Nearly 16,000 people in the West Midlands previously receiving disability benefits have been declared fit for work – a much higher rate than elsewhere, new figures have revealed.
Under the coalition, Incapacity Benefit, Severe Disablement Allowance and illness related Income Support began to be phased out and replaced with Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
As part of this shift everyone who was claiming the previous benefit types was made to undergo a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which would decide whether they were theoretically fit for work.
Anyone declared fit for work was stripped of their incapacity benefit and moved onto Jobseekers Allowance, provided they met the criteria for JSA.
Between October 2010 and December 2014, 15,930 people claiming for a range of health issues in the West Midlands had been declared fit for work, according to statistics from the Department for Work and Pensions.
This means that, of the 66,660 assessments in the metropolitan county, around 24 per cent of incapacity benefit claimants were told they were fit for work and moved on to JSA – far more than the national average of 19 per cent.
Within the West Midlands, 27 per cent of assessments in Sandwell and Wolverhampton ended in people being stripped of their incapacity benefits – the highest percentages in the area and the joint second highest in Britain.
Solihull saw the smallest proportion of people stripped of their benefits in the area with 19 per cent declared fit for work following their assessment.
Across the whole of Great Britain 258,940 people have been declared fit for work following Work Capability Assessments over the past five years. This works out as 19 per cent of all those who were assessed. The WCA, which is administered by private outsourcing firm Maximus, has come under fire for errors and putting the disabled and sick through a traumatic process, including delays.
The DWP defended the accuracy of the WCA and said the statistics proved no causal effect between benefits and mortality.
It said: “These isolated figures provide limited scope for analysis, and nothing can be gained from this publication that would allow the reader to form any judgment as to the effects or impacts of the WCA.”
Andy Burnham described the WCA, which was introduced by the last Labour government, as a “punishing” regime and said the party would stand “for a humane approach to benefits”.
Jeremy Corbyn said he had voted against the introduction of the WCA eight years ago and called for it to be scrapped, saying it had caused “immense distress and suffering for thousands of disabled claimants”.
The TUC general secretary, Frances O’Grady, said: “We urgently need an inquiry into the government’s back-to-work regime. These disturbing findings cannot be swept under the carpet. We need a welfare system that supports people to find decent jobs, not one that causes stress and ill health.”
This news comes after the Government had been forced to release figures showing that over 2,380 people had died after being found fit to work.
A petition of more than 120,000 people was collected to try and force the Government to reveal the true numbers after it was met with refusal.
It was backed by city MP Roger Godsiff, (Lab, Sparkbrook and Small Heath) who said they if the data was not released, people would draw their own conclusions.
Campaigner Mike Sivier used the Freedom of Information Act to ask how many people who died between November 2011 and May 2014 had been found “fit for work”, or told they could move towards getting work.
But the Department for Work and Pensions refused his request, saying it was already preparing to publish the information.
Mr Sivier appealed to Information Commissioner Christopher Graham, who ordered civil servants to publish the data within 35 days of his ruling on April 30.
Ministers insist the data could not be used to link claimant deaths to its welfare reforms.