Get back to work! Thousands across Bristol to lose incapacity benefits
MORE than a third of sickness benefit claimants across Bristol are being told to get a job after they were judged "fit for work".
For the first time the impact of controversial new tests on people in the area receiving incapacity benefit has been published and shows hundreds need to find employment. Across the four Greater Bristol council areas, around 12,000 of the 31,000 claimants are likely to be deemed fit for work by the time all have been tested.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said the figures proved the benefits system had been "a waste of human life", adding: "Too many people have been left languishing on benefits for too long."
Of the 1,060 test results published so far for the city of Bristol, 40 per cent of claimants – 430 people – were deemed fit for work.
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The proportion was similar in the surrounding council areas, with a total of 830 people sent back to work. Less than a quarter were told they could continue to receive the payment without having to look for work.
The Work Capability Assessments, carried out by French company Atos, have been controversial, with disability charities calling for them to be suspended.
Critics said they failed to identify mental health conditions and vilified disabled people as benefit cheats.
The test was introduced by Labour in 2008 as an attempt to weed out incapacity benefits claimants who were judged fit to do some form of work.
The coalition government decided to expand the test to existing claimants.
A series of changes were made after a government-commissioned review found the test, which involves physical and mental challenges, was "impersonal and mechanistic".
There have also been a large number of appeals against the assessments, with around 40 per cent of findings being overturned.
Thornbury and Yate MP Steve Webb, a minister in the Department for Work and Pensions, admitted: "Clearly no one would dispute that there have been problems with these tests."
But he said regular reviews would ensure they were fair. The Lib Dems claimed previous governments had been happy for people to stay on incapacity benefit as a way of keeping unemployment figures down.
He added: "There is plenty of evidence that being long-term unemployed is bad for people's health – it's not humane, it's not progressive and it's not caring."
Mr Webb said support was available to those told to look for work, adding: "The point is not just to throw people off, it's to say are there people that with the right help and support could get back to work."