Benefits rules intimidate genuine cases of need

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SICKNESS benefits claimants are being put off by the challenges they face, says a Wearside disability worker.

Official figures show three-quarters of the 1,175,700 applicants for employment and support allowance (ESA) – the successor to the old incapacity benefit – are found fit to work or drop their claims before they are completed.

Employment Minister Chris Grayling claims the figures underlined the need to reassess people still on the old incapacity benefit.

He said: "We now know very clearly that the vast majority of new claimants for sickness benefits are in fact able to return to work,” he said.

“That's why we are turning our attention to existing claimants, who were simply abandoned on benefits.

"That's why we are reassessing all of those claimants, and launching the work programme to provide specialist back-to-work support.”

But Doreen Hammond, of Sunderland-based North East Disability Support Group, in High Street East, said the assessment process was intimidating for many genuine applicants.

“There are always a fair amount of people who know how to work the system, of course there are, but it must put a lot of genuine people off.”

Assessments were often carried out by nurses, rather than doctors, and the system left little room for uncertainty, it has been claimed.

“The assessment is supposed to cover any illness a person might have, but it consist simply of ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ boxes,” said Doreen.

“For example, the question might be whether a person can sit down for five minutes. The answer might be ‘Yes, but...’ but the assessment only wants ‘Yes,’ or ‘No,’ with no room for explanation.

“Someone with hip problems might be able to sit for five minutes, but not actually sit still for that time. We do agree medicals are required and people who are for work should be working but we don’t think the actual medical exam is appropriate.

“We see a lot of people who can’t read, can’t write or aren’t mentally fit for work and they are the ones we worry about.”