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theweek120by150New figures show for the first time that a majority of new claimants of out-of-work disability benefits are – eventually – found not “fit for work”.

Conservative ministers – particularly the former employment minister Chris Grayling – have previously made much of figures that they claimed showed most new employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants were able to work and so were ineligible for support.

But the latest Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures show that – once the results of appeals are fed through – a majority of new claimants are being awarded ESA, which replaces the old incapacity benefit.

The new figures show that – of those whose work capability assessment (WCA) has been completed – 52 per cent of people who started their claim between March and May 2012 were originally found fit for work.

Another 27 per cent were placed in the ESA support group, with 21 per cent in the ESA work-related activity group, for those disabled people expected to move eventually into jobs.

But the figures also show that it appears to take at least a year from when a claim starts for any subsequent appeals to be heard, a large proportion of which – somewhere between 30 and 40 per cent – result in the original decision being overturned.

And figures for July, August and September 2011 – the latest months released so far for which the results of appeals show a significant impact – reveal that less than half of claimants are being found fit for work, with 48 or 49 per cent unsuccessful in their ESA claims.

The tables released by DWP suggest that the proportion found fit for work will fall even further, with even more people given the support they need through ESA, once the results of appeals from claims begun in 2012 are fed into the statistical system.

Disabled activists and many other campaigners are convinced the WCA is still inflexible and deeply unfair, although the new figures suggest that changes to the assessment by the government, following independent reviews by Professor Malcolm Harrington, have improved it to some extent.

Last week, Labour MP Kevan Jones said the coalition had “blood on their hands” because of suicides caused by the WCA.

Former Labour minister Michael Meacher told fellow MPs in the same debate that he could not “begin to do justice to the feelings of distress, indignation, fear, helplessness and indeed widespread anger” at the way people had been treated.

A DWP spokesman referred Disability News Service to a press release in which Conservative employment minister Mark Hoban said the new ESA figures showed “that the improvements we have made since 2010 are making a real difference”.

He compared the 27 per cent of people now being placed in the support group – for those considered unable to work – with between 10 and 11 per cent in the early stages of the WCA, from December 2008 to May 2010.

But when asked by DNS to comment on the figures adjusted for appeals – which give the clearest picture of the numbers eventually being found fit for work – the DWP spokesman said: “Mark has made his comment around the statistics. I don’t think we would comment beyond that at the moment.”

The new DWP figures also show that the proportion of successful appeals against being found fit for work has continued to fall.

For claims begun in 2009, it was as high as 41 per cent, but the latest figures – for claims begun in the autumn of 2011 – show the proportion of successful appeals had fallen to 31 per cent.

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