A report by national charity Citizens Advice, and supported by eighteen other organisations, highlights grave concerns with how sick and disabled people are being assessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). ESA was introduced in October 2008 to replace the existing incapacity benefit for new claimants. It aims to give more help to those who might, with support, be able to work.
Since ESA was introduced, CAB advisers across England and Wales have been reporting high numbers of seriously ill and disabled people being found fit for work under the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Examples of CAB clients in this situation include people in the advanced stages of Parkinson’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis, people with severe mental illness, and some who are dealing with acute short-term health problems, such as awaiting open-heart surgery.
The report outlines concerns with the limited effectiveness of the assessment. Claimants undergo a medical test, that should assess what they can do, but the charity’s evidence shows that the test does not account for the complexities of many illnesses and disabilities. Citizens Advice is hearing numerous reports of hurried medicals, where medical examiners miss vital details, make unjustifiable assumptions and do not place enough emphasis on the impact of mental health issues on the ability to work.
Not working shows how, for these people, failing the test can have an enormously detrimental effect. By being told they must find work, they face further hardship by either having to claim a less supportive benefit or no benefit at all. The stress of the test, and the prospect of fighting unfavourable decisions at a tribunal adds to the considerable pressure of their situations. In these cases, the system risks moving already vulnerable people even further away from a return to the workplace.
David Harker at Citizens Advice says, "The current test to determine eligibility for ESA is not working. We are seeing cases where the government’s aim of moving people into work is being totally undermined. Seriously ill and disabled people are being severely let down by the crude approach of the Work Capability Assessment. A much more sophisticated approach is needed, that not only looks at a person’s ability to undertake a certain task on the day of the test, but considers supporting medical evidence and other aspects, such as the variability of a person’s condition and the external barriers they face in finding work. We are very concerned about the 69 per cent of people assessed who are refused ESA. Some of our clients should never have been subjected to the work capability assessment, and we believe that if someone is seriously ill, more information should be gathered from their doctor before this decision is made. Undoubtedly, there are some people ready and able to go back to work at the time of their assessment, but our evidence shows that there are many more people who, by being moved off the benefit and away from any further support, are effectively being written off. Citizens Advice calls on the Government to address the problems outlined in the report, which are causing hardship to seriously ill people at a time when they most need support.”
The need for income protection insurance could not be clearer, as you cannot trust the state to support you if you are too ill to work.