Three-quarters of people applying for a new benefits programme have been found fit to work, or withdrew their application before having a medical assessment, it has been revealed.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the figures emphasised the importance of getting people into work if they were fit and able to do so.
A total of 842,100 people applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) programme from October 2008 until February this year, the DWP found. Of that number, 331,100 were fit to work, with a further 307,200 people’s claims being closed before the assessment was completed.
Employment minister Chris Grayling, right, said: “With over two million people trapped on incapacity benefits, these figures underline how important it is that we make sure everyone who has the potential to work gets the right help to move off benefits and into a job.
“However, I am determined that we get the medical assessment right, which is why Professor Malcolm Harrington is undertaking an independent review in consultation with a number of charities representing disabled people and those with mental health issues.
“I am more than happy to take on board any serious suggestions for changing the assessment as I want it to be as near to perfect as we can be.
“This is not about pushing the sick and disabled into jobs but giving those that can work the help to do so and those that can’t more, not less, support.”
ESA replaced incapacity benefit and income support paid on the grounds of incapacity for new claimants from the end of October 2008. The new scheme was accompanied by the work capability assessment, which all applicants must complete.
Changes have already been made to the assessment to recognise people suffering from mental health conditions and those with cancer.
The government is also reassessing those still receiving the old-style incapacity benefit in a programme which started in Aberdeen and Burnley, Lancashire, earlier this month.
The DWP has said that the most severely disabled people and those who are terminally ill will not be expected to look for work and will instead be given extra help through the ESA. Those who are found to be fit to work will be given Jobseekers Allowance and expected to look for work.
Almost £135bn has been spent over the past 10 years keeping two million people on incapacity benefits.