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ESA medical to be much harsher in time for IB transfer

We hadn’t intended to publish any newsletters in August, but the latest move by the coalition really does need an urgent response from you if you’re claiming incapacity benefit or employment and support allowance.

Back in April, when new labour was still in power, we warned that the secretary of state for work and pensions had approved plans to make the work capability assessment, the medical test for employment and support allowance, much harder to pass.  Our news was greeted with considerable scepticism on many forums and blogs, especially when we warned:

“The shock plans, for ‘simplifying’ the work capability assessment for employment and support allowance (ESA) include docking points from amputees who can lift and carry with their stumps. Claimants with speech problems who can write a sign saying, for example, ‘The office is on fire!’ will score no points for speech and deaf claimants who can read the sign will lose all their points for hearing.

“Meanwhile, for ‘health and safety reasons’ all points scored for problems with bending and kneeling are to be abolished and claimants who have difficulty walking can be assessed using imaginary wheelchairs.

“Claimants who have difficulty standing for any length of time will, under the plans, also have to show they have equal difficulty sitting, and vice versa, in order to score any points.  And no matter how bad their problems with standing and sitting, they will not score enough points to be awarded ESA.

“In addition, almost half of the 41 mental health descriptors for which points can be scored are being removed from the new ‘simpler’ test, greatly reducing the chances of being found incapable of work due to such things as poor memory, confusion, depression and anxiety.

“There are some improvements to the test under the plans, including exemptions for people likely to be starting chemotherapy and more mental health grounds for being admitted to the support group.  But the changes are overwhelmingly about pushing tens of thousands more people onto JSA.”

That’s what we warned back in April.  Well, those same new labour ‘simplifications’ have now been adopted by the coalition and the regulations have been put before the social security advisory committee (SSAC) for comment.  SSAC can make recommendations to the government about whether changes to the law should go ahead, but they cannot force the government to back down.

Very few ESA claimants will be left unaffected by these changes which will come into force on 28 March 2011, in time to disqualify thousands more incapacity benefits claimants transferring to ESA.

Members can read the detailed breakdown of the huge changes – even the walking descriptors have been abolished and replaced with descriptors relating to the ability to ‘mobilise’ - which we wrote back in April:

Even harsher new ESA medical approved (This article is members only)
http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/members-only-news/1207-even-harsher-new-esa-medical-approved

Please note: there may have been some minor alterations to the proposed changes since that article was written – the SSAC document is almost 200 pages long and we haven’t had time to read it all, but any differences will be very minor.

WHAT YOU CAN DO ABOUT IT
In the end, if the government are determined to force these changes through in defiance of any advice they receive then can do so.  But that’s not a reason to fail to put forward your objections both to the way the WCA is currently working and to the proposed changes.

At the very least it will prove that there are thousands of people who are outraged by this increasingly cynical scapegoating of sick and disabled claimants and who are not afraid to speak out.

And there’s no doubt that some backbench LibDem MPs are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the direction the coalition is taking in relation to benefits.  Your reasoned objections may give them the courage to finally challenge the millionaires club that is the current cabinet.

SSAC CONSULTATION
If you want to comment on the proposed changes to the WCA, then you need to contact SSAC.  You can read more about their consultation and download the draft regulations from this link:

http://www.ssac.org.uk/press/press23.asp

or you can just send your opinions to this email address:

ssac@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

not later than 10 September.

INDEPENDENT REVIEW  OF THE WCA
When ESA was introduced, one of the few concessions forced on the government was that there should be an independent review of the work capability assessment every year for the first five years.  That review is now being conducted by Professor Malcolm Harrington.  He wants to hear from people who have evidence to offer about how well the work capability is working and how fair it is at the moment, regardless of any proposed changes.  You can read a lot more about the review from this link:

http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/work-cap-ass-call-for-evidence.pdf

or you can just send your views and experiences of the work capability assessment to Professor Harrington at this address:

wca.evidence@dwp.gsi.gov.uk


You need to send your evidence not later than 10 September and make it clear whether you are responding as an individual or as a representative of an organisation.  You might also want to comment on the cynicism of the government in making the test even harsher before the first report is even written.

MIND CONSULTATION
MIND are also planning to provide evidence to Professor Harrington’s review as part of an ongoing campaign to improve benefits for people with mental health conditions.  They are keen to hear from Benefits and Work newsletter readers who have a mental health condition.

Tom Pollard from Mind’s Policy and Campaigns team told us:

“We will be working hard over the coming months to bring about a fairer and more supportive system of disability benefits and back to work schemes for people mental health conditions.

“Benefits and Work plays a vital role in this process through the advice, information and assistance they provide to their members. Our work is greatly strengthened by real-life case studies and so it would be great if Benefits and Work readers can let us know about their experiences of the WCA (including the appeals process). Please get in touch at t.pollard@mind.org.uk or 02082152424. You can read more about our work on this issue and how you can get involved here”

http://www.mind.org.uk/campaigns_and_issues/policy_and_issues/making_benefits_fairer-welfare_reform

The sooner you can contact Tom the better, as MIND will need time to gather your evidence and put it in their report.

We do think it’s a real tribute to the willingness of Benefits and Work members to respond to consultations and requests from journalists that you are now being approached by national charities for help in compiling reports.  So, many thanks to all of you who take the time and trouble to share your experiences.

FORUMS
Unfortunately it will be necessary to close the forums the end of this week until September due to illness and unavailability of moderators.  We can only apologise for this.  If there are existing members of the site with experience of giving information and advice about benefits who would be interested in lending a hand, please do get in touch.

FINALLY
We know a lot of people are very concerned about the prospect of ‘bounty hunters’ being let loose on claimants, as  reported in the national press.  We hope to be able to bring you some accurate information in the very near future about what’s really going to happen.