More than half of people trying to claim a disability benefit in Preston have been deemed fit for work, figures reveal.
Hundreds of new applicants, seeking employment and support allowance (ESA) through illness or disability, have been told they must get a job following a work capability assessment between April 2010 and April 2012.
Of the 2,660 people in Preston to be assessed, 53% were told they were fit for work during that time, though almost 100 people went on to successfully appeal against that decision.
ESA was introduced in 2008 to replace other benefits being phased out - including incapacity benefit - for those too ill or disabled to work.
Claimants usually have to attend regular interviews to assess whether their situation has changed after their initial capability assessment. Benefits under ESA range from £56.25 to £105.05 a week dependant on factors includign age and support needed.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, which has a branch in Preston, described the WCAs as “badly designed”.
He said: “The Government’s fitness for work test is utterly broken.
“The fact is, thousands of disabled people want to work but they face significant barriers, from a lack of skills and experience, confidence and even negative attitudes from some employers.
“Because the Work Capability Assessment does not take into consideration all the barriers disabled people face in finding employment it cannot indicate whether someone is likely get a job or not.
“We need to see fundamental changes to the way the WCA is designed and delivered to disabled people, to ensure decisions are being made in a transparent way and to guarantee people the support they desperately want and need.”
In South Ribble, around 46% of ESA applicants were deemed fit for work since 2010, with the figure at 47% in Chorley, 52% in Lancaster, 48% in Fylde and 42% in Ribble Valley, though some later successfully appealed the initial assessment outcome.
The figures were published after a request by a North West MP to the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).
A DWP spokesman said: “Since 2010 we have considerably improved the Work Capability Assessment process.
“As a result the percentage of people getting long term unconditional support has more than doubled in two years, but everyone has the right to appeal if they disagree with the outcome of their assessment.
“Overall only 15% of all fit for work decisions are overturned on appeal and this is often because people present new evidence which wasn’t available when the original decision was made.”
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