The government’s welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on thousands of sick and disabled Scots – according to evidence published today (Thursday 23rd Feb) by Citizens Advice Scotland
The government’s welfare reforms are having a devastating impact on thousands of sick and disabled Scots – according to evidence published today (Thursday 23rd Feb) by Citizens Advice Scotland.
The report, From Pillar to Post, describes the experience of the 170,000 Scots who are currently receiving Incapacity Benefit, and who are now being assessed for the new Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). These people have long been considered too sick to work, and are now having to prove they are not ‘faking it’ – just because the government has changed the definition of what it is to be ill. They are being moved from one benefit to another, and 115,000 of them are set to lose out in the process.
Publishing the report, CAS Head of Policy Susan McPhee says:
“ESA was introduced in 2008 for those who were ‘new’ claimants, and we have shown ever since how it is deeply flawed and is having a devastating impact on those who are most in need. It is now being applied to all those who are currently on Incapacity Benefit. That’s 170,000 people in Scotland who are having to undergo the uncertainty and distress that ESA brings.
“In this report we give an up-date on ESA today, and sadly the picture remains as bleak as ever. This is a policy which is unfit for purpose and is devastating the lives of some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
“The intention of ESA was a good one. It was meant to help those on sickness benefits: to identify those who were capable of work and help them into employment, while continuing to support the rest, and saving taxpayers money in the process. That was the plan. In reality, ESA is failing to live up to its billing.
“In too many cases, it is failing to accurately assess a claimant’s ability to work, failing to help those able to work to find employment, and failing to support many with serious illnesses. It might be saving the Treasury money in the short-term, but it is pushing the cost onto the claimant, their families, local communities, service providers and ultimately the economy.
The report concentrates on real case evidence from CAB offices across Scotland. People who have been let down by the ESA system are increasingly having to turn to CAB for help. Last year the service saw an astonishing 33% increase in ESA cases. CAS say the reality of the ESA is best seen in these individual cases - many of which are detailed in the report.
Susan McPhee continues:
“Over 170,000 long-term sickness benefit claimants in Scotland will be re-assessed for ESA by 2014 and an estimated 115,000 of those will lose their entitlement to support. The only way for these people to mitigate the drop in income would be to get a job. However, with unemployment at a 16 year high, the economy struggling to grow, and former sickness benefit claimants facing discrimination from employers, many of these people will seriously struggle to find a job. As a result, tens of thousands of people face a significant drop in their already low income.
“People on Incapacity Benefit have been told for years that they are too sick to work, and now suddenly they have to undergo a flawed work capability assessment, only to be told they are no longer ‘sick’ and so face an immediate cut in income, followed by further cuts if they don’t look for work.
“So, one week you can be defined as sick and unable to work and then the next week you’re told you are not. This happens not because of any change in your medical condition, but because the government had moved the goalposts and re-defined what it is to be ill.
“We feel this is an unacceptable way to treat people, and the Government must move fast to accept the problems we have identified and fix the system so it becomes one which really does what it is meant to do, and helps the people it is meant to help, rather than making their lives even more difficult.”
“In terms of the numbers affected and the scale and severity of the impact, the reforms to incapacity benefits that are now underway are probably the most far-reaching changes to the benefits system for at least a generation. They will impoverish vast numbers of households, and cause untold distress in countless more. The incapacity benefit numbers need to be brought down, but this is not the way.”(Excerpt from report by Sheffield Hallam University. Nov 2011)
From April 2011, Incapacity Benefit (IB) claimants began to be reassessed for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). Over 170,000 claimants in Scotland will undergo a reassessment for sickness benefits by 2014 at a rate of around 1,000 per week.
The sheer number of people and families involved, including many with very serious health problems, make the migration one of the most significant policies that the UK Government is pursuing. For better or for worse, the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in Scotland will change vastly in the next three years. This report looks at the huge impact that this will have on people, communities and services in Scotland.
Over the next three years, an estimated 115,000 IB claimants in Scotland will lose entitlement to sickness benefits. More than half (65,000) will be moved out of the benefits system altogether with most of the remainder (36,000) eligible for Jobseekers Allowance (JSA).
The migration will have a significant impact on families, economies and services across ScotlandBased on DWP estimates, there will be a £390 million reduction in annual payments to current IB claimants. This will have a significant impact on local and national economies. Due to the current economic environment and barriers to employment, many former claimants will struggle to replace this income by finding employment.
36,000 people in Scotland will move onto JSA with a drop in income of £27 a week, and 65,000 will leave the benefits system altogether with a drop in income of at least £99 a week. Those claiming Disability Living Allowance (DLA) and Housing Benefit (HB) face further cuts in payments.
The ESA process has been shown to be flawed and is a major cause of problems brought to bureaux. In 2010/11, bureaux in Scotland helped clients with 19,536 new ESA issues – a 33% increase since 2009/10. The pressure on resources means that clients with other issues may not receive the support they need.
Conclusion and Recommendations
The principle behind ESA is a good one. It is right that those who are able to work are supported to find employment. Where the migration works, IB claimants could be supported into a better life. However, there is a significant risk that the migration could lead to worse health and lower incomes for many claimants. In fact, some may face destitution. Any flaws in the migration will impact heavily on many of the most vulnerable people in society.
Unfortunately, the evidence so far on ESA and the migration suggests that the outcomes for many claimants will not be positive. Flaws in the Work Capability Assessment mean that many claimants may be inappropriately assessed as fit to work and lose the support to which they are entitled.
Even claimants who are capable of work face many barriers to returning to the labour market. A lack of job creation, competition from thousands of newly unemployed workers, and discrimination from employers, mean that former claimants will struggle to find work.
The result of these issues could be a group of people with health problems who are not in employment or supported in the benefit system. Far from supporting people into work, the outcome of the migration process could be to move sickness benefit claimants on to a less expensive benefit or out of the system altogether.
The UK Government is committed to the migration, but it needs to take urgent action to ensure that it supports claimants towards employment rather than destitution.
We recommend that the UK Government:
- Work with employers to end discrimination against sickness benefit claimants. Unless employers are willing to take on former claimants, the Government will not achieve its targets for returning people to work
- Ensure that former claimants are a priority group in the Work Programme. There is a danger that back to work providers will ‘park’ former claimants. They must be incentivised to support those with disabilities towards employment
- Continue to reform ESA to make it fit for purpose. Despite reform, flaws remain inherent in the system which must be addressed
- Track claimants during and after the process. The Government needs to better track claimants to ensure that the migration is producing positive outcomes.
We recommend that the UK and Scottish Government:
- Encourage economic growth in the regions most affected by the migration. Claimants are often concentrated in areas with weak labour markets. The Government must ensure that these people have jobs to go into
- Support advice services to cope with the migration. CAB do not receive any extra funding to cope with complex ESA issues.