The UK effort to get the disabled off benefits has had a horrific impact on people deemed fit to work. Decisions to cut benefits by authorities like the WSIB can have much more than a financial impact. As many injured workers will tell you, it can be extremely traumatic. In the United Kingdom, a coroner has demanded that the government take action to prevent future deaths of disability benefit claimants, after concluding in a “ground-breaking” inquest verdict that a disabled man killed himself as a direct result of being found “fit for work”.
This is believed to be the first time that a coroner has blamed the work capability assessment process for directly causing the death of a claimant. However, statistics released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) revealed that during the period December 2011 and February 2014 2,380 people died after their employment support benefits ended because a work capability assessment found they were fit for work.
The data does not prove that the deaths were caused by the government’s welfare “reforms,” but the figures focused attention on the UK government’s controversial fit-for-work assessment process which has been used to purge people from the benefits system.
Here in Ontario, the WSIB has been pursuing a similar campaign. The percentage of workers on benefits at three and six months has dropped to historically low levels. Even for those with long term disabilities, the percentage of workers receiving benefits at 48 and 72 months has been reduced from 6.5 and 5.3 percent in Q1-2011 to 2.3 and 4.2 percent in Q2-2015. The average loss of earnings (LOE) percentage at lock-in has been reduced to 44.8 percent in Q2-2015 compared to 60.7 percent in Q1-2011. The average permanent impairment award has dropped from 13.5 percent in Q1-2011 to 9.5 percent in Q2-2015. For those workers who were given retraining (Work Transition Plans) and were able to complete the program, only 80.4 percent found employment. But all are deemed able to work and earn an income, so their benefits are cut.
As in the UK, the process of deeming an injured worker fit to work, regardless of their actual circumstances, is the main tool employed by the WSIB to achieve the changes in its statistics. When you are deemed fit to work, you are also deemed to have an income from that work and benefits are cut accordingly.
While these statistics are touted as a great financial success for the WSIB and employers call for corresponding reductions in their rates, the human toll on Ontario’s injured workers has yet to be calculated.