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Welfare Reform: Thousands of sick and disabled Scots facing poverty

24 Feb 2012

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.”