Over 7,000 people in Bristol to lose benefits under tough new tests
MORE than 7,000 people in Bristol face being stripped of disability benefits because of tough new tests.
The controversial automated assessment is designed to weed out bogus claimants – but critics say it is a "deeply depressing" way to treat disabled people.
Latest figures show that in Bristol 35 per cent of claimants are being judged "fit to work" without any support.
There are just over 21,000 people claiming incapacity benefit or its replacement, employment support allowance, in the city of Bristol.
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Across the Greater Bristol area, the total is over 41,000. While the percentages differ slightly between areas, the initial results of the tests suggest at least 12,300 of these people will be told to find work once the testing process has been completed.
The Department for Work and Pensions also found that almost half of claimants – 44 per cent in Bristol – were judged to be capable of working with support, while only between 20 and 25 per cent should continue to receive the payment with no conditions.
Labour MP Dawn Primarolo, who represents Bristol South, said: "We are being contacted by people fearing they will be called in for a test, saying just the fear of it is damaging their health.
"Quite frankly, I am not sure how anyone could decide some of these people are capable of full-time work.
"I will be scrutinising these figures very carefully, but it won't help my constituents."
The Work Capability Assessments, carried out by French company Atos, were introduced by Labour in 2008 as an attempt to check whether people applying for disability benefits were in fact capable of work.
The coalition government then expanded them to existing claimants, saying too many people had been "condemned to a life on benefits".
But the tests have been controversial, with disability charities calling for them to be suspended.
They have yielded some surprising results and critics said they failed to identify mental health conditions. There has also been a high success rate in appeals against the test results, with around 40 per cent of rulings being overturned.
Yesterday ministers published figures showing the results of tests across Bristol between October 2010 and February 2012.
Employment Minister Mark Hoban said: "The old incapacity benefit system condemned too many people to a life on benefits without any hope of ever going back to work. This was simply wrong. By reassessing everyone for ESA we can help thousands of people move from benefits and back into work if they are capable while giving unconditional support to those who need it."