Employment and support allowance slammed on first birthday

Campaigners have slammed the government’s new sickness benefits system for wrongly deeming people eligible for work, as it marked its first anniversary today.

The employment and support allowance was introduced on 27 October 2008, replacing incapacity benefit for new claimants, along with a new medical assessment to deem how far people were able to work.

A Parkinson’s Disease Society survey of 40 working-age adults with the condition, published today, found 40% had been deemed fit for work – and hence ineligible for ESA – and placed on the lower value jobseeker’s allowance or “forced” into early retirement.

A further 22% were placed in the “work-related activity group”, which means they are required to attend job centre interviews and improve their employability.

Wrong decisions

Ninety three per cent of these two groups of respondents thought decisions made about them by medical assessors were wrong.

The society blamed poor staff training of medical assessors and a “tick box” style of assessment which did not account for the severe fluctuations in a person’s condition.

Its director of policy, Val Buxton said: “Parkinson’s disease is a complex and fluctuating condition, with the potential for someone affected to appear healthy one minute, but to be incapacitated the next.”

More time needed for assessments

The charity also said that more time needed to be given for assessments so that discussion of answers could take place and assessors would have time to examine medical records, an action the society said was rarely taken.

It said the results raise questions about how the system is affecting people with other conditions such as multiple sclerosis, depression and dementia.

The results follow a similar survey conducted by the National Autistic Society, which found the needs of people with autism were not being picked up in the assessment and were therefore deemed ineligible.

Errors in Scotland

Meanwhile, Citizens Advice Scotland also criticised the system today calling it a “catalogue of errors”. CAS found that many of those using its advice service had been judged ineligible despite contrary evidence from their GP that they were not fit for work.

Chief executive Kaliani Lyle said: “Some applicants were wrongly told they were not eligible, so received nothing. Some received the wrong amount, and had to re-claim. Others were mistakenly paid twice and had to repay the balance.

“If this is an example of the government’s vision for the future of the benefits system, then it needs to urgently rethink its welfare reform plans,” she added.

Continuing criticism

The introduction of ESA was designed to encourage people on sickness benefits back into work. Those deemed ineligible for ESA receive £25 less a week through jobseeker’s allowance than they would receive in the “work-related activity group” of ESA.

The government plans to move all people presently claiming incapacity benefit on to ESA by 2013.

Government figures released this month showed a far higher rate of people were being deemed ineligible for ESA than were previously deemed ineligible for incapacity benefit, prompting the Liberal Democrats to claim the government was “shunting people on to lower levels of support”.

Related stories

Substance misuse professionals respond to benefit withdrawal idea

Welfare green paper lacks emphasis on support, charities warn

Bill must recognise people with autism face discrimination, charity says

What the ESA means for disabled people and lone mothers


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