More than 900,000 sick and disabled people are “stuck in a huge backlog” awaiting the outcome of their disability benefit claims, the Labour Party claims.
Around 580,000 Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) claimants are having to wait more than 10 weeks for a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), say Labour.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has previously promised that sick and disabled people should have to wait no longer than 35 working days for a WCA. But figures suggest that hundreds of thousands of people are forced to wait an average of 76 working days.
It is believed that the huge backlog is as a result of the private firm Atos withdrawing from a £500 million DWP contract to carry out the tests. The DWP recently announced that the American firm Maximus is to take over from Atos in carrying out the controversial assessments.
320,000 sick and disabled people are also forced to wait an average of 15 weeks for their Personal Independence Payment (PIP) claim to be fully processed, before they receive their first payment.
Long delays in processing claims are “forcing many sick and disabled people to rely on food banks to survive”, said the Shadow Minister for Disabled People Kate Green MP.
She added: “These shocking new figures show over 900,000 sick and disabled people are stuck in a huge backlog for Personal Independence Payments and Work Capability Assessments.
“The delays are so long that put together they are waiting a staggering 118,000 years, further back than the last Ice Age!
“David Cameron must urgently get a grip of Tory welfare waste which is leaving hundreds of thousands of disabled people in limbo without the support they need.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said Labour’s figures were “misleading at best and scaremongering at worst”.
“It only gives a sense of the volume of people we are assessing, rather than individual waiting times”, the spokesperson said.
“We’ve already appointed a new provider for employment and support allowance to drive down waiting times and we have doubled the number of personal independence payment claims processed between May and July.”