A shocking report launched today (Thursday 12 June) has found that the back to work support provided through the Work Programme and Jobcentre Plus is causing severe anxiety for people with disabilities and pushing them further from the job market.
‘Fulfilling Potential? ESA and the fate of the Work Related Activity Group’ is based on data from over 500 people with a range of physical and mental health problems.
All respondents had been assigned to the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) having applied for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
People in the WRAG can have their benefits stopped if they do not engage with work preparation schemes.
This research found that the Work Programme or Jobcentre Plus had helped just 5% of respondents move into work, while 60% of people said that their health, finances, confidence and sense of purpose had all suffered as a result.
Most people who responded to the survey had been compelled to undertake compulsory back-to-work activities or have their benefits cut.
The majority said their disabilities were not acknowledged or accommodated and made engaging in such activities difficult.
80% of people said they felt anxious about not being able to access activities and 70% were worried about their benefits being cut.
The actual or threatened cutting of benefits is meant to motivate people to get back to work, but the report suggests motivation is not a problem.
For most people (90%), their health or impairment was the main barrier to work.
The report was produced by Catherine Hale, a Work Programme service user, with support from the mental health charity Mind and the Centre for Welfare Reform.
Catherine currently claims ESA due to myalgic encephalopathy (ME), a long term health condition, and said:
“The majority of disabled people want to work. However, people who have been awarded ESA have genuine and often severe health problems which make it difficult to access employment.
“The current system ignores these difficulties, and relies on the threat of sanctions to get people into work.
“It is no surprise that it is not only failing disabled people but causing additional distress and anxiety, on top of the barriers that they already face.
“People claiming ESA need to be placed with specialist organisations experienced in supporting disabled people into employment, not into mainstream welfare-to-work schemes.”
Tom Pollard, Policy and Campaigns Manager at Mind, commented:
“This report adds to the existing evidence that the current benefits system is failing people with disabilities and mental health problems.
“There is far too much focus on pressuring people into undertaking compulsory activities, and not nearly enough ongoing, tailored support to help them into an appropriate job.
“We urgently need to see an overhaul of this system.”
The report has been endorsed by a further 18 organisations including Mencap, RNIB, Parkinson’s UK and the National Autistic Society.
Read Catherine Hale’s report here
Mind is promoting a campaign in support of changes to the current system, which you can read about and sign up to here