Almost half of people with some progressive conditions, including Parkinson's, who put in a claim for the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) are being told they will recover enough to look for work in the future.
In an investigation we conducted with 3 other charities we found 45% of people who put in a claim for ESA, and had Parkinson's, Cystic Fibrosis, multiple sclerosis, or Rheumatoid Arthritis, were placed in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
The WRAG defines people as able to recover to the point where they can look for work. This directly contradicts the definition of a progressive condition, which can only get worse over time.
A system which tells people who have had to give up work because of a debilitating progressive condition that they'll recover, is farcical and simply defies belief.
On top of this, many have their benefit removed after a year as an added 'incentive' to find employment.
A call for major changes
Today we, along with the MS Society, Cystic Fibrosis Trust and National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, called for major changes to the system when presenting our dossier to the independent review of the Work Capability Assessment.
Crucially, we urged Atos Healthcare to seek medical evidence before making the decision to put anyone with a progressive condition in the WRAG.
Our Head of Policy and Service Improvement, Caroline Hacker, said:
"A system which tells people who have had to give up work because of a debilitating progressive condition that they'll recover, is farcical and simply defies belief.
"It shows that many assessors, and those who rubber-stamp the decisions in Government, don't apply the most basic understanding of the medical conditions they are dealing with."
The dossier also reveals that over the past 5 years, 7 out of 10 new claimants (70%) with a progressive condition have been reassessed 2 or more times on the same claim, causing unnecessary stress and anxiety – something which we know makes Parkinson's worse.
Callous and ignorant
Jim Grimwood, 58, from County Durham, was diagnosed with Parkinson's 7 years ago. After working for almost 40 years, Jim came to the difficult decision in 2011 that he would have to give up work and applied for ESA.
"It was 6 years after being diagnosed with Parkinson's that I was finally forced to give up work, so it can hardly be said that I rushed into it. After the first ESA assessment I scored zero and they said I should be able to return to work within 3 months.
"I was flabbergasted, as was everyone who knew me. Late last year I applied for ESA again as my Parkinson's had got worse.
"I was put in the WRAG and told that I should be able to return to work in 18 months. I asked to be re-assessed but the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) refused to change their decision.
"Decision makers either fail to grasp, or choose to ignore, the practical difficulties involved in managing a condition which affects one's abilities to do even basic things every day, without the added burden of trying to do a job of work and comply with the terms of a contract of employment."