Citizens Advice Scotland have said the government is wrong to claim that its welfare reform process is successfully getting people off benefits and into work.
CAS Chief Executive Lucy McTernan said today,
“The government is making claims today about the supposed success of its Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). They say it is successfully getting sick and disabled people off benefits and into work. Unfortunately the real picture is seen by CAB advisers every day – and is very different.
“Many of the people who are found ‘fit for work’ by their ESA assessments are nothing of the kind. Ever since ESA was first introduced the CAB service has dealt with thousands of people whose assessment decisions bear no relation at all to the reality of their condition or illness. CAB advisers regularly see people with cancer, alzheimers disease and serious mental illnesses being told that they are ‘fit for work’ - to the amazement of the doctors who have treated them for years.
“And this is not just a small number. Thousands of claimants are having their original ‘fit for work’ decision overturned on appeal. For example, in the third quarter of last year, 11,500 assessments across the UK were overturned at appeal – that’s about 171 every working day. This suggests that the original decision-making process is inherently flawed and simply not fit for purpose.  Yet the government continues to press ahead.
“It is also worth noting that only 13% of ‘fit to work’ claimants are actually returning to work.  Under the ESA system the government is required to provide tailored support to those who are judged fit for work. But at a time of high unemployment it is clear that the government isn’t doing enough to help these people actually get a job.
“So, ESA is a deeply flawed system and is causing undue misery and poverty for thousands of the most vulnerable people in the country. Even the government advisers who originally dreamt up the system now say it needs to be changed, and the government itself has accepted the recommendations for change made in an independent report last year (see notes below).
“The government should suspend the roll-out of ESA and fix these problems, so that those people who are most in need get the support they deserve.”
For interviews etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010.
Notes to editors - click to expand/collapse
ESA – A Brief History
- Employment & Support Allowance was introduced in October 2008 for people making NEW claims for Incapacity Benefit (IB). It was part of the new welfare reform process, intended to get people off benefits and into work. The plan was to roll it out to ALL IB claimants in the spring of this year.
- It was clear from very early that the system was not working effectively and was trapping many people who were too sick to work. People with serious illnesses, including cancer, were wrongly found ‘fit for work’ and had their benefit reduced.
- Many of these people came to their CAB for help. Significant numbers manage to overturn their ‘fit for work’ decision on appeal, suggesting there are major flaws in the assessment system. We published a detailed report, Unfit for Purpose, detailing the problems we had seen.
- Noting the concerns of CAS and others, the government appointed Professor Paul Harrington to lead an independent review into the ESA system. His report supported our evidence that ESA was deeply flawed and suggested a number of changes. The government has accepted some of these changes but still continues to roll-out the process while these changes are being made.
- Last year the coalition government took over and continued with the ESA policy, essentially un-changed.
- This spring, as planned, ESA is being rolled out to ALL claimants of Incapacity Benefit (not just to people making new claims). The problems will therefore afflict many thousands more people. The roll-out to all claimants was trialled in Aberdeen and Burnley.
- Professor Paul Gregg, the government advisor who originally came up with the ESA, is now on record as saying the system is flawed and needs to be improved.
- CAS strongly supports the principle of helping people get into work where appropriate. However,
- ESA has been shown to be deeply flawed, failing in that objective and causing huge problems for sick and disabled people in the process.
The basic problem with ESA is that it makes wrong decisions about peoples’ fitness to work, and causes unnecessary distress and poverty for many of the most vulnerable people in our community.
 and  These figures are from a report by the Institute for Employment Studies.