Reading the front page of the Daily Mail today, you could be forgiven for thinking that the government’s new system for assessing who should get incapacity benefits had been a roaring success.
Just one in 14 claimants has been found unfit to work, according to stats from DWP, suggesting the new test has rooted out an incredible number of people who were never entitled to claim IB in the first place.
Well, not really. As Paul Gregg, a professor at Bristol university who helped design the new system has pointed out on his blog, there are a number of problems with this interpretation.
First of all, the number who have been found unfit to work is 24 per cent, not 7 per cent, as suggested in many stories. Seven per cent have been put into the group allowed to claim the new employment support allowance indefinitely, as they are never likely to return to work. However, another 17 per cent have been put into the “work related activity group”, under which they will be allowed to claim ESA for a year while being helped back into work. If they do not manage to do so in that year, they will then be retested.
Secondly, a number of claimants never actually get to the test stage because they get better, or simply don’t want to go through the assessment. This was the case under the old system too – lots of initial applicants never ended up claiming the old IB.
Thirdly, lots of people appeal their assessment decision. These people remain in the “assessment phase” until that appeal has been completed, a process which can take months. These too should be discounted.
Prof Gregg argues that we should measure instead what proportion of initial claims have not been rejected three, or even six months later. This shows:
- After three months 72 per cent of claims are still live. This compares to 80 per cent under the old IB system.
- After six months, 50 per cent of claims are still live, down from 60 per cent under the old system.
So yes, the new system has indeed found more people to be inelligible than the previous system (although that doesn’t necessarily mean those people were uncaught scroungers).
The problem is that since the new system began to be implemented, the number of new claims has jumped nearly a quarter, largely because of the recession. This meant that by November 2010, the number claiming disability-related benefits is 2.6m – almost exactly what it was in 2008 when the new system started.
So how much has the government reduced the number of people on incapacity benefits? Not at all.