Welfare rights: Making allowances

In 2008 the employment and support allowance (ESA) is due to replace incapacity benefit and income support for people who are unfit for work.

The draft regulations set out the criteria that a person will need to satisfy to be placed in the “support group”. Claimants in the support group will not be required to take part in work-related activity and will receive a higher rate of benefit. The draft regulations put a claimant into the support group if at least one of the descriptions below applies to them “for the majority of the time or on the majority of the occasions on which s/he undertakes or attempts to undertake the activity”.

● Walking or moving on level ground (including using a wheelchair) for less than 30 metres without repeatedly stopping, experiencing breathlessness or severe discomfort.

● Rising from sitting, and transferring from one seated position to another, without receiving physical assistance from another person.

● Lifting and carrying by the use of the upper body and arms: cannot pick up and move a 0.5 litre carton of liquid to a distance of 60 centimetres with either hand.

● Reaching: cannot raise either arm to the top pocket of a coat or jacket.

● Manual dexterity: cannot turn a “star-headed” sink tap with either hand or pick up a £1 coin or equivalent with either hand.

● Continence: for example, has no control over bowel or bladder at least once a week.

● Maintaining personal hygiene: for example, cannot clean own torso (excluding own back) without receiving physical assistance from another person or without receiving regular prompting.

● Eating and drinking: for example, needs help conveying food and drink to their mouth and with chewing or swallowing.

● Comprehension and application of information or instructions: cannot understand or carry out simple instructions or learn simple new tasks without regular prompting or fails to do any of the above owing to a severe disorder of mood or behaviour.

● Personal action: cannot initiate and sustain basic personal action, for example, the organisation and completion of a simple task, without prompting and supervision.

● Communication: for example, cannot speak, write or type to a standard that may be understood by strangers or use sign language to the equivalent to level three BSL. Or they frequently misunderstand communication from others causing them, or others, distress or effectively cannot make themselves understood to others because of mood or behaviour disorders.

Some claimants will be treated as having limited capability for work even if they fail to meet the above criteria. This will also apply where there would be a substantial risk to health if the claimant were found to be fit for work or where a pregnant claimant would risk damage to their health or to the health of the child if she worked.

If a claimant is not in the support group, then their right to claim ESA will be “conditional” on them complying with a stricter work-focused regime, and if the claimant doesn’t comply, ESA will be reduced to the level of jobseeker’s allowance.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question e-mail Graham Hopkins

Related article
Welfare Reform Bill: dangers of reform to incapacity benefit rules. By Neil Bateman



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