New study finds that disabled people living in deprived areas are more likely to lose their benefits under the government’s controversial assessments system
“Fit for work” tests are “significantly biased” against claimants in poor areas of the country, new research seen exclusively by the Guardian shows.
Analysis of more than a million incapacity benefit claimants who have been re-assessed for employment and support allowance (ESA), the benefit for people too disabled or ill to work, shows the controversial work capability assessment is disproportionately removing benefits from people in more deprived regions.
At the same time, it found claimants in wealthier areas are more likely not only to retain their sickness benefits – and avoid being declared fit for work – but to be placed in the support group of ESA, in which claimants are not required to undertake any form of work preparation and receive the highest benefit rate.
The study analyses government data from over 300 local authorities between 2007 and 2015 and is published next week in the journal Radical Statistics. It further shows that, counterintuitively, healthier areas found claimants fit for work less often, and placed claimants into the support group more frequently, than areas with higher rates of disability and illness.
“With an accurate test of disability, it would be expected that areas with lower disability and ill health would find more people fit for work,” Jonathan Hume, the author of the research, says. “As it stands, areas where people have the most need for ESA – so higher poverty, higher disability – are the ones removing it at a higher rate.”
Such findings are consistent with the idea that, as part of wider reduction in support for disabled people, the “fit for work” test was designed to cut support rather than better target it to those who “truly need it” as the government has repeatedly claimed, Hume adds.
There have been widespread concerns about the validity of this test in recent years, with critics saying it is inaccurate, discriminates against mentally ill people and those with fluctuating illnesses, and causes widespread stress and even suicidal feelings among claimants.