Changes to how people claim incapacity benefit have begun this week – with the 1.5 million people who claim the benefit due to receive letters asking them to be tested on their ability to work.

The new work capability assessment (WCA) is part of the government’s drive to reduce the number of long-term benefit claimants and get them into employment. The rollout takes place after pilots of the WCA in Burnley and Aberdeen saw 30% of people tested declared fit to work. A further 39% of people were assessed as being fit to work, but with additional support needed to help them do this. Those deemed immediately fit for work are moved onto the lower rate jobseeker’s allowance. However, many charities have said that the new tests are unfair.

For example, one of the major criticisms of the WCA is that it doesn’t take into account conditions that can change rapidly, such as ME, or mental health conditions. Richard Hawkes, chief executive of Scope, said: “With the government’s work capability assessment pilots coming to an end, we will now see up to 10,000 people being assessed for their fitness to work every week. But of the thousands that have been found fit to work so far, the crucial test for ministers is how many of them have succeeded in getting a job? “Disabled people who have been out of work for a long time, or perhaps have never worked, need support, often from a specialist, to help them find suitable jobs. The government’s fitness for work test provides no information on the barriers that prevent individuals’ moving into work, making it highly likely that they end up on the wrong benefit and unable to access to help they need. The high number of successful appeals against WCA decisions further underlines its inadequacy. “If government is serious about getting disabled people into work, and not just off incapacity benefit, they need to introduce an assessment that’s fit for purpose, that is one that assesses people’s needs accurately and holistically, and enables people to access the right support, so they can get the job they want and deserve.”