Miracle cure or squeezing disabled people until the pips squeak!

What do you think:

  • Why bother with the NHS when benefit cuts miraculously cure disability?
  • Is “laying on of hands” the next step in Welfare Reform?
  • Benefit cuts are good for your health and work prospects – where’s the evidence?

It seems that policy makers believe that reducing benefits has a miraculous health-giving effect, will be more successful than the Equality Act in removing employers’ prejudice and, of course, resolve the failures of the Work Programme.  They say that the cuts will “encourage sick and disabled claimants into work as opposed to claiming ESA.”

The Government is planning a nearly 30% reduction in the amount of benefits paid to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) Work-related activity Group (WRAG) claimants  from April 2017 –  from about £102 to about £70 per week. (While this would be more in line with Jobseekers allowance (JSA), I wonder if they will be covering all those additional costs of ill-health/disability such as travel to medical appointments, hospital car parking, prescriptions, extra help, home adaptations etc?)

A similar miracle is expected for Access to work (ATW) – the extra support for disabled people when they are working.  Like loaves and fishes, the funding is now being stretched to cover far more people – presumably proof that work is so good for your health that those support needs just wither away!   With such potent solutions to ill-health and disability, there’s going to be lots of scope for cuts to the NHS – double the bang by cutting the bucks!

This December, House of Lords disability supremos are reviewing (http://cesi.org.uk/social-inclusion-news/2015/nov/parliamentary-review-esa-cutback) the Government proposals and the impact on disabled people.  I hope that they look rather wider and consider the impact on those communities where disability is most prevalent.  Working most in Bolsover district in Derbyshire, I have some sense of the consequences of 30% reductions in income in an area with the fourth highest level (of 326 English local authority areas) of disabled people in the population.  Usually, we think of disabled people being one–in-five of the population (about 20%) – in Bolsover District it is higher than one-in-four at nearly 30% (Census 2011).  Equally, striking is the area having one of the highest levels of unpaid carers.  Business start-up is risky when such high proportions of the local population have little disposable income so the whole local economy risks further weakening with these benefit reductions.

If you have to stop working because of your health (or perhaps your employer hasn’t made the reasonable adjustments required by law to enable you to keep working), you may end up claiming ESA.  To keep the benefit, you have to go through the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) – which has been criticised for years.  Based on the assessment findings, you may no longer be eligible for ESA and so have to claim JSA and demonstrate what you are doing to find work.  If you are still considered to be eligible for ESA, you will be placed in the Work Related Activity Group if getting back to work within about 12 months (with ATW support if needed) is a realistic prospect – and you will be required to show how you are preparing for that return.  Otherwise, you will be placed in the ESA Support Group.

Penny Melville-Brown

Disability Dynamics ltd www.disabilitydynamics.co.uk

Helping disabled people to work since 2000

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