Mining union slams disability and sickness benefit tests

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A MINING union has branded disability and sick benefit tests a “scandal” after a woman with severe health problems was judged fit for work.

Durham Miners’ Association (DMA), plans to raise its concerns with the Department for Work and Pensions about the tough work tests.

MPs across the North East have also criticised the system after being inundated with complaints from constituents about the assessors Atos Healthcare.

There are more than 131,000 claimants of Incapacity Benefit and its replacement, the Employment Support Allowance, in the region, where the proportion of long-term sick is high due to the industrial past.

The latest case involves a 55-year-old miner’s wife from the Easington area, who has not been named, who was given zero disability points following her 40-minute assessment, despite suffering from sight problems, arthritis in the spine and depression.

However, on appeal, which the woman had to wait 11 months for, the former machinist was awarded 24 points by the tribunal.

Alan Cummings, DMA executive committee member, said: “There are people who have serious disabilities who are being hounded by the DWP. The tests are an absolute scandal.”

Grahame Morris, MP for Easington, said he would estimate about a third of the people attending his advice surgeries have problems with their Incapacity Benefit claims.

Regular debates have been held at the House of Commons, where the region’s MPs have highlighted cases.

A DWP spokesman denied there were targets for finding people fit for work.

He said the Work Capability Assessment had been improved and there has been an increase in the number of severely disabled people being given long-term unconditional support.

The spokesman said: “We are committed to helping thousands of people move from benefits and back into work, while giving unconditional support to those who are most in need.”

A spokesman for the private company, Atos, which sponsored the Paralympic Games, said the DWP, not it, decided benefit entitlement. He said: “We do not make decisions on people’s benefit entitlement or on welfare policy.”

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