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Quarter of a million people 'lost' in benefit reform shake-up

Official figures issued today reveal that over a quarter of a million people have been ‘lost’ in the process of welfare benefit reform.

The Employment & Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in October 2008 as a way of assessing whether sick and disabled people are able to work. But, as CAS has shown over recent months, the assessment system is deeply flawed and has resulted in many genuinely sick and disabled people being wrongly assessed as ‘fit for work’.

Now figures released today by the Department of Work & Pensions show that 252,000 people across the UK (37% of all of those who applied for ESA) have had their claim closed before they were even properly assessed, and the DWP are not even recording why. So we don’t know if they are in work, whether they are receiving benefits or what has happened to them. They have simply disappeared off the system.

CAS spokesman Matt Lancashire said,

“Only this week the Prime Minister spoke about his welfare reform agenda and how important it is to get people off benefits and into work. Our concern is that this is being done in haste, and in a way which penalises the genuinely sick and vulnerable.

“We have shown in recent weeks how many chronically sick and disabled people have been assessed as ‘fit for work’ when they are nothing of the kind. They are the main victims of the welfare reform process. But now we see there are hidden victims as well: those who disappear off the system altogether before they are even assessed.

“The government is claiming that every single one of these people must have been wrongly claiming, and so this is a success for their policy. But our concern - based on real case evidence from CABs across the country - is that many vulnerable people are finding the application process so difficult that they are dropping out before they have even been assessed. So, many of them could in fact be genuine claimants. The point is that the DWP isn’t even tracking them, so doesn’t know.

“I suppose it’s one way to get the numbers of benefit claimants down – to lose them off the system altogether. But we are not convinced it is a compassionate way to treat so many of our most vulnerable fellow citizens. We call on the government to spell out clearly how and when they are going to start monitoring what happens to these people – the lost victims of benefit reform.”

For more information, interviews etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010.