Benefit reassessment could lead to destitution, says charity


Thousands of disabled people across Scotland could face “destitution” because of the programme to reassess all claimants of incapacity benefit (IB), a new report has warned.

The report, by Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS), claims an estimated 115,000 disabled people in Scotland are set to lose entitlement to out-of-work disability benefits during the three-year reassessment programme.

Between April 2011 and April 2014, all existing IB claimants will be assessed – through the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA) – for their eligibility for the new employment and support alliance (ESA).

More than 170,000 IB claimants in Scotland will eventually be assessed under this “migration” programme, at a rate of more than 1,000 a week.

Evidence from the migration began emerging last autumn, when CAS surveyed 130 of its own advisers and managers, and found “strong concerns that the ESA process is even less suitable for long-term IB claimants than it has proved for new claimants”.

One talked about clients feeling “hounded” while another predicted the reassessment programme would cause “disaster”.

CAS concludes that the principles behind ESA are sound but because it is still not “fit for purpose” 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.”

The report, From Pillar to Post, says ESA is a “major source of problems” for CAS, with its bureaux helping clients with nearly 20,000 ESA-related problems in 2010-11, a rise of a third in one year.

An estimated 65,000 disabled people will move out of the benefits system altogether because of the IB migration and have to cope with a fall in weekly income of £99, while another 36,000 will instead become eligible for jobseeker’s allowance, a weekly drop of £37.

CAS warns that the economic climate will make finding work “very difficult” for those found ineligible for ESA, particularly as four-fifths of those on IB have been claiming it for more than five years.

Susan McPhee, head of policy for CAS, said: “People on IB have been told for years that they are too sick to work, and now suddenly they have to undergo a flawed WCA, 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.

“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.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said they did not recognise the figures quoted in the CAS report.

She said: “Those found too sick or disabled to work won’t be expected to and will continue to receive the help and support they need.

“We want to help everyone who can be in work to get there. For those that need additional help our new Work Programme is up and running and will tailor support to people’s needs so that they can overcome whatever barriers they face.”

Among its recommendations, CAS calls on the UK government to work with employers to address discrimination; continue to reform ESA; ensure that former IB claimants found “fit for work” are given priority in its new Work Programme; and track what happens to former IB claimants during and after the migration process.

23 February 2012

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