [Incapacity Benefit] migration. I would have preferred that it be delayed but by the time I said that, the political die had been cast. I then said that I would review progress of that during my reviews. The decision was political. I could not influence it."

Sue Marsh wrote earlier today: "When the Conservative - Liberal Democrat coalition government came to power in May 2010, they immediately announced that they would go ahead and start to reassess those already claiming Incapacity Benefit.

"I could never understand this decision. Why would you take a 'failing' benefit and roll it out to almost two million of the most vulnerable claimants? Not only that, but at first, just 25,000 people per month were being assessed. But the government constantly increased and increased the numbers until today, nearly 130,000 assessments are carried out every month."

The assessments themselves, carried out by ATOS and others, have been widely criticised as ineffective, inhumane, ill-supported by evidence and carried out by people with insufficient expertise and experience.

The Spartacus network of disabled researchers and activists have now published three reviews illustrating the devastating consequences of WCA failure for many thousands of disabled and sick people.

Continued Ms Marsh: "Why? Why would you rush this group through failing assessments, ever faster, when backlogs kept on increasing, tribunals were overturning some 40 per cent of decisions that went to appeal and even legally, courts were starting to judge that the test discriminates against certain groups?

"Unless of course you don’t want the tests to be fair. If your aim is to remove a million people from the benefit, perhaps it suits you to make sure that as many of those existing claimants don’t face a fair test?"

Today the Spartacus network, with support from a range of allies, including the think-tank Ekklesia, are publishing their latest report, 'Welfare that Works: Employment and Support Allowance', by Stef Benstead.

It demonstrates why ESA – the allowance the government rushed in – is not working; illustrates the negative and damaging impact on those assessed; reports that two-thirds of official recommendations for change have not been fully implemented; and makes ten specific recommendations for interim improvements to ESA.

Simon Barrow, co-director of the Christian think-thank Ekklesia, said: "We welcome this latest research and report from the Spartacus network, with whom we are pleased to collaborate. It demonstrates, once again, that the changes in benefits and support the government has introduced are not working for disabled and sick people. They need substantial reform in the short-run and overhaul in the medium to longer term.

"The reality is that hundreds of thousands of people are being mistreated by an ESA/WCA system which seems designed to claw back money rather than to ensure that those who need support get it in a timely, efficient and humane way.

"We will be urging church leaders and others to continue to press for serious change, for an independent cumulative impact assessment of welfare reform, and for a new deal for disabled and sick people."

* Sue Marsh, 'How the government misled us over Employment and Support Allowance':

* NEW SPARTACUS REPORT - Welfare that Works: Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) -

* People's review of the Work Capability Allowance (WCA): further evidence -

* The original People's Review of the Work Capability Assessment:

* Briefing on Employment and Support Allowance (Amendment) Regulations 2012:

* Responsible Reform: Changes to Disability Living Allowance (DLA):

* Betraying disabled people and welfare, by Karen McAndrew:


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.