Conservatives scrap "pointless" medical tests for welfare claimants

Jake Cordell
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More than two million people claim employment and support allowance (ESA) of up to £109 a week (Source: Getty)

People who are unable to work due to serious illness or medical conditions will no longer have to undergo "pointless" reassessments in order to receive benefits, the government has announced today.

The new changes will mean tens of thousands of people with lifelong conditions will not have to face repeated medical tests, which can take place as often as once every three months, to renew their eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA).

More than two million people qualify for ESA which provides financial support of up to £109 per week for people who are unable to work due to disability or illness. The change will affect people who are suffering from conditions which mean they are unable to work and have no prospect of recovering, such as multiple sclerosis (MS), severe autism or Huntington's disease.

Announcing the change, Damian Green, secretary of state at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), said: "We want the welfare state to work for everyone, just as we want the economy to work for everyone, and there are a group of people for whom constant reassessment is pointless and which does increase their stress and anxiety levels."

Read more: What to expect from Philip Hammond's Autumn Statement

Green added the approach was "hard-headed, not hard-hearted", in what is thought to be a new take on welfare in line with Theresa May's attempt to distance herself from the David Cameron and George Osborne era, and ditch the "nasty party" moniker which has plagued the Conservatives since the 1980s.

Attacks on the Conservatives' position on welfare resurfaced last year after George Osborne tried to push through multi-billion pound cuts to tax credits in his final Autumn Statement as chancellor of the exchequer. That row eventually ended with Osborne defeated and Iain Duncan Smith resigning from the cabinet, although many suggested his decision, taken in March, could have had more to do with the upcoming referendum.

Those with shorter-term conditions or who could be deemed fit-for-work at some point in the future will still have to have reassessments, which can take place anywhere between once every three months of two years.

The changes won broad support from charities and campaigning groups.

The announcement came amid a flurry of new policies and Brexit posturing ahead of the Conservative Party conference, which kicks off in Birmingham tomorrow. Theresa May also announced a new review into employment laws for those not working in traditional full-time roles, which will be led by a former chief adviser to Tony Blair, this morning. Meanwhile, big party figures such as Iain Duncan Smith and Sajid Javid have been filling weekend column inches with their Brexit wishlists.

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