NEW research in Brighton and Hove has found the new benefits system has “entrenched problems at every stage”.
A study by Advice Brighton and Hove into Employment Support Allowance (ESA) found the system suffers delays, traumatic assessments and people being left without any money following the “wrong decisions” being made.
And both claimants and benefits advisors feel that work capability assessments were “not fit for purpose,” their report states.
Author of the report, Tess Craven, said advice agencies like theirs are seeing a huge rise in people approaching them for help about ESA.
She said: “These problems are impacting some of the most vulnerable people in Brighton and Hove and are also affecting frontline advice agencies at a time of massive funding cuts.”
Thousands of ill and disabled people across the city claim ESA, which replaces the outgoing incapacity benefit.
Most have to attend a work capability assessment (WCA) to see if they are fit for work.
In 2013 more than 3,000 people in Brighton and Hove appealed against the outcome of their WCA at tribunal and more than half of these – 54 per cent – won their case.
The research found it often takes at least a year to get the wrong decision overturned, causing financial hardship and distress in the meantime.
The report found one case in which a woman with a history of mental health problems attempted suicide after being told she was fit for work and that her benefits would stop.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We think it is right to look at whether people can do some kind of work with the right support – rather than just writing them off on long-term sickness benefits, as has happened in the past.
“Through a series of independent reviews and by working with medical experts and charities, we have continuously improved the work capability assessment since it was introduced in 2008 to ensure it is fair and accurate.
“We have also introduced Mandatory Reconsideration to enable incorrect decisions to be changed at the earliest possible opportunity.
“This removes the need for often costly and protracted appeals which lead to delays in people getting the benefits they have applied for.”
Groups like the Citizens Advice Bureau have regularly expressed concern at the changes.