How do you know if a person's disability prevents them working and entitles them to benefits to make up for that? The official answer is the Work Capability Assessment, which is meant to identify people who are 'fit to work' and shouldn't get those benefits.
It has been controversial since it was introduced in 2008. Perhaps the most iconic criticism is that people who are officially found 'fit to work' have died soon after. Opponents of the current system or it works have been keen to find out how common this is.
In August the Department for Work and Pensions released two sets of statistics about people who died while on benefits, or any time in the year that they came off benefits. Some of these were experimental, and some were released after the Department lost a Freedom of Information ruling.
The figures were confusing and came at a time when problems with the way DWP handled information were cropping up repeatedly. Newspapers had to correct articles making claims that 2600 people had died within weeks of being ruled fit for work, or that 2380 people claiming employment and support allowance died within a fortnight of being deemed fit to work (as the PM pointed out to an MP during Prime Minister's Questions).
All this confusion seemed to be a consequence of how the figures were presented. Full Fact had to go back to the Department repeatedly to clarify what the figures showed. This is despite the fact that due to the long running FoI dispute the Department had time to consider how to present the information.
We've been waiting to hear how the UK Statistics Authority would respond and they have now published a letter suggesting that the Department does research into what happens to people after they undergo a Work Capability Assessment.
We hope the Department does this. Investigating beyond the headline numbers will give everyone the information needed to better judge how the system for claiming benefits is working.
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