MINISTERS are under fire for failing to make changes to a controversial 'work test', being introduced for 84,000 sickness benefit claimants across the region.

An independent review slammed progress on improvements to much-criticised assessments of incapacity benefit (IB) claimants as "disappointingly incomplete".

Professor Malcolm Harrington, in his third and final report, said the department for work and pensions (DWP) appeared committed to improving the work test, but added: "This job is not yet complete. The improvements that have been started must be carried through to the end.

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"A number of the major charities say that, although they have seen some change for the better, it is disappointingly incomplete in coverage and depth. I agree with them."

Liam Byrne, Labour's work and pensions spokesman, described the review as "devastating", saying: "Progress is slow and incomplete.

"Ministers are failing to grip the shambolic appeals system and the whole process is utterly failing to get people back into work."

But Mark Hoban, the Conservative work minister, said the review had found that his department had already had made the WCA "more accurate and effective".

Those changes included better communication with claimants, the introduction of 60 'mental health champions' into assessment centres to provide advice and a simpler process for cancer sufferers.

Over three years, Atos will test about three-quarters of the 122,000 people in the North-East and North Yorkshire who claim IB.

About 30 per cent are expected to be judged ready for work and be placed on job seekers' allowance (JSA) instead - losing at least £25 a week in benefit.

A further 40 per cent are likely to be assessed as able to look for work, with support. That means they will be moved onto JSA after one further year, if they have savings above £16,000, or their partner works.