Secret Tory plans to slash sickness benefits for people unable to work have been leaked in a document, it has been reported today.
Tory ministers are considering slashing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for claimants in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) by as much as £30 a week, affecting thousands of sick and disabled people.
The move would see the value of ESA for this group of jobseekers falling from £102.15 a week to the same level as Jobseeker’s Allowance – £73.10 a week for jobseekers over the age of 25.
Work Capability Assessments (WCA) would also be overhauled and renamed “Employment Capability Assessments”, to “focus attention on work seeking, not benefit seeking”, reports the Daily Mirror.
Following its signing of disability campaigner Sue Marsh earlier this month, Maximus – the company taking over the Work Capability Assessment contract from Atos in March – have now signed up a leading disability charity as well.
Disability Rights UK (DRUK) have announced that they have agreed a contract to deliver training in disability equality to Maximus health professionals.
DRUK has over 300 member organisations, including many national charities, and aims to ‘Break the link between disability and poverty’. Maximus, which is being paid more than double the amount that Atos was being paid to carry out WCA’s seems keen to prevent potential opponents from slipping into poverty by sharing some of its taxpayer funded profits with them.
DRUK are also advertising for people to take part in what looks very much like a promotional campaign for income protection insurance – the sort of thing that Unum provide as an alternative to state support – though there is no suggestion that Unum are involved on this occasion.
Members of the public who have had a serious illness and are trying to return to work are offered the amounts of money and support they would have had if they had been wealthy enough to afford to take out income protection insurance cover. They are filmed as they make the return to work and these films can then be used to encourage people to take out income protection insurance.
Of course, the worse the level of state benefits and state support, the more easily people can be persuaded to take out such insurance, giving insurance companies a vested interest in maintaining the link between disability and poverty.
Source – Benefits & Work, 28 Jan 2015
Thousands of sick and disabled people have requested an audio-recording of medical assessments for sickness benefit, Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), official figures show.
Figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) reveal that between December 2012 and February 2014, a total of 4,060 audio-recorded face-to-face Work Capability Assessments (WCA) were requested. The busiest month came in January 2014, when 500 people requested to have their WCA audio-recorded.
However, DWP figures also show that of the 4,060 requests to audio-record a WCA, only 2,670 were successfully completed – averaging between 150 to 200 a month.
On average, approximately 70 were cancelled each month, totalling 1,080 between December 2012 and February 2014. The DWP says 330 individuals were awaiting an audio-recorded WCA in February 2014.
For every 10,000 WCAs completed, the DWP received only 66 requests for audio recordings (0.66%).
The ratio of recordings requested to all assessments completed was highest in January 2014 (1.14%) and lowest in January 2013 (0.36%).
The ratio of completed audio recording to all assessments completed was on average 0.42% and the ratio of cleared (completed + cancelled) audio recordings to all assessments was on average 0.59%.
There is no legal right to record a face to face benefit assessment, says the DWP. And the department has no legal obligation to provide recording equipment.
According to the DWP, the current policy for audio recording of face-to-face assessments is that DWP has asked Atos Healthcare, and its successor Maximus, to accommodate requests as much as reasonably possible.
The DWP said they are releasing these statistics “as a contribution to the debate on audio-recording face-to-face WCAs”.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 08 Jan 2015
A scandalous picture of suffering, trauma and destitution is painted by a former Work Programme adviser who was tasked with getting claimants off the employment and support allowance (ESA) sickness benefit.
Speaking to the press for the first time since she quit the job last year, Anna Shaw (not her real name) says:
“Some of my clients were homeless, and very many of them had had their money stopped and were literally starving and extremely stressed. Many had extreme mental health conditions, including paranoid schizophrenia, psychosis, bipolar disorder and autism.
One guy [diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and homeless] came to see me for the first appointment and mentioned that he had not eaten for five days. I offered him my lunch, thinking he would refuse it out of pride, and he fell upon it like a wild animal. I’ve not seen a human being eat like that before.”
Shaw can only speak out anonymously, because when she resigned, after just a few months in the job, her employer made her sign a confidentiality clause.
She believed that the majority of her ESA caseload of about 100 clients were not well enough to have been on the government’s welfare-to-work Work Programme, but should instead have been signposted to charities that could support them with their multiple problems.
“Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me,” she says. Shaw says she received no training in working with people with mental health issues or physical disabilities.
Under the government’s welfare reforms, Shaw’s clients would have completed a controversial test, called the work capability assessment (WCA), currently conducted by contractor Atos, and been placed in the work-related activity group (WRAG) of ESA because they were judged capable of working, albeit with appropriate support.
Shaw’s employer was subcontracted by one of the 18 “prime providers” the government pays to implement its Work Programme to get jobless people into employment. However, Shaw says she was never given a copy of her clients’ WCA, which details their health conditions, so it was difficult to provide the support they needed.
Shaw thinks many of her ESA claimants wanted to work, but the “fundamental issues” – their physical and mental disabilities, often coupled with situations such as homelessness or domestic abuse – were not dealt with.
“Every person who came in needed specialist help on a whole range of things, and to be supported, not under imminent threat of losing their benefit the whole time.”
She believes many of her clients had been wrongly assessed as fit to work. “I had a woman with multiple sclerosis who had been domestically abused and was suffering from very severe depression and anxiety, and she had a degenerative condition and she was deemed fit for work,” she says. “I gave people advice under the radar about how to appeal … but it was absolutely not in our remit to encourage people to appeal.”
The most recent government figures (to June 2014) show that only 2% of longer-term ESA claimants find sustained employment. Independent research by the Centre for Economic and Social Inclusion has found that disabled people are about half as likely to find employment as non-disabled people. Last week, a report suggested that officials were considering cutting ESA, which is paid to around 2 million people, by as much as £30 a week as the chancellor, George Osborne, seeks a £12bn cut in the welfare bill.
Shaw says she was expected to enrol claimants on back-to-work courses.
“It was very much ticking boxes. My managers were just obsessed with compliance with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). We would be penalised as an organisation if we didn’t sanction people who failed to show up… but with ESA they realised there was very little chance of getting these people into work. They were kind of parked.”
In the past year, sanctions for ESA claimants who fail to turn up for interviews with their job adviser have increased more than sevenfold. In each case, claimants lost at least one week of their benefit money, even if they said they were too ill to get to an appointment.
“One minute we had to sanction and the next minute we were told absolutely not to sanction,” says Shaw. “I think this was in response to [hostile coverage to sanctions in] the press… so the advice was given that we weren’t sanctioning them but we weren’t to let them know we weren’t sanctioning them… so they would come for appointments.”
According to one of Shaw’s former colleagues who is still working for the organisation, sanctioning has intensified.
“She said: ‘It’s got a lot worse since you left and now we’re having to sanction all the ESA claimants if they don’t turn up for appointments,’” says Shaw.
Two months ago, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, stated that the WP “revolutionises the way we provide support to those who are the hardest to help, supporting a move from dependency to independence and getting people into work so that they have financial security for the future”.
But Shaw’s revelations contradict the ministerial architect of welfare reform. She says:
“I felt that my job was really a non-job and as long as I ticked the boxes, they didn’t really care what I did with them… but they missed the point that these were actually human beings that I was coming into contact with, and going home every night wondering if these people were still alive.”
Shaw’s claims are backed up by a recent report, Fulfilling Potential, compiled by a WP client, Catherine Hale , with support from Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Of the 500 people on ESA who responded to an online survey, 82% said their WP provider made no effort to adapt jobs on offer or make it easier for them to work. Only 7% said their adviser had a copy of their WCA.
A spokesman for the DWP says Work Programme providers “have the freedom to design any work-related activity so it is appropriate to the person’s condition”, and the DWP “offers more money to providers for helping the hardest-to-help groups into work, such as people on ESA”.
But there is no breakdown of how much of the £1.37bn WP expenditure from June 2011 to 31 March 2014 was spent on helping ESA claimants. He insists that sanctions are “used only as a last resort” and “about 99% of ESA claimants don’t get a sanction”. He adds that the DWP is looking at how to share information about clients’ medical conditions with WP advisers.
Source – The Guardian, 05 Nov 2014
A future Labour government would introduce a new ‘Work Support Programme’ for unemployed disabled people, in a bid to reduce the number of people claiming sickness benefits.
Analysis of figures uncovered as part of an investigation into government spending reveals that the coalition has overspent on Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) by around £8 billion, claim Labour.
This comes at the same time as figures released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show that the number of people claiming ESA has risen by 50,000 in just six months.
Labour say this is due to the ‘failure’ of the controversial Work Programme, dubbed ‘workfare’ by its opponents, in helping sick and disabled people into work. Only around one in twenty ESA claimants who participate in the scheme find secure and lasting jobs, while the overwhelming majority find themselves back at the jobcentre and trapped on benefits.
Labour would ‘improve the employability’ of sick and disabled unemployed people, says the shadow minister for disabled people Kate Green MP, through the introduction of a specialist programme designed to support them into work.
> Phrases like ‘improve the employability’ always send a shiver up my spine. And it sounds like business as usual should Labour get in… the poor are the enemy – punish them !
The ‘Work Support Programme’ would help support ESA claimants regarded as being the ‘furthest from work’, say Labour.
The programme would also utilise ‘existing resources’ from underperforming government schemes, such as the Work Programme and Work Choice, and then make use of those ‘resources’ to reform the discredited Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Labour say they want to ensure that the WCA ‘provides a gateway to back-to-work’ support, rather than a barrier.
The majority of sick and disabled openly say they would welcome the opportunity to work, if they are able to, but many claim that employers discriminate against them in favour of healthier, more abled-bodied job seekers.
Kate Green MP, Labour’s shadow minister for Disabled People, said:
“Thousands of disabled people who want to work are being failed by the Tories. The Work Programme isn’t working for disabled people, with just one in 20 finding jobs, while this Tory-led Government slashes specialist support in job centres.
“The Tories’ failure to help disabled people into work comes at a huge cost to disabled people in every corner of the country who are being let down and to taxpayers who are facing an £8 billion bill.
“We must bring down social security spending and doing that requires a new approach to tackle the root causes of these costs directly. That’s why Labour will give disabled people the support they need to find a job.
“Our Work Support programme will bring hope to thousands of disabled people who have been let down by David Cameron’s government.”
No further details were available at the time of publication.
Source – Welfare Weekly, 09 Oct 2014
Half of GP surgeries are charging sick and disabled benefit claimants who request medical evidence to support a benefit appeal, a survey by the Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) had found.
The CAB say that this demonstrates the ‘obstacles’ people face when appealing against Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) ‘fit for work’ decisions, as well as the financial difficulties experienced by sick and disabled benefit claimants in accessing their medical records.
According to the results of the survey, 50% of GP surgeries said that they charged benefit claimants for medical evidence and 61% of those said they asked their patients to pay between £10 and £50.
26% of GP surgeries who asked benefit claimants to pay for medical evidence admitted that they only asked ‘some patients’.
14% of GP surgeries surveyed by the CAB said that they only provide medical evidence to ‘some’ groups of patients, while 15% admitted that they turn down ALL requests from sick and disabled benefit claimants for medical evidence.
Among the reasons given for refusing to provide medical evidence for ESA appeals were ‘a lack of time and that they did not feel it was their job to do so’.
Citizens Advice Chief Executive, Gillian Guy, said:
“The Work Capability system is not fit for work. The odds are stacked against sick and disabled people, who are paying a heavy health, emotional and financial price for ministers’ failure to get support right.
“People who turn to the state for help with illness have every right to expect that support will be there for them. Unfortunately far too many people face a double-edged sword of a poor assessment and a charge to appeal against it. Ministers need to urgently address this totally misguided process where people can be judged fit for work without any medical evidence to back up that decision.
“Too often GPs charge people to access basic medical evidence. When sickness or disability limits someone’s ability to go out and work, being asked for money to help lodge an appeal can be a serious blow. Citizens Advice works closely with medical professionals to try to ensure people can get fair treatment and strong support. If doctors are unable to provide help due to a lack of time or resources then it is Government’s responsibility to ensure the necessary support is made available.
“The WCA process is putting pressure on GPs, charities and most importantly, ordinary people in need of a helping hand. The buck stops with ministers, who need to urgently fix this system.”
Citizens Advice say that ESA and the WCA are now the ‘single biggest issue’ in their advice centres. The charity claim that in the past year they have dealt with nearly half a million issues related to ESA and a total of 1.5 million requests for help and support since 2008.
The CAB surveyed 173 GP surgeries as part of their Fit For Work campaign, which is demanding urgent reform to the ESA Work Capability Assessment process to ensure that sick and disabled benefit claimants ‘get fair treatment and strong support’.
Source – Welfare News Service – 14 May 2014
Scottish National Party (SNP) Press Release:
The Scottish National Party has criticised the UK government for failing benefits claimants with mental health problems.
Speaking in a Westminster Hall debate today [7 May 2014] on Improving the Employment and Support Allowance application process for people with mental health problems, SNP Work and Pensions spokesperson Dr Eilidh Whiteford MP will condemn the UK government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) for its shortcomings with regard to people with mental health conditions.
According to a Freedom of Information request, in 2013, 58% (6 out of 10) ESA claimants hit by sanctions were vulnerable people with a mental health condition or learning difficulty – an increase from 35% of sanctioned claimants in 2009 – indicating that people with mental health problems are being inappropriately sanctioned.
Commenting, Dr Whiteford said:
“The UK government must do more to help some of society’s most vulnerable people.
“I have seen an increasing stream of people with quite serious mental illnesses over the last couple of years who are falling through our now very frayed social safety net because of Welfare Reforms. I’m sure it goes without saying that many people with a mental illness won’t ever need to depend on the benefits system. But some of those with more severe mental illnesses do require support, and some of them are extremely vulnerable.
“A key problem is that too often assessors and decision makers have little or no relevant background information about claimants’ complex medical histories, and too rarely seek input or opinions from claimants’ clinicians.
“A report recently published by the Scottish Association for Mental Health, SAMH, details findings on how the experiences of living in poverty affect peoples’ mental health, and how SAMH service users with mental health problems have been affected by UK government welfare reforms. A truly shocking finding was that 98% of respondents said that welfare reforms were impacting on their mental health, including increased stress and anxiety, while 79% were facing financial impacts such as reduced income.
“In six cases reported to the 2013 survey, SAMH staff had to carry out suicide interventions directly related to the welfare reforms.
“The information is there in black and white, and the UK government cannot continue to ignore it.”
> I’ll bet you anything that they can…
Source – Welfare News Service 08 May 2014
If you become sick or disabled and lose your job you need to know that you will be supported.
However, our advisers are helping more and more people who are having problems with the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). We think this needs fixing and want to make sure that ESA is fit for work. (Article and data from the Citizen’s Advice Bureau, 3rd Feb 2014)
ESA is the benefit designed to help people who have limited ability to work. We have found that the ESA process too often fails to determine who is fit for work and who isn’t. This means that the right people are not getting the support they are entitled to.
As our chart shows, despite attempts by successive Governments to put this right we are still seeing evidence that the system is not fit for work.We want…
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Taking sides: Some of the demonstrators at Newtown, Powys. [Image: Mike Sivier] Were you one of the many, many people – both able-bodied and with disabilities – who gathered outside Atos assessment centres yesterday to demand an end to the system that continues to cause the deaths of thousands of innocent people every day?
I attended one of the 144 locations used by Atos to carry out the discredited work capability assessments – in Newtown, Powys – where I was just another face in the crowd that had gathered to remind the public of the atrocity being carried out with their tax money.
The Newtown campaign was undoubtedly small in comparison to others around the country, with a maximum of 15 protesters at its height, but the public response was excellent. The assessment centre is next to a major traffic junction, meaning there were plenty of opportunities to…
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