Tuesday, 5 April 2011

Migration from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance #fitforwork

Yesterday was a big day for The Broken of Britain as the formal rollout of ESA had finally alerted the media to these benefits changes. Around 10am, Kaliya started to tweet on the topic under the hashtag #fitforwork with enormous success. Below is a summary of the changes that we prepared for the press:

Major Points
1. ESA is not fit for purpose. The system is badly designed, in terms of eligibility testing and the process of claiming the benefit

2. WCA is not fit for purpose. Test for eligibility does not work correctly, with many wrongly found fit for work and a high percentage of appeals

3. the appeals procedure is not fit for purpose. People are automatically assigned to the lower rate of ESA while appealing. This loss of income makes it harder to appeal

4. WRAG is not fit for purpose. Unfair conditions imposed so that many claimants must work for their benefits when unfit to do so

5. The Government is planning to time-limit ESA to one year, meaning that claimants will be means-tested after a year. If the claimant’s partner or spouse works more the 24 hours a week, they will lose the benefit. This punishes working families.

Supplementary notes

claimants must undergo this work capability assessment (WCA) to determine whether they are eligible for a replacement benefit, employment support allowance (ESA)

over the next three years 1.5 million people currently claiming Incapacity Benefit will undergo the work capability assessment, carried out by a medical and IT company, Atos

a complex computer program will help a team of "disability analysts" to rule on who is sufficiently fit for work

the estimated fraud rate for Incapacity benefit is 0.5% - the joint-lowest fraud rate in the benefits system according to the latest available data - so why is this benefit seen as being so problematic?

media focus on 859,000 people claiming sickness and disability benefits for over 10 years, ignoring the fact that sickness and disability is often a long-term problem

the system has been in place for new claimants since 2008, but will be expanded to retest all existing IB claimants from the start of this month

11,000 existing claimants will be retested every week

the new test is tougher than the old version, and the government expects to save £1bn over five years by encouraging people into work, or failing that on to a lower-paid benefit

speakers at a meeting between MPs on the Work and Pensions Select Committee and claimants who were part of the pilot of ESA gave negative accounts of their experience of being tested

the test has been vigorously criticised by charities such as Citizens Advice and by a government-commissioned independent review, saying that the process is impersonal, and ill-equipped to gauge the seriousness of mental health conditions, or the nuances of complex medical problems.

many undergoing the WCA felt it was assumed that they are lying or exaggerating
the WCA is physically-oriented, and uses a list of limited and disjointed ‘descriptors’ – such as the distance the claimant can walk and for how long they can stand – to assign points

15 points are required for a claimant to be declared unfit for work, with points ‘awarded’ on the basis of ability to do things like picking up a one pound coin
written evidence including specialist medical advice is all but ignored and the

face-to-face assessment means that only a ‘snapshot’ consideration is made, disadvantaging those with mental health problems or hidden conditions

the WCA test is not fit for purpose, frequently declaring people with serious health conditions fit for work on the basis of how many points are scored

during the preliminary roll-out of the test, people with terminal cancer, multiple sclerosis and serious mental illnesses have been found fit to work

the health care professionals (HCP) who run the WCA are not necessarily doctors, and may well have no knowledge about the medical condition of the claimant they are assessing

people with mental health problems have complained their condition is not taken seriously

people with complex illnesses report that the tick-box system is not able to cope with the nuances of their problems

one claimant has originally been given zero points in the assessment, despite having multiple sclerosis, and providing a letter from a surgeon stating they were too ill to work

in pilots 30% fewer people have been found unfit for work and 70% fewer people have been found eligible for the full-rate, unconditional support benefit

a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that health care professionals (HCP) wanted more supplementary medical evidence to help them make decisions, and more discretion over individual cases

Prof. Paul Gregg, a prominent welfare reform expert, recently told The Guardian that: "The test is badly malfunctioning. The current assessment is a complete mess,"
Gregg, who helped design the new ESA, recommends a further trial before it is introduced nationally

since early 2009, more than 240,000 cases contesting the result of the health tests have been accepted for tribunal hearings

in total, 40% of claimants whose claims are disallowed appeal the decision
40% of appeals are successful, with decisions overturned at tribunal – this figure rises to 70-80% when the claimant has representation

when appealing a decision claimants are automatically assigned the lower rate of ESA
a report commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions found that the loss of income for those on the higher rate of IB made it more difficult to appeal

an independent review of the WCA in November 2010 found serious flaws in the way it was functioning and called for major improvements

the government has promised to implement these recommendations, some politicians, charity workers and academics think the roll-out is going ahead too fast

beyond the immediate issue of the WCA, the work-related activity group is symptomatic of the deeper problem in ESA

the WCA can assign people to the WRAG, where ESA is conditional on work-related activity, and the Support Group, where the benefit is paid at a higher rate and without conditions

the WRAG and Support Group are not clearly defined in terms of purpose, but are often thought of as the ‘group for those who will eventually be fit for work’ and ‘will never be fit for work’

very many severely disabled people who will never be fit for work wrongly assigned to WRAG

a report commissioned by the Department of Work and Pensions found that staff involved with ESA were concerned about process issues, such as delays and IT problems, and
more substantive issues such as the allocation of customers to particular claim
outcome group (WRAG or Support Group)

a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that advisers felt that the scope for helping many claimants in WRAG back to work was limited

providers targeting adviser resources explicitly on those closer to the labour market, so that even those in WRAG are given limited support unless they are very close to being fit for work

a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that there are risks attached to the significant involvement of for-profit organisations.
They are likely to follow profit maximisation strategies shaped by contract
incentives and this may not necessarily deliver what is best for clients, especially for those with greater barriers

a report commissioned by the Department for Work and Pensions found that several US interventions on “back-to-work” schemes for disability benefit claimants have shown no impacts on caseload size

the Department for Work and Pensions knew about all the problems with ESA before it was implemented. Why did they proceed?


Anonymous said...

I am so petrified :-( I dont even know the wrods to explain how i feel - just feel like life is about to end fo r me form the stress of this. why are they being so terrible to disabled people when others like tax avoiders aRE FINE

Anonymous said...

I dont understand why people are being put in the wrong group. Having looked at the forms I should easily get qualifying points even if I tick boxes lower than my disabilities. So why are so many people being made to work. I wish someone would explain in a simple way, what is going on.

The Economist said...

This is just wholesale robbery of the public purse. If the politicians involved went up to a safe marked Public Purse with balaclavas and sawn-offs, everyone would understand what was happening and be shouting Stop Thief!. Dressing it all up as fixing the benefit system is to make this thievery socially acceptable.

Anonymous said...

This is totally wrong all they have done is changed the tests to make it almost impossible for most people to qualify so they can save money. And to line the pockets of large private organisations.This government is totally devoid of compassion. And have gone out of thier way to make benefit claimants of all descriptions look like scrounging scum, when we all know who the real scum are, don't we!

Anonymous said...

To the second commenter, I am given to understand that passing the test depends on which questions the assessor asks you and how long the WCA takes. One case of a woman with ME found fit for work because she picked up a coin off the floor. Some persons are found "fit for work" within minutes...

Sue said...

Why do i not believe what my MP said when i asked her to sign the EDM against this kind of thing... She is conservative - So I really find it hard to believe a word

Thank you for your email re EDM 1651. Just as a way of background, reform of Incapacity Benefit was contained in the Welfare Reform Act 2007 when the previous government introduced the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA) in October 2008 for new claimants of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), which replaced Incapacity Benefit for new claimants. That said I do understand your concerns about the Government’s new regulations associated with the WCA and have raised similar issues with Ministers direct. The Government recently commissioned an independent review and asked Professor Malcolm Harrington to look at the assessment and recommend improvements. The Harrington Review, which included evidence from health and disability groups, made substantial recommendations and I am pleased to say that the Government pledged to accept all the recommendations from the review.

The planned improvements include a much greater personalisation of the whole assessment process, and measures to provide additional safeguards to protect the most vulnerable current claimants of incapacity benefits. The Government will also ask assessors to take into account how well claimants have adapted to their conditions before judging whether or not they can be given specialist help to get back into work. The Government is clear that improving the WCA is central to its commitment to help people start the journey back to work. However, I would like to reassure you that those found too sick or disabled to work will not be expected to do so and will continue to receive the help and support they need to lead fulfilling lives.

I hope that reassures you.

Best wishes

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

I urged my MP to sign the EDM, and he said he couldn't because he's a Parliamentary Private Secretary.

Sue said...

And another one when i said i wasnt reassured...

Thank you for your speedy response – I must have caught you sitting at your computer! (Yes i just turned it on and am just about to lie down now does that mean I can run a marathon?) I won’t be signing the EDM because it has been tabled by the Labour leadership and is contrary to Government policy, which I have explained below. If you are reading things on the internet that frighten you and you believe all that is being said then I will never be able to reassure you, but I will say that the disabled and mentally unwell are being excellently represented by their representative organisations. The Harrington Review was asked to ensure that the assessments were able to be flexible enough to adjust to varying conditions and the recommendations have been accepted. You don’t actually say what your condition is but I am in no doubt that it has been raised with Ministers directly and will continue to be discussed during the progress of the Bill through Parliament

Clare said...

Then your MP has forgotten who his actual boss is Sam. It's his constituents and not one bit of his greasy pole that he's climbing will help him as he crashes back to earth very soon.

Sam Barnett-Cormack said...

Clare: there's apparently an unwritten rule that they can't. So, have to hope your MP isn't a PPS or a government whip, or they can't go near EDMs. This is a problem in itself, but that's a whole other battle.

DeusExMacintosh said...

You forgot: "the medical discipline of 'disability analyst' has been completely made up by the company paid to conduct the tests."

RockHorse said...

Very good point from DeusExMacintosh! I'm in complete agreement with the points you've mention, Rhydian. Thank you.


Krag said...

I have A-typical Rheumatoid Arthritis. I am on massive amounts of pain killers which still do not stop the pain. I have problems throughout my body but specifically my weight bearing joints and my spine is very badly damaged. I have just heard that I have been put onto WRAG. I cannot get out of bed on my own so how the hell can I work. Atos tell their HCP to take no notice of medical notes as hospital doctors are not qualified to deal with disablity. I find this shocking. If your waiting to hear, be afraid, be very afraid. This is discrimination pure and simple.