You're fit to work, benefits chiefs tell cancer patient

THE Government has been told to treat sick people more "humanely" after a North Yorkshire man was judged fit to work despite being seriously ill with cancer.

A Tory MP has raised concerns with Ministers and Citizens Advice has warned it has "great concerns" over the system of testing under reforms to sickness benefit.

Skipton and Ripon MP Julian Smith intervened after a constituent with bowel cancer was ruled able to work despite his illness meaning a colostomy bag needed changing 16 times a day.

The man is now appealing against the verdict of the "work capability assessment" to see if he was eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), introduced in 2008 to replace Incapacity Benefit and Income Support for new claimants.

Experts at Citizens Advice say the tests – which check whether people are able to walk 50 metres or pick up an item off the floor – are a "blunt instrument" that often fail to take into account the impact of people's illnesses.

It received more than 45,000 calls in the first three months of this year from people claiming they had been wrongly judged, including people with terminal illnesses or serious mental health problems.

Fears about the system have intensified because tests are due to get even tougher, and this week's Spending Review also included plans to limit the amount of time people are able to claim the benefit. From next spring all existing Incapacity Benefit claimants will also be tested to decide whether they are still entitled to support.

Mr Smith said the Government must ensure "those who are genuinely and obviously not fit for work are dealt with more humanely", and said evidence from patients' own doctors should be taken into account.

"We have to look at how we make it as humane as possible for people who are clearly ill and particularly terminally ill."

Sue Royston, Social Policy Officer for Citizens Advice, said: "There are an awful lot of people who when they go to the ESA test very clearly can't work and are being found fit for work. We have great concerns about that.

"A lot of backbenchers are seeing in their surgeries seriously ill people and think this is obviously wrong. There are many obviously wrong decisions being made."

Work and Pensions Minister Chris Grayling said: "Our goal is, above all, to get this right. I do not want to do the wrong thing by those people who need support; I do want to do the right thing by the people with the potential to get back into work and make a better lot of their lives."