DWP HQ, Caxton House, London. Photo: Paul Billanie for Welfare Weekly.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has announced plans for an overhaul of hated ‘fitness for work tests’, which opponents say are “fundamentally flawed” and causing misery for thousands of sick and disabled people.

Work and Pensions Secretary Damien Green will announce a consultation on changes to the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and disabled employment support on Monday.

Commenting ahead of the announcement, and publication of the Health and Work Green Paper, Mr Green said: “We know the right type of work is good for our physical and mental health, but we need a more pragmatic health and welfare system that reflects this – one that offers work for all those who can, help for those who could and care for those who can’t.

“A disability or health condition should not dictate the path a person is able to take in life. No one wants a system where people are written off and forced to spend long periods of time on benefits when, actually, with the right support they could be getting back into work.”

He added: “The proposed changes to WCA will focus on improving opportunities and raising aspirations while making sure those people who most need support from the Government.”

The announcement has been cautiously welcomed by charities. But the government has also been urged to accept that some people are simply unable to work, no matter how much employment support they’re given, while others simply don’t trust the government to put the needs of sick and disabled people first.

Shadow Work and Pensions Secretary Debbie Abrahams said the government should scrap the WCA altogether and replace it with a system based on the “principles of dignity and inclusion”.

Debbie Abrahams said: “Whilst I welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that their callous Work Capability Assessments cause needless misery and stress for thousands upon thousands of sick and disabled people, Theresa May needs to take responsibility for her part in these disastrous social security reforms. To suggest that these have been a success is derisory.

“This cruel Tory approach is ideologically driven with the sole purpose of targeting the most vulnerable in our society to pay for their austerity plans, painting disabled people as scroungers and shirkers, whilst making no impact on the disability employment gap.

“Rather than tinkering at the edges, I have announced that Labour will scrap the Work Capability Assessments and replace them with a holistic, person-centred approach, based on principles of dignity and inclusion. This will be a key policy under our plans to transform the social security system.”

Liberal Democrat Work and Pensions spokeswoman Baroness Cathy Bakewell said the WCA needs to be replaced “to restore trust in the benefits system”.

“Most people want to work, but sadly some people simply can’t. Forcing them to look for a job, often against doctors’ advice is cruel and pointless.

She added: “Any new system should be based on doctors’ views of their patients’ health and on a real-world test that determines what kind of jobs a person might be able to do.”

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchel said the government needs to recognise that “many people with long-term progressive conditions will simply be too unwell to work and no amount of extra employment support will change that.”

But Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity Scope, said the government was right to consult on the “fundamentally flawed” WCA.

“Disabled people tell us repeatedly that the test causes them unnecessary stress and anxiety and makes finding work tougher than it needs to be”, he said.

“At the same time, nearly 40% of young disabled people tell us that they don’t have the information they need to find work.

“The current fit for work test doesn’t accurately identify the barriers disabled people face in entering or staying in work. An assessment should be the first step to getting support and should be separate from determining benefits entitlement.”

He added: “All disabled people should be able to access expert, tailored employment support and the government should work with employers to create flexible, modern workplaces.

“If the government is serious about meeting their commitment to halving the disability employment gap it must listen to the concerns of disabled people and deliver a system that truly works for people who want to get in and stay in work.”

Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Gillian Guy said: “Many people who are disabled or have long-term health problems want to work, and need support to do so.

“But for anyone not well enough to take on a job, the work capability assessment (WCA) must be fair, consistent and right first time.

“Thousands of people with a disability or long term health condition turn to Citizens Advice each year, with many juggling debt or housing problems as well as problems related to work.

“But too many have also been let down by failings with the WCA – last year we helped people with over 25,000 problems with these assessments. Issues include long delays, assessments carried out with limited medical evidence, and a lack of financial support when appealing decisions.

“It’s welcome news that the Green Paper finds the WCA to be in need of an overhaul. The Government now has a great opportunity to use this health and work consultation to tackle the challenges disabled people face finding and keeping a job.”

This article was last updated at 02:38 on Monday 31 October 2016.