Out of about 840,000 who tried to obtain the £95-a-week Employment and Support Allowance, 640,000 were told they were fit for work, or withdrew their applications before they took the tests – suggesting they were ‘trying it on’.
Incredibly, 7,100 tried to claim because they had sexually transmitted diseases
The disclosure by the Department for Work and Pensions raises fresh questions over how many of the 2.6million people on the existing incapacity benefit are really incapable of being employed.
Assessment: Incapacity benefit claimants have to now go through a medical test to determine if they should receive a payment. The test includes how far people can walk, if they can bend to touch their knees and whether they can hold a pen
The figures suggest that if they were tested to the same extent the number would fall as low as 650,000.
This would slash the £12.5billion bill for incapacity benefit to just over £4billion a year.
The Government is pushing ahead with trials in Burnley and Aberdeen to re-test existing incapacity benefit claimants. If successful, the tests will be implemented nationwide.
The Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was brought in two years ago for new applicants. It will eventually replace incapacity benefit, which is worth up to £91.40 a week.
All new claimants now have to undergo work capability assessments through a private contractor, Atos.
The first three months are paid at a lower weekly rate of £65, while their claim in the form of a questionnaire about their condition is considered along with information from their doctor.
They may then be asked to go for a full medical assessment. More than a third of claimants voluntarily give up the benefit within three months, however, rather than undergoing the medical tests.
Employment minister Chris Grayling said the reforms were about giving those who can work help to do so and those who cannot extra supportEven so, those who have failed or avoided the test since it was introduced have managed to claim as much as £500million in total before being screened out.
Those who go in front of Atos-hired doctors are tested on how far they can walk, how long they can sit and whether they can bend and touch their knees.
They also have to show whether they can hold a pen or pencil and do up a button.
Those who can do basic physical tasks are tested for their communication skills and whether they can cope with change.
People who are found to be sick are then put into three groups: those who need permanent support, those who might be able to work after a few months and those who are fit to work.
Since October 2008, just 51,000 people have been put on the new sickness benefit indefinitely, meaning there is genuinely no hope of them being able to work again.
Employment Minister Chris Grayling said: ‘With over two million people trapped on incapacity benefits, these figures underline how important it is that we make sure everyone who has the potential to work gets the right help to move off benefits and into a job.’
He added that ministers had asked independent experts including charities to assess whether the medical tests were working.
Mr Grayling said: ‘This is not about pushing the sick and disabled into jobs but giving those that can work the help to do so and those that can’t more, not less, support.’
A detailed breakdown showed how people with a range of medical conditions were trying to get the benefits.
Nearly 10,000 people have applied for the ESA because they are too fat – a condition which is labelled ‘endocrine, nutritional and metabolic diseases’.
Of those applicants, just 600 were allowed to stay on sickness benefit.Of the 7,100 people have applied to go on sickness benefits because they have said they have sexually transmitted diseases just 600 were allowed to stay on the ESA.
One Whitehall source said: ‘This is about government giving these people a nudge.
‘It costs more to help them into work, but in the long term it is better for them, it is better for their communities and it is better for our economy.’
A spokesman for the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: ‘The high proportion of people who are found to be fit for work or who stop claiming before they are medically tested proves the Government is right to press ahead with reforms.
‘Now these payments can be directed to those who truly need them without being lost at the hands of opportunists and those who are capable of employment.’
Reforms to incapacity benefit are a key to Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith’s radical reforms plan for the benefits system, which accounts for £1 of every £10 spent by the Government.
Douglas Alexander, the shadow work and pensions secretary, pointed out the reforms had been introduced under Labour.
He said: ‘These latest figures show this reform put in place by Labour can help people make the transition from welfare into work.