Tories use first day back to attack the disabled

DWP removes option for claimants to choose whether work assessment outcomes are reported to GPs

THE new Tory government has wasted no time in targeting Britain’s most vulnerable, using its first day in Parliament to backtrack on disability rights.

Yesterday morning the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) removed the option for disability claimants to choose whether the outcome of work assessments is shared with their GP.

It means that the DWP can send letters to doctors telling them not to sign patients’ sick notes if they have been found “fit for work” by the notorious work capability assessments (WCA).

The option was only added to the ESA50 claim form — on the advice of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which had previously informed the DWP that it had “not complied with data protection obligations” — on December 5, to be scrapped 11 days later.

Disability-rights activist Linda Burnip said the removal of the option on the first day of the new government presents an “ominous sign” for the future of disabled people.

Ms Burnip, who founded the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts, said the change was what “disabled people were dreading before the election.”

She said: “This is going to make things so difficult for disabled people, it’s going to put them more at risk.”

People with disabilities have routinely been declared fit for work after going through the DWP’s humiliating assessments. This is despite many claimants having serious disabilities that prevent them from being able to work.

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The notorious tests, carried out by poorly trained staff hired by outsourced private firms, have been slammed by doctors.

In a 2018 survey carried out by medical magazine Pulse, 645 GPs said their patients had been refused welfare benefits, counter to the GPs’ opinion that they were unable to work.

Official DWP figures also reflect this: 68 per cent of employment support allowance (ESA) claimants assessed as fit for work at their initial assessment later successfully had the decision overturned on appeal.

If found fit for work, claimants no longer receive ESA and must apply for jobseekers’ allowance or universal credit if their doctors decide not to sign a sick note exempting them from work.

Some GPs have been influenced not to sign off patients by work assessment capability results. In 2016 James Harrison died after the DWP told his GP to stop issuing him sick notes after he had been judged fit for work.

Ms Burnip highlighted the risks of this information being exchanged between the government and doctors.

“To some extent, doctors might as well not exist any more in relation to benefit claims because they are totally ignored,” she said. “You have someone who has seven or eight years’ training and their opinion counts for nothing.”

The DWP U-turn comes after PM Boris Johnson said earlier this year that working harder would help people with mental-health disorders.

“It comes back to the whole concept of work,” Ms Burnip said. “I mean I suppose if you’re an MP it’s quite a nice job. But if you work in some grotty factory for 40 hours a week, work isn’t really quite as rewarding.”

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The Conservative Party had not responded to a request for comment before the Star went to print.

Published at https://morningstaronline.co.uk/article/tories-use-first-day-back-attack-disabled