Ministers are considering making drastic cuts to the sickness benefit Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), internal documents reveal.
Internal documents seen by the BBC reveal how ministers have ‘considered’ making draconian cuts to ESA payments for those claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG).
It is believed that the move would reflect how sick and disabled people in the WRAG are required to take steps toward future employment, even though they are currently thought of as ‘unfit for work’.
Sick and disabled people in the WRAG of ESA currently receive £28,75 a week more than JSA claimants, but papers seen by the BBC suggest that ministers have at least considered cutting this to just 50p more. The higher amount recognises additional costs incurred by sick and disabled people on a daily basis.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said the proposals were not government policy. However, this doesn’t mean that such a policy would not be implemented in the future, or find its way into the Tories general election manifesto.
The documents also reveal how the the government has been forced to bring in an extra 100 fitness-for-work assessors to clear a backlog of more than 60,000 ESA claims. The extra assessors will be hired through the employment support and training agency Pertemps.
DWP is expected to announce the successor to Atos in the next few months, who pulled out of a contract to assess unemployed people for ESA in the wake of criticism about the accuracy of its assessments.
Speculation is mounting that the U.S firm Maximus will be picked as the preferred bidder for a contract worth £500 million over three and a half years.
ESA is claimed by around two million people and provides crucial financial support for those who, through no fault of their own, are too sick or disabled to be able to work.
Dame Anne Begg, chair of the commons work and pensions committee, said she would support reforms to ESA but not any reduction in the value of the benefit. She added:
“That’s not reform, that is just saving money. I hope that is not something the government is going to come forward with.”
> Why not ? It’s never stopped them in the past.
Click here to find out more (BBC News)
Source – Welfare Weekly, 30 Oct 2014
One in six GP’s say they have been directly approached by patients facing poverty and malnutrition asking to be referred to a food bank.
Pulse Magazine surveyed 552 family doctors. 16% said they had been asked by their patients, who were unable to afford feed themselves and their families, to be referred for food aid.
GP’s claim that the increased demand for food bank referrals from those who are in genuine need of assistance, particularly in the wake of welfare cuts and stagnant wages, is creating an “enormous workload issue”. This is in-turn is resulting in a “knock-on effect” in the ability of other patients to obtain appointments to see their doctor, GP’s claim.
Former Chair of the Royal College of GP’s, Professor Clare Gerada, said that poor people were being forced to jump through hoops to get help. She added:
“Poverty is an enormous workload issue and, again, it’s the inverse care rule because it creates more work for GPs in poorer areas who don’t get resourced for it so you end up with more work and less time.
“People do naturally turn to their GPs, they don’t know where else to go, so they come to you. And because we get so much criticism, I get so fed-up.
“We’re there trying to sort out everybody’s problems and meanwhile the posh middle classes are complaining because they can’t get access to us.”
Editor of Pulse Magazine, Steve Nowottny said:
”That a significant number of patients are now going to their GP asking to be referred to a food bank is clearly a concern – both because of the extent of need it suggests among patients, but also because of the knock-on impact on general practice, which is already stretched very thin.
“GPs often feel as though they are asked to do everything, and increasingly that includes acting as a support agency for patients who may be struggling as a result of the recession.
“Every GP is committed to doing whatever they can to help their patients – but with finite resources, this kind of work inevitably diverts GPs from the rest of their job and leaves them less time to spend with other patients.”
Chris Mould, Chairman of the food bank charity Trussell Trust, said:
“GPs should have the ability to refer to a food bank when they come across a patient who they believe needs a food bank for health reasons, especially as levels of malnutrition are reported to be increasing.
“Some GPs are contacting food banks to ask them to help people visiting their surgeries who are suffering various sicknesses caused by not eating.
“GPs should not, however, be placed in a position to assess whether someone needs a food bank when the crisis is not health-related and they do not have enough information to make an accurate assessment of a patient’s situation.
“Food banks work hard to partner with a whole range of relevant professionals in the community who can refer people to food banks.
“If a doctor is asked to refer a patient to a food bank for a reason that is not health-related, such as debt, it is better for the GP to suggest that the patient speaks to a relevant agency, such as a debt advice charity, who can help address the underlying cause of the crisis and who will also be able to refer to a food bank.
“Over 23,000 professionals nationwide are registered as food bank voucher holders, enabling them to refer to their local Trussell Trust food bank.”
Doctors have also reported a 21% increase in the number of patients requesting help in support of a sickness benefit claim. Many GP’s are now refusing to help sick and disabled patients in their benefit claims (such as writing a letter to the DWP), because no matter how much they would like to be in the position to help and support their patients, GP’s claim that they simply do not have the time.
Source – Welfare News Service 18 Feb 2014