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Graham Shawcross: He won an appeal against a 'fit for work' decision - months after his death.

Graham Shawcross: He won an appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision, but the verdict came several months after his death.

How long will the Conservative Government continue to resist calls to scrap its nonsense ‘work capability assessment’, while publishing evidence that shows it should go?

This week, the DWP published statistical evidence showing that the number of Employment and Support Allowance claimants who won an appeal against a ‘fit for work’ decision hit its highest-ever rate between April and June last year – the last three months for which the numbers were available.

The DWP has argued that the actual number of appeals has plummeted, but the fact is that this happened after the introduction of mandatory reconsideration – a process that forces claimants to resubmit their cases for consideration by DWP decision makers, with no benefit being paid to them for an indeterminate time, before they are allowed to appeal. This is, of course, blatantly unfair – and brutal on claimants, who cannot seek support from Jobseekers’ Allowance as that benefit requires them to sign a form saying they are fit for work, and their argument is that they are not.

In any case, the DWP’s argument would be false. Its own figures show that, in the year from July 2013 to June 2014, the rate of successful appeals was greater than that of overturned cases in 10 of the 12 months (including four months before mandatory reconsideration was introduced on October 28, 2013).

This Writer will have to add the numbers to the other statistics that have come from the DWP, in order to consider whether the drop in the number of appeals may have increased the number of fatalities among ESA claimants, but the prima facie evidence is clear: Work capability assessments are failing vulnerable people.

This will be no surprise to long-term readers of This Blog, who will know that the assessment process is a tick-box computer game, based on a discredited idea known as biopsychosocial theory. The idea was imported into the UK by an American insurance corporation called Unum, which had been using it as an excuse to refuse payouts on its own health insurance policies. That practice earned Unum a criminal record in the United States.

For the record, the UK government, acting on Unum’s advice, introduced Employment and Support Allowance, complete with the work capability assessment, as a way of testing whether people claiming benefits on the grounds of incapacity for work really deserved the money. Critics argue that it is a miserable failure at supporting those who need help and was introduced mainly to save money by throwing vulnerable people off-benefit.

The fact that the DWP does not keep records for the number of people who have died more than two weeks after being assessed as ‘fit for work’, coupled with the lack of information on deaths while people have been awaiting mandatory reconsideration, means the DWP has been able to claim that both deaths and appeals against decisions have dropped off, when it is far more likely that they have increased – but gone unrecorded.

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