Select Committee on Social Security Appendices to the Minutes of Evidence


Memorandum by Incapacity Action

Incapacity Action are a network of Disabled Claimants campaigning for income rights for Disabled People. We are opposed to the Single Gateway which introduces compulsory job focused interviews for all those of working age. This includes Disabled People who have already satisfied the All Work Test for Incapacity Benefit and those housebound because of illness and disability. Only terminally ill people will be exempted. The Single Gateway takes no account of choice, type of work, wages and conditions. Neither does it consider the inaccessibility of our society for Disabled People living on low incomes, or that some of us are working as carers or parents, as well as managing our impairments with few resources.

Alongside the Single Gateway, the Welfare Reform and Pension Bill cuts Incapacity Benefit through means testing and places new restrictions on eligibility via national insurance contributions. A Capability Test said to measure employability is to be added to the draconian All Work Test, which the Government opposed while in opposition, on the grounds that it would cause great distress and hardship for Disabled People. Severe Disablement Allowance will be abolished for those over twenty leaving those Disabled People who have had no waged employment dependent on Income Support or in receipt of no money at all if they have savings or live with a partner. Disability Living Allowance Life Awards have been terminated and the process of spot check visits initiated under the discredited Benefits Integrity Project are to be made routine.

All these measures place intolerable pressure on Disabled People who are simply claiming money needed to live on. Disability Benefits have already been cut through the All Work Test and Benefits Integrity project, putting thousands of Disabled People at risk from loss of vital income and resources for personal assistance and mobility. Four deaths have resulted from the All Work Test Thomas Causton and David Holmes died in 1996 of heart attacks after benefits were withdrawn, (reported by the Mirror). In 1999 Jacky Mackenna of Merseyside, diagnosed as having endogenous depression, cut her wrists and then hung herself after Incapacity Benefit was denied, (reported in the Big Issue). BBC's Panorama Programme in February 1998 referred to the death of an ex miner in Wales who killed himself due to the constant pressures of repeated reviews under the All Work Test process.

Functional Testing, part of the All Work Test examination can be damaging to the health of Disabled People. This was documented by a National Citizen's Advice Bureaux report in 1997, "An Unfit Test" which stated that: "there is widespread evidence of the anxiety, distress and pain caused by the operation of the All Work Test. These concerns reported to the CAB are also reflected in the DSS research." The report called for the All Work Test to be scrapped but the Labour Government rejected its findings. The Social Security Select Committee which investigated the All Work Test in 1996 received extensive evidence from Disability Organisations which support the CAB's conclusions. Sarah Chapman from Newcastle told the Committee how her arm fractured during the All Work Test examination. Her experience further damaged her health and that of her husband who is now on kidney dialysis due to the stress. Sarah has since been called for a further All Work Test. She has appealed to Junior Social Security Minister Hugh Bayley and has been told that she must undergo the test again to satisfy legal requirements!! The fact that her health has not improved does not seem to matter.

The Select Committee Inquiry showed how damaging the process of compulsory testing is to those claimants with mental health difficulties. The organisation Breakthrough reported that the process had led to people attempting suicide due to extreme anxiety and that an Appeal tribunal had "expressed disgust at the way the system was treating people with mental illness. A recent report by Mind showed that admissions to psychiatric hospitals and incidents of self harm and attempted suicide had increased due to fears of loss of benefit.

Benefit cuts also lead to homelessness. Incapacity Action have been in touch with a woman who was admitted to a psychiatric hospital for the duration of a year, becoming mentally ill after her benefit was cut off. She consequently lost her council flat.

There is clearly a wealth of evidence to show that benefit cuts which go hand in hand with compulsory work tests bring casualties. The new measures further erode the minimum safeguards that existed for Disabled People through the Sickness and Disability Benefits system. They will not increase employment opportunities. A DSS commissioned report "Leaving Incapacity Benefit" (PSI 1998) found that people forced off Incapacity Benefit had continuing health problems which prevented them from getting jobs. The few who found jobs were no better off because wages are so low. Many returned to Incapacity Benefit.

In conclusion the proposals of the Single Gateway and the further cuts proposed by the Welfare Reform Bill threaten the health and safety of Disabled People. We fear more fatalities.

Incapacity Action

5 May 1999

previous page contents next page

House of Commons home page Parliament home page House of Lords home page search page enquiries

© Parliamentary copyright 1999
Prepared 27 July 1999