30 January 2008
Current incapacity benefits claimants under 25 years of age will be the first to be forced onto Employment and Support Allowance, the DWP has revealed.

They will be moved onto the new benefit beginning in 2009.

The move appears to be particularly targeted at young mental health sufferers, with the DWP claiming that whilst the number of incapacity claimants overall has fallen in recent yearsthere has been a sharp increase in young people on incapacity benefit because of mental health conditions. According to Hain the number of young people with 'mental problems and behavioural disorders' including schizophrenia, severe learning disabilities and chronic depression, has increased from 81,360 to 91,420 since 2001.

Claimants under 25 will be ‘migrated’ onto ESA beginning in 2009. However, the DWP have said that there is no intention to introduce work-related activities for the first few years after ESA is introduced. In addition, undertakings have been given that no current incapacity claimants will be forced to undertake work related activities even when they do become mandatory. What is more, as these young people are not new claimants they are unlikely to be subject to a series of six work-focused interviews, instead having to have only one each time their incapacity for work is reassessed.

Given that there is very little that the DWP can do to compel these current claimants to become part of the labour market via ESA, there is a real fear that the intention is simply to try to reassess as many young people as possible as capable of work via the new Work Capability Assessment (WCA). Whilst only very small scale trials of the WCA have been carried out by the DWP, these indicated that as many as one third of existing claimants may be found capable of work under the much harsher new rules.

In addition, the removal of most exemptions under ESA means that many people with severe mental health conditions, such as psychotic illnesses, who have never had to undergo a formal medical in the past are now likely to be assessed by Atos Healthcare doctors. This may have an effect not only on severely ill claimants obliged to attend these examinations, but also on the agencies who work with them. Up until now these agencies may have been involved in their clients DLA claims but will seldom have had to concern themselves about incapacity for work. All that is about to change.

© 2008 Steve Donnison


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