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New disability tests 'must be fair'

Ministers have been urged to ensure eligibility tests for a new disability benefit are "accurate and fair" before they are rolled out nationally.

The Work and Pensions Select Committee said there were "high levels of anxiety" among claimants of Disability Living Allowance (DLA), which is to be replaced with the new Personal Independence Payment for those of working age.

The Treasury has projected 20% savings under the new system, to be introduced in 2013, but it was still unclear which claimants stand to lose their benefits, the committee said in a report today.

Committee chairwoman and Labour MP Dame Anne Begg said the new assessment must avoid the mistakes of that used for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) from 2008, which had a "mechanistic, box-ticking approach"

"The Government's own estimates show that 500,000 fewer people will receive support by 2015-16 compared to the situation if DLA for working-age claimants had continued," she said.

"Announcing the change against a background of budget cuts, and the previous negative experience which many people have had with the Work Capability Assessment (WCA), has created high levels of anxiety amongst DLA recipients."

The committee said the tests should not be implemented nationally until a limited regional trial had proved successful.

"The Government needs to be certain that the new assessment procedure is accurate and fair before it is introduced," Dame Anne said.

Disability campaigners urged the Government to heed the MPs' report.

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of disability charity Scope said: "Day-to-day life costs more if you're disabled. PIP should be a financial lifeline for disabled people, but if they get this wrong many more will be being pushed further into poverty."

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